In defense of Donald Trump

Everyone is so angry at Donald Trump! I don’t get it. I understand disgusted, grossed out, creeped out, revolted, frightened, extremely anxious, even terrified. But I don’t understand angry or let down.

The past few days I’ve been reading stuff from both sides of the political aisle complaining about The Donald’s lack of interest in civil discourse, his gutter tactics. Op-ed’ers accuse him of wanting to destroy America and the Republican Party.  Writers and politicians insist that he’s pandering to racists, misogynists, and stupid people. There’s so much anger behind the words.

And I don’t think that’s fair at all.

The Donald doesn’t want to destroy America. I firmly believe he wants America to be the most successful nation in the world. It’s in his own self interest.

The Donald doesn’t want to destroy American political institutions. He wants and needs a very successful, one-party system of elected government to make all his dreams come true. And many people would argue, from both sides of the political aisle, that this is what we have already anyway. So what’s the big issue? Why so much more anger for The Donald than for our broken political institutions?

The Donald isn’t pandering to racists and misogynists. That suggests that he’s reaching out to them from a different place in order to use them. This is all wrong, in my humble (NOT) opinion. He’s not pandering or using them. He’s one of them. He speaks to and connects with them because he understands them completely. He’s communing. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, nor elicit anger. It’s just sad, so very sad.

With just a few weeks left in the presidential race, I tend to read the news these days like a woman drinking water after 40 days and nights in a dry desert. For the past week, I’ve been reading that The Donald is going back to his core followers with his ugliest messaging, talking smack about jail for Clinton, making fun of NFL players for being wimpy about concussions, making cheap hay of Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits as a reflection on Hillary, talking worldwide conspiracy theories about the Clintons, blah blah blah. It ain’t helping in the polls, and everyone wants to know why he’s tanking Republican dreams this way. Doesn’t he know that, in order to win the election, he needs to reach out to moderates, women, not-racists, and all the reasonable people out there looking for any excuse not to vote for Clinton? Why isn’t he doing it? Is he insane?? He wants to destroy everything!

I don’t understand the blind spot. To me, Trump’s behavior is perfectly rational and makes perfect sense. The man is not stupid. He may lose control sometimes, and he may be a complete asshole, but he’s also very calculating and he knows how to read polls. He’s a survivor. He knows he’s got only the longest of long shots at winning the election. That gig is up, only this time he can’t turn to a bankruptcy court for an exit strategy.

What he can do is build his new brand, his political brand, while he’s got free media coverage up the yin yang. That’s what I believe he’s going to be doing until election day. The Donald has been messaging his brand — not to his core political base, but to his core consumer base. He’s building a market to sell to. He doesn’t care about votes and swing states and all that nonsense anymore. Sure he wants to be president, but barring that? Market share.

What will he sell? I have a pretty good guess. He’s got Ailes from Fox and Bannon from Breitbart in his pocket. I have little doubt that they’re already sharing notes on a new Trump-wing media empire. (I can’t rightly call it right- or left-wing, because no one really knows what The Donald is.)  And maybe steaks, or bottled water. I see his name showing up on product lines in some big-box stores like Walmart. There is so. much. money to be made, and so much ego to stroke. Those millions and millions of people who voted for The Donald in the primaries are going to love his post-election product launches. And who knows, maybe he’ll set up a Norwex pyramid. 

The Donald has it all going on.  He manipulated the tax code to avoid paying taxes for years and years, thereby personally living the tax-free dream. He’s all about personal profit and enlargement, and thus necessarily serves the greater good (because when a man gets rich, wealth trickles off him like sweat). He understands that the role of government and courts is to protect rich people just like him — hence bankruptcy laws for deadbeat debtors and tax loopholes for real estate developers. He has fully embraced the idea of unleashing politically-motivated threats of criminal prosecution and personal destruction on his enemies, just as Republican congresses have been doing for years. He’s got a lifetime of free marketing ahead of him, thanks to the Establishment Media’s obsession with him. The Donald perfectly expresses the wet dreams of right-wing America and Chicago-schoolers of two or more decades ago.

So why is everyone so angry and disappointed? Give The Poor Donald a break.

And vote on November 8, for the love of country.

Or on November 28, for the love of The Donald.





grumpy about Norwex

I went to a Norwex party. I bought product.

Now, some months later, I need to purge my soul, because it’s still sticking in my craw.

It pained me to go because I don’t do consumer parties, plus I knew there would be strangers present and I’m not good at strangers. But a very nice, indeed a very wonderful person asked me to go to the Norwex party at her house, which she was hosting at the request of a friend who sells Norwex things. She promised beer and her excellent guacamole. That, in combination with friendship, was apparently incentive enough for me to do something I would generally loathe to do.

I’m a simple woman.

* * * * *

If you don’t already know (and apparently everyone does except me), Norwex sells cleaning products, mostly made out of microfiber and little or no “chemicals.”

I read a blurb on the internet about Norwex, by Norwex. Don’t quote me, but what I recall is that it was started by a Norwegian after a Swede invented microfiber. The nationalities were highlighted and seemed to matter, a lot. This is a most Scandinavian affair.

I’m not sure it helps explain the triumphant platinum grey model on the home page, whose toned back sings to me, “La la la I’m free and everything is so white and happy and the sun is shining, because Scandinavian microfiber cleaning supplies and New Zeeeeealand!”

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I’m equally unsure that anything explains this bonny wee lass in odd plaid, bathing in the same white glow and engaging in child labor.

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I wonder how they keep her skin so pale in so much sunlight. Obviously not sunscreen, which involves a lot of chemicals.

I clicked around on the Norwex website and pondered. Norwex is offering a whole lot of awesome. They’re so into it that it’s a branded movement (non-bowel).

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Norwex is committed to “radically reducing chemicals in our homes and our environment.” Cool. Norwex’s web page presents four simply-stated factoids in this regard.

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That’s bad.

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Oh, that’s real bad.

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I haven’t heard that stat before. Bad. Really really bad.

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What the– ? Reading this statement set off racing thoughts. What does that mean, 85,000 “chemicals”? Does it refer to only human-made chemicals or does it include naturally occurring ones? How is the number so well-rounded?  What does “tested” mean? Why are we talking about the EPA? What about the FDA and other regulatory agencies? What about radioactive materials?

I tumbled on from there, my head filled with questions about how Norwex manufactures, packages, and delivers its goods. My extreme suspicions and rages about the hypocrisies and simpleton-isms of consumer marketing did not serve me well. I wasted a lot of time.

I googled “85,000 chemicals” and found references to an EPA database, the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. There are about 85,000 industrial chemicals on that list, so there you go, there’s the source of the number. I learned (I think) that very few of the chemicals on the list have indeed been “tested,” but I couldn’t figure out what peeps want them to be tested for. I tried to access the database for a few minutes. I wasn’t immediately successful, and there was no humorous and pithy twitter feed, so I lost interest quickly.

I know I know, “pithy twitter feed” is redundant, but I like the sound of it.

I wondered about whether any chemicals on the list were used to manufacture Norwex’s microfiber, which is synthetic, and whether they had been tested. Why is Norwex okay with using synthetic fabrics when Norwex is committed to reducing  the use of chemicals on earth? How many pounds of the plastic in the ocean in 2050 will be from packaging for Norwex products, and of the 88% of the ocean surface covered in plastic, what portion constitutes plastic from Norwex? Is that a run-on sentence or merely compound? What horrible chemicals, plastics, and pollutants are involved in transporting Norwex products to the consumer? How can any company selling a bunch of consumer crap to as many people as possible for as big a profit as possible truly care about reducing consumption?

I needed something to brace myself against, to stop the flood of irritable questions. So I googled microfiber. I learned from wikipedia that microfibers “are made from polyesters, polyamides (e.g., nylon, Kevlar, Nomex, trogamide), or a conjugation of polyester, polyamide, and polypropylene…”

Huh. Time to drill down. I googled polyester for starters and learned from some random source that polyester is an ester made from an acid, benzene-1,4-dicarboxylic acid (teraphthalic acid) and an alcohol, ethane-1,2-diol.


It is often known by its trivial name “polyethylene terephthalate (PET).”

Well of course. I knew that.

I said “polyethylene terephthalate” aloud many times in my best Midwestern American, Southern American, and English accents, all with random stresses on different syllables. Any word set containing that many vowels and the letter combination “phth” deserves as much.

“Carla, is your shirt made from a cotton jersey?”
“No, it’s polyethylene terephthalate. Do you like it?”

“I hated growing up in the 70’s, it was the age of ugly polyethylene terephthalate.”

