Monthly Archives: March 2009

Old Favorites Part IV: Breaking 2nd Grade News

This one is for Norah, as it addresses my youngest daughter’s entry into the world of theater. Hannah is currently in “crunchtime” rehearsals for “Alice in Wonderland,” which means that her rehearsal hours per week really should be netting her vacation time and health insurance. “Alice” will be performed during the first week of April. Hannah is playing the role of the Three of Clubs, but she has all lines memorized for all characters — I’m really not kidding — and is prepared to step in as an understudy for anyone at all, should it be necessary. This was originally posted on April 15, 2007.

Hannah announced early last week that her class will be producing a play, to be performed at the end of the school year. They chose “Charlotte’s Web,” and she expressed interest in one of the lead roles — the part of Wilbur.


As the week progressed, Hannah’s desire to be Wilbur — to own the pig — became more urgent. She spoke, sometimes to me, occasionally just to herself, of several classmates who were also being considered for this role, and listed new reasons daily as to why she and she alone could do the part justice.

This worried me.

Each morning she declared that it was one day closer to the Day of Reckoning — Thursday — when the parts would be officially posted at a table in her classroom. It was clear to me that her hopes were so laser-focused on this one role that she might be losing sight of the fact that the play would be fun no matter what part she got. She mentioned that she was also being considered for the part of the narrator, so I did my best to sell her the idea that the narrator also had an extremely important job. Unfortunately, I knew that my consolation speech was pointless, as the narrator does not get to faint three times, sit in Fern’s lap, or wear a fuzzy pink suit.

Thursday morning, as Hannah packed up her homework, morning snack and jumprope, she reminded me that today was the day. She would learn her theatrical destiny as soon as she walked past her hallway cubby and into her classroom.

“Mom, when I come home later, you’ll know that I’m Wilbur if I have a biiiiig smile on my face,” she said. Of course, I cringed, concerned about the opposite scenario, imagining her little face contorted with pain and streaked with tears once she found out she was slated to play any other role.

All day, I worried, preparing to comfort my little blonde if she came home disappointed.

At precisely 3:45, I heard the loud rumble of Bus #9, as it groaned to a halt in front of the house. I raced to the front door. Act casual, I ordered myself. Hannah disembarked, looking at her feet.

Uh oh.

As she approached the door, she glanced up and saw me, and made an effort to flash a big, toothy “Hi, Mom!” grin. I read it as a brave attempt to show me that she was okay, and prepared for the tears.

From inside the front door, I watched as she crossed the lawn, squishing the mud beneath her boots. She walked up the steps and ditched her backpack at the threshold. Then she stretched her arms out to both sides, threw her head back, and loudly declared: “I’M WIIIIIIILBUR!!!

I have no idea how she is going to memorize all those lines.

I’m also not sure how to address this disturbing conflict of interest.

UPDATE: Mrs. P told the class earlier in the week that whomever got the role of Wilbur would have to be someone with a loud voice. Hannah is quite proud to have been positively recognized for her lack of volume control.

Old Favorites Part III: It’s A Control Thing

Continuing our walk down memory lane… I originally wrote and posted this on July 11, 2007.

I like to sweat. I need it.

Exercise is my mental health program, almost entirely. The actual health benefits take a distant second place to the stress relief I get from it. I suppose I’m slightly addicted to the feeling of an elevated heart rate, as well as the fatigued satisfaction that follows a tough workout, but as habits go, I’m sure I could do worse.

I used to run when I was in high school and college, but my knees won’t let me anymore. I like the full body workout I can get on an elliptical trainer, and I love my Friday spin classes, taught by Pat the Perky Sado-Masochist / NICU Nurse / Bad-Ass, who believes in packing her 45-minute classes chuck-full of steep, virtual-muddy hills, and time trials. There are no downhills in her world, and she smiles and laughs her way through class while kicking the butts of all who dare to claim a flywheel.

Probably because of this, I recently rediscovered my bike.

The actual one, with wheels that touch the ground and move the bike from here to there.

I don’t know how to fix a flat. I can’t name or locate the parts of a bike beyond the wheels and gears and handlebars. Long parked in the garage with its ever-thickening coating of dust and partially deflated tires, seeing the sun only for the occasional leisurely ride with the kids, I finally took it out for a spin a few weeks ago.

Abby and Hannah were over at a friend’s house, either choreographing a dance routine for the camp talent show, or perhaps humiliating neighbor cats by forcing them to wear doll clothes and paper hats, so I asked Sam if he wanted to go with me. He said no, but I dragged him away from the computer and made him go anyway.

