Friday, October 16, 2015

My School!

This is what Max cried when I pulled out of the primary school parking lot yesterday. "My school!"

Max's first day at preschool.
I was thrilled.

He wasn't crying-crying, there weren't any actual tears. He was too exhausted from his third day of preschool in a very stimulating classroom to wind up into any kind of tantrum. He might have just been accessing an emotional response appropriate for leaving a place and practicing with it.

I don't care about any of that. I'm just glad he said something spontaneous. I'm glad he talked at all. And I am more than grateful that school quickly has become a place he enjoys.

It's been a rough journey these last several months, discovering that Max has a speech delay and perhaps a few sensory issues. His development was cruising right along, his vocabulary was growing, and his academic learning was way ahead.

At 3 years old he can sing the ABCs, correctly identify the sounds each letter makes, and even list a few words here and there that begin with those sounds. He asks me to make crescents and trapezoids when we play shapes with a rubber band, and he is about one letter away from cracking my password on the Kindle to download more apps.

But tell me what he did at school? Say what he is thinking? Communicate in sentences that aren't first given to him for parroting? Nope, not yet.

These last few months have been a confusing and often depressing journey, but the light at the end of the tunnel is glowing brighter. Actually, it's really illuminating several more tunnels, and we still have to evaluate and explore and outright guess which one is Max's best chance at being his full and authentic self. But at least we've figured out how to drive the freaking train.

Paperwork for anything having to do with school or a state board or a child's brain development is an endless stapled packet. Four different packets are really the same one just in slightly different wording or order. We all know just how much I like filling out paperwork.

But now it's an outright battle. Paperwork is just one more tactic that I'm willing to employ to get Max the help he needs to unlock speech and let all of the learning and behavior skills fall into place. I'm willing to drive to a different city to get him the best therapy. I'm willing to be what I never thought I would be: a parent who drives her kid to and from school.

I dutifully stand in the parent waiting area, the vortex of possible friendship and probable judgment. I willingly hand over my little love to other people who don't let me past the buzzer-locked double doors. I scour the little half sheet of paper that reports what he did in school that day as an attempt to have a conversation with him about it.

Happily, three days of this have yielded more results than the previous three months. My stress level has plummeted with just a few hours a day completely belonging to me, when I can actually schedule appointments or clean the house or get some grocery shopping done (which increasingly has become a screamfest when I have to drag along Max). We're all benefiting from a routine.

Max sweetly feels some ownership of this new place, this school with new toys and new playgrounds and new friends. I am feeling the same gratitude for it.

My school! My chance! My relief.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ring of Despair

I suppose it's OK to let Max play in his bedroom while I'm here in the boys' bathroom sorting his brother's laundry he is going to be stuck downstairs all day it's freaking snowing again and I'm too filthy to go to the gym and take him so he can have fun in the kid room there I didn't wash my hair yesterday it's so dirty it hurts I'll just wait until he naps if he naps he hardly ever sleeps but maybe he will be merciful to me today and I can pop in a workout DVD and shower too while he naps Jesus how much laundry does Gabe have did he go to school naked his closet is only so big wait a minute what's that sound that very distinct tinkling sound of delicate metal and gems on crystal oh my God that little shit has gotten into my jewelry dish again I'd better rush into my bedroom and see what's happening he hears me coming he's already saying "oh no no no" and "it's OK" like I'm not going to spank you look what you did dammit how many times do I have to tell you oh yeah you can run but I'm going to catch you oh God you're struggling and I'm mad and I just hate myself for spanking you and this morning is just going to shit I'm trying to do laundry and housework and act like I've got it together and here you are dumping my jewelry you're entertaining yourself you've got no one to play with I guess there's just nothing to do but pick it up no I don't want your help just get away from me I don't even want to look at you right now and I hate hate hate myself for how I feel about you when you're just a little guy and you're just curious and I wish I was a better mother and oh my God where the fuck is my wedding band no get away stop it oh shit where is it where is it I've found all the earrings and the diamond and the other rings where is the band how many times do I have to tell you to leave my things alone this is my stuff stop it leave it just leave it alone my wedding band is gone I'm crying now and I know it's just a ring just a thing but this makes me so sad your daddy gave me this ring this is from daddy he gave it to me on the day we finally got married and this is my wedding ring and I miss him so much he's gone so long at sea and he gave me this ring and I'm sobbing and there is snot coming out of my nose and I'm on the floor now you're really crying and upset and trying to hug me and crap I have to hug you because you're making that funny little upset penguin honk and you only ever do that when you're super upset of course you're upset because you're just 2 and you don't know why your mom is on the floor sobbing but you know it might have something to do with you and you just said "it's OK" in half reassurance to me and half hope for yourself and you're putting your soft little chubby hands on the side of my face and trying to physically lift my sobbing face into a smile this makes me love you and hate myself even more and stop it you have to go somewhere else now I can't do this right now I just want to find this ring it has to be here somewhere I'll go through everything and lift up everything and put away all this piled stuff maybe it fell into this stuff everywhere wait a minute I'm doing extra work now and it's taking more time where did he go I hear the rattle of the blinds in the guest bedroom my God is he hanging himself in the cords of the blinds while I'm looking for a stupid ring I'm running down the hallway nope there he is just screwing around trying to make that noise again with the blinds c'mon let's go downstairs and do this laundry please I just want to do some laundry it's the one thing that always makes me feel like I can accomplish something just something anything in this house that can be some evidence that I have done something right.