“Have you seen that John Waters flick? I can’t remember it’s name… Oh — Polyethylene Terephthalate!”

When I was done with this sad, saliva-spewing monologue, I wiped the computer screen down with a kleenex, because I didn’t have an absorbent microfiber cloth handy.

Honestly, do you want to wear polyester on your body when you know its molecules look like this?

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It looks really itchy. Plus isn’t something on that ingredient list derived from petroleum? I don’t want to wear oil for a fabric.

I decided to drill down further. I tried to figure out if any of the inputs to polyester (or the inputs to those inputs) are on the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory and have been “tested.” I got absolutely nowhere. I didn’t have the information set I needed to use the database search engines. And anyway, I couldn’t even learn whether Norwex’s products are in fact manufactured out of polyester or one of the other microfiber options listed in the wiki page. What if they’re Kevlar?

Google is useless sometimes.

* * * * *

Norwex doesn’t do storefront retail. It sells products via house-party “multi-level marketing” pyramid schemes (think Tupperware) designed to reward those of us who are perfectly comfortable making friends with anyone, who can identify suckers — sorry, consumers with ease, and who are happy to invite ourselves into others’ homes to sell things for a profit.

And that’s how I ended up at a Norwex party, with some social anxiety in tow. But my friend the hostess was gracious, her guacamole was excellent, and the offer of beer was immediate. I didn’t fart on anyone, and I don’t think I said anything truly offensive.

If I were to just stop right there, I’d call the party a success.

But there was the Norwex business to attend to. A small group of women lounged in the living room, making awkward conversation. Norwex Lady stood before us. On display were unfamiliar-looking small cloths of many colors, some other cleaning devices, a stick of butter, and a bowl of small eggs.

A peculiar tableau, to be sure.

* * * * *

Norwex Lady took that stick of butter and smeared half of it all over a living room window (note to self: I will never host a Norwex party), and then she cleaned it up with a small damp Norwex cloth, by just wiping that cloth in perfect elliptical passes 20 or 30 times until the window twinkled and sparkled like new. No chemicals used! Just the cloth! Spotless window! Wiping hand miraculously not greasy! Wasted stick of butter!

It was a mighty dramatic demonstration. But my kids would never smear a stick of butter on the window, and anyway fat is easy to clean up. Hot water; cotton rag, zero polyethylene terephthalate. The real issue is things like stickers that I forget to pull off. After a couple months, the adhesive on those innocent “removable” stickers cures up so hard it takes a blow torch or toxic solvents to get them off. If Norwex Lady wanted to impress me, she needed to show me a microfiber cloth that would take those blasted stickers and their adhesive residue off of my windows, as well as off of my wood furniture.

Didn’t happen.

The eggs were used to demonstrate how well the vegetable scrubber microfiber cloth works. Norwex Lady lovingly wiped those eggs down with the green cloth until they shined like a baby’s bottom. Lovely lovely. But all I could think was… Cleaning the smooth surface of an egg is easy. Show me how that cloth works on a furrowed dirty beet or a cantaloupe.

She didn’t.

It occurred to me as I sat there that the primary purpose of the eggs wasn’t to demo the cloth but rather to show us that Norwex Lady has chickens in her backyard that provide her with eggs to eat. Very post-modern self-reliant frontier chick! A groove that goes well with the no-chem Norwex model. And hey, I can respect that.  I respect that she showed us her eggs. I asked her how often her chickens produce eggs. Based on her response, I calculated she’s getting about three cute little eggs a day for a family of four.

Terephthphthphth… Sorry girl, I know you’re still buying eggs at the grocery store.

We spent quality time talking about Norwex’s anti-bacterial kitchen cloth, a small, unattractive cloth enwoven with silver to keep it from growing bacteria. In my mind, I gave myself a quick head slap to stop myself from wandering off into questions about where the silver is mined, what chemicals are used to separate it from the ore and weave it in with the chemically-made microfiber, whether reasonable labor laws are followed in the mines Norwex silver comes from. I didn’t want to be rude.

Norwex Lady showed us a chart comparing bacteria levels on surfaces cleaned 8 or 9 different ways — lemon, vinegar, clorox, some common squirt cleaners, simple water, and of course a Norwex silver-enwoven wet cloth wipe down. The clear winner was the Norwex cloth.

I stared at the chart and could not bite my tongue because an important option was missing: soap. I like to clean my kitchen counters with soap, because, well…. Soap. “Why isn’t soap and water on there?” I asked.

Norwex Lady had a ready answer: do you know how much DISGUSTING stuff is in soap?? Did you know they use rendered animal fat in soap??

Ewwww, went the polite collection of women. And that was that. A perfect deflection. Everyone nodded and let it go.

Which led me to conclude that soap and water actually won the bacteria contest.

Norwex Lady talked quite a bit about kitchen cloth maintenance. My idea of cloth maintenance is, “launder.” But this was different. Norwex Lady started by explaining that the cloths are anti-bacterial. They won’t stop things from growing on the surfaces that they clean, but Yuck won’t grow on them, because silver (say it dramatically, every time), so you won’t spread Yuck  around when you wipe. Also once they trap particles and grease, they do not. let. go. Everrrrrr. They’re like the pit bull terrier of the microfiber rag world.

That sounded tempting to me. I have serious issues with spreading Yuck from place to place in the kitchen and I have strict protocols. I have a 36-inch-wide bank of kitchen drawers, and one entire drawer is devoted to cloths, towels, and cloth placemats. Long ago, I bought a cheap pack of white cotton terry car towels at Costco, it was about 20 bucks for 60 cloths. They fill more than half the drawer. When I pull one of those out, I use it and then down the laundry chute it goes (I’ve got a little access door to the chute in a wall right in the kitchen). The dish towels don’t get used for more than half a day, and if they touch anything Yucky or Gross? Down the chute. If a cloth or towel hits the floor even for a second? It stays there for a time to wipe floor drips of water, or else it goes straight down the chute. Placemats? One use, down the chute.  A cloth is on the counter and I can’t tell why it’s there? Down the chute.  Any question of any kind as to the sanitary status of a cloth? Down the chute.

About 15 minutes ago, Jesse announced to me that she just vomited in my rag and placemat drawer. I stared at her, blinking for a long moment as I processed the news. All I could eventually say, in a near-whisper, was, “Why would you do that?” I sent her upstairs before any further interaction would drive me into a spiral of rage.

I emptied that drawer, my entire supply of rags and towels and placements. Down the chute.

Once stuff goes down the chute, I have specific tactics in the laundry as well. I know Anthony disregards these rules completely, and I try not to think about that too much, but in my laundry world (the correct, sanitary world), three important rules govern. One, kitchen cloths are washed separately in hot water, with plenty of soap and some form of peroxide. I don’t care about stains, I only care about clean. Two, kitchen cloths are never ever washed directly after a load of underwear. Because fecal matter, parts-per-million, and gross yuck disgusting (I’m literally fighting off a gag reflex as I think of it right now). Three, if ever a piece of underwear sneaks into a load of kitchen cloths, I go outside to gather myself, and once the sick feeling has passed I come back and run the load again (offending underwear removed).

So anyway, this is a long, long way of saying that the idea of a cloth that won’t spread crap from here to there, that I could keep around for more than a little while, is tempting. But Norwex Lady went somewhere bad, very bad,  with the silver story. She said, you rarely have to wash this cloth, because it doesn’t grow bacteria quickly. You only have to wash it when it starts to smell bad.

“But,” I interrupted, trying not to make faces. “But… if you can smell it, by then isn’t it too late?”

Norwex Lady ignored me. I tried again.

“Am I allowed to wash it before it smells? Because I don’t think I can wait for it to smell.”

Women were snickering. Norwex Lady was not amused.

Instead, she returned our attention to cloth maintenance. Launder it occasionally (when it starts to smell like ass).  Once  in a while, in order to “release” trapped particles that have achieved semi-permanent attachment to the cloth,  boil it for 15 minutes.

A cloth I have to boil for a quarter hour to keep clean. Huh. I wonder what the carbon footprint is on that. And also, this gets me to thinking as I sit here. If this stupid cloth traps particles and never lets them go without a good boiling, do I really want to use it to clean up things like Jesse’s vomit in my rag drawer?

No. The answer is plainly no. I attacked the vomit with a white terry car rag. Down the chute.

* * * * *

There was so much to show us. The cleaning products — dish soap, laundry detergent, some sort of scrub paste that contains particles of marble or something like that — didn’t call to me. I’m picky about cleaners, and also I can’t pay 24 dollars for a small bag of laundry detergent that claims to work with just one teaspoon per load of laundry. I don’t know how the particles of such a small amount of soap can even reach each article of clothing in a normal-size load.

