Sunday, February 27, 2011

AwesomeCloud, pet photographer

AwesomeCloud loves things with buttons. That includes cameras. He's taken pictures before, but I've been giving him instructions and his skills are improving. He can now point the camera at the desired subject. He can also push the button when I tell him to. He can't frame the photo yet, but with a little trial and error, he can at least get the cat into the photo some of the time. This morning he was chasing Riley around with the camera, with some encouragement from me.

Here she is practicing her favorite pastime - searching for forgotten morsels of dry food on the kitchen floor.

Later I found a piece of yarn, and Riley chased the yarn while Cloud chased Riley.

Melody noticed the yarn and had to play, too, but she absolutely refused to face the camera.

Then Cloud and I switched roles and I got a couple of decent shots of him and Riley playing together. Forgive the mess in the living room. I have no clever excuses. It's just a toy-strewn living room, and that's that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Random cat photo - Ban Lu

Here's my male cat, Ban Lu, aka "Old Man," making a face.

I'm only posting this photo because I want to link it to another site that doesn't allow uploads, and if I upload it to Flickr, then all you guys wouldn't arbitrarily be enjoying his grand catness.

In other news, the men of the house (human, that is) went to the Museum of Science in Boston today. I wish I'd gone. Now I've missed my son's first visit to the MoS. Bummer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I lounge around while my son becomes a real person

Age three is fast approaching, and oh my !!!! it's amazing to watch. AwesomeCloud is undergoing an amazing transformation. No longer is he our little sack of potatoes, staring dully out into the world as if nothing were there. No longer is he our little clinging monkey-boy, latched onto mama and daddy like a baby chimpanzee.

He does stuff now. Amazing stuff. Human stuff.

I love to watch his lips move when he talks. Maybe I'm afraid I'm imagining the words coming out of his mouth... maybe it just astonishes me that the same lips that only ever said, "Ah ah ah" and "WAAAAAAH" a year ago have gained such versatility. Maybe I'm afraid he'll stop talking again. There's no reason for me to expect that. His speech development is full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes.

He plays with Beanie Baby cats. Not only is he not afraid of them; he actually loves them. He carries them around with him and makes them eat invisible food. He makes them play "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" and he actually sings the whole song himself - the tune if not quite exactly the words. He folds them over so their paws are touching various body parts.

He has renamed himself "Jack." I don't know why. I think it's hilarious. I go along with it and call him Jack both in private and in public if he asks me to. Daddy isn't as amused by it; I assured him that it would probably stop in a day or two and Cloud would forget all about his little name-change game, but he hasn't. Today at the mall he asked me to call him "Jack" while we were playing Trot-Trot. Then just before bedtime, we were tumbling on the bed and he asked me to call him "Jack" again. He'd leave the room repeatedly, and return shouting, "Baack!"

"Jack is back!" I'd say.

This was the funniest thing in the whole world.

He carries on conversations with friendly strangers. He can't tell them his name, but he can answer "How old are you?" ("TWOOO!") and "How are you?" ("Gooh.")

He asks for food and then rejects it. He tries kicking me, just to see what will happen. (Nothing good happens.) When we're getting our jackets on, we can tell him where we're headed and he understands and looks forward to getting there.

He's memorized all the places in town that have free snacks, like Trader Joe's, and he will ask to go there.

He says, "Help? Help? Help?" to get your attention when all he really wants is for you to play with him.

He blurts out certain words of his bedtime stories.

Sometimes he grabs the phone and play-talks on it, and his mannerisms are so convincing I sometimes do a double-take to see if he's really talking to someone.

In general, he's taking on his parents' mannerisms. It's like watching the blossoming of a mini-me, except he's a combination of both of us.

He says, "Oh well," and shrugs his shoulders when he's told he can't have something he wants.

He's doing aaaaallll this amazing growth and development, and what am I doing? Something close to nothing. I sit back and watch him passively. I laugh sometimes. I reprimand him sometimes. I show him new things sometimes. I get annoyed and impatient sometimes.

But most of the time I watch, and I wonder why I hadn't prepared myself mentally for this stage happening so fast.

