Mastering the Art of Suckage

I suck at life right now. No, really, I do.

I woke up this morning to tackle the day. I was ready. Quick shower, yoga pants, hoodie. Ready. To. Go. And then I sat down. And I started reading Justin Halpern’s Shit My Dad Says on my phone. And before I knew what was happening, I had finished the damned book. And then I was exhausted, and we all took a collective nap. I was so hell-bent on not procrastinating on the finishing of the economics, and I suffered a massive failure on that one. (More on the econ in another post-that class is going to drive me into an early grave.)

So lunch came. And went. I didn’t eat a bite. Nothing sounded good other than a pint of black raspberry chip ice cream. And, well, that isn’t diet-friendly. Before I knew what was going on, it was time for dinner. Chipotle. And I ate the whole fucking bowl. With chips. How much more Fatty McFatFat can you get than shoveling heaps of rice and chicken and salsa onto chips to eat it? To use chips as flatware, for shit’s sake! So I’m not exactly feeling all svelte/ bask-in-my-hotness. On the contrary, I can practically feel the cellulite building up on my thighs just in the 45 minutes since I ate the last chip.

So now, the coffee is brewed. I’m ready. I am going to study.

“Andrea, I set a reminder for you, baby.” Awww, my husband is so thoughtful. A reminder for what?

For the season kick-off of Project Runway. Tonight. And suddenly, I can hear my resolve to study screaming in agony as it withers to nothingness.

Summer has entirely too many distractions.

And also, I am kind of tired of being a student.

Bring on the fall semester. Let’s get this shit done.

Fatty McFatFat's Flatware

Fatty McFatFat’s Flatware

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What I Read: I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames by Jeni Decker

I was perusing the local bookstore, looking for something to read while I am on a break from classes until April 8th. (Please don’t be like John and point out that I have both a Kindle and a Nook Color–I know, and I like them, but they cannot replace physical books for me.)  I actually was looking in the sociology section, hoping to find some tome on kick-ass females in the business world, just enough to motivate me for the hell I am about to endure as I am about to triple up the few undergrad courses I need before starting MBA hell. And I saw this book. I didn’t even read the subtitle. I’ll admit that the cover art intrigued me. And it found its way into my hands. And I bought it. My initial thought was, ” this woman has two kids like Evan? What a friggin’ saint!” So I bought this book and several others, and headed to the checkout.

I certainly didn’t expect to devour it in one night. The chapters are quick little stories in themselves, written in a real, humorous voice. This made it easy to read in bursts. Zachy eating dinner? Read a quick chapter. Evan working on homework? Read another. The kids in bed? Finish off the whole thing.

This book is special to me. So special that I found myself geeking out and writing an email to the author. To which I got a response in one day. Not from an assistant, but from her, which is most decidedly cool of her.

What is so special about this book? Well, other than a few minor changes, I could’ve been reading about my own life. Though Zach is not autistic, with the nonverbal-ness and developmental issues we have had as of late, he reminds me of her youngest son, while the oldest is much like Evan: starts out quirky and just a little odd, ending up with a diagnosis–high-functioning autism.

Here’s the thing: I can write little snippets from my life and you can shake your head along with me, laugh with me, cry with me, whatever. Until you have lived in this house, there will always be stuff I just cannot explain. Stuff you would not believe. Like why it is just as important to keep a supply of disposable latex gloves beside the toilet as it is to keep the toilet paper stocked. Why you have to be very careful of the words you choose, as theywillbe remembered and come back to bite you in the tuckus. As a matter of fact, as I was typing this, my oldest angel came out of his room, demanding ice cream at one in the morning, as his room is not the perfect temperature and cold ice cream will somehow help his system reach equilibrium. Mind you, it is 1 AM, and he is not getting ice cream, and I had to convince him of a scientific reason for not having ice cream at 1 AM to get him to go back to bed. Despite the fact that he is bleary-eyed and zombie-like from the melatonin we have to give to him to get him to sleep in the first place.Thatis my life, folks. And it seems to be Ms. Decker’s as well. If she knew me, she would not tell me that my child just needs a good “ass-whoopin'” or that he is simply just spoiled. She would understand.