The dryer balls and dishwasher balls? Couldn’t get past the name. Juvenile associations.

Nor did I want the “Body Scrub Mitt.”

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“BacLock” is a trademarked made-up word that means this microfiber’s got the silver thing going on, so that it will magically keep itself hygienically bacteria-free. (Until it starts to smell.) Norwex Lady said she and her kids don’t even use soap anymore in the shower, just this mitt.

My brother Mark emphatically explained to me once why he doesn’t like to use soap from someone else’s shower. “The last thing people always wash in the shower is their ASS, so that’s what’s on that bar of soap when I pick it up. Why would I want to use that??”

Fair enough.

This bath mitt takes it to a whole new level by getting rid of soap. My kids are supposed to use it to clean their bodies, which inevitably includes their crotches, and by tomorrow night’s shower the mitt will magically dis-arm all the fecal matter so they can safely scrub their sweet little faces safely? Don’t worry, it’s safe, as long as you throw it in the laundry when it starts to smell?

I don’t think so.

Then there was the premier product, a really expensive mop system, dry and wet, well over a hundred dollars. Buy the separate rubber brush to scrape down the microfiber cover. Anthony would divorce me, I think, if I came home with another floor cleaning mechanism. We already have swiffer sticks, a Shark steam cleaner with many microfiber covers (because one use, down the chute!), a Bissell carpet steam cleaner, and a Bissell spot cleaner. Also a microfiber dry mop with a couple covers. Also the Dyson vac with allergy-kit attachments. Just no. No more.

* * * * *

But in the end I did buy some product. It’s how parties like this work. I would have felt awful leaving without placing an order. There was so much peer pressure.

Okay okay, there wasn’t. My hostess friend made perfectly and absolutely clear that I didn’t have to buy anything, but then there was Norwex Lady being really nice and she used a whole stick of butter. I couldn’t stiff her.

I bought a furniture cleaning mitt.  Let me show you the marketing on it.

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So cute, and only EIGHTEEN DOLLARS and some change, which is so much cheaper than spray cleaners. Plus the shape is so useful for getting into corners, just shove my thumb in them. I’m really looking forward to using this thing until it smells. It arrived in a small clear plastic bag, and I promptly threw it down the chute, because any new fabric in the house goes down the chute.

I haven’t seen it since, because Anthony put it away and I have no idea where it is.

I bought the veggie cleaning rag. I don’t know why. I must have had in mind the amount of money I intended to spend, and the invisible money thermometer hadn’t filled all the way on my order total. I’ve used the rag twice, and meh. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter right now but it will be unused for the foreseeable future, keeping itself bacteria-free because silverrrr.

I bought a pair of silver-colored kitchen scrub sponges. They looked like a good alternative to a skanky kitchen sponge — though grant you, my kitchen sponges never get skanky because I replace them every week, thus contributing greatly to the ocean’s garbage crisis. But when I got the Norwex sponges, the instructions said I can use them on non-stick surfaces but not on stainless steel. Whaaa? Since my kitchen sink is stainless steel, this makes them tricky. What’s the use of a sponge if I can’t scrub dishes with it and then scrub down the sink?

I also bought a couple of those magic kitchen cloths, with a promise to myself to never let them smell. They look attractive enough in the marketing.

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But in person, in the buttercream color I ordered because it was on sale, a cloth looks like this up close:


When you pick it up, it feels kind of small and shoddy, cheap even. You see that little reddish smear just shy of center? Kimchi juice. Kimchi stains never come out.

Here’s what it looked like after I cleaned up a cocoa powder spill:


I know you’re wondering if “cocoa powder” is a euphemism for something more disgusting, but no, not this time. I couldn’t get that stain out. I tried pouring a kettle of just-boiled water over it, just for kicks. The stains remained firmly in place. Down the chute it went. I can’t bring myself to boil it for 15 minutes.

But I’ll tell you what. That ugly cloth is still pretty great. It picked up that cocoa powder without leaving a trace behind, like a black hole swallowing light.

* * * * *

There is no moral to this aimless story. I went to the party, my heart full of mockery and suspicion. I bought products made out of the very chemicals Norwex claims to be fighting against. It arrived in plastic bags, which will join the plague of plastic that is destroying our oceans. I can’t find the dusting mitt, so I’ve never used it; the veggie scrub and kitchen sponges are useless. They were probably shipped from overseas somewhere, landing in my house where they’ll languish, completely wasted, until I throw them away in a few years.

This is the true scourge of the consumer age, the real reason our planet is covered in mountains of garbage: companies like Norwex play to consumers’ interest in helping mother earth, by encouraging us to engage in more consumption rather than less. And I totally fell for it.

I suck. I think I’ll drop out and start subsistence farming. It’s the only way to atone for my existence.

Or, well… Maybe I just won’t go to any more Norwex parties.


negative numbers

We’ve moved on to the Tourette’s/tic clinic at Marquette University, to continue therapy for Jesse in a less intensive way than the 4-day-a-week Rogers program. We’re starting out working on some belly-breathing techniques, and also our lead therapist has suggested we put together behavior/reward charts to incentive Jesse to get with the program.


* * * * *

We’ve tried behavior charts (aka sticker charts) before and they haven’t helped. Because Jesse = too much pressure. The ordinary course of events is as follows:

Jesse looks at the behavior chart and immediately feels anxious about the number of different ways she can earn points, even if the list has just two items. Too much pressure.

Jesse becomes obsessed with how many points she has earned and argumentative about the metrics. Too much pressure.

Jesse becomes upset when she doesn’t successfully accomplish a goal that would earn her points. Too much pressure.

Jesse ends up feeling even more terrible about herself after deciding she can’t earn enough points to get prizes, even as she earns prizes. Too much pressure.

Jesse feels so terrible about herself as a result of the point chart that she decides she doesn’t deserve any prizes ever, even if she’s earned enough points to get them. Too much pressure.

Jesse feels utterly disappointed about the prizes she earns. All the pressure has taken away the savor of success.

Jesse abandons point chart. Mom and Dad are relieved.


* * * * *

But I’m nothing if not persistent, and I’ll take expert advice openly most of the time. Marquette says give it another try, so I’ll give it another try. After procrastinating for three days, I finally opened Excel and got to work making point charts.

Here’s Jesse’s latest chart:


(Relax about the weird formatting, I’m too lazy to do anything other than a screen grab today.)

AndI had to do a chart for Nick as well or he’d have an understandable and well-justified hissy fit:

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Then there’s the reward chart:


Blank spaces available for kids to add more prize ideas.

Not bad, right? Opportunities for hash marks up the yin-yang — no stickers. No more stickers! I can’t take any more stickers!

The idea is to create a win-win situation if you can get the child to commit. Even if they’re doing badly on any given day, I can simply create opportunities for them to earn points and feel better about themselves. The prizes include a range of short-term and long-term options, so they can spend some points immediately and save some (or all) points up for larger prizes. This helps develop some concept of delayed gratification, which I imagine is important for someone with massive impulse control issues like Jesse.

It took quality time to put these charts together. I thought hard about point structures — how many points should an imperfect child be able to earn in a day, and how quickly do I want that to translate into particular prizes? I had to dig deep in my mommy brain to work this stuff out. And I get bonus points for the genius move of adding a massive-point-earning item for sleeping in your own room all night. Anthony and I are really rooting for that to take hold.

It’s a pain to do this, but I feel good about it for now. I don’t want to be bragadocious, but these charts are good, they’re the best charts you’ll ever see, they’re fantastic and they’re gonna work, because I’m an expert on behavior charts, I’ve been using them for years. The universal failures in our past efforts with behavior charts just prove how great I am at behavior charts, because my kids are still alive, and doesn’t that make me the best mom ever? The best.

We’re gonna Make Jesse Great Again with these charts.

* * * * *

I presented the charts to the kids yesterday. Nick immediately began to harangue me about how he could earn points, whipping himself into a frenzy of doing homework, reading books, and picking up toys. It was overwhelming. I had to direct his attention to critical item #3: “Slow down when you’re told to slow down.” Throughout the day, he did just that, for at least 30 seconds at a time, taking deep breaths and dramatically Being Still, in my face. Maybe I should have added a separate item, “Get out of mommy’s personal space when she tells you to.”

