42 Months (in two days)

Dear Beautiful Z,

In the middle of last month you had picture day at preschool. I preordered the package online, not knowing how they’d turn out. All I wanted was to preserve the memory of your very first picture day.

On your very first picture day, your teacher sent home a note. You usually get a daily note of your general behavior – this comes as a golden rod laminated form that your teacher fills out: What you ate, what you played with, any tantrums, or moments in the calm-down corner. But the note your teacher sent home on your first picture day was a pink note. The pink notes are achievement notes, and this is the one from your first picture day:

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This made me excited to see your pictures! I asked Dadda when he thought your pictures would be ready, and he said they usually take two weeks.

The next two weeks the suspense was unbearable. I kept busy and tried thinking about other things to pass the time. But it occurred to me that it was possible your teacher sent home notes like that for all your classmates, and doubt crept into my mind. What if your smile wasn’t really a smile, but a weird smirk? What if it was one of those forced smiles with your eyes squinty or tightly shut? What if you got all muddy or grimy from snack time? I’ve seen bad school pictures. Many of my school pictures were horrible. I definitely lowered my expectations of how your first school pictures turned out.

But the day came when I picked you up from daycare and one of the workers said your school pictures were on the top shelf of your cubby hole, and that they were sooo cute. And we saw another daycare worker who commented likewise about your school pictures. And so you and I went to your cubby hole and I glanced at the photo through the window of the big envelope, and I just about fell to my knees and cried from the cuteness. this is what I saw:

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Everyone loves your school pictures! I love them. Dadda loves them. I’ve shown them to you and asked who the girl in the pictures is, and you’ve answered with your name in that sweet little voice of yours. It’s nice to know that your teacher just wasn’t being nice when she sent home that pink note. She was being sincere, and I’m so glad we have this memory!

Yesterday Dadda and I had parent-teacher conference with your teacher. We talked for a good while about the progress you’re making, and she remarked how much energy you have! She’s impressed with you, and I hope you continue to let your teacher challenge you, and that you’ll eventually learn to harness that energy. We know you’re 3, we know you’re a sensory-seeker, so we definitely understand the spinning and running and climbing everywhere.

While we were at your school, we also got to talk with your speech pathologist, who had the chance of talking with your ABA therapist. It sounds like they will be able to coordinate their efforts and methods to bring about the best results for your speech development. How fortunate that we have these resources. We feel so blessed.

And today: Your teacher sent home another pink note!

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We are super proud of you. We love that you’re learning and expressing yourself. We love that communication is starting to click for you. We’re doing our best to help you, and your sweet spirit and desire to learn keep us from feeling too overwhelmed. We are here for you, and we will support you always.

Love, mom

Teacher’s Note

Yesterday was Z’s first day of preschool. It should have been Tuesday, but there was a mixup with the buses. They reversed our home address and the pickup address. I was annoyed, but things got straightened out, and when I picked her up from daycare yesterday, the workers said she’d had a good day, that she was a happy little girl. And had a nice nap. And that she’d gone potty just before I got there. The bus pickup and dropoff had no glitches, and the bus aide told the daycare that Z had a good day at preschool. I was so pleased to hear all of this good news! To top it off, Z was holding a clear plastic cup with some animal crackers. I buckled her in the car.

Then we got home and had about 20 minutes before Z’s ABA session. We sat at the patio table and ate some chips, then Dadda got home. And then Z’s tutor and the tutor’s supervisor came over. The supervisor talked with us about the additional things she’d like to implement in Z’s program and asked us if we had any questions. Reilly mentioned that Z sometimes reverses the sounds of letters in a word, like saying the “K” sound first in the word “drink.”

Then the supervisor brought up apraxia. The way Z tries to say some words may indicate apraxia. None of this is conclusive right now. But it’s another thing I have to research and worry about. I wasn’t told not to worry. I was going to worry anyway, but it makes a difference to be told not to worry.

This afternoon Z’s preschool teacher sent us an email:

Z’s day two has gone great, she really likes snack time, but wanted to walk around with the “juice” (gatorade) that she chose so we put in in her sippy cup and then she was able to drink from it when she was thirsty. She is listening and following directions so much better than when she first started in April which is awesome, especially considering the long summer break.
Just wanted to let you know.
As I was reading, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I’ve yet to really identify the emotions I experienced. Maybe I felt a combination of happiness and relief. But I felt most strongly pride. I can never articulate what all my concerns are for her, especially when it comes to navigating the world and discerning trust in and from others. Her safety, her knowing who she is, her ability to contribute to society. The preschool teacher’s email gave me great hope.
The other day, I tweeted this:

I’m grateful for the tools our biggening girl has acquired in her life so far. We can’t wait to see what else she can do.

