31 July 2009

Feeling the love

Hey, guys, thanks for the comments and personal e-mails y'all sent from the last post. We so love hearing from you, any way you feel like responding.

A few people have asked what they can do to help. I'm not really sure. We're still learning what works and what doesn't, too. This whole process, though, has made me much more patient, both with V and with other people's children. I used to be one of those annoying judge-y people when I saw a kid having a fit and the parents were reacting in a way I thought was wrong. I know now that "wrong" is so relative. When she has a meltdown, sometimes it helps V the most to be spoken to in whispers, so she can focus on what we're saying. Othertimes it's just a matter of getting out the door as fast as we can. And still other times, a stern "Stop" seems to provie the jolt she needs to come out of her rut. So what you can do most, I guess, is be patient with her and us, and know that she is not necessarily being naughty, but is overwhelmed. As are we...

Oh, and understand if we turn down invitations to plays or large-venue events, at least for a little while. The more notice we get for any kind of socializing, the better (though please don't stop inviting us).

In person, V's just like any other 3 year old. She obsesses over some things, loves to eat, dance, and tell made up jokes. When you see her, you won't notice she's got any kind of issue, in all likelihood. Unless the sun's out, or she's tired, or a motorcycle drives by.

In other news, today, we're thinking of making some homemade playdough. Anyone have a favorite recipe to recommend? I did a preliminary online search and found about 200 different ones: sheesh!

29 July 2009

Our Out-of-Sync Child

I try not to be one of those gushing "Oh, lord, isn't my child the cutest thing you've EVER SEEN?" parents on here, because that gets old fast. But I'm a mama, dammit, and I love my daughter, and I share a lot of cute photos and tell what I think are funny stories here. As this blog serves partly for your entertainment, but also as a record of our lives, I want to share the not-so-shiny times, too. Don't worry: V's still hilarious and brilliant and all that. It's just that she's more than that, too.When V was first born, she pulled away from bright light. I thought at first it was, because, you know, the womb is pretty dark, and the world is not so dark. But it continued. Lamps, windows, being outside: they all caused her to squirm hard and turn away. Then I thought maybe it's because her father is part mole, but he assures me this is not the case.

As she got older, more verbal, she hollered about direct sunshine. It made her uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of screaming and writhing. So I gave her a shoebox to put her head into when we were in the car. She felt better, but I don't know if she can go to kindergarten with a box on her head. We've tried to replace the shoebox with sunglasses (which she abhors), bonnets, and stylish hats. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. If she's tired, or we're someplace new, bright light can push her over the edge.
Maybe I'm part vampire.

Anyway, then came potty training, which I quietly boasted about here. And here. It went well, and she quickly had it mastered. But the first time she used one of those self-flushing toilets in public, she jumped in the air, threw her hands over her ears, and burst into tears.

Then preschool started. It takes an only child who's been at home with her daddy all her life a little while to adjust, we figured. But she really didn't adjust. I mean, she's smart enough, and talked excitedly about her friends and teachers, and learned new things. But in the classroom, we quickly got the impression she was not anywhere near a star pupil. She struggled with transitions. A lot. She got upset when it was clean up time, and the lights were turned on and off over and over. She loved her new friends, but when she arrived in the morning and 5 or 6 of them would swarm her, she slowly backed away, albeit while smiling. She refused to listen to directions from her teacher, and instead of circle time, V liked to visit with one or two friends. During structured work time, instead of established works, V made up her own sorting games. She sometimes just wandered through the classroom singing the Star Wars theme at the top of lungs. We thought maybe she was just the weird kid. I mean, she's ours, after all. I don't know much about Shaun's family history, but the Johnson gene pool isn't exactly paved with gold. And as for the two of us? Well, Shaun loves Neil Diamond, KISS, professional wrestling, and milk. I love cemeteries, two dollar bills, Johnny Cash, and sideshow freaks. What did we expect to create? Besides, she's the only child we have. We don't know anything but what we've known with her. She defines normal, for us.