This afternoon, we had a throwback moment. Cloud woke up from his nap and started crying and wailing for all he was worth. He cried into his macaroni. He wailed through a diaper change. He clenched his fists and gushed tears while I held him on my lap and rocked him.

"Just like old times," I joked to him, but he would not be humored or comforted. Rocking and holding never worked during old times, either. It always seemed like an exercise in futility. I couldn't solve his problems, and my presence wasn't even a small comfort. Lately I'd forgotten what that felt like, but Cloud reminded me today.

It feels like it will never end, like you'll be powerless to comfort him forever and ever. I'm very good at remembering that nothing lasts forever, but I know what it feels like to have to remind myself every moment.

Of course it gets better. It has to get better. How long could I possibly be a stranger to my own son?

Well, it got better. On these rare moments when the bad parts return, it can be scary, but I know the bad parts were just making a cameo. When the screaming stops, Cloud is a little boy again. A laughing, imaginative, almost-talking little boy who knows exactly where he is and rather likes it.

A kid who developmental experts fawn over instead of frown over, as his test scores go up and up and up. A kid who strangers no longer remark on as "What a big baby!" when you know he's actually a small toddler. A kid who pays attention to every adult conversation, every multisyllabic word, and saves it all up for later.

Someday he's going to say 'ionic compound' or 'heterogeneous' or one of the other big words we commonly use in this household, and I'm going to throw a party.

With cake.

You're invited.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The beginning of the end of separation anxiety

I often worry about Cloud's inability to be separated from me (except when he's with his daddy; he's fine with that). There might be preschool in his future, and babysitters, and of course sometimes I'd like to use the bathroom in peace without compelling him to interrupt his game.

We recently discovered the Sturgis library, which has a wonderful new train table. It's essentially the same as every other library's train table (train tables seem to be popular in libraries around here) but that doesn't matter - it's new to Cloud, and therefore it's irresistible.

Unfortunately, just as Cloud was ripping off his jacket and laying claim to the train table, I informed him that I had to use the restroom. I asked, "Do you want to come with me or stay here and play with the trains?"

"Teens," he said emphatically, but he followed me into the restroom. (It was right there, barely 5 feet away from the train table. I'd been hoping...)

So I closed the door behind us, and he immediately tried to open it again.

So I asked him again.

"Teens," he said.

I opened the door and told him to make up his mind, trains or restroom, because I was about to shut the door again if he didn't hurry up.

And he left! He went right to the train table, and when I came out again, he was still there and he was perfectly fine.

I'm not letting my hopes rise too far up, though. One paltry example of him entertaining himself for a minute and a half without me isn't an official Turning Point. I know that, at his age, clinginess isn't entirely abnormal. I've been told that I can work on the issue by gradually backing away from him, until he eventually learns that he's perfectly fine if I'm not standing directly next to him.

I've tried that, and it backfires. He starts watching me carefully for any signs that I might pull the backing-away stunt again. He gets so sensitive that any teeny step backwards or glance toward the door gets him grabbing at me or shadowing me. It's at the point where I don't feel like it's worth the effort anymore. I'm stuck letting him cling. If anyone's going to be moving away, it has to be Cloud.

Maybe there's hope. Maybe he won't have the absolute worst case of separation anxiety the preschool has ever seen, and maybe he will soon be able to continue playing games he's immersed in without interrupting himself to follow me into another room.

Part of my problem is that I'm doing that horrible mommy thing of believing my child will never ever ever grow and change. He'll be clingy in middle school. He'll be clingy in college. While everyone else's kids will be growing up and enjoying life, mine will still be following me into the bathroom in his 40's.

That's just gross.

Maybe this worry is just supplanting the last one - what if he never talks? I'm pretty sure he'll learn to talk. He's making improvements every day. He hasn't completely crossed the line from "nonverbal" to "verbal" yet, but he's getting there. He can say enough to give the impression of being able to hold a rudimentary, but real, conversation. He'll talk.

But I'm still doing the "But what if he never...?" thing.

Why do parents do that?