(Just a little snippet from my morning.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring, Swings and Song

My pantless wish is slowly but surely coming true. Temperatures are in the 40s and the snow is melting. There are huge swaths of snow-squashed grass emerging in the yard, and the roads and sidewalks are clear enough for actual traversing without 4-wheel drive.

I've spent the last several minutes listening to one of the surest signs of spring: birdsong. I am no ornithologist. I can distinguish a handful of birds -- cardinals, robins, blue jays, crows, eagles, hawks, doves -- with confidence, and I will get lucky at correctly guessing a finch or sparrow. And of course I know pigeons, seagulls, geese and ducks. But that's mostly by sight and rarely by sound.

This one bird that has been calling nearby sounds exactly like another great sound of spring: swinging. You know, that rhythmic squeaking of a metal chain link on a metal hook that has hung mostly unused and frozen in ice all winter. Swings squeak any season, but there is something ringing and extra clear about it in spring, when a kid can finally get to it in the park again. Summer swings sound different, I swear.

So if you know what that bird is, that one that sounds like a creaking swing set in spring, let me know.

Max and I will be doing some actual swinging any day now. We went for our first spring walk up and down our street today, jumping in puddles and stomping the random dry leaf that had clung to a tree all winter but finally made a dive to make way for new growth.

We have been driving past the village park all winter, but there was something about it today that finally made him ask to go to it. Maybe it was because he can finally see the ground again and he remembers how fun it is to run around there.

Or maybe that calling bird reminded him of the swings.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Winter Pants Blues

The sun is shining on the fresh snow, making it look a lot more pleasant outside than it actually is. Temperatures are hovering around 20, which is a lot better than the recent below-zero stretch, but that's still more than 10 degrees below freezing. I'm not going out there, and neither is my toddler. Unfortunately this is contributing to some cabin fever and a slight funk.

Sure, we could go out for a few minutes. But unless the ratio of time outside is favorable to the time spent before and after, dealing with all of the snowsuits and boots and mittens and the literal body wrestling to get the 40-pound block of human ice back inside the house and then the mopping up of wet snow melting everywhere, I'm not likely to attempt it today.

I've been Pinning dresses like mad.
Lots of us encounter a sudden dip in emotional well-being this time of year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real thing, but I haven't really experienced it in northwest Ohio. Central New York in winter, yes, but not here where I have lots of positive associations with winter weather and where we really fare a lot better than other parts of the country when it comes to never-ending snow or consecutive gray, sunless days.

A lot of my friends begin complaining about the winter weather early in the season, like by Dec. 1. I have an unofficial rule of waiting until March 1. But again, I know where I live and I know there is going to be a few more fierce snow storms before spring really arrives, no matter what the date on the calendar is.

It's March 2, and I feel freer to grump a bit. Being stuck inside a house with a toddler makes anyone grumpy at any time of the year. But he isn't really the object of my distress right now.

It's pants.

I am so sick of wearing warm clothes. Especially pants, with their tight waistbands and their dragging hems, but I've pretty much had it with long-sleeved tops too. How I long for skirts and dresses, for toe-bearing shoes, for skipping out of the house without a bulky wool coat that is screaming for an end-of-season trip to the dry cleaners.

I know it can be a symptom of depression when a woman wanders around her house all day in her nightgown and robe. But it's because I can't bear the thought of putting on pants one more day this winter. Not if I don't have to go out in public or welcome a non-relative into my home. I don't even own snow pants.

Ugh, please, no more pants. Give me spring and a flowing, flowery frock. I'll even be satisfied with my heather gray jersey-knit dress that is basically a giant T-shirt. Even if you can't see it, I want to be bare from my undies to my shoes. Free legs. Pantless legs. ZZ Top legs.

Now I really am having a depressive hallucination.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Tax Tutor Cometh

My husband is a great provider for our family. It's a hard way to go about it -- being away from that family more than half the year in one of the hardest professionally skilled jobs on the planet, IMHO -- and sometimes we wonder if it's all really "worth it."

There's not much arguing with the net worth on the balance sheet, though. We may not be together like most couples get to be, but when we are together we get to live and travel and have experiences that a lot of couples only dream about. I mean, Robin Leach isn't going to show up any time soon, but it's a comfort for which I can be only grateful.