Jesse feigned indifference to her chart. I understood perfectly. She’s been down this road before. It has led to nothing but emotional bankruptcy. But she didn’t argue about it or reject it outright. I explained that it’s as much for Daddy and me as it is for the kids: our therapist is pointing out anew that we have to focus on effort, not success, and find what’s positive in each day. It’s the persistent problem of parenting challenging kids: you can get stuck on all the negatives, and you forget that there’s a whole lot of good stuff that happens on any given day.

So I rah-rah’ed the charts to Jesse. We’re going to stick to what’s positive. No down side. No losing points, no negatives on these charts. Only wins are recorded.

She went upstairs and took a nap.

* * * * *

Jesse had a hissy fit just before dinner, I don’t remember about what. The what doesn’t matter. We’re learning that raging episodes are common with people who suffer from Tourette’s. No one is entirely sure why, what the mechanism is in the brain or whatever. But it makes sense to me, that when your head is full of bewildering obsessions and offensive behaviors you might tend to get just a little angry. Jesse can pitch an unexpected and sudden fit about anything these days, from the feel of a grass stain on her toe to an imagined spot of strawberry jam in her hair, from the sunny weather outside to the question of whether Donald Trump will destroy the world if he’s elected president. Her rage blows up and, as long as we don’t fan it, eventually dissipates on its own like a noisy local thunderstorm cell.

Anyway,  Jesse had a raging episode and I sent her to her room. She quieted down on her own and came down later to join us at dinner. We tried to keep it positive. I reminded her that by going upstairs when I told her to, she earned a point on her chart. Anthony rah-rah’ed as well. But still she started whining and complaining about something, so I reminded her that if she used good manners during dinner, she’d get another  point.

Then Jesse started talking more assertively, in frustration and anger, about negative numbers. Her words were jumbled, incoherent at first, almost as inchoate as they were important to her. Anthony and I compared notes later and we had each received a slightly different message, but the paraphrased gist of it was this:

I’m always in negative numbers. No matter what you tell me, I’m always fighting negative numbers. My behavior is so bad that I start at negative, because I can never control myself, and I can’t catch up to positive numbers. So me sitting here at dinner, this is as positive for me as it gets, because I was finally able to control myself just enough to make it down here, even though I’m whining. So get off my case.

My heart ached as I listened to my little 11-year-old child trying to express these thoughts, such big thoughts for such a little thing. There was so much sadness and frustration behind her eyes. There is so much imagined, preemptive failure lurking in the pits of her soul, waiting for the right moment to well up and crush her. Anthony and I can’t reach in there deep enough to wash it out for her.

But also there was that hint of self-advocacy, which I was well-pleased to hear. Her open communication created an opportunity for Anthony and me to stress the sweet nothings even neurotypical kids need to hear once in a while:  you are a good person; we know you’re trying as hard as you can; you deserve to be rewarded; you deserve good things; don’t beat yourself up; don’t give up. And also for good measure… Let’s try the behavior chart, I think it’ll help. (I tried to hide my skepticism.)

How does a person overcome a birthright of so much self-loathing? How do you find the right medication to aid in that journey?  How much self-talk does it take to re-shape a self-image that’s so broken? And how many behavior charts does it take to lift up a broken heart?

No idea, but here we go with the hash marks. Yay.







Walmart + Pokemon = consumer hell

I start at Michael’s. I think it’s going to be a quick in and out job on this Saturday morning, purchasing some Pokémon cards and plastic sheets for trading cards, the ones that go in a 3-ring binder. Nick wants the sheets for his exploding collection of Pokémon cards. Jesse has decided she’s going to give Pokémon cards a try, so I’m going to buy her a starter deck as a prize for actually going to school 5 days this week and not giving up, despite a couple of hellaciously bad days. (Note to self: don’t forget her meds in the morning ever again. Empirical evidence is in: they are working.)

Nick doesn’t  play any actual Pokémon video games, because we don’t have a real gaming platform. Last year, the kids got a Wii box for Christmas, but apparently it’s 92 years out of date and the only games we can play on it are Super Mario, Wii sports, and a “Dance party” thing that measures how well you dance with your right hand, which is holding the Wii remote. Moving the remainder of your body is optional.

Nick also doesn’t play Pokémon card games, which are complicated affairs involving a lot of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and other forms of number and decision-tree manipulation well beyond his seven years. He just collects the cards, because that’s what his friends do on the playground after school. There is no end to card trading drama. It’s like a John Hughes teen flick, mixing together an unholy blend of tears, rage, and manipulation, the gloating glee of the jerk who takes advantage of the patsy, the tumultuous tantrum of the spoiled child who doesn’t get the card he wants, the depressing disappointment of the lonely child who can never make a good trade. It’s Pretty in Pokémon, only there are no teen girls in makeup and pink dresses or teen boys in carefully gelled hair and tight jeans. Instead, it’s a loose collection of sweet little 4- to 9-year old mostly boys in baggy elastic-waist pants with disheveled moms standing nearby, chatting amongst ourselves and pretending our spawn don’t exist for a brief moment until their cries of despair interrupt us.

“Trading” is a euphemism in this context. The kids don’t really “trade” cards.  They mostly seem to point and say things like “I want that one.” Having declared a proprietary interest, they then seek to extract the card by any means necessary, including offers of shit cards, threats of defriendment, whining and begging, sad-dog-face guilt trips, tantrums, and then, after adult intervention, something closer to a fair deal.

Swap parity and fair dealing are sophisticated ideas, not encapsulated yet in the minds  of children who have not achieved an age of double digits, nor yet in the minds of American politicians.

But I digress.

* * * * *

Pokémon is apparently a consuming hobby, filling the mind and soul with compelling images of critters of many colors and shapes. My kids want to know why most of the pocket monsters have large round bottoms. I have no answers. I hypothesize that it makes manufacturing the stuffed animals easier.

The corporate capacity of Pokémon is limitless. Last night we went to the “Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions” concert. As far as I can tell, it’s a corporate venture that travels city to city with its own score and conductor, parasitically relying on local orchestras to perform the music. Our performance was put on by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the Riverside, a lovely local venue for shows. The orchestra is brilliant, so the sound was amazing. But it was still Pokémon music, and the whole time there was a huge screen playing video of Pokémon games past and present. It was sort of a musical history of Pokémon gaming.

What a strange scene. There were teens and young adults running hither and thither with their faces under-lit by hand-helds. I think they were hunting rare Pokémon Go specimens, which I understand show up when lots of Go gamers are in one place  together. These young’ns were chased down and harried back to wherever they belonged by wizened and unnerved ushers, walkie-talkies squawking nervously at their waists. It reminded me of handlers in a goat-feeding pen.

We made it to intermission; the kids were pooped because it was late, and Jesse was starting to act hostile, so we bugged out of the second half. I survived the first half by focusing my attention on the musicians. I haven’t been to a live orchestral show in so long, and the Milwaukee orchestra has a lot of talent. I almost forgot how much I love the wash of sound. It’s extraordinary that 50 or 60 people can get together on so many instruments and make one unified piece of music.  There was a huge horn and wind contingency, which I love. I think there were six french horns, and one of them is my friend Darcy, so that was cool. Plus she got us free tickets to the show. Nothing beats free tickets to a Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions concert.

The video screen blocked my view of the heads of everyone in the percussion section, so I was entertained for many minutes by watching their headless hands busy at work on the snares and other apparatus. The rest of the time I just stared at the surface of the little computer screen sitting in front of the conductor. It allowed her to stay on proper pace with the video feed, I eventually realized. It fed her the tempo.  Every few seconds, a huge circle would flash for a split-second on the screen, like a weird subliminal cue. I watched the circle from my vantage in the balconies, and swooned in a vaguely hypnotized state.

But still I  digress.

* * * * *

Nick is collecting Pokémon cards at an astronomical rate, spending his allowance every weekend on a new pack. Also he bullies, charms, and cajoles me almost daily. So far I’ve given in to buying him a special card box and a few small card packs, and renting him several Pokémon movies off Amazon.

The movies all suck, by the way. They all suck. When I bother to sit down and watch any piece of any one of them, I can literally feel my brain cells atrophying. I’m a horrible, horrible parent for letting Nick watch these stupid movies.

But at least I don’t feed him food dyes, so stop judging me. Just stop.

Nick has so many cards, plus a fancy box to put them in, but his friends have notebooks with trading card protector sheets and he wants those now. I passive aggressively find an empty three ring binder in the basement this morning. It’s covered in girly stripes and pink roses. I disregard the 3-ring that’s pure white, sitting on the bookshelf next to the floral arrangement binder. I run upstairs. “Is this a good notebook for your cards, Nick?” I asked.

Option one: “Nooo, that’s like a GIRL’s, I need one that’s different.” To which I have planned my response. “OK, then you can use your allowance next week to buy yourself a different one.”