And while the theme of this book is autism and what it is like to parent autistic children, it does not read like an autism book. And while you can sense a sort of sadness, it doesn’t read like a woe-is-me sobfest, either. She writes of her experiences in a voice that is comical, with the celebratory sense of appreciating the gifts and differences of each child, of getting to the root of what makes them tick and parenting them as best she can. And if I were an autistic boy, I would want Jeni Decker to be my mom.

I needed this book. In the same week as the Wal-Mart incident, of venting to a coworker I can trust and hearing her tell me that it seems I just need to “bust Evan’s ass”, after having the convo with Evan as to why he cannot go to Grandpa’s this summer (seems Grandpa is also of the ass-busting opinion from his safe perch 4 hours away, and as a result, will not give him any meds thanks to his hippie girlfriend). After all of this, I was feeling very lonely. As if nobody gets it. Evan is an awesome kid. I feel privileged to be a part of his life. But parenting him is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced.

So if you are interested in autism, know someone with autism, know someone who knows someone with autism, or even if you just like a good story, you should read this book.

I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames: My Insane Life Raising Two Boys with Autism by Jeni Decker.

I Shall Call This One “Someday”

Because…..

Someday, I will have time to make a dent in this 6-inch thick GMAT prep book.

Someday, I will have a day off of work.

Someday, Evan will go back to school.

Someday, Zach will start speaking and stop doing the whining/ grunting/ pointing thing.

Someday, this house will be clean. And neat. And organized.

And I will finish the 1000-page book I started reading out of a lapse in my sanity. Because for some reason, aside from GMAT prep, working like a dog, the questionably Aspergian high maintenance oldest child and the terrible-twos toddler, and all of the other shit I have to get done, I thought I would have time to read the damned thing.

Someday, I’ll relax.

Or maybe finish the apps for grad school.

Or maybe eat a dinner that is home cooked because we had time to cook.

Someday, there will not be sheer chaos in this house.

Someday, I will finish the 50 gazillion blog posts I have started about the different things I wanted to tell you all about but have not have the time to finish. On our Christmas. Or our anniversary. Or Evan’s progress and Zach’s delay.

But not now. Because right now, the tv is blaring, Zach is screaming because he doesn’t have the words or ability to tell John he wants apple juice. I am waiting for a phone call from the developmental interventionalist because I am finally worried about Zach’s speech delay to do something about it. And once I get the call, I have to go through the gu-wrenching possibility that my treatment during the pregnancy did something to him just when I thought it was all okay. And it is finally snowing outside, mixed with a bit of rain and freezing temps that are sure to make my commute a living hell.

And right now, I have to go to work. Again.

Fuck.

What’s the Deal with the Kindle, Already?

*Sigh* I don’t own a Kindle.

I have wanted a Kindle for as long as they have been out. Since their shiny newness was cutting-edge technocrap. I have blogged before that, damnit, I was going to buy myself a Kindle.

I still haven’t bought a damned Kindle. Even though their prices continue to drop and you can now get a decent one, a highly purposeful one, for like somewhere less than $100.

What is my problem? I have no problem thunking down money for a oy for one of the boys. For a meal out. For nice perfume or gym shoes for work. Why don’t I have a Kindle?

And now, after some heavy self-psychologizing, I know.

I’m old. That’s my theory. I am old and set in my ways. I resist technology. Exhibit A? The length of time it took me to buy a cell phone. But when I did, I bought an Android smartphone and now I would rather cut off my arm than live without it, and want an even better, more advanced smartphone that can do even more. Exhibit B? The fact that my courses this session didn’t come with books, but E-Books! Which I’m fairly certain are less books and more data files, no less. I just about had a meltdown. I was seriously pissed, and promptly wasted trees and killed the environment by printing out all of the chapters listed in the syllabi, spent the time with the 3-hole punch and arranging the chapters into binders. Essentially, I made my own damned books and didn’t look back.