Then, in April, we decided to go to the circus. Now, I don't want to get into a debate about the ethics of the circus. I understand that animals are mistreated, and I am in no way pro-animal mistreatment. But that is not the point of this story.

So we were all excited to go to the circus. V had been on her best behavior, because she has an unnatural love of the Fargodome, where the circus was happening. We parked the car and the three of us walked in holding hands, a big pile of happy family. I had to run ahead to buy the tickets, because we don't so much plan ahead. I gave the nice lady $39 (kids 2 and over are full price. Those Shriners know how to get you), and by the time I found my beloveds, it was all over. Even before we entered the event proper, the screaming had commenced. And though we tried everything but the shoebox, she would not be consoled. She wrapped her arms and legs around her Daddy, buried her head in his beard, and begged to leave. We bought her a light saber and some cotton candy, but she wouldn't let go, clinging first to him, then to me. And then the motorcycles came in, and I could feel the terror fill her little body. We went home. As we drove away, Shaun and I agreed that we needed to see if she could get some help, or we could learn to help her. We didn't see any other three year olds sobbing uncontrollably at the circus, and our excited little moppet was worn clear out from fear, and we'd only been there seven minutes.

Through her preschool, we found a center who did an evaluation and is now providing us with weekly therapy. V's diagnosis is, basically, "failure to develop normal physiological responses." It's the kind of diagnosis kids with Asperger's syndrome get, and folks who have what's called Autism Spectrum Disorder. No one is saying she has either of those, exactly (at least not to us), but she exhibits some responses of that ilk. Sometimes severely so. And even though we've known much of this since she was born, it's still hard for me to see it written down. She is our angel straight from heaven. So what if she spins aruond in a tight circle for minutes at a time, or stands on her head several times a day, or plugs her ears and sings the Addam's Family Theme song to block out the sound of her teacher? She's our sweet sweet treasure, dammit.

She's been to therapy three times so far, and we're hopeful they can help our amazing, hilarious, beautiful girl shine through, so she need not be afraid, and need not hide from large parts of the world.

I'll try to keep you updated on this less cutesy part of our lives, if'n you're interested. Hopefully we'll see her doing better in all sorts of ways by the time school starts again in August. And if not, and you see V on the first day of school, be sure to say hello. She'll be the kid with the box on her head, singing KISS or Johnny Cash. Or the Addam's Family Theme.

27 July 2009

A favorite photo

This was either someone's wedding, or someone's funeral, or my grandmother's 80th birthday party, because my father only wore a suit for those occassions. I think my aunt Shirley took this, sometime before 1986.

I miss him everyday.

26 July 2009

Bring Out the Gimp

I've been trying to use this software I read about someplace called GIMP: it's a free photoshop-esque software. Of course, I am lousy at reading directions, so I just go in and click on stuff and pull down menus and say yes to whatever just to see what happens.
This is "posterize." I kinda like it.

Anyone know anything about GIMP? Is it worth reading the directions for? What do you think of my pop-art version of V?

23 July 2009

Afternoon scene

V is throwing all the cushions off the new couch. This is something she knows we don't like, but she also knows we're too lazy to get up and stop her every time.

"Flamingo! No! Stop!" V is yelling at air.

"Who's Flamingo?" I ask.

"He's my friend."

"What does he look like?"

"Um. like an animal I know."

"Which animal?" I'm thinking I already know the answer.

"Like a moose. And a peacock. And maybe a cow." I was totally wrong.

"Oh, wow."

"Yeah, he's throwing pillows. And I'm not going to play with him. Any. More."

At least someone in this family is a disciplinarian.

21 July 2009

Lake Belle Taine

This is one of the very few benefits of being up by 6am on a Sunday.

20 July 2009

Smoothie tips

One of the keys to full smoothie enjoyment is proper equipment.Note: jumbo straw. (regular bendy straw pictured just for scale).

