Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kiss Me, I'm Irish!

Today is a day when all things are Irish, even those that are not.

I'm proud to be of Irish descent, even though, at this point, it is only about 12.5%.  And despite the fact that I'm married to a man named Patrick, he is not one tiny drop Irish, so my poor children are only about 6% Irish.  

My own Irish tale is somewhat atypical.  About 5 generations back, Patrick and Honora Ryan left Ireland to strike it rich in the Australian gold rush in 1852 or so (I'm guessing as a result of the famine).  My great-great-grandfather (my grandmother's grandfather) was actually born in Victoria, Australia.  I had always assumed that the family did not strike it rich, as they returned to Ireland.  Perusing my grandmother's writings, I found out that they did indeed strike it rich and returned to Ireland, only to be burned out.  At that point, they came to the states, and settled in the Cohoes and Latham area.

I found out an interesting fact about the impact of the Irish today:

The Irish laborers, 3,000 strong men built the Erie canal in just 8 years, digging the whole ditch by hand.  They were paid $0.50/day, given room and board (crowded, smelly tents) and 32 oz. of whiskey each day.  They refused to work if they were not given their whiskey.  The Erie canal, which has locks 2-5 in my own hometown of Waterford, NY, linked the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes, and the West.  It made New York City the port and powerhouse that it is today, and vastly shifted the balance of power to the North during the Civil War.  Without those laborers, that war probably would have had a very different outcome.

When the Irish began to emigrate to the Colonies in the 1600-1700's, most were indentured servants, and 75% were Catholic.  Obviously, there was a large influx to the United States following the Great Famine (1845-1852).  So many Irish died on ships coming to the United States, living in squalor, filth and disease, that the ships were often called coffin ships.  Irish-Americans are a tough breed.  Facing discrimination, both of nationality and race, the Irish persevered, never losing their pride or tough work ethic.  The poorest of the poor, the Irish in America have gone on to leave the slums and tenements  receive education, fight for this country and serve at every level of the government from signing the Declaration of Independence to serving as President (22 Presidents claim Irish ancestry, including Barak Obama).  

Moving on from oppression by the British, indentured servitude  starvation and famine, discrimination, "Irish need no apply," and poverty, the Irish in America have bootstrapped themselves up into an unforgettable and undeniable role in this country's history.  It is why I am proud to be Irish-American.  

I have corned beef cooking in the crock-pot, because the best method of Irish cooking is to boil the crap out of it.  I am making Guinness-Oat bread and with slather it with Irish cream butter.  I will drink my stout, raise a toast to all who have fought to make a better life for themselves, and be happy and full.

May you have all the happiness
and luck that life can hold—
And at the end of all your rainbows
may you find a pot of gold.

May your pockets be heavy—
Your heart be light,
And may good luck pursue you
Each morning and night.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Long Road

I had suspicions early on that Jake's development was not normal.  Sure, he was healthy (which, working with disabled kids, I did not take for granted), but I felt from about the time he was a year old that something was amiss.  He would not perform on demand.  For example, he could wave 'bye,' but not on command.  When playing pat-a-cake, after I moved Jake's hands, he would then move mine, imitating what I had done, but not internalizing the movement to himself.  Although he could isolate a finger, he did not point at objects.  But he had a tremendous understanding of what was being said to him.  When he was about 11 months old, he was sitting and playing with his foot.  My dad said to him, from across the room, "Left foot, left foot. Right foot, right.  Feet in the day, feet in the night."  Jake took off like a shot, crawling down the hall to his room.  He returned moments later with "The Foot Book" by Dr. Seuss, which that line was from.  He spoke his first word ("Hi!") in a very appropriate way to a little girl at the Stride Right store at the age of 13 months, and then didn't speak again until about 17 months.

From this point on, Jake's development was atypical.  In hindsight, he stopped making good eye contact, but I didn't recognize that at the time.  And when he did start speaking, if it was more that a one word utterance, it was scripted.  Meaning, he had heard that phrase before (from us, a book or usually, a TV program).  For example, if Jake wanted milk, he would say, "Do you want milk?" because that is what we always said to him.  When Jake started rote counting, sometime around 20 months, (and even one to one correspondence counting), he would not start at one.  I would count (usually bites of food or stacking cups), and Jake would follow, and be silent until I got to seven.  Then he would take over, saying "8, 9, 10."

At the age of 2, while driving around with his grandfather, when they approached a turn that could take them to a playground, Jake asked, "Wanna go to the P-R-K?"  (My dad would spell out park to me when discussing it).  So he skipped the vowel, but still pretty good.  But Jake, who showed us from an early age how with-it he was, would adapt these scripted phrases.  He could recite 23 minute TV programs verbatim, but would change the characters or the setting to fit into his play and his needs.  He didn't use imaginative play--it was all from TV shows.

Even though I knew his play was not typical, I thought it was special.  It showed that my kid was smart enough to figure out a way to use what he had in a functional manner.  It was a little consolation during a difficult time when the books on typical child development were of no use because, as we like to say, "Jake never read that book so he never followed what it said."  It was a glib answer to gloss over a difficult time in which I desperately needed a book to turn to give me guidance and answers.