Here’s the thing: (And you will probably attempt to have me committed after reading this) I love books. Books. I love the glossy cover and crisp pages of a new book. I love spending time pouring over shelves at a massive bookstore trying to find the next great read by that new auhor who may even become my favorite. I love that little sound the spine of a new book makes when you really get into the pages for the first time. (Though, just a bit of Bitchypants trivia for you, my biggest pet peeve is a broken spine on a book. They just never look the same on the shelf again.) I love the smell of new books.

Yeah, yeah, the Kindle is handy and I still want one. I realize I could potentially carry my entire library in my purse if I just bought the damned thing. But has anyone ever truly been out in public and thought to themselves, “Self, I really wish you had your entirefuckinglibrary in your purse right now because this line at the bank is horrifically long and you could spend this time reading your entirefuckinglibrary?” I doubt this has ever happened. To anyone.I am perfectly content with one book in my bag. If things get really crazy, I may even have a couple of books in my backpack.

I’ll buy the Kindle eventually because I know it will travel well and I am the girl who always has a book of some kind on her person. But now I know why I have resisted for so long: I am a closeted book purist.

What I Read: Incendiary

“I am a woman built upon the wreckage of myself.”

I started Chris Cleave’s  Incendiary and immediately found it to be different from anything I have read. And I also began to appreciate the value of proper pronunciation, though I eventually adapted to the writing style. The book is written in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden after her young son and husband are killed violently in a terrorist attack on a London sporting event. Yes, I said a letter. A 237-page letter, at least for my version of the book. I’ll be honest here because I have no reason to be dishonest: I found this to be an uncomfortable read. Interesting? Yes. Intriguing? Yes. Sad? Yes. But far from comfortable. Your heart wants to weep for the main character. And then while I knew that I will never relate to her suffering, I have some suffering of my own through which I have lived, and so I found some passaged especially poignant.

So her life, after the attacks and the recovery from the injuries she has sustained in going into the bombed stadium to try to find the other 2/3rds of her young family, her life takes some bizarre twists, including an affair with a cocaine addict and subsequent involvement in a weird triangle with his girlfriend. Which progresses to involvement with the cheif of police, and back again to the cocaine addict. Somewhere in there, she discovers that the autorities knew in advance that the attack was going to take place and opted to not do anything because it would ruin their luck with their sources of information. And then her downward spiral accelerates. She hallucinates, seeing visions of her son everywhere. She even begins speaking to him in front of others.

It is all just so horribly…sad. And while it is fiction, and I know this, I also came to the horrific realization that in our post-9/11 world, this is/was/will be someone’s  life. Somewhere there is a widow who has gone through this. And my heart breaks for her.

Incendiary was Cleaves’ first novel. You may know him by his novel Little Bee, which is next on my list. This book is worth the read. because of its subject matter, I am sure that each reader’s reaction is as unique as the book itself.

Incendiary. By Chris Cleave. You can buy it here.

What I Read: House Rules

I had this book in my hand at the store for a long time. I kept waffling between putting it back on the shelf or carrying it with me to the cash register. Considering our current situation, did I really need to read something like this? Yet the slight aversion I had to reading the story was closely related to what brought me to the book in the first place: Asperger’s Syndrome. It wasn’t that I was drawn to Jodi Picoult’s House Rules because of the author or any other reason. Sure, I’ve read many of Picoult’s books. They have a quality to them that make them quick and engrossing reads. It all started with My Sister’s Keeper and went from there. They were a great way to pass the time during bedrest. But the problem is that they all revolve around central themes, and despite being great entertainment, they start to blur together after a while. Parent in turmoil, child with some sort of anomaly, perhaps a distressed sibling, all revolving around a legal drama and told in multiple voices that make the pages fly by. But this one? Asperger’s? I took the bait.