(I know the answer to that one already, actually. "What if" worrying can be helpful, anyway, if it helps us prepare for eventualities that may seem hypothetical today, but could still come true later.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Note to my son: Other people's pain

From AdoptionTalk:

Abducted v. Adopted: What's the Difference?

At Huffington Post, Jennifer Lauck, author of Found: A Memoir and Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found, asks that question:
Carlina White said she always had a sense she did not belong to the family that raised her. The twenty-three-year-old woman had been abducted in 1987 from a Harlem Hospital when she was nineteen-days-old. White was then raised by her abductor, Ann Pettway. Pettway is now in custody for kidnapping.

What White expresses about her sense of belonging is what I have felt for all the years of my own life -- only I am called adopted versus abducted.

And in the comments section:

Anonymous said... With all due respect, making the decision to sign away the rights to your child are not in any way the same as having a child taken by force as perpetrated in the crime discussed in this article.

Sorry, but second thoughts and regrets are just not the same.

While I may be sympathetic to mothers who felt they had no recourse or faced societal pressures and stigmas, pretending its the same, doesn't make it so.

Dear AwesomeCloud,

Don't ever diminish other people's pain. Not even if you think their pain is unjustified. Not even if you think they're overcomparing it to something much worse than anything they've ever experienced. Not even if your pain is clearly greater than theirs.

Not even if you could out-angst them with one hand tied behind your back, on your birthday, with cake.

Not even if they obviously don't know what they're talking about. Not even if they say, "I know exactly how you feel. My friend got a puppy when it was too young, and it whined a lot and missed its mom for a whole year."

Not even if they say, "I feel terribly, terribly alone in the world, and don't tell me I have a wonderful family, because I still feel terribly, terribly alone in the world."

Let me tell you something about other people's pain: it's annoying. That's right, it's annoying. If you hear somebody complain about how hard it is to be them, and you get annoyed, you're not alone. Everybody does. And it goes both ways: everyone gets annoyed when you talk about your pain, too.

The response to hearing about other people's pain often goes two ways: an urge to try to help them, or an urge to convince them to shut up. Both responses are natural. The urge to help is often practiced by helper-type personalities, and is their kinder, gentler way to get the complainer to shut up. The helper-type believes that a rosier outlook will cheer the complainer up. Sometimes - okay, usually - the complainer isn't willing to be cheered up, and resists all helpful suggestions. The complainer feels un-listened-to and diminished instead of cheered up.

Sometimes you may feel too impatient to help, like the commenter I cited at the beginning, and you'll want to directly diminish the complainer.

Don't do either one of these. Don't get annoyed in the first place. If you find yourself getting annoyed, stop and say to yourself, It's not annoying. It's honest.

That person isn't just a complainer. She's a person with pain.

The pain of alienation is the most common thing in the human race. Everyone feels alienation. Maybe we all shouldn't, but we all do. People who appear to live charmed lives feel alienation. People who make all the friends, get all the money, travel around the world, win all the college scholarships, and make high honors every semester... every one of them feels alienation. So do the people who struggle to make friends, can't hold a job, struggle in school, and rarely leave their houses.

Why does everyone feel alienation? I believe it's a byproduct of empathy. We humans can empathize with each other, but we're not actually empathic with each other. We can guess what other people are thinking and feeling, but we can't actually get into their heads to feel the exact feelings they're feeling. (Some people will tell you they can. They might claim to be empaths. My guess is that they believe exceptionally strongly in their empathetic guesses.) So we feel like we're missing something crucially important about being human - that interconnectedness that we swear we should feel but... we... just... don't.

But there are lots of things in life that will heighten feelings of alienation by piling more alienation onto the original feelings. Things like adoption trauma. Things like being abandoned, ignored, marginalized, or diminished.

People with disabilities feel alienation. Remember that whenever you meet a person with a disability - if you alienate her by treating her poorly, you're just adding more alienation on top of the mounds and mounds of alienation she's already experienced. Even if all your friends treat her poorly; if you do too, you become just one more hurtful jerk in a sea of jerks. You can do better. So can your friends, and you should remind them of that.