One of the greatest things Dan ever did for us financially was to contract with a local firm that manages all of our money matters. Taxes, investments, cash flow, household budget, college savings plan -- you name it, they do it. They set up a trust for all of our assets, and I finally got a power of attorney that makes handling business while Dan is away at sea so much easier.

The best part is that Dan and I can pester our financial consultant and our accountant -- hell, even the secretary there -- as often as we want. They are extremely nice and knowledgeable. And whenever there is an issue, or some sort of hoop jumping that financial matters inevitably require, they and the rest of the team there will do the research and make the calls and fill out the forms.

Oh my God, the forms.

Any and all forms ever sent my way should come with a brown paper lunch bag. Forms make me hyperventilate. I have a bad association with forms when it comes to money and insurance and other Really Important Stuff. Very bad. But the folks at Hantz, along with Titus & Urbanski, just handle it and tell me where to sign.

Spare me any lecturing on how I, especially as a smart and capable woman, should know more about finances and should be able to figure it out myself. I'm scarred, OK? Besides, for good or evil, money is rather important and having experts sort it all out isn't a dumb idea. I take my clothes to a really good tailor, even though I could take three times as long to hem my own pants and probably end up with uneven stitches and a bloody finger. I'll take my money to a really good financial firm, and I won't be the one calling the banks and the brokers and the myriad governmental gatekeepers and waiting on hold until Christ comes again.

Enter Tony the Tax Man, as I call him. T-Bone, as my husband calls him. We met him at a vendor's booth for his firm at our little village's annual summer festival. Dan had been on the hunt for a new CPA to prepare his taxes, which are ridiculous because of his sailing schedule, independent consulting, union, Navy orders, etc., and was considering a financial adviser too since I had quit earning my own paycheck and the whole family's financial stability was now in one basket.

Filed under Small World Wonders, it turned out folks from Tony the Tax Man's firm were the exact same ones who gave a presentation on retirement investments that I had covered for the newspaper. [You can read that little gem here: "Older residents urged to do estate, tax planning for retirement" -- I did not write that boring headline, by the way.]

Dan and I ended up scheduling a meeting with Brian the Brain (a moniker I only now made up but which totally fits), and it was he who had been the first one to ever make any of that 401(k) shit sound sensible to me -- and hopefully to the Silver Sneakers seniors gathered at the YMCA that day as well. A copy of my article was even laminated and among the pile of magazines on the lobby table when we first arrived at the office. Good omen, eh?

So now, Tony the Tax Man prepares our return, Brian the Brain keeps our finances on track, and Kristine the Great (our lovely lawyer queen) helped us prepare all of the documents that say who gets our kids when we die. Now that is one-stop shopping.

But today I'm particularly fond of Tony the Tax Man. A preview ad for HBO's "Silicon Valley" finally made me realize why he looks so familiar; Tony apparently is the stunt double for Zach Woods. A letter from the Ohio Department of Taxation made me realize how very vital Tony is in keeping my hyperventilating feelings at bay.

Good ol' ODT sent both Dan and me an "identity verification" letter stating how very concerned the department was with being responsible to the American taxpayer and doing everything it could to combat fraud. What I read was it wanted me to jump through one more goddamned hoop and had made it cumbersome enough in the hopes that it wouldn't really have to issue us any refund.

At first I played it very cool. I followed the letter's directions, went online to take the ID quiz, and had Dan's letter scanned in and ready to attach to an email that I planned to send to him aboard his ship with this very easygoing and reassuring note that I had successfully passed the quiz and he just needed to do this teensy little thing and everything would be golden.

Instead, I wrote him and cc'd Tony the Tax Man with a record of my failure. I couldn't even get past the log in page. But Dan couldn't either, and I suppose that made me feel a bit less incompetent. We kept getting these errors that we weren't in the Ohio Department of Taxation's system. All I could think was, "Then why the f*ck did you send me this letter?" This is why I hate this stuff so so so much. It never works out.

But Tony eventually got us the answers we needed and set us on the path to passing the quiz. Tony the Tax Tutor.

I highly recommend getting a financial adviser or manager or consultant, even if you think you don't have that many finances to be advised/managed/consulted in the first place. An adviser actually helps you find more money. And if you can, find one that does all these services together, especially if you are ever paying for anyone else to do your taxes. The fee for this particular firm is $100 a month, and that includes our annual tax preparation so really it's only 60 more bucks a month for the year. Money doesn't scare me that much to miss the good deal in all of this. Kristine the Great had her own fees, but if you have people you love and property you want to protect and pass on, you really need the kind of stuff she handles.

Now all that's in my little brown paper bag is a sandwich. Bought and paid for, baby. Pass the mayo.