So Emma is a single mother of 18-year-old Jacob and 15-year-old Theo. Jacob has Asperger’s Syndrome while Theo is neurotypical. Unable to deal properly with the strains of the diagnosis, the boys’ father leaves early in their childhood. Now, Jacob is a senior in high school and Emma has devoted her life to finding the right diet/ supplement/ treatment to help Jacob reach optimal functionality. She even retains a social interaction tutor, Jess, a local grad student, to help Jacob overcome his difficulties. Jacob is also obsessed with forensic science as a symptom of his Asperger’s. He pops up at crime scenes after hearing them announced over his police scanner. He constructs elaborate crime scenes in the home to quiz Emma. He even built a makeshift fuming chamber for fingerprints.

When Jess turns up missing and is soon discovered to be dead, the very symptoms that tell experts that Jacob has Asperger’s are the same traits that indicate guit: failure to make eye contact, fidgeting, obvious physical discomfort. Is he just an “Aspie” or did he kill his tutor? Or both?

So how could I possibly be human without attributing some of this story to my own family right now? When Emma defends Jacob’s meltdowns in the grocery store. When she fears that he will be misunderstood to his detriment. When she wishes that someone else could hold the weight of her family for just a bit in order to get some sort of reprieve. And then in the descriptions and information given of Asperger’s. Picoult really did her research on this one, almost to a fault in that it sort of takes on some redundancy when the same descriptions and explanations appear over and over throughout the story. And she painted Jacob’s character to have every single symptom and sign. In reading the story, I kept having little breaks where I thought to myself, “This isn’t how Evan acts. Everyone is wrong, including myself!” (Incidentally, he saw the psychiatrist the other day to manage meds and she  also brought up Asperger’s to John without anyone having mentioned it to her. So now we have educators, the psychiatrist, and the psychologist who all believe he has some form of it. We got the paperwork in the mail today for official testing.) But in truth, it doesn’t have to be that bad. There is a spectrum of functionality, and I think Jacob’s character would be more effective if he wasn’t so profoundly affected by every damned trait

Of course there were parts of the story that left me wondering about my own family, of aspects of this that I didn’t think of. Mainly? Zachary. If Evan truly is “on the spectrum”, how is this going to affect Zach? This was driven home by Theo, Jacob’s younger brother who is forced to behave as the older sibling in the relationship. Just as Jacob’s mom has made autism her life, Theo’s life has come to be defined by his association with Jacob. This passage sums it up best:

“I used to have dreams that my brother was normal. You know, that we could fight about ordinary things, like whose turn it was to control the television remote, or who got to ride shotgun in the car. But I was never allowed to fight with Jacob. Not when I’d forget to lock my bedroom door and he came in ans stole my CD’s for some forensics project; not when we were little and he’s walk around the table at my birthday party, eating cake off the plates of my friends. My mother said it was a house rule, and she explained it like this: Jacob’s different from the rest of us. Gee, you think? And by the way, since when does being different net you a free pass in life?

The problem is, Jacob’s difference doesn’t confine itself to Jacob. It’s like the time my mother’s red shirt bled in the wash and trned all my clothes pink: my brother’s Asperger’s has made me different, too.”

Through the voice of Theo, Picoult drove home the realization that when one domino falls, so do the ones in closest proximity. Zach is not Theo and Jacob is not Evan, but as we start this journey with Evan, the fictional boys have shown me where I need to rest my focus: if you space the dominoes close enough to where they can still  enjoy their proximity, yet keep them spaced enough that they have their own distinct shadow and can fall without bringing the other crashing down, you can minimize the damage.