Option two: “Yeah, that’s great!”

Nick opts for two, and for one tiny moment I regret raising a 21st century son, who doesn’t see color and design in terms of the male/female dichotomy. I continue to ponder this as I slip on my shoes and head out, in search of plastic protector pockets for his blessed Pokémon cards.

Being an optimist, I tell Anthony I’ll be back in 20 to 30 minutes, because Michael’s is only 5 minutes away.

It won’t be the first of my broken dreams.

I hit Michael’s — because doesn’t it carry shit like this? — and wander the aisles, pushing an empty cart in front of me. The first nine employees I pass look purposefully away from me just as my sad and needy eyes settle on each of their faces; they make themselves busy with some life-critical task, in aisles filled with stickers, stencils, popsicle sticks, and 400 variations of colored and textured paper. Ten minutes into my hunt (to me it feels like an eternity), someone finally takes pity and asks me what I’m looking for. I learn that Michael’s doesn’t carry Pokémon cards or card protectors, and I should try Walmart.

I process this terrible news as I wander back toward the exit. I stop for a moment to stare hopelessly at skeins of yarn. The yarn I see is literally three-quarters of an inch in diameter. I’ve never seen anything like it. I finger it for a moment and wonder if Jesse could work with it, with her tiny fingers. Then I spot the enormous needles for it around the corner. They look like nun-chuks with dangerously pointy ends. Not happening in my house. I vacate the premises at a quick pace, trying not to get too creeped out by the white styrofoam zombie heads I pass on the way.

* * * * *

Against my own better judgment, I type “Walmart” into Google maps on my phone. It’s just five minutes away. I decide to take the plunge. Because I love my spawn, and love makes us do crazy things. Love means never having to say you’re sorry, and also love means buying your kids Pokémon shit.

I never, ever shop at Walmart, for a variety of reasons. I won’t tell you why here, but I never go to Walmart. Today I break my tradition, and I follow the squiggly blue line on my phone to that consumer trap.

I head into the most massive warehouse I’ve ever been in, bigger even than a Costco warehouse, at least that’s what I think as I stand there. I sweep my eyes from left to right in an effort to orient myself. It’s hopeless. I’m right at the entrance, right where confused shoppers might enter and need help. But there’s no help to be found. I decide to just move toward the back of the store. Maybe I’ll find someone on the way. I pass Halloween candy and decor, kitchen pans, and socks. People are everywhere, touching things as they make their selections. People, babies, strollers, kids, people everywhere touching things, holding things up, appraising and comparing. There are so many choices of everything a human being could ever buy.

Somewhere near office supplies and televisions, just past the weirdly huge wall display of only Arm & Hammer products, I find a friendly-looking elderly employee, leaning calmly on an empty shopping card, who offers to help.

I take a breath. “I’m looking for Pokémon cards and card protector sheets that go in a 3-ring binder.”

She sweetly replies,  “I’m not sure about the protectors, hun, but I think I know where we can find Pokey-man cards, and maybe the sheets will be there too.”

Something about the ungainly way she pronounces the word “Pokémon” makes me feel a vague anxiety. She grabs her empty shopping cart and slowly executes a 3-point turn so that she can show me the way. She takes me past shoes and video games to an area populated by magazines and children’s books. She stops at a rack displaying math flash cards.

Oh dear.

She pores over the flash card sets, muttering about Pokey-man cards. I try to be gentle. “Um, Pokémon cards come in these sort of flashy foil packs? I don’t think they’ll be here.”

But she is not to be interrupted, and I don’t know how to walk away from her without being rude. So I don’t. She finally decides I’m right. She suggests I try toys; she’ll take me there. I wait patiently while she executes another 3-point turn with her shopping cart, and we chat as we amble along slowly, slowly, ever so slowly.

Employee: “You don’t know where the toy section is?”

Me: “Nope. I’ve never been in this store before.”

Employee: “Which entrance did you come in?”

Me: “The one in front.”

Employee, looking at me like I’m from Mars: “There are two entrances.”

Me: “Oh. Um, I walked in the first opening I saw.”

At about this point in our brief journey, my helper inexplicably seems to hit an invisible boundary wall. She stops and gives me directions to the toy section, and promptly abandons me.

I walk past children’s clothing, furniture, kitchen towels, and an entire aisle devoted to garbage cans. I rip my eyes away from the man inspecting a plastic pail in the same way I imagine a dermatologist looks at a person’s skin when she’s creating a mole map. I eventually find my way to the toy section. I go through every aisle and find nothing Pokémon-related.

I stop and think. Who can I ask who would have a clue? I noticed a video game area near the TVs. Surely someone there will know where I should go.

I head off in what I think is the right direction. I pass bicycles, tennis racquets, sports gear, and fishing poles. As I near the fishing poles and see signs about “sporting goods,” I remember reading something about Walmart selling a lot of guns and ammo and I start to notice a lot of camouflage-colored things. I hurry myself along and try to shake my mind off the topic of mass shootings. I can’t believe I’m devoting all this energy to a hunt for plastic protector sheets and Pokémon cards when our world is falling apart at the seams.

I find the counter at video games, and a tall, alert man greets me. I make my inquiry and he nods, in a way that informs me that he recognizes my ridiculous ignorance but won’t make fun of me directly for it. And he’s totally pulled together and articulate. He tells me exactly what row to go to for the card-protector plastic sheets, and he tells me exactly where to find the Pokémon cards — right up front at the exit, next to the self-checkout lanes. This extremely helpful Walmart employee is lucky to be standing on the other side of a tall counter. I’ve been in this eff’ing Walmart for at least twenty minutes now, and I’m so grateful for his help that, if the counter weren’t there, I would try to hug him.

Which I now know, thanks to many years of therapy with Jesse, would be inappropriate.

I hurry off to find the plastic sheets, past the cleaning supplies, bunting, and fabrics. I press myself past the ladies inspecting crochet and cross-stitch supplies and LO! I actually find the sheets in the stationery section, just as promised! Reasonably priced to boot! I squeak a little in excitement, and a man down the aisle gives me a sidelong look. I grab three packs, which is excessive, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever shop for plastic card sheets again, given how this is going, so I need enough to last a lifetime.

Next I find the self-checkout area, marching past diapers, strollers, adult lingerie, and men’s clothing along the way.  But I don’t see Pokémon cards anywhere. I go into the self-checkout pen; nothing. I look at all the displays in its vicinity; nothing. All I can see is candy.

And then serendipity strikes. Nearby, a man is standing patiently next to his shopping cart, unmoving, just as I am standing next to mine, unmoving. He appears to be waiting for someone. I’m just stumped. A woman comes up behind him with her cart and asks him to move for her, he’s blocking her way. I happen to look over as they jostle, and LO!

It turns out his body was blocking my view of the Pokémon cards.

Break into a rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah right now.

I spend a good five minutes trying to find the 60-card starter deck I want to get for Jesse, even though the cards are all jammed into a tiny 5-foot-by-5-foot zone of just three shelves. I’m rattled, all jangled up by my tour of the entire Walmart facility, and my eyes aren’t working well.  When I finally find the deck, I’m certain it magically materialized all of a sudden, because looked at exactly that spot at least a dozen times.

But I don’t have time to think about it, I have to get out of this place before I go mad with Walmart Dementia. With my precious selections in hand, I quickly use the self-checkout to pay. Incredibly, there are no hiccups. At least none that I notice.

I head out into the drizzle of a gray morning. It’s been well over an hour since I left home. I walk into the parking lot and realize I have no idea where I am. I look back at the store and now I see the two entrances in the monolithic facade. I’ve come out a different entrance than the one I went in, and I have no idea where my car is. I spend five minutes in the enormous, stuffed parking lot, dodging minivans left and right, and eventually I manage to find my car. I’m soggy from the rain. I turn the key, rev the engine, and put the car in reverse.

And then I wait two final minutes for two other cars to back up and then for 18 pedestrians to cross behind my car as they head casually here and there. I swear, they appear out of nowhere. It’s like Walmart is sending them to stop me from escaping.

* * * * *

But I do, I do escape.

Nick spends the rest of the day sorting his Pokémon cards and stuffing them into their plastic protector sheets. He chatters incessantly about his water-types fitting all on one sheet, and what in the world he’s going to do with his trainer cards, and yadda yadda yadda. I’m happy that he’s happy.

I give Jesse her cards, which is a real surprise to her, and explain that it’s just a small reward for the amount of courage she showed by going back to school every day last week, despite having a lot of trouble and doing a lot of humiliating things because of her Tourette’s. A true smile appears on her face, which is a rare treasure indeed, harder to hunt down than those stinking sheets and cards I’ve spent the morning buying.