So fast forward to now.  Jake is 9.  He still (sort-of) fits with the Autism Spectrum thing, but is doing really really well.  He's come a long way and is a happy, generally well-adjusted child.  We are very open with him about how he is in someways different from other kids.  That some things (like his memory and knowledge) are very easy for him but other things (like speaking in a way that kids understand) is more difficult.  We stress that every one has things that they are good at and things that are more difficult, and that different is neither good nor bad, just different.  I don't even think he thinks about it that much and is just happy being himself.

I credit lots of intervention for Jake's success.  Also, Jake is very bright, which is the biggest prognosticator for success in people with Austism Spectrum Disorder.  He is not cured.  He did not grow out of Autism.  But he is engaged, compassionate and functional, which is good enough.  Also, it can be said that he is happy, loving, funny, good-natured, well-behaved (generally), and an all-around great kid.

So, all this background leads us to today.  Or yesterday, to be exact.  Jake still has special interests, like most people with Autism (especially Asperger's Syndrome).  Currently, one of his special interests is Star Wars, which makes him actually like most other 3rd grade boys.  Due to the weather, they had indoor recess.  Jake brought home this:

So, this is why I think his scripted play is brilliant and functional.  Did I mention that they are studying Australia in school?

And, here is what makes this ten times more awesome that it already is...this is a group effort.  One classmate came up with the idea of Sheep Wars.  Jake calls him the inventor.  Jake is apparently the writer.  There are three other boys involved in creating this alternate story (apparently, penguins will play the role of the Jedi's).  Two of the boys in the group he refers to often as his "friends."  I know one of the boys (whose mom is also awesome and a resident of Kate-ville), knows Jake is a little different, and has even witnessed one of Jake's meltdowns.  And he still is Jake's friend.  So, here is Jake, using the skills that he has, never having read the book on being typical, having a grand-old-time creating something totally awesome, as part of a group of FIVE KIDS.

This is all we've ever hoped for for him.  To belong and to be accepted.  To have friends.  My heart is full.  This moment of triumph may be soon replaced by the turbulence and turmoil that is part of growing up.  But I'm so glad that Jake never read that book, because I'm so happy with who he is.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Welcome to Kate-ville!

You know the saying "It takes a village to raise a child?"  Well, I firmly believe it to be true.  But in this case, I believe it takes a village to support a parent to be the type of person who can raise a child.  I'm very lucky. Over the course of my life, I've had a changing cast and crew in my village.  A lot of people have been visitors, temporary members and even citizens of my village (which could be called "Kate-ville").  I would not be the person I am today, nor even close to the type of person I would want to be without these people in my village.

My village are the people who provide shoulders for me to cry on, who provide ears to listen, brains to think and hearts to love.  They are the arms to hug and comfort, even if it is through inappropriate remarks and irreverent humor.

I've often said that it is not important to have tons of friends, but simply one or two good, true friends.  I am so lucky to have had that throughout the course of my life. From my first friend in life, Julie, who is about to embark on her own terrific journey into wedded bliss, to my current group of peeps who keep me sane (which is more difficult on some days than others), I have learned an immense amount.  And even though the cast of characters has changed over the years, I am blessed that through modern technology (otherwise known as social media), I am now in contact with most of the people who have been residents of Kate-ville.

When I actually think about naming all the people, it gets overwhelming.  But it also shows me how blessed I am to have this many beautiful, strong, smart and caring women play a role in my life and the person I am (and am still trying to become). Putting it down on paper (or screen), really emphasizes how lucky I have been.  There's the elementary addition to Julie, there is Kelly, Lauren, and then the three members of the quartet, Sherri, Kirsten, and Mari-ann.  As I moved onto high school, I had trouble finding a niche.  I never quite fit in anywhere, travelling in between groups as well as grades.  My village was more of a nomadic tribe.  But the tribe included Joy, Colleen, Anne, Shannon, Lori, Sue, Amy and Brenda.  When I moved onto college, I fell right in with my girls who made the experience so wonderful.  I would not have survived those years without Christine, Becky, Devany and Gabriela.  Sometimes, my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.

I obviously had a bounty of friends when I was younger, but as I've aged, the groups are smaller.  In Ohio, Amy, Pam and Kristen, my office-mates, and I made up the most unusual foursome, but it worked for us.  Since moving back to NY, I struggled and floundered for a few years.  When Jake entered pre-school, I found a wonderful group, Jill, Kelly and Kelleen, who helped support not only me, but my son, as we struggled with his difficulties.  These ladies welcomed me and my son, helping him to feel part of a group when his natural inclination was to isolate himself.  We saw each other have babies, and though health crises.  No matter where life takes us, I will always feel close with these women.  With Sophia, I again found a group of pre-school moms, Michelle, Sarah and Krista, to kabbitz with, and to guide each other as we worked on this thing called parenting.