Given the choice, Sam will build Lego railroads and airplanes, or drive the Train Simulator from his computer chair for days at a time, so I wanted to get him outside for some exercise. I hadn’t been to the gym in a couple of days because of all the summer-kids-are-home-activities, so I also wanted to make the most of our ride through the streets, and went at a faster pace than our usual family roll through the ‘hood. He seemed to enjoy it in spite of his surprise at the pace (“HEY MOM! WAIT UP!”).

At about four miles, I looped by the house, giving Sam the option of doing another lap or stopping. He wasted no time telling me that, um, he was done, thank you very much, and in need of a Gatorade and some hammock time.

But that ride reminded me that cycling outside brings with it warm breezes in the face, sunshine and goldfinches and summer scents at every turn, like strawberry plants, barbecues, and freshly cut grass.

And downhills. Downhills!

So now I’m hooked.

I rode another four or five miles that day, and then eight or nine the next time. That became routine, so one day last week I rode twelve, just because I knew I could, and I because I thought double digits sounded cool. Yesterday, about halfway through my intended twelve miles, the number “eighteen” got lodged in my head, mostly because I just wanted to see what it would feel like to push it that far. And of course, once I got close to eighteen, I figured I’d make it an even twenty.

It took about 90 minutes, and it was a challenge to walk up the front steps once I got off the bike, but I loved that I did it.

20 miles! Woo hoo!

Not too bad for a confirmed doofus who, according to my mom, used to “trip over blades of grass,” and only very recently sustained injury while braving the treacherous terrain between the front door and my minivan.

One of the things I love about exercise is that I am in complete control, unlike much of the rest of my life, which often seems to set its own course and haul me along for the ride. There are obstacles I can overcome in almost every session, and goals I can reach, sometimes as simple as getting my butt out of the house and through a workout, even when I don’t feel like it.

That pattern and energy builds my confidence and makes me feel strong, and therefore capable of taking control of the rest.

I hated when my knees shouted a loud “NO!” to the running option a year or two ago; I don’t like admitting defeat. But biking is much easier on 41 year-old bones and joints, and although real cyclists know that 20 miles is roughly equivalent to a jog in the park, cycling mileage sounds far more impressive than the three or four miles that I could manage when I used to go out to run, beating up and breaking down my shins and knees and feet with every step on the hard pavement.

I like to sweat. I like the mental vacation. I like to push myself to see what I can do.

But before I take the bike much farther, I guess I need to figure out if I can fix a flat tire.

Hannah’s Commentary on My Sunday Lunch, as Evidence of My Rapidly Advancing Age

I happily took a seat in my kitchen with a bowl of Vegetable Barley soup and a handful of cheesy Goldfish crackers. Hannah licked her fingers as she polished off her Kid Cuisine burger and fruit snacks. Then, she stared at me, eyes wide open and totally horrified, as I tasted my first spoonful.

Hannah: Mom?

Me: What’s up, Hannah?

Hannah: You’re starting to get old.

Me: What?! Why are you saying that?

Hannah (getting agitated, because the answer is SO obvious): You’re eating soup.

Me: And that means I’m old?

Hannah (totally exasperated): Old men. Who are sick. Eat soup.

Me: Yes, they do. But sometimes young kids who are healthy eat soup, Hannah. And other people, too.

Hannah (dramatic eyeroll; heavy sigh): Yeah, right.

Old Favorites Part II: Death of a Michigan Man

Second in a series of old favorites… this was originally published here on November 18, 2006.

I remember waking up on Saturday mornings in the 70’s and 80’s, hearing the distant sounds of the Michigan Marching Band as they practiced for the day’s halftime show. I had no appreciation then for how talented they were, or how lucky I was to have access to a season ticket in a stadium that boasted seats for 101,701 crazed football fans.

The Michigan vs. Ohio State game was always heavily anticipated by Ann Arborites — a focal point of every fall. It never occurred to me that there were people anywhere who didn’t look forward to toe-freezing, windy, sometimes rainy and snowy November days on Stadium Boulevard with the passion and fervor that we did. No question; that’s what you did on Saturday afternoons. It just… was.

While I can’t say that I have followed the ins and outs of Michigan football as an adult (I realize this horrifies my parents and my brothers; I’m sorry) I do remember many specific details from that glorious era. Bob Ufer’s emotional and hilarious radio color commentary, Rick Leach’s team leadership, Ali Haji-Sheikh’s clutch field goal kicks, the thrill of Anthony Carter’s many physically impossible, magnificent catches and subsequent game-winning sprints into the endzone, the emotional rush of being part of an excited, sometimes overzealous crowd.

My sports-fan energy is largely focused on the Boston Red Sox these days, but my roots are in Michigan football, as a freezing cold kid equipped with hand warmers and a wool hat, sitting in Section 20, Row 56. I didn’t really get the nuances of the game, but I understood the thrill of the competition, the commitment of the team, and the level of excellence.