So I guess it was worth it.



A relative perspective on cognitive behavior therapy

I took Jesse in for her annual today.  At eleven, she was due for a couple immunizations — tetanus booster and such — plus it’s the beginning of flu season. Also at eleven some docs now check cholesterol levels. Jesse’s not at high risk, given our healthier lifestyle and diet, but she takes some intense levels of anti-anxiety meds and I do worry what they’re doing to her. I figure more information is always better, so I said sure, it’s just a finger prick.

Jesse is always stoic about shots. I nattered at her about it as we waited for the nurse to arrive with the needles. How come you can wait here without even being worried, and watch the nurse hit you with needles, and watch her stick your finger and squeeze out blood, and not even twitch? You pretend it doesn’t hurt and then you smile at her and act all nice to her? But if your shirt gets 2 droplets of lemonade on it, you’re all ‘OH MY GOD MY SHIRT IS STICKY AND DIRTY I HAVE TO GO CHANGE NOOOOOOOW!’ Have you ever wondered in that moment if it’s Ricket [her OCD alter ego] speaking and not a real issue?”

Jesse gave me the stink-eye from the examining table, but she said nothing.

And indeed, she sat peacefully for the finger prick and shots. Two shots went in her left arm. She likes to watch. The third went in her right, which was awkward to reach in this particular exam room without a lot of adjustment; so I just sat her on my lap and we pretended she was a wee one again.

I saw a quick wince of pain pass across her face before she could hide it, when the third ridiculously long needle went in.  She’s good at tolerating pain of this sort, and I asked her why as she sat on my lap. “Because I hurt myself all the time, Mom, this is not a big deal.”


When it was all done, Jesse was fine, of course. I asked her a final facetious question. “If you compare a blood prick plus three shots to going to exposure therapy for your OCD, which is more painful?”

Jesse  didn’t need even a half second to answer.  She snorted and replied, “the exposure therapy.” There was an implicit “DUH” in her tone.

my father-in-law is the fastest old man in New Jersey, and also I turned 50 today

Yeah, you heard me right: my father-in-law is the Usain Bolt of 80- to 84-year-olds in New Jersey.

Yes, I’m being cheeky by referring to him as an old man, because he clearly has maintained a youthful vigor. At 80, he has a bionic hip and a bum shoulder, but he’s still out there training and competing, and he won the 100 dash in his age division in the New Jersey senior Olympics. I’m confident he can run the 100 faster than me. He has officially qualified for the national Senior Games (I didn’t even know that was a thing). Pretty cool. Also he takes dance classes, for fun.  Also he went boogie-boarding with us in the ocean last summer. Also he’s an active and successful realtor. Also he’s married to an equally fabulous-at-80 woman who exercises regularly, keeps her mind fit, and has it all going on.

I can’t decide today if all of this makes me feel inspired or inadequate.

I’m in the midst of a cold-turned-sinus-infection that I can’t beat, and Anthony is in the midst of a horrifying double attack of gout in one foot. He’s been walking like a slo-mo zombie, and his face has been ashen with pain, for almost a week. We woke up this morning and it was situation normal. I rushed down to the kitchen to get breakfast and school lunches going.  Jesse came down quick and sang happy birthday to me, and then I heard Nick bawling ad nauseum upstairs. He was upset that he didn’t get to sing first. After managing that emotional need, I came downstairs and got busy again with my morning tasks. Then Jesse’s tics took over and I got to listen to her say all sorts of gross things about sex, so I nattered at her and tried to get her a little more on track before sending her to school.  The whole time, while everyone’s thinking it’s my birthday, I’m trying to fend off thinking about the fact that it’s also my father’s memorial day.

It was all very frustrating, but also normal.  My life is the same at 50 as it was yesterday, when I was 49. Life is magical that way.

* * * * *

When I was in my teens, I recall becoming aware of the cult of female youthfulness in America, this desperate need our culture teaches women to feel — keep the breasts high, the tummy and legs taut, the hair not-gray, the skin not-wrinkled. But I would see photos of grizzled old women and think how beautiful they were, having lived a life that shone through their eyes and well-placed wrinkles.  I would see arthritis-bent hands and wonder at the labors and arts that made them that way.  I didn’t pay any mind to the extra weight many people carry into the beginnings of old age.  I wanted to look like that when I was old and weary. I wanted to look old and used and well-lived, not surgically enhanced.  I thought my old grandma was one of the most beautiful people in the world, with her gray hair and soft wrinkles and loose skin.

But now I’m actually aging up good and plenty, and I’m starting to think maybe it’s not all that great. My aging skin gets really dry here in Wisconsin, and itchy. I guess I could do without the itchy chapping. My arthritic fingers — very well-used by years of piano and a variety of manual labors — hurt sometimes. I’m less flexible and pull muscles too easily.  And I admit, with 30 extra pounds on my body and dark circles under my eyes from the  stress and exhaustion of parenting and a practically non-existent exercise regime, I don’t feel so awesomely beautiful most days.  I just feel tired.

I know there are things I can do to change this. Regular exercise is fundamental, but hard to fit in with kids around. I could use lotion more frequently. Maybe floss more. Eat even more vegetables. Drink chamomile. Stuff like that, right?

Not on my list? Cosmetic surgery. Leaving aside my general opposition to it, how could I live with myself if I died having a tummy tuck and left my children motherless?  I’d rather do crunches. Nor do I want to use anti-aging creams unless they have some positive health benefit, like reducing pain or helping my skin chap less. And I’m too lazy to dye my hair (it would never look as good as my original color anyway) or wear make-up. I can do without all those chemicals to boot.

Maybe if I started every day doing a New Zealand Haka, facing off with myself in a large mirror, my tongue lolling and my eyes rolling, I would feel better about myself. At least the reflection would more accurately portray how I feel inside.

* * * * *

Or maybe I can just start taking a fresh look at myself, at 50.

Look at that hand.


Those knuckles didn’t used to be so knobby, nor the fingertips quite so puffy; my pointer finger has started  to corkscrew to the left a bit with arthritis; my pinkie used to be straight, without turning in at the tip like that. You see how the middle two fingers are sort of close together? That happened in college, when over-use led to some sort  of tendon injury that radiated up the top of my forearm.  My fingers look older than 50 to me, but I guess that’s because they’re well-used. I’ve made a lot of beautiful music with them, cooked a lot of good food, built a lot of beautiful things, planted beautiful gardens.

The age spots tell me I haven’t hidden from the sun. My forearm shows those age spots even better.


Could use some lotion. Earlier this summer I remarked to Anthony that my skin looked good this year. He answered, “That’s because  your tan makes the age spots less visible.”

I love my man.

And look at the age spots under my eye.


Never mind the fuzzy photo, I can still make out the age and wrinkles and grays. And unplucked eyebrows.  Another function of laziness.  But that’s still my brown eye. A better picture would show you that it still flashes glints of gold, and maybe there’s a richer sadness in there than there used to be, the gift of 11 years of painful parenthood.

And here’s my love.


30 years after we first met, our faces are rounder, our skin more splotchy, our teeth more yellow.  The hairlines have changed.  But the smiles are real and true. There’s a joy in being together that sings out from those faces, and a life of love speaks through the crow’s feet around those eyes. I wouldn’t cover that up with makeup or skin peels or airbrushing, not for a million bucks. These are two very beautiful people. And I happen to be one of them.

* * * * *

But maybe I could still do a little more to take care of myself and be healthier.  I’ll take inspiration after all from my father-in-law, who has fought back against aging, not with superficial steps like hair dyes or skin chemicals, but by working from the inside out  –staying mentally and physically busy, exercising, working, reading, thinking, traveling.  In other words, by living.  I won’t ever be the fastest old lady in Wisconsin, but maybe I can strive to be the healthiest, happiest, and most-well-adjusted old lady on the shores of Lake Michigan, some day, 30 years from now.

The pith of my children

Anthony: “So Jesse, you should pick one thing to make your life fun, like one thing that’s special that you want to do, and that’s what you can do this semester. Like art or painting, or something like that. What special thing do you want to do?”

Jesse, waving her hands excitedly  in the air, with a slightly maniacal expression on her face and an earnest twinkle in her eye: “Make a dragon out of DNA!”

Tae kwon do it is. 

 * * * * *

Anthony and Nick are bantering about a huge sneeze out of Nick, which left junk all over Anthony. 

Nick: “I am just getting even.”

Anthony: “For what??”