A Quasi Rant and an Update on Z

In the past months since the last blog post, a couple of experiences have lingered in my memory. These remind me just how different human beings are, and in terms of behavior among “normal” individuals, there is also a broad spectrum to navigate. And how we respond to these people reveals more about ourselves than they.

The first experience comes secondhand. Reilly came home one day the middle of last month and recounted he and Z had taken Sia to the vet for her booster shots. They were in the waiting room, and Z was spinning in place and jabbering happily. An older woman was watching her and asking her questions, and Z wasn’t answering, because as a 3-year-old, spinning and jabbering are far more important. But Z did stop spinning, and the lady asked her a question. Z answered with more jabbering, which made the lady turn to Reilly and ask if she knows real words. She wasn’t mean about it, and Reilly explained that Z has autism and delayed speech. The lady then replied that her daughter is a special education teacher in an elementary school and asked Reilly if he knew her. Z attends pre-school in a different district, so it’s not likely that we would have run into this lady’s daughter. Nevertheless, this was a short, but cordial conversation, and I was glad to hear how accepting the lady seemed of Z’s circumstances.

The second situation happened about a month ago. I was observing a group being talked to by an important person in a certain industry. He was telling the group how essential they were to the overall vision, that he was pleased with how their colleagues in other offices were looking to adopt this group’s production model. He told the group that they were special, “not special ed, but special.” Some of the people in this group laughed. I did not. I was disappointed that a person that people respected would make a joke like this. I don’t know if I was particularly sensitive because of my new closeness to the special needs world, but I also wondered why people are still making fun of others who happen to be different.

Yeah, broad spectrum. I’m generally accepting of most decent and well-intentioned people. And sometimes I say things that may be insensitive to others’ circumstances. And yes, I do want to protect our daughter, but I know she’ll have to face the world to live her own life. And if I struggle reading people at times, I just wonder where on the autism spectrum is Z’s ability to discern emotions in other people. How much will we be able to teach her, to prepare her to handle interactions with complete cussheads?

On a sort of similar note, Z has been through two weeks so far of ABA sessions with a tutor. The interventionist (the tutor’s supervisor) says Z’s learning really fast and likes to push her with different challenges. Z now has a little toolbox of word approximations, so that when we ask her, “What do you want?” she can say, “dee” (candy), “boo-boo” (bubbles), “chih” (chips), “chee” (cheese), “kha” (drink), “koo-eeh” (cookie), “doh” (donut), “side” (outside), a maybe a few other little words. You can tell that food is a major motivator for her. She’s become a better imitator, she waves and says, “bye-bye-bye-bye-bye,” and she can say “mama” and “da-yee” when prompted.

This is so exciting and reassuring. Our little communicator. We love her.

On Conversation and Small Talk

“A friend of mine once said that you can never trust a person who doesn’t talk much, because how else do you know what they’re thinking? Just by the act of being willing to talk about oneself, the person is revealing something about who they are.”

— Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur

Almost everyone I knew in high school observed two main modes of speaking from me: Snide comments and occasional insights. This did not count raising my hand if I had the correct answers to teachers’ questions. I made friends slowly at that time, and those patient enough to stick around discovered that I was also capable of thinking deeply, even though I didn’t often verbalize my thoughts.

How did I process reality back then, that version of life trapped inside a high school bubble? I listened. I observed. This is how I found out about THE shocking moment of the Crying Game during trigonometry. One of my classmates saw the movie at the theater, and she could not wait to talk about it at school the next day.

Observing is also how I found out that band members M (girl, drum major) and T (boy, trumpet player, OF COURSE) may have had a thing for each other. M was a senior and T was a junior. I was a sophomore. After school one day, the band waited for our band director to return from somewhere and start rehearsal. I was practicing my part in one of the instrument rooms. Minding my own business. Then M and T ran in, oblivious to everything. T closed the door and had M pressed against it with his body. Then they started making out.

I watched for a few seconds, and I wondered if I should keep playing my clarinet. I decided that was better than watching. When I played the first few notes, T and M stopped what they were doing. I tried not to look at them but to keep playing. After a few seconds, one of them opened the door and they both left the room.

Beyond high school and into college and the real world, I continued the habits of listening and observing. I liked talking about myself, but I would only do it when people asked me questions. But I also loved asking other people questions and getting to know them better.

This was fun to do in college and especially New York City. I found myself in several settings with complete strangers. After a few questions, some laughs, and some observations about how we ended up in New York, we discovered valuable commonalities that became the foundation for friendship.

I never liked small talk, and because of this, friendshipping in the big wide world pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I always did better if people were willing to jump into deeper subjects more quickly, I also observed that small talk was some people’s starting point for meatier conversation. In some cases, if I couldn’t stick around past small talk, bonds would only form at that level.

Not everyone was like me; not everyone would work the same way my high school friends and I did to maintain our relationship. I would have to manipulate a paradox and give interpersonal space at the same time as internalizing the world around me, bringing different perspectives within my grasp.