Then there are the village members who found their way in through marriage.  You don't really get a choice with in-laws, but I lucked out with Flame and Cahren (with whom I share a if this is ever too rambly or dis-jointed, blame Cahren for hogging the brain that day).

I have the village dancers, who keep me moving.  Margie, I've known for 32 years, is the ring leader.  But I get my weekly therapy through movement with Dara, Kristen, Kaitlyn, Megan, Katie, Jaimie and Nicole.  No matter how crappy I feel at 6:45 pm on Tuesday, I'm guaranteed to be laughing, smiling, and feel better about the world by 9 pm.

My latest village members are a mom from school, and a co-worker at school.  Both are named Susan.  One taught me the ever-important skill of anaylizing, "is it a crisis or an inconvienence?".  The other shares my warped sense of humor, as well as OCD tendencies, and makes going to work a pleasure, especially on days when I just want to cry.

The mayor of my village is Michele.  She's the person I can tell anything to, and doesn't really judge me (ok, maybe just a little).  I can tell my fears and dreams to her, and she doesn't laugh (ok, maybe a lot, but she's laughing with me, right?).  And that's what we do, is laugh.  Because sometimes, it is all you can do.  We're already planning what we will and wont' be like when we're old (er) and are shopping for neighboring nursing home rooms.

My village has a lot a citizens, doesn't it?  Each one represents a blessing to me.  Each one has given me knowledge and support, unconditional love and guidance.  I know that I'm a work in progress, but I've come as far as I have because of my village.  So, even if we're not really close anymore, know that you've all had an impact on me.  Thank you for listening, and for being my friend.  Thank you for helping me and guiding me to become a better parent, and a better person.

Also, you can thank me for not posting pictures.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Everything old is new again

My grandmother, Mimere, was the quintessential LOL...little old lady.  By the end of her life, she topped off at about 4'6" tall, complete with white hair that she got "done" weekly.  Even when I was a child, I never remember her washing her hair, but that she went weekly to the beautician.  As such, to protect her carefully curled, teased and sprayed helmet of hair, she implemented a number of accouterments to help her hair last the week.  The first was the chiffon scarf, worn ala Jackie O.  However, Mimere (God rest her soul) somehow lacked the, um, fashionista qualities that Jackie possessed.
Ok, so Mimere's not actually in this picture, but this is pretty much what she looked like.
From L to R, Aunt Genny, Aunt Mae and Josie (Mimere's BFF, before it was cool to call them that)
This scarf was used to ward off wind, as in the picture above from a senior's trip.  Her second hair-protection tool was the sleeping cap.  I remember her using this when I was a child, having sleep overs at her house.  Since I had used something similar as a child, it was not a foreign concept.  It is, as the name implies, a cap (like a fabric shower cap), used to protect curls at night.  I don't know that she used this throughout her life, but I seem to remember seeing one under her pillow case on those occasions when I would help her make her bed.

The third, and most important tool in her hair protection arsenal was the plastic rain bonnet.  This was to protect her coif from its arch-nemesis, moisture.  She kept one (at least that's what I thought, until we found her secret cache) in her purse.  At the slightest drop of H20 in the air, she would whip that sucker out and cover, faster than I had ever seen her move previously.  Even if precipitation was even forecast-ed, she would don her rain bonnet, just to be safe and protected.

Now, being the disrespectful person that I am, I used to (ok, and still do) mock the rain bonnet.  I have told my friends that I never want to get to that stage in life.  However, the rain bonnet, and all the hair coverings, were such a part of Mimere, that I could not bear to let some of them go when we were cleaning out her stuff.  I may have previously mentioned here, that my grandmother was a closet hoarder.  When cleaning out her dresser (and closet, and clothes press), we found hair scarves and rain bonnets stashed.  I'm pretty sure the rain bonnet market collapsed after her death, as its largest supporter was gone.  But I had to save one scarf and one rain bonnet.  Just because they so reminded me of her.

Sophia inherited Mimere's dresser.  About a year after moving the dresser in, I noticed that one of the drawers was not closing properly.  When I removed the drawer, instead of finding a sweatshirt or pants of Sophia's, like I expected, I found a plastic bag, full of scarves and bonnets.  It brought a tear to my eye, and I just put it aside in Sophia's room.  Even though I had saved my token bonnet, I could not bear to part with this bag (but seriously, how many did she have?!?).

Fast forward to today.  Sophia ended up showering before dinner, and, since I had the time, I set her hair in rollers.  I used to get my hair curled on Sunday nights when I was growing up, and it made me feel nostalgic. As bedtime loomed, Sophia started to get nervous that the curlers would fall out while she slept.  I, myself, used to wear a sleeping cap to hold the curlers in.  And then it hit me...the bag from Mimere!  I looked through it and, sure enough, there was an unopened sleeping cap.

Somehow, Mimere was watching out for us.  Not necessarily a fashion plate, but she makes it work.  And everything old is new again.

Although, I will have to put my foot down if she wants to wear a rain bonnet.