Nick: “Something you did a long time ago, maybe.”

Anthony threatens to sneeze on Nick then. 

Me: “Be careful, Nick. Remember that Daddy is an escalator.”

Nick: “Oh! Then he is like Donald Trump!” 

 * * * * *

My spawn. Awesome. 

Back to school kind of sucks for many special needs parents

Everyone sooo happy and relieved, and done whining about buying school supplies and what to wear for school pics!! Kids are back in school.

Meh. Back to school can be one of the hardest times of the year for parents with special needs kids. Let me illustrate this by telling you about my twosome.


Last week Nick and I sat together looking through baby photos. I told him aimless stories about his and Jesse’s infancies, about the ways they terrorized us, the tantrums and screaming fits and nasty diapers. Nick asked, “Did I have temper tantrums?”

“Sure,” I answered, and then it struck me:  I can’t remember the last time Nick had a tantrum. I recall some spectacular ones from his toddler years, but nothing after that. He’s just seven, and he hasn’t had a tantrum in years.

Nick is my neurotypical kid and then some. I’m learning not to say things like “well adjusted” or “normal” because I no longer know what that means. Better to say that he’s low-needs and exceptionally pulled together on any emotional scale that I can come up with, at least on the surface of things. He goes with the flow, naturally.

Preparing to go back to school with Nick basically amounts to doing nothing. A couple times during August he worried aloud about knowing how to count and add by fives. I told him, if you knew all that stuff you wouldn’t have to go to school; you’ll learn that in first grade. Lights dawned in his eyes, he realized I wasn’t going to make him practice, and he ran off to stick his fingers in our dog’s ears.  He was satisfied. My work was done.

* * * * *

Nick’s first grade teacher gave her students a little note to read the night before school.


Awww, isn’t that sweet? Our teacher is a superstitious witch! Well, maybe a fairy. She made magic confetti!

This dime baggie was attached to the magic note:


Let me just say from my very personal perspective: offering children a dime baggie of tiny confetti to sprinkle around their beds may not be the best move if you want to endear yourself to parents, especially those with cleanliness issues.

But the not-messed-up part of me gets it. So I gamely read the poem to Nick and handed him the confetti. He fingered the baggie gingerly, a slightly bemused look on his face. “So… I’m supposed to sprinkle these things under my pillow?”

“No,” I answered firmly, as I considered how many centuries it would take before I managed to round the confetti bits up. “But you could put the entire little baggie in your pillow, and your teacher says it will help you sleep better.”

Nick eyed the baggie suspiciously and thought for a moment, unimpressed. “Neeeh, I don’t think that will work.” He tossed it dismissively on the table and walked away, adding over his shoulder, “That will not help me.”

* * * * *

The first day of school, Nick woke up, went through his usual morning routine, and trotted downstairs for breakfast. He was relaxed and at ease.  A good 15 minutes into our morning, as I wandered about the kitchen making breakfast and school lunches, I made some passing comment and his eyes shot up. “WHAT? We have school today??”

He got over it. When I dropped Nick off at school, there were no tears shed, no demonstrations of anxiety. There rarely are with Nick. He didn’t demand excessive hugging and kissing. He plopped down at the back of the line where his teacher’s students were gathering in the gym, his body loose. I could tell he was a little nervous, but I walked away without a single backward glance. I don’t worry about Nick. Even if something goes wrong, I know he’ll handle it. He’ll make new friends or he won’t, and either way is fine because he’ll  get over it with a little help from his family.  He’ll go to speech therapy and be fine, because he’ll be glad people can understand him better. He’ll learn the academic stuff or he won’t, and either way is fine because if there’s a problem we’ll fix it together and he’ll get over it.

Nick came out of school completely happy on the first day of school.  As we sat down to dinner, he looked at me and nodded contentedly. “You know, mommy, my new teacher is actually pretty nice.”


If both my kids were like Nick, I too would be singing praises about how awesome the first day of school is. My biggest worry would be where to find those odd items on school supply lists. But I also have Jesse, who is currently profoundly debilitated by her mental illnesses. Her tics, obsessions, and anxieties spiraled upward as the doom of school approached this year, reaching close to the peak levels we witnessed last summer before we put her on anti-anxiety meds.

So while Nick was gamboling about the house in late summer, playing make-believe with dragon figurines and forgetting to put on his shorts, Jesse was twitching tensely about the house spewing foul and offensive word-tics from her mouth, screeching about her fears, and terrorizing us with various tooth-gnashings, door slammings, violent bawlings, and extreme hand washings. I can’t fill those blessed foamy soap dispensers fast enough.

August was busy with managing Jesse’s mood swings, writing letters and outlines of issues and needs, preparing for meetings with school staff, returning to Rogers for additional intensive therapy, strategizing about tactics and resources needed to give Jesse a good shot at a healthy school year, figuring out medications (we started something new), making endless lists of possible accommodations and tools that will help Jesse possibly-maybe-hypothetically go to school full time this year, and engaging in a string of emails back and forth with school staff about how things are going to go down. Jesse also attended a couple summer camps, firmly establishing that her behaviors are going to require a tremendous amount of adult management at the start of things.

Just to give you a little feel for what we’re going for in therapy: one of Jesse’s main exposures is to stare at photos of her teacher and other school staff, and then not blurt weird nasty things about them.  It turns out everyone has a race, a gender, a size, and an age, and Jesse’s obsessive mind can settle on any insult associated with any of those traits and replay it a million times in her head, risking offensive blurts.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had a pretty long meeting with most of the school staff Jesse will be working with. It wasn’t an IEP meeting (though she does in fact have one). It was more of a “what in the world are we gonna do?” kind of meeting.  We discussed Jesse’s status, her diagnosis and treatment, her needs, and all sorts of details. We made plans for as much as we could plan ahead for. I left the meeting feeling both optimistic and frightened.

And also I had to pick up those blessed school supplies, and I could not find a single yellow-covered spiral notebook, dammit, not in the whole of creation. Plus Jesse just told me yesterday that she doesn’t think I sent in the 6 pocket folders in 5 specific colors plus one extra in a color of your choice. Inconceivable.

* * * * *

That was the actual doing stuff. In the weeks before school started, many hours were also lost to purposeless extreme worrying, founded in years of experience.  Will the school actually come through? Will they actually do the things we agree to do? Will they have enough staff time? Will they remember everything? Will everyone who works with Jesse be informed this year, or will allied arts staff once again be kind of in the dark? Will substitutes actually bother to read the things teachers leave for them, so that they don’t mis-handle Jesse? Will anyone at our middle school be able to love and protect Jesse well enough, and will they build a massive cocoon around her like I do all summer long?

Or will Jesse wither and die a little emotional death each day, filled with self-loathing and an infinite sense of failure and suffering?  Will her classmates be tolerant and kind? Will they understand? Will there be mean girls who tease and exclude her? Will kids make fun of her on the playground again this year? Will they stare? Will she hurt any of her classmates with her behaviors? Will she be invited to any birthday parties, let alone make any friends? Will parents be mean about her? How badly will her self esteem be hit when all this goes down? Will she start hurting herself again?

How will I protect Jesse when she’s at school? How will I pick up the pieces when she comes home? How will I get past my own hurting to take care of hers?

* * * * *

Today, on the third day of school, I went into Jesse’s classroom to introduce her peers to what she’s going through. I spent hours beforehand updating and practicing my outline from last spring, when I spoke with her 4th grade classmates, to include a few new ideas that we’re working on.  I got Jesse’s permission to talk to her class, and I went over my outline with her.  She handled it with a stiff upper lip and agreed that it was a go.

In my mind, I call my presentation “What the F*$& is wrong with Jesse??” But that’s just between you and me.

I went into the classroom and saw a lot of new faces. I wrote on the board these things:





And we talked for a good half hour. I tried to impart to the kids the visceral sensations Jesse experiences because of these problems.  I asked them for compassion, understanding. I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the kids are older now, less apt to openly share. And they’re only three days into the school year and don’t know each other yet, any more than they know me.

I asked them to do Jesse’s competing response.  20-odd kids clasped their hands, clamped their lips shut, and crossed their legs.  We sat in silence for 20 seconds before several of them started twitching. I explained that Jesse’s basic drill involves two minutes, which I think is pretty impressive! But no one seemed especially agog about it.

I described intensive exposure therapy briefly — exposing Jesse to an anxiety-inducing trigger and then helping her learn to control and calm herself.  A good friend of hers chimed in, “So basically, you torture her every day at the hospital.”