And then I realized something else: I am not Emma, either. I won’t let myself be. I will do whatever needs to be done for my boys, whether one has Asperger’s or not, and still, somehow, manage to care for myself. In a way, I think I am totally selfish for thinking this way. But just when I think this, I am reminded of the way in which my family depends on me. And I do not want to be that person–the martyr who has no other life outside of her son’s diagnosis. And Evan’s diagnosis doesn’t make him any less Evan to me. It just helps me understand him a little better, or I hope it will. Regardless of whether I refuse to et this overcome us, we are still us. And I still love both of my children fiercely. Toward the end of the book, Emma sums it up beautifully as she is sitting and watching her oldest son sleep:

“When Jacob slept, the slate was wiped clean, and he could have been any child. Any ordinary child.

Instead, during his waking hours, he was extraordinary. And that truly was the definition for him–outside the perimeter of the norm. At some point in the English language, that word had acquired positive connotations. Why hadn’t Asperger’s?

You could say I was different. I had willingly traded my own future for Jacob’s, giving up whatever fame or fortune I might have achieved in order to make sure his life was better one. I had let every relationship slide, with the exception of the one I’d built with Jacob. I have made choices that other women would not have made. At best, they made me a fierce, fighting mother; at worst, it made me single-minded…

…I do not know what kind of life I’d have had without Jacob, but I don’t want to know. If he hadn’t been autistic, I could not love him any more than I already do. And even if he is convicted, I could not lvoe him any less.” 

House Rules is a book worth the read. You will love it if you fancy yourself a fan of Picoult’s, and even if you haven’t read a single other word of hers, you will find the book entertaining and interesting.

What I Read: Room

The best book ever. I swear. Read it. Now.

Imagine the story. A 19-year-old college student walking across campus when she gets abducted. All she knows is the man has an old pickup truck–brown, she thinks. And he takes her to this place where she will ultimately be confined. Every night, he comes into the room where she is kept, and he rapes her. One night, they conceive a child. She stays in the room throughout it all. Throughout her pregnancy. She delivers the baby in the room, nurses him through his infancy, into toddlerhood and beyond. His name is Jack. Her identity? Ma. Just Ma.

The story sounds horrifying. Haunting. Of our worst nightmares. But just when one thinks they couldn’t possibly read such a tale, there is a detail that needs to be mentioned: this horrifying story? Told through the innocent voice of Jack.

Thus is the story of Room by Emma Donoghue.

Jack tells us all. And Ma is forced to raise Jack in the best way she can. Her captor brings them food and minimal necessities. On Sundays, they may get something special for which they have put in a request: Sundaytreat in Jack’s words. This may be a small amount of candy or a pen with which to write. Friends come to visit Jack through his television viewing: Dora and Boots, Spongebob. They read the same bedtime stories over and over. For comfort, Jack curls up with his mother and nurses. At night, Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and counts the squeaks old Nick makes on the bed with Ma. Will they ever leave Room, the only world Jack knows? I won’t say, because I really want you to read this book. I have read a lot in my time. Nonfiction or fiction, academic or leisure. Never have I encountered a book like this, and I doubt that I ever will again. There are many that I have loved. I don’t know if I love this one because my head is still trying to wrap around a story so profound. But I will go on record to say this is the best book I have ever read.

Room is Jack’s world. He doesn’t know anything else. He thinks grass, trees, cars, other people–all of it–only exist inside of the television. He has never had the sun shine on his face or felt wind. He knows Ma and he knows Room, and that is all. Ma explains later in the book that she couldn’t possibly tell him about all that exists in the outside world and then follow up by telling  him he will never have any of it. And she endures. She creates this life, this world, out of her love for Jack. We never hear anything negative from Ma because she taps into that strength for her son. We never hear it from Jack because he has no idea that anything else, any other way of doing things, exists.

The story is sad. Horrifying. Uplifting. Suspenseful. Endearing. Frustrating. I have never had a single book evoke so many emotions as Room did. I want so badly to say more, but again, I want you to read it. Even if you don’t have the time. Even if you are pulled in a million different directions. Hell, just a read a couple of pages at a time (though I doubt this is even possible). This is a story not to be missed. I’m sure it will be a movie someday, cheapened by Hollywood. But for now, it exists in its pure state.

Room by Emma Donoghue.  Buy it here.