Kids to mom: You don't get it!

Yesterday my children sent me a message that I am not "getting" it.

When I told them that I e-mailed a couple of friends from our neighborhood to trick-or-treat with us today, they both became visibly frustrated. "You didn't ask us who we wanted to go with," and "I don't want to go with anyone else, just us!" were their remarks. There were tears too.

I did a little of the, "Oh, c'mon, we're all friends. This will be fine," but it didn't work. They were adamant that I should have consulted them before arranging a plan. It was a tense moment.

I have learned that the only response in these moments (oh, and we were in the car) is to back off and listen. The problem for me was that while I understood their points, I was dreading making any change to the plan because that meant I would have to go back to the friends and share the story or some mock version of the story with them. Fallout unpleasant.

But that's what I had to do. Here's the message I wrote:

Hi everyone - Sorry, but my kids were really mad at me this afternoon and they really want to trick or treat alone. I hope you'll all gather and that we'll "run into" you. But, I have to back out. It's more complicated than I knew. Sorry.

We'll see what I learn today. I imagine this lesson will come up again.


Feeling uncertain is better than feeling afraid

The economy is very tight. There is no doubt about it: We're in a recession and have been for a while. Here come more layoffs ... a decision in an election that has lasted more than 2 years (and cost obscene amounts of time and money) ... the crowded schools ... the cuts to social services. The list multiplies.

For what it is worth, my response is to bow down and face the reckoning. Spending up may have been "entertaining" but most agree that living simply and within one's means is the better plan for individuals and the country.

So, instead of getting scared about what's to come, I try to remind myself, "Where have I been excessive?" and "Where have I remained in balance?" Usually there is equity in that inquiry.

And feeling uncertain is healthier than feeling afraid.


Mom is the superhero this Halloween

I was surfing the Internet for Halloween tips and tricks this morning. I was sort of bored, I admit. Ho-hum, "safe pumpkin carving tips" and "homemade costume patterns" read the search results page. Then I found something so moving that it gave me the shivers. I have to share it here with you!

Please read it and pass it around to any mother or father fighting a superhero's battle on behalf of a child. Pass it on to anyone who needs a fresh take on Halloween:

Boo! Hoo! [Halloween for Kids With Special Needs] by Lori Miller Fox

Every year as Halloween approaches, I battle mixed feelings. For my “typically developing” daughter, it’s a day second only to her birthday. It’s a day when she can be a princess both inside and out, gather all the candy she and her dad can carry, and eat until she can’t fit one more Skittle or piece of Reese's into her tiny mouth. For me, it’s a day when I too want to fit every piece of Reese's into my mouth but only to swallow the pain.

Halloween, has always been a symbol of childhood. It’s a day when children can be children and live out their costume and candy fantasies. But for kids with special needs and their families, it can be a day of segregation, isolation and frustration.

Since many children with special needs can’t or have to limit their intake of candy, my son’s only enjoyment on Halloween was ringing the doorbells--a task, which in a wheelchair, was made very difficult by steps and stoops and shrubs and stares. So many unfamiliar “neighbors” tried to relieve their shock and saddness by dumping handfuls of candy my son would never eat into a bag that he couldn’t hold. But then again, more for the grieving parents.

Now that my son is 14, I thankfully no longer have to worry about what kind of costume goes with a wheelchair, and I can avoid the painful “elementary school parade” for which upright posture was the only thing to be grateful. And I can mindlessly answer the door and force a smile on my face as I pass out the Hershey bars.

Today as I look back on my Annual Autumn anxiety, I realize that as parents of children with special needs, we’re often the ones having to wear the costumes. And not only on Halloween, but every day. From the smiles we paint on our faces to the stiff upper lips we rubber cement onto our chins. As our children grow, we become the people they need us to be, to enable them to be who they are.

We become superheroes...fighting for our children’s rights.
Lions and lionesses...protecting our defenseless cubs.
And cartoon characters...getting the proverbial anvil dropped on our heads only to rise the next day and start all over again.