Over time, I practiced and became good at small talk. Because I had worked on my observation skills for so long, I could read a person, initiate a conversation and make subtle adjustments to keep the discussion going. It felt great.

More time passed and maybe I fell out of practice or took it for granted, because suddenly it seems now that I suck at talking to people. Wires crossed somewhere and created a short and my conversation skills are no longer where they used to be. Although I can still listen and observe, it’s harder for me sustain my side of the conversation with actual spoken words. I’ll occasionally interject a question or a snide remark, but while I listen I also close up. Or go back to the safe space of small talk. Which I hate. But it’s safe. Defense mechanism, definitely. But why? and how can I get past it?

Part of it is that I can sym-/empathize, but sometimes I don’t know how to express that. Or I don’t know what’s appropriate. Or that if I try to relate, I’d be saying and revealing too much about myself when the conversation isn’t about me. I think that goes beyond introverted tendencies.

Obviously, I have no trouble writing about myself.

In general, people have been so willing to let me know more about them. I need to reciprocate. I have been selfish for so long, and I have to be better.

So, how about this weather?

Mine

My name is May. This is my month.

Of course I’ll share it with you. I mean, 31 days is more than plenty to go around.

What are you going to do with my month? It’s the best time of year with spring in full swing. Are you going to go on hikes? Go camping? Start exercising again?

Are you going to try to write more poetry? Start submitting your work to various publications?

What are you going to do with your garden? How do you plan to landscape your yard? Is mowing the lawn something you look forward to, more than raking leaves in the fall?

Will you get a puppy? I know people who really want puppies.

Will you be going on more dates? Will you try kissing more? Maybe you should work on your moves because then at least you’re working on something.

Go dancing. Fly kites. Sing scales. Don’t forget to include arpeggios.

Also, don’t forget Mother’s Day. Seriously.

We just renewed the lease on our apartment. We’ve been sporadically working on making our home cozy, a nice nook for us and books to live. Now that we’ll be here for another year we’re starting to feel more settled. We rearranged our bedroom so that it feels bigger. We put up a shelf for more of our books to live. We’ve hung some photographs and posters, and I’m considering curtains, but that seems too big of a commitment right now.  I know that sounds weird, but the idea of curtains excites and scares me at the same time.

We moved the bookshelf from our bedroom into the living area. We also bought another bookshelf for the living room. We rearranged a lot of the living space for the books, and now many hardcovers reside on the shelves in the living room. This opened up space in the library for us to get books out of storage so that they wouldn’t feel left out. I’m grateful they have a place now, but I can’t even imagine how the books feel.

As I write I realize that I could go on about how Reilly organized the paperbacks according to publisher but we have a lot of books from independent publishers, and I’d also like to organize his Spanish novels and my French ones, but then I wonder if I actually have a point to this post.

I mean, I guess I could liken books to people and this post could be about creating space for all types of people. Taking books out of the closet, that sort of thing. That would come across as pretty heavy-handed,  but I really can’t explain how much better I feel now that all our books are on the shelves.

We did all that in April.

Maybe my point is that I can’t wait to see what May brings.

Pun absolutely intended.

Sandy Dunkin New York

Right now I imagine a former home of mine is receiving a lot of rain, lightning, and high winds. Many former homes have been part of those circumstances.

I was born during a typhoon in the Philippines. This may be why I don’t really freak out during big rains. My birth versus the storm: I won, but I’ve also always made sure never to get too cocky. Don’t stand in an open field under lightning clouds. Don’t play in puddles and get ringworm.

I lived in Guam. Seems if you live in the Pacific Ocean, you have to expect the whole range of tropical weather. Which would include earthquakes. And if volcanoes were nearby, those, too.

I lived in Key West. Consistently warm weather often compelled my brother and me to stay inside with the air conditioning. But I played a lot outside, too. But I mostly blame Key West for making me break my brother’s arm.

I lived in Jacksonville. Hurricanes mostly miss Jacksonville. The city often catches the fringes of the swirlstorms, and it receives a lot of rain, but Jax has had its share of lucky breaks when hurricanes decide to turn northward toward the Carolinas. And that’s not so lucky for the Carolinas.

I lived in New York City. That damn town greeted me with a blizzard, and it rained when I left it nearly 7 years later. That place brought out my allergies and gave me a true glimpse of depression. Rain, snow, strikes, sweltering and stifling heat. I miss that place.

I live in Utah. The sun is out, I can see the mountains that still hang on to the turned leaves. I walked two blocks through wet and heavy snow the other day, and I felt nostalgic. Today, nary a trace of that white stuff. But the mountains cling to that, too.

New York, I know you’re prepared. Candles, flashlights, water, food, batteries. Board games, radio. Dance parties. Storytime. Quality time. Run to the Hills. Or Washington Heights. I’ll be praying for you.