Mom and Dad went condo a couple of years ago, and landed right next door to Bo. They had known each other for years, but it has been fun to visit them in their new house knowing that The Man was right next door. He was a friendly neighbor, often stopping to chat in the driveway. He offered my parents a VIP parking pass so they wouldn’t have to walk through the crowds to get to the football games that they rarely attend anymore. He even volunteered to help around the house, telling my mom that he could “still get around pretty good.”

I urge anyone who appreciates great writing and/or loves the college football tradition to read Mitch Albom’s article, issued today at 3:00 AM. He wrote Bo’s biography back in 1989. They knew each other well. Mitch was one of my favorite writers long before he hit it big with his wonderful book Tuesdays with Morrie — his Detroit Free Press sports columns were almost always my first-must-read at the breakfast table before trudging off to school back in the early 80’s. He has a rare talent for hitting raw emotional nerves, using clean, simple language. This article is a beautiful tribute to a man who lived his life with intensity and loyalty; passion and purpose.

I can’t say I’m a dedicated, knowledgeable football fan — my brothers would laugh at me if I did — but Bo’s death has affected me in a way that surprises me a little. It’s a personal loss for my parents, of course. But Michigan football was a prominent part of my childhood and adolescence. Those games were dominant topics of conversation at school and around the family dinner table for as long as I can remember. Bo’s death puts another chunk of that era squarely in the past.

Go Blue, and rest in peace, Mr. Schembechler.

Old Favorites Part I: Sam’s Secrets Revealed

Brought to you by reader demand… this is the first in a series of favorites. This entry was originally published on May 4, 2006.

That subject line is not so much mine as it is Sam’s title to the poem he made up last night.

Sam is my 10 year-old son. He has high-functioning autism. I struggle daily to find the balance between talking openly with him about his diagnosis, and letting him just be a kid.

Every parent who travels this road knows that slapping a label on your child can be social homicide. But I think Sam needs to understand why his brain works the way it does; how it makes him exceptionally gifted in certain areas like visual processing, math, and rote memorization of spoken language, to name a few.

It is also the reason that he has a 1:1 aide during his school day, struggles to sit still in a classroom, and has trouble understanding how to start or maintain a conversation.

I think he needs to know why he has these challenges in order to conquer them. He also needs to feel proud of the inestimable gifts that go along with his neurological configuration, which is different than most.

I try to be honest and open about it, so that in his mind, it is simply a piece of the fabric of his personality. But I don’t dwell on it. This diagnosis does not define him.

Sam is echolalic, which means he has an extraordinary ability to memorize large chunks of language that he hears from other people, computer games, TV shows. (We received one of our first “this kid is different” red flags when he began reciting the entire text of the children’s book “The Polar Express” — verbatim — at age three.) When speaking spontaneously, he avoids eye contact, his delivery is monotone, and he struggles to find words. But when he repeats something that he has heard, he has all the punch and inflection of a seasoned Shakespearean actor performing a soliloquy.

Sam has a school open house coming up next week. Some of the kids are memorizing poems, to be recited solo in front of a large group of parents and students. A few afternoons ago, he ran inside right after the bus dropped him off, and proceeded to recite — from memory — not one, but all five poems that some of his classmates are learning. He has a wonderful teacher this year who plays to his strengths, and Sam will be delivering one of the recitations next Thursday.

Last night, just before bed, he was running around his room, laughing because he had put on a new pair of underwear over the ones he was already wearing. He was literally bouncing off all four walls and the floor. We have a trampoline and some occupational therapy-approved swings in our yard, and Sam gets sensory integration OT sessions at school every day to help him settle into his body, so that he can sit still. While I understand that his “wall bouncing” is neurologically-based behavior, I still get annoyed when it happens at bedtime when we’re all fried and just want to shut down the parenting engines for the night.

So, while I failed at my efforts to maintain my patience, and chased him around the house with his jammies in my hand, he announced, “Mom! I have a poem!”

Exasperated, I said, “Sam, that’s great, but right now I don’t want to hear it. You need to go to bed.”

He went ahead anyway, smiling and trying not to laugh.

He is often hard to reach. When I see a twinkle of presence in his eyes, I can’t deny him. So I listened.

He smiled and said, “This is a poem about me!” and improvised the following:

Sam’s Secrets Revealed

I’m a great builder.
I am an artist.
I have autism.
I have two overdue library books!
Baseball is my favorite sport.
I hit so many grand slams.
And I’m wearing two pairs of underwear right now!

He could have pulled the actual rug out from under me and I wouldn’t have noticed. In that one brief recitation, Sam revealed to me that he knows he has autism, and that he sees it as just one item in the middle of a list of many things that describe him.

I was elated.

And I’m wearing two pairs of underwear right now.