Other suggestions:
Frozen strawberries + fresh blueberries+half a fresh pineapple +2 Tablespoons Coconut Cream.

Rum is optional. Jumbo straw is mandatory.

18 July 2009

Exciting News!

My cousin Deron received new lungs last night! Even if you don't know him, you should really check out his blog, http://deronarnold.blogspot.com/, because it's a heckuva story. I talked a little about him here, you'll recall, and posted a photo of us here (he's the one on the right).

It's such a massive surgery, and there are so many possible complications, and getting healthy donor lungs took such a long, long time. But since he was four years old (when he was diagnosed), Deron's been fighting cystic fibrosis valiantly, and in my heart I feel such relief. If anyone can recover from such a surgery, my cousin can.

Today, I will pray often (though it is not my practice anymore), thankful to the donor family, hopeful for Deron's speedy recovery, and holding my own child while I think of Deron's twin boys, who are old enough to remember today, now, and what a memory it will be for them. I will also smile often today, thinking of the joy my Aunt Sharon and Cousin Dawn and her family must be sharing in Iowa.

I hope they know just how many people are rejoicing with them today.

15 July 2009

Gardening Mama

I want a rich, overgrown garden that looks like it's been there for a hundred years and grows effortlessly, beautifully, on its own, with vines and willow trees mixed in among corn and sunflowers and exotic lilies and wild roses.

When I win the lottery, that's one of the first things I'll do after I buy my gorgeous huge old house that's totally updated in wiring and plumbing and insulation but still has the original hardwood floors and stained glass windows: fill up a securely fenced in, expansive backyard with loads of easy to care for, self weeding plants. Oh, sorry. I digress. Sometimes I get distracted by my retirement plan. In between now and then, I'm working on our (extra shady) backyard and overly-landscaped-by-the-previous-owners-frontyard. In fact, my mama came by the other day with some hostas she'd divided from her own garden, and we put V to work with her first in-ground planting project. She helped divide the plants, choose where they would go, dig the holes, fill them in, and water. She also got dirt in her hair and my hair, and hosed off my otherwise dry sneakers and her own underpants. She is her mother's daughter, her grandmother's granddaughter, and one of my favorite gardening accomplices. I hope she appreciates stained glass as much as I do.

14 July 2009

Happy Birthday, Emerson Claire

Her name is iambic, I think, and it's hard for me to not say it in its entirety. Like her brother, I was there when she was born, alongside my sister and across the bed from my brother-in-law. This time was much, much quicker, though, and less hard to watch, because Jess didn't hurt as much for as long. And Emmy came so fast, like once she'd decided it was time, IT WAS TIME, and we hardly had space to weep or gnash teeth. As I've detailed before, being an aunt is so important to me. Jess and I were so blessed in the aunt department, and those women continue to have such an impact on my life, that I feel honored to serve that role to V's three cousins. Jake, Beth and Chris' son, lives in Colorado (and we get to see him next month!), and Will, who first made me an aunt, are hilarious and dear to me in so many ways. But Emerson, my first niece, the sister my daughter may never have...she is something else entirely.
Maybe it's the newness of her, seeing her teeter on that cusp between baby and toddlerhood, as she wants so much to walk RIGHT NOW but instead scoots across the floor faster than we can fathom. Or the words that pour out of her, sounds and garbled sing songs, and "happy" or "puppy," whichever, both.
Maybe it's because she looks so much like Jess did as a baby, or at times looks startlingly like her Great-Aunt Sharon, a near carbon-copy through three generations.
Whatever the reason, mercy, I'm glad you're here, Emerson Claire. A happiest of first birthdays to you. I couldn't have asked for a better niece.

Emmy's real birthday is 10 July. The photos are from her party on Lake Minnie Belle. Or is it Minnie Belle Lake? I dunno. Anyway, I didn't want anyone thinking I didn't know my own niece's birthdate.