People with above-average intelligence feel alienated. So do people with below-average intelligence. So do people with average intelligence if they're in a group of people that can't connect with them. Being of like mind with our companions is extremely important to us humans. Forget that. People who think differently from you are more interesting than people who are just like you. If you can't listen to people who think differently from you, and who experience pain differently from you, you'll never learn why they feel alienated.

Sometimes their thoughts may seem bizarre and convoluted. For instance, the hypothetical kid who compares adoption to a puppy. It's a silly comparison, but it almost makes sense in a certain way: the kid is trying. He's grasping. He's trying to imagine the experience of being abruptly ripped from one home and put in another, and he's never experienced it himself, but he remembers the puppy. Something about the puppy's ordeal struck him, saddened him, enough to make him remember it now.

Yes, it's a stupid thing to say, but it's all the kid has to offer. However, there's something else the kid has, that he's afraid to mention - he has feelings of alienation too. How do you know? Because everyone has them. That kid may not know what it's like to abruptly and involuntarily switch families, but he knows what alienation feels like, and that's why he's trying to connect with you. Perhaps lamely, but he's trying.

The writer of the "Abducted vs. Adopted" post above felt a connection to the woman in the news story. She read the woman's description of her feelings of alienation and said, "Hey, that describes my feelings too!" And why wouldn't it? If she described her feelings of alienation without referring to the abduction article, would anybody be surprised?

We may not want to hear other people describe their feelings of alienation at all. We may find such complaints annoying. That annoyance may come about because we're comparing justifications for other people's pain - whether we feel our pain is more justified or less justified.

But it's not a contest. People shouldn't need to prove their pain is justified before they talk about it. So what if it's silly, or if you don't want to hear it anymore? They're not complaining for your sake. They're not asking you to rate their pain from one to ten. They're not really claiming their pain is really the same as this or that; that adopted people are the same as puppies or abductees.

We humans are always trying to find common threads between us. One common thread is the basic feeling of alienation. The details don't matter.

Well, actually they do matter, but not in any way that makes it appropriate to diminish someone whose pain isn't like yours.

And maybe they'll respond respectfully when you describe your pain. If you ever do. You don't have to if you don't want to.

Monday, February 7, 2011

AwesomeCloud kills with cuteness at Templecon

We had a blast at Templecon this past weekend. In terms of the dealer table, it wasn't great, but the show itself was so colorful and musical that we couldn't help having fun.

Cloud was at his very best. Although our personal space at the table was tiny, some of Cloud's favorite activities were nearby, so Daddy and I could take turns wandering off with him without inconveniencing whichever of us was left at the table.

As the con went on, Cloud got more and more popular. Everybody recognized him. Twenty or thirty people passed us in the hallway and stopped and squealed, "I saw you DANCING!" Apparently, Cloud did a lot of dancing. There were bands onstage at all hours of day and night, so the stage became the go-to place for us.

"Look, look, there's the cute kid I was telling you about!" shouted one young woman in an elaborate white dress to her friends. "Isn't he adorable?!" Then to me she asked, "Was he dressed like Mario last night?"

"Only accidentally," I explained. "But I'll take it!"

See, we had an official costume for him - a tweed jacket, a velvet vest and purple shirt and tie, plus dress pants and patent leather shoes. For a prop we got him a vintage brass toy horn. That's what he wore on Saturday. On Friday, he had on jean overalls, and somehow ended up in a red shirt. All he needed was the Mario hat! We will have to find one someday.

Other comments he elicited:

"He's not afraid of the zombies at all. That is so awesome." (When we walked in on the makeup session preceding the zombie crawl)

"OMG. He is the cutest kid in the world. I'm just going to die." (When he attempted to help a woman pull her wheeled suitcase down the hall)

"I was telling my mom about my new adopted friend, and she said, 'How old is this guy?' and I was like, 'He's two.' And she was all like, 'Ohh... hrmmm.' But I didn't care. He's my new best adopted friend!" (A female staff member who was friendly and helpful and also adopted)

"Hi, little guy! Wow, he's pretty cute in that getup. How old are you?" (A big burly guy in the elevator with piercings and leather and a big ol' bandolier strapped across his chest)

"He looked just like a real photographer! He had all the moves!" (A woman who watched Cloud take 'pictures' of one of the musical acts from all angles - unfortunately he wasn't pressing down hard enough on the shutter release, so I can't show you any wacky-angle shots he took. But he put on quite a convincing performance. The woman was heartbroken to learn that he hadn't taken any pictures, after all that angling he did.)