We morph into oak trees...solid, not budging from our positions.
Wizards...looking for the universal magic wand to manifest the impossible.
And knights in armor...battling the unjust judgments and criticisms of those around us.

We can appear to be aliens...with families unlike most of our neighbors.
Great explorers...yearning to find answers to questions ony parents would ask.
And founding fathers...striving to create something better for our children.

We are athletes...still reaching when nothing is within reach.
Builders...laying down strong foundations for our children’s lives.
And circus clowns...trying desperately to find the humor in it all.

We are survivors...we are innovators...we are the champions for our children who are the greatest champions of all. Have a happy Halloween. Eat some candy!

Read this post on the Special Ed Law Blog


Coco's weekly meal plan: Kid tested

When I returned to work a year ago I quickly realized that "creating" dinner the way I used to was unsustainable. My kids were tired, I was tired, homework and showers needed to happen, evening activities were calling. I couldn't just dash out for a few ingredients. It was too much. That's when I started to research meal plans and had a "come-to-Jesus" moment with myself about overdoing simple weekday meals to my detriment.

It wasn't a surprise that I was called to reckon my love for interesting, spontaneous cooking with fresh market ingredients, and my need to be an effective family manager and plan in advance. I had had years of training as a cook. First, at various catering companies in the Hamptons, where Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa was the standard, then later at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, in Cambridge, Massachusetts where the repertoire was a bit more corporate. I also had plenty of "free" time (although it never felt that way at the time, I see it now).

I wouldn't be telling you the whole truth if I told you that adapting and sticking with a meal plan was simple for me and my family. We're seriously unconventional in many ways and the meal plan felt like another suburbanization of my life. I didn't want to let go of my first love! But through trial and error, I was able to put together a routine in the family kitchen that continues to support us. It feels balanced, healthy and simple, with enough room for accommodation for independent likes and dislikes to satisfy most of us, most of the time. Here's my boiled-down version:

Monday - Hot Potato night
Hot locally grown baked potatoes
Toppings (some of the favorites include shredded cheese, unsalted butter, scallions, chili, green veggies, salt & pepper, sour cream, etc.)
Something fresh like salad or a veggie plate
Dessert is optional (usually fruit)

Tuesday - "Taco" night
Hot jasmine or brown rice
Browned turkey breast seasoned w/ Taco spices
Served in a bowl, burrito or taco
Toppings: lettuce, avocado or guacamole, salsa
Big salad or fresh fruit plate
Dessert is optional

Wednesday - Pasta night!
Hot pasta - fresh or dry
Bottled or homemade sauce, or garlic/butter/oil
Garlic bread (homemade or store bought)
Salad with a cheesy dressing
Dessert is optional

Thursday - Take a break!
Take-out night
Budget healthy take-out
(This is the night that is the least nutritious, BTW)
Dessert is optional

Friday - Turn up the spice for the weekend!
Hot roasted Bell & Evans chicken or fish seasoned w/ curry or other spices
Cooked veggie medley
Something for dessert!
Eat in the dining room. Light a candle or two!

Weekends are more freestyle and usually include lunch:
Inventive and spontaneous (with or w/out the kids)
Eat in the dining room

Sunday - Whiffle ball night
SIMPLE Picnic or pizza for whiffle ball in the park
(This will change soon, when the season is over)

At each meal, the kids have a choice of:
2% milk, water, cider, sparkling
Adults might have:
sparkling, wine, beer, water

Kefir drinks or yogurt
Graham crackers in milk, eaten with a spoon
Chocolate pudding from KoziShack
A homemade dessert


Underwater explorer wins TED prize

“We’ve got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that in 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us.”

Sylvia Earle, called “Her Deepness” by the New Yorker and the New York Times, “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, and “Hero for the Planet” by Time, is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer with a deep commitment to research through personal exploration.

Earle’s work has been at the frontier of deep ocean exploration for four decades. Earle has led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving more than 6,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater, she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, Sylvia Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. ... At present she is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.