12 July 2009

Insert Title Here

I tell my students all the time that titles are important. If As I Lay Dying were called Another Book by Faulkner, it just wouldn't be the same. Still, 90% of them don't title their first paper: it's not until they see they lose points that they step up and title their stuff. And I'm not a fan of the lame title: "Essay 2: Restaurant Review" starts me off depressed, whereas "An Evening of Horrible Disfigurments and Lifelong Disappointments" draws me in and makes me want to read on.

I know you all understand this. My thoughtful readers would certainly title their papers, wouldn't you? To show how much I appreciate this, I bring you today's offering of photos with titles. I hope they're better than "Another Picture by Jen," but I'm not making any promises.
"Meadow at Dusk With Blade of Grass"
"Cool Heron that Kinda Looks Like a Scary Guy in a Bird Costume"
"Georgia O'Keefe Can Suck My Left Toe"
"I Can Almost Hear the Natureliness"
"Even Though My Sister and I Were Both Girl Scouts for Years, It Took Us Two Hours to Build This Damn Fire."
*all but the lilies are from Lake Minnie Belle, this weekend. The lilies are from our backyard.

08 July 2009

4 July 2009 in Twelve Photographs

So the last several fourth of July's have been spent at the in-laws lake, where we hang out, watch baseball (go Twins!), drink beer/soda/Mike's Hard Lemonade, eat a cake shaped like a flag, and spend time with the people we like the most.

This year, the weather was spectacular, the fireworks were stunning, and the company was excellent. I also had the good fortune to have a Nikon camera that takes, in my opinion, amazing photos practically by itself.This is Steve, my handsome, newly-single brother-in-law, who entertained V all weekend. We probably should pay him money for how well he kept her entertained while we napped and generally avoided parenting in most ways.
David, my father-in-law, built more than one campfire so we could have s'mores, and won at least 1/3 of all croquet games played this weekend.
Mary, my lovely mother-in-law, thought the lake breeze was a little chilly. She did most of the cooking, and went gambling with me, and doted on V when Uncle Steve wasn't entertaining her.
My mama, who wears a tube top like no one's business. She believes it's a sin if you're not outside the ENTIRE TIME you're at the lake. I'm so glad she came out for the day.
She brought her sister, my Aunt Beverly, with her. We all love Bev, and it's so cool to be at a lake with her again, like we did when I was very young and my grandparent's cabin on South Twin would fill up with the Johnson family. Will, who looks like he's about to burst into tears here but I swear was just having fun chucking rocks. He and V had fun swimming and running around and playing in the dirt.
My little sister, whose recent jaw surgery meant she couldn't eat any potato salad. She had a nice soft peanut butter sandwich, though, and went swimming with our kids. And she brought a bunch of soda pop, which means I love her the most. Hope your weekend was filled with goodness, too.

02 July 2009

Freedom of speech

I've been fighting the misanthropy lately. Honest. In Vegas, I was sitting next to an older Japanese man at a slot machine, and I don't like to be talked to when I'm gambling. I don't gamble to socialize. But he commented on a bonus I was in, and he was funny, and for the next half an hour we had a lovely conversation about Vegas and money and 108 degree weather. So I decided I would try to be more open in my heart, and not assume all people were morons. It's been a nice month, really.

But then I go online. In our local paper, my neighbors write comments of such nastiness, hiding behind usernames and bravely, aggressively yelling at one another, that I can barely stand it. Now, I live with a contrary man, so opposing opinions do not really phase me. But these people write things so full of vitriol and hatred and racism that it makes me want to cry. And I remember again why I shut everyone I didn't know already out in the first place.

So I have to stop reading the comments. And I wish the Forum would not allow comments on some stories. But I do know people have a right to free speech, and I'm a proponent of it. I just don't want to read that kind of awfulness. It makes my heart sad to see that much ignorance, that much willingness to be cruel, in words anyway.

I gotta go find me a slot machine.