Here are some photos taken by other people, though:

Our friends in their finery.

AwesomeCloud finds a dancing partner with some upper body strength.

Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band was a favorite.

And Cloud was a favorite with the Ladies of the Fancy Hat Booth.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Spontaneous politeness

I can't quite explain it, but it's happening. My son says "Thank you." Okay, that's an easy one; I've worked hard on that one by saying "Thank you" myself all day every day. I say it when he gives me something and I say it when I give him something. I say it after he says it, instead of "You're welcome." As a result, he doesn't know "You're welcome" but he says "Thank you" unprompted at least twenty times a day.

But where did "Please" come from?

He hears the word "please" often enough, and the speech therapist uses it a lot too. But language-wise, it's just noise. He's not ready for noise yet. He's still at the stage of blurting out a single word (or the occasional two-word phrase, as long as the two words go together, like "Brown Bear" when he's asking for his kiddie CD). But now, when he wants something, he'll name the item, pause, and add, "Peeeeze!" Or he'll just say "Peeeeze!" and hopes I guess what he wants.

He also says "Excuse me" (or "Hoo hee") but he only says it to cats.

Now I'm wondering if I can teach him to spontaneously say "Sorry." Can you imagine? That would be incredible. Then I can become one of those obnoxious moms who says, "Parents these days don't bother to teach their children common etiquette. That's what's wrong with the world today. Look at my AwesomeCloud here; he says 'Please' and 'Thank you' and 'I'm sorry' without even any prompting."

Old ladies would love me! Everyone else, not so much.

In other news, we have a dealer table at Templecon starting this evening. Here's a picture of our dealer table at a recent con, PiCon:
At Templecon, we're all going in Victorian... well... more like Edwardian garb. Even Cloud. It should be fun.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It must be cabin fever

I've been unusually cynical and sarcastic on this blog, haven't I? Not quite ranty, fortunately, but I seem to be looking down on my hypothetical audience. Any real people reading this should rest assured that I still respect you.

Among AwesomeCloud's great accomplishments today was drawing in a library book for the first time. With a pen, of course. He is no longer at the age where I can keep all pens and paper products safe from him. Not in the House of 4000 Books and almost as many pens.

Another great accomplishment was that he climbed up on my knees while I was sprawled on the couch, attempting to read the library book (before the pen incident) and shouted, "Top!" He shouted it until I said "Top" too.

Yay top.

In hindsight, I think the library book was specifically targeted. It was taking my attention away from him, and therefore when he found the opportunity to deface something, it was the obvious choice.

He also went way out of his way to get it, leaning over several other things made of paper to reach it on the other side of the kitchen table while I was busy doing other things. It looks targeted to me. Umm. That doesn't help me figure out what to do about it, though. Stop getting library books? I dunno. I like library books.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Misconceptions about disability

Twice recently people have inquired about Melody, our cat with cerebellar hypoplasia. Once it was the speech therapist - she watched Melody stumble in from the bedroom and said, "How does that cat get from one side of the house to the other every day... well, I guess she's used to it...?"

(Which was hilarious in itself because it's less than 20 feet from her bed in the bedroom to her food bowl in the kitchen, and her litter box is in the bathroom in between them. She doesn't do stairs, so her available territory is actually very, very small.)

And then the Early Intervention teacher said, as she saw Melody come out a few days later, "Oh, there's Melody. How is she doing? Is she feeling okay?"

Whenever someone shows concern about Mel, I always get enormous glee out of answering, "Oh, she's the healthy one. She's no trouble at all. It's the other two that give me problems and are sick all the time." And then I laugh at the shock and confusion on their faces.