Read more about Sylvia and the other TED Prize winners

Contemplating the depths of the ocean early on a Sunday morning:

Ocean Area (square miles) Average Depth (ft) Deepest depth (ft)
Pacific Ocean 64,186,000 15,215
Mariana Trench, 36,200

Atlantic Ocean 33,420,000 12,881
Puerto Rico Trench, 28,231

Indian Ocean 28,350,000 13,002
Java Trench, 25,344

Southern Ocean 7,848,300 13,100 - 16,400

Southern South Sandwich Trench, 23,736

Arctic Ocean 5,106,000 3,953
Eurasia Basin, 17,881 ft deep

Source for chart: Enchanted learning


Road trip: New York

After work on Thursday I packed up the kids and Au Pair 2.0 (she's lovely, btw) for a much-needed road trip north to The Big Apple.

New York wakes me up. I could hardly sleep the first night. I was thinking about new colleagues, family and friends that still live in and around the city, and all the terrific food and music to be enjoyed.

Photo: Brooklyn Bridge (The view near offices of company 2.0)


Child care meets 19-year-old heartache

This post was written for Jeff Shattuck who noticed just how quiet I had been about the au pair and pinged me several times to spill it. Here's the update:

We said goodbye to the au pair yesterday. I know, big shocker. She's home in Germany by now, reunited with her first true love, a soon-to-be-19-year-old German boy who wants to become a police officer.

I was onto her broken heart immediately. I was concerned and not quite sure how to play it with her since we had little trust established between us and these conversations require great delicacy. We had a couple of "talks" and a couple of, "let's make this work" conversations but I could tell in her bones that she needed to get home, and fast.

Which turned out to be a bit of an inconvenience since it is campaign season and the whole reason I sought live in help was so that I had another set of hands around here ... Instead, I had another project.

I was naive. I held out hope that we could work this out. In fact, I wondered more than once about her motivation in coming to America in the first place. I had a theory that the reason she travelled so far away in the first place was because she wanted to grow, to spread her wings a bit. Not settle down at 19. But now I'll never know for sure.

The kids were really sad about what happened with the au pair. It confused them and they felt responsible for her grief. There wasn't any laughter or arts and crafts. No smiles. In the end she wept at breakfast, avoided us at night, and slept for hours and hours. She had a bad, bad case of the blues, which, I imagine, will take a long time to reconcile once she is home.

In an odd way, this experience has helped me gain some insight into young love: 19-year-old-heartache can literally claim your soul.
I'm glad she'll be home with her mom and boyfriend soon. Love needs room -- and its own language -- when it is so young and tender. We wish her the best as we hold a piece of her heart here.


Heading to the farm

We grew up picking our own berries, pumpkins, peaches and apples at a farm about twenty minutes from home. It would be dishonest to say that as a child I enjoyed picking fruit. I really didn't. But an orchard under the hot summer sun was a wide open invitation to explore my mischievous side.

Out at the orchard my brother and I quietly gathered our stores of mushy fruit, usually peaches or apples. Then we'd wander off to an area of the orchard where we could take turns lobbing the fruit over the trees at each other and laugh hysterically. Inevitably, the game ended with some kind of injury -- emotional or otherwise -- at which point we would wander back to the fold and help pick the fruit.

Back at home mom turned the bounty into jam most years. Sometimes it turned out a bit runny so we poured it over vanilla ice cream. Other years it was just right. There were always pies too. Delicious peach pie for the family and all the neighbors (even if they didn't want one).

A lot has changed on small farms in just one generation. The simple dirt roads of childhood are now grand parking lots with "attractions" mounted by season. Strawberry shortcake in June, buttered corn-on-the-cob in July, apple cobbler in the autumn. Often there is a petting zoo and a snack bar ... so no one ever needs to be without.

Cow sculpture on farm in NY, 2007 / C. Kraft photo

It's alright, all these changes. Getting people out from the city to the farm is the name of the game. The more children connect to the fun of the farm the greater our chances of creating a child who understands where food comes from and why it is important to health, to prosperity, to America.

A trip to the farm is always a good investment in a child, even if it brings out a mischievous side.