Yes, I thought to myself, that’s accurate.  We go to Rogers and torture Jesse four days a week.  But out loud I said something like, “That’s one way to look at it, but I choose to think of it as vigorous exercise or physical therapy.”

And I think I mean it. I’m pretty sure anyway. Because intentions are everything, right?

I guess.

* * * * *

And I could go on and on. There’s no counting the nuts and bolts special needs parents deal with as we send our kids back to school. There’s no end to the worries as we watch our children step back into a hostile world after a summer in our protective bubble.

So let me send this shout out to myself and to all the other special needs parents gearing up for another punishing school year: We are relentless warriors, beasts, battering rams breaking down the paper walls and false doors that stand in the way of our children. We are the main reason our children, and the like-challenged children who follow them, have a chance at living in a world that enables them instead of disabling them.

We’ll drop balls, we’ll forget things, we’ll screw it all up. Then we’ll pick up the pieces, remember the forgotten things, and make it all right again. We’ll keep trying and we’ll keep going, because that’s all we can do for our kids. We don’t need to be thanked and applauded wildly, but we sure deserve to be.

And F*#% the school supplies.

Let’s stop talking about Donald Trump’s mental illness (in defense of mental illness)

I’ve seen a lot of “Trump is mentally ill” articles and memes this election cycle. At first I found them entertaining, but then pretty quickly they set me to thinking.

In defense of my mentally ill daughter Jesse, let me just say these few things.

Suffering from mental illness doesn’t disqualify a person from holding a job with tremendous responsibility, not even the presidency.

Lacking self-awareness, avoiding treatment, having no control over your illness so that you hurt other people? Probably does, but in the same way that any human being, mentally ill or not, is generally required to behave in a responsible way.

Suffering from mental illness doesn’t turn a person into an unmitigated asshole. It can make a person appear to be so, but it usually isn’t true. Thanks to her Tourettic OCD and anxiety, Jesse blurts “the N word”, blurts inappropriate sexualized chatter, and says inappropriate things all the time; she often has trouble connecting with people in ordinary conversation; she has terrible mood swings and tantrums; she lashes out at her family regularly.

But she’s also a profoundly empathic, loving, thoughtful person who believes in justice and equal opportunity and charity and diversity and hope and love and all the other moral imperatives her parents have taught her.

When her OCD and anxiety don’t own her, she’s charming, supportive, and very bright. She’s curious about the world, and she asks questions with insight. She’s a model big sister, providing for her brother and entertaining him. She’s thoughtful with compliments to people who are mean to her. She forgives friends and family for shunning her or lashing out at her for behaviors arising out of her illness.

And here’s a thing.  She takes responsibility for herself (partly because we make her, but mostly because she just does). She doesn’t blame everyone around her. She apologizes, every single day, for the shit she pulls.

She is excluded from activity after activity when her behaviors are disruptive or offensive. It’s what happens when you’re not in control, and so we’re teaching her that she has to work hard to gain control. (With her family right by her side.)

She doesn’t think she’s so awesome and amazing that she’s entitled to entrench herself in bad ideas. In fact, she hates herself. (We’re working on that.)

She goes to therapy every week (sometimes unwillingly, but we’re there to prod her along). For a couple months last spring she was in therapy three hours a day, four days a week.  She’ll do it again starting this fall as she tools up for school. She’s preparing, fighting, learning. Changing and growing, and becoming increasingly self aware. (So am I.)

That’s what severe mental illness looks like to me. It doesn’t look at all like Donald Trump.

A significant mental illness is usually something you’re just born with. When it comes to judging a person, what’s relevant isn’t the illness — it’s what you do with yourself, with whatever talents and impediments nature imposed on you.

Indicting Donald Trump because he has a mental illness is a cheap play to the deeply entrenched social stigma that still attaches to mental illness, just as surely as the Donald played the race card on President Obama with that birther business. The person who pulls the mental illness card on the Donald is saying this: “Look, you and I already know he’s a jerk. He’s egocentric and narcissistic, he’s a megalomaniac, he’s ignorant and thoughtless and yadda yadda and all that, but it gets EVEN WORSE. This is all because…. he’s MENTALLY ILL!”

OH MY GOD, YOU MEAN HE’S NOT JUST AN ASSHOLE?? He’s mentally ill!! That’s so much worse!!!

But let’s be clear. Lots and lots of people suffer from mental illness and go right on about the business of being decent, well-adjusted, thoughtful human beings.

In other words, if you have a problem with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else in this world, please consider talking about the things they do, the things they say, the way they carry themselves. You might consider exerting pressure on whoever it is you have an issue with, the way we exert pressure on Jesse to change, improve, apologize, and take responsibility. Or, barring that, to just go away. Votes can make that happen.

But please don’t play the crazy card anymore.  Please don’t throw my daughter into the same basket as Donald Trump. He is a uniquely awful person because he chooses to be, not because he’s a victim of mental illness.


Twice a week at Rogers Hospital, Jesse joins the other kids in the OCD program for “experiential therapy” (the inevitable ET). I didn’t know what those two words together mean. It felt jingoistic. So I googled it and learned that it means doing activities that encourage the patient to identify and come to grips more indirectly with “hidden or subconscious issues.” Still felt jingoistic. I’m sure it’s more extensively thought out than I’m describing it, but basically the kids sit around and do stuff together — art, meditation, story telling, I don’t know, basket weaving.

Jesse’s first couple weeks, her behavior during ET was so outrageous that they booted her from it the third week. Our behavioral specialist (you got it, our BS) told me about the plan, and I remarked that this wasn’t going to go over well. Sure enough, when he told Jesse, she folded over in two and wailed, “OH GREAT I’M A FAILURE ALREADY!”

Excellent, excellent. ET in action, helping Jesse come to grips with all new levels of as-yet-unidentified self-loathing, with the  assistance of her trusty BS.

But she went back and has struggled on, week after week, yawping and interrupting through bouts of ET. A few weeks ago, the kids made “OCD masks.” They were each given a white paper mache mask to draw and color on, with instructions. Counterintuitively, the inside of the mask depicts how the child believes others perceive her. The outside of the mask depicts how the child perceives herself.

Jesse brought her mask home recently. Here’s the inside of Jesse’s mask:


Jesse told me this is intended to show that others see her as “kind of crazy.” She doesn’t mean that in a pejorative way. She means something more along the lines of “kooky,” as in she likes to get goofy and silly, she likes to go a little crazy when she’s having fun, she’s got a lot of pent up energy. So she chose bold primary colors and sharp lines, to show that energy and craziness.

Here’s the outside of Jesse’s mask:


I succeeded in not crying when I saw it; I saved those tears for later. I probably didn’t do such a good job of hiding how startled I was. We didn’t talk about it much. She pointed out that there’s a dragon at the top, on the forehead. “I think about dragons. A lot.” She told me she had explained to the other kids that she’s “kind of goth,” so that’s why she chose dark colors. That’s about as far as she was willing to go with me.

Tonight she came home from Rogers and it had been a pretty tough evening. She kicked the back of Anthony’s seat in the car several times on the drive home, and she spit on him during exposures. I was angry and depressed by that, and I gave her the what-for, including saying unnecessarily and cruelly that maybe she’s not ready to go on vacation to see her grandparents, a highly valued trip to the ocean which is coming up asap. She didn’t rage at me, which surprised me a little. She was calm, almost blank, as she picked up her mask and pointed at the outside. “This is how I feel right now, Mommy.”

You would think I would have followed the lead and engaged in a conversation. But no. Instead I said, I don’t care how you feel right now. I care how you act, because that’s what we’re working on, that’s what matters.

Needless to say, not long afterwards I felt like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mom.

Technically, I’m right. Cognitive behavior therapy, CBT, is mostly about changing behavior. For little kids especially, the cognitive aspect of this work is secondary. We don’t waste much energy on understanding why; we focus instead on changing how the kid acts, one exposure at a time. When the behavior changes, that circle of connection and causation — thought, feeling, behavior, thought, feeling, behavior — will start to change the why.

But I’m also wrong, and I’m ashamed. Tonight, when Jesse opened the door to tell me what her mask is trying to say, I shoved it closed on her.

I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m just worn out by a hellish year and almost two months of intensive therapy. Or maybe there’s a more hidden motivation. Maybe I’m not sure I can keep it together if Jesse puts into words the inchoate feelings her mask seems to express. I’m not sure I’m strong enough yet to be the unbending shoulder she needs to lean on as she faces those demons. They look awful. They look terrifying.They look so sad.

So I’ll just let this mask haunt me from the kitchen table for a while. Next time Jesse offers to open the door, I’ll try to let it open. She deserves that much.