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a lot like cerebral palsy - it's a single instance of brain damage, usually in utero, followed by a potentially long, healthy life (depending on the cat's living environment). Some cats with CH have heart defects, and some are incontinent, but Melody has neither of those. She's just a healthy, normal cat, with the personality of your average cat and the common sense of one too, whose muscle control is very poor and who stumbles when she walks and can't coordinate all four legs well enough to jump. She's easy. She never bolts out the front door, and she never eats the pizza I forgot I left on the counter.

The other two, however, are on a special diet because of their IBS. If either one of them eats commercial cat food, they get very, very ill. Plus, Riley has all sorts of behavior problems and food issues as a result of her abdominal discomfort, and she seems utterly convinced that she's starving to death.

Yeah, Melody is definitely not the poor, poor sick kitty in this family. And I will laugh at you endlessly if you think otherwise. :)

That's all I wanted to post about - just a post about my cats. If this post had been about kids with disabilities, it might have been a keeper. But it's not. Just cats.

Okay, I'll write about something else too.

AwesomeCloud and I went to the library today. We overheard two librarians talking about one's granddaughter. "She's an only child, and she doesn't like it at all."

Doesn't like being an only child? Hmm. Seems to me they're doing it wrong. Siblings are great - I have two and I loved growing up with them - but if you only have the one child to begin with, and you're not giving her a rich enough life to satisfy her, you're missing a golden opportunity. You can life an interesting, enriching life... and take the kid along.

That's the number one reason why I keep thinking of our Child #2 as a "maybe." With one, we've had to make a few modifications to our lifestyle, but it's still essentially the same lifestyle. Everyone always says that when you become a parent, you look back on your old life... especially if you have your child later in life, after spending 10 or 20 years enjoying an adult lifestyle. Not us. We find a way to accommodate the kid! Why wouldn't we? There's so much stuff in the world to discover and experience and learn, and he should learn it too. Learning and experiencing the world now only saves him time later. When he's a little bit older and wondering how to find his place in the world, he'll already know what the world is like. He won't waste his adolescence in an ignorant, fearful haze, like I did, afraid to take even the tiniest step out into the world because I was so sure I was going to crash and burn in that horrible, alien place. And what do you know, that's exactly what happened to me. I crashed. I burned. I floundered, struggled, and rejected numerous opportunities to succeed in life because all opportunities looked equally dangerous to me. Some kids entering adulthood do better than me... most... but think of what would happen if the opposite were true. Think of raising a child as a citizen of the world right from the start. Imagine exposing your child to adulthood for his entire life. So that when he finally becomes an adult, it's old hat.

You can do that with an only child.

I also found a parenting book called "Bringing Up Geeks" which seems to be worth a better look. I wasn't going to read any more parenting books, but my kid's a geek being raised by geeks, so apparently I'm the target audience. I may even be past the target audience, as the author defines "geek" as "a child who is empowered to be himself and be genuinely interested in real things rather than following trends and fads in pursuit of short-term popularity" not "child who goes to gaming conventions and sells comic books at his family's dealer table, occasionally while in costume."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black History Month, and my reading recommendation

February is Black History Month.

To celebrate, I recommend picking up a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It's the story of a black woman who dies of cervical cancer in the 1950's and then revolutionizes the human cell research industry.

It's also the story of a grad student who gets swept up in the drama of the surviving members of the Lacks family as she researches the book.

The science is approachable, the human stories are compelling, and the victories and tragedies experienced by the people involved might make you cry a little. It's an important bit of American history that hardly anyone knows about (except everyone who helped make this book a well-deserved best-seller) and it's the best book I've read in a long, long time.

Possibly ever. I don't know.

It's an easy, effortless way to feel like you're celebrating Black History Month, and it's an easy book to get. I saw it in two displays this morning at B&N, and it's been out for over a year already, so there probably isn't a waiting list for it at your local library.

Hey, give me your recommendations, too. Right now I'm reading "The Woman Who Fell From the Sky" which is about a journalist who spent 3 weeks in Yemen. It's a fast read, though. What should I read next?