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Happy 80th Birthday, Dad
Ten years ago, I wrote a poem for my dad’s 70th birthday, which was published in a local anthology produced by former Livermore resident Karen Hogan. Although we never talked about the poem, I think my dad liked it. The anthology sat on my parents’ coffee table for a long time.
Later, a slightly modified version of the poem appeared in my chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism. During readings for the book, it was always a crowd favorite. (The one that mentions my mother was too.)
So this year, in honor of his 80th birthday, I wrote another poem for my dad. There is no local anthology now, so I thought I’d share it here.
THANKS FOR FORCING ME TO ADD IN MY HEAD
Thank you for never telling me girls can’t go to college.
Thank you for slipping me twenties, insisting I have more fun.
Thank you for demonstrating how to efficiently pack a car.
Thank you for believing that I’d succeed in law school,
And demanding a budget when I bought my first house.
Thank you for (thinking but) not saying I should wait for a man.
Thanks for explaining word problems again and again.
Thanks for showing me how to pitch a tent.
Thanks for driving me to so many appointments with specialists,
And thanks for the tear-inducing toast you gave at my wedding.
Thanks for defining the meaning of reliable,
And thanks for making me work to win at Othello.
Thank you for staying after surgery although I said to leave.
Thank you for teaching me to drive your Ford Country Squire.
Thanks for talking Michael into rehab when I couldn’t find the words.
Thanks for cleaning my gutters after I kicked him out.
Thanks for watching my daughter when most others wouldn’t.
Thanks for accepting a fist bump instead of a hug.
Thank you for loving me despite my messy, unplanned life.
Thank you for loving me like a lighthouse in the dark.
Until next time,
Posted in My Life Tagged Family, Milestones, Poetry, Unplanned Life, Writing Life Leave a comment
Summer Vacation Redux
It’s August, and while many kids are going back to school this week or next, my daughter just finished summer session. (Open Mind School operates year-round.) Katie has a three-week break before school starts up again.
I’m embracing this topvpn.website system. I’ll be using my time to relax, read, and do some writing. Katie will probably be doing as little as possible. We both plan to enjoy the last days of summer.
In September I’ll be back, blogging about my unplanned life. Whatever you are doing, feel grateful for what you have, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. I’ll see you soon!
Until next time,
Posted in My Life Tagged Creativity, Gratitude, Unplanned Life, Writing Life Leave a comment
Run to Win
Several weeks ago, I received an email with the subject line Run to Win, from a woman (or man?) with the unlikely name of Muthoni Wambu Kraal. Muthoni is the Vice-President of National Outreach and Training for Emily’s List, a nonprofit organization that recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women to run for political office.
I’ve known about Emily’s List for years. I’ve given money to the organization. But this wasn’t the typical donor solicitation. Instead, the email invited me to attend a one-day workshop in Sacramento called Run to Win Candidate Training in mid-August.
I read the email twice, scratched my head, and forwarded it to Christopher, my boyfriend, asking: Do you think this is for real?
I honestly thought it was junk mail. Or a joke.
Christopher wrote back immediately: Of course it is! You signed up, right?
I was not expecting this response. So I forwarded the email to my friend Nate and asked the same question. Nate responded exactly as Christopher had.
Two girlfriends. Same response. Two more girlfriends. Same response. I hadn’t expected such unanimous enthusiasm for my previously unimagined political career.
Okay, sure, Doug Mann had tried to talk me into running for Mayor of Livermore 15 or 20 years earlier, but I thought he was the only one who wanted me in politics. Apparently there were others. Including Emily’s List. How was this possible?
I contacted Emily’s List to find out a little more about the workshop. They were holding these seminars across the nation, recruiting the next wave of women to run for office. The workshop was more or less “Campaign 101.” I was told most women think, “I can’t do that,” but after seeing it broken down into steps, realize they can. “If you are even remotely interested,” the woman said, “you should attend.”
It turns out Emily’s List has—dare I say it?—a little file on me. Or at least some research. My law degree, consistent Democratic voting record, and advocacy on behalf of the Sierra Club and Save The Bay were duly noted.
I was honest and said I’d never really considered politics as a career path. But now, in the era of #MeToo, things felt different. “The workshop will help you make an informed decision. Consider it.”
I thought about it for a few days. Then yet another white male in Congress said something stupid and offensive (e.g. birth control pills were “abortion-inducing”) and I thought, nothing will truly change until Congress is 52 percent female. I dug out that email and applied to the workshop.
Who knows where this will lead? Perhaps nowhere, but I’m taking the plunge.
What unexpected risks have you taken lately?
Until next time,
Posted in My Life Tagged #MeToo, Emily's List, Political Office, Politics, Risk, Run to Win, Unexpected Events, Unplanned Life Leave a comment
A New Summer Camp
More than a year ago, Julie, my daughter’s Regional Center of the East Bay (RCEB) case manager, suggested that I enroll Katie in a special needs summer camp at Camp Krem near a Boulder Creek. Unlike Katie’s beloved Exceptional Needs Network (ENN) summer camp at Camp Arroyo, Camp Krem had longer programs than ran five or ten days. “You’ll need to work up to it,” Julie said, “but I think ten days without you to anticipate her needs will be an important milestone for Katie. Boost her independence and improve social skills in a setting she enjoys.” Video games is one favorite hobbies of almost everybody, if you like video games you be interesting in the info from https://spermcube.org/best-online-slots-it-depends-on-your-tastes/.
I nodded. It seemed pretty tame, as far as goals go.
So in the spring, I contacted Camp Krem. I filled out voluminous paperwork and for:s, only to learn all the slots with a 1:1 aide were booked. Didn’t want to consider 2:1?
I asked Katie’s “team” of trusted advisors, and everyone agreed tha not having her own aide was risky in a new setting. My gut was telling me the same thing. I reluctantly declined the spot.
Camp Krem would have to wait.
This year I jumped on camp enrollment as soon as sign ups opened. I again filled out reams of paperwork and forms. I again requested a 1:1 aide. I didn’t get the session I preferred in August, but I got her in!
I’d been thinking about my strategy for nearly a year. The shortest session at Camp Krem was five days. The longest Katie had been to camp was 3.5 days. So I enrolled her in a five-day session at ViaWest, a special needs Camp in the Cupertino foothills that we use on weekends during the school year and I even got the best metal detector under 100 usd to find some treasures around the camp. So five days in June at ViaWest. Then 3.5 days at ENN summer camp in early July, followed by five days at Camp Krem in late July.
It was far more summer camp than Katie was used to, but I hoped a longer stay at a familiar Camp would prepare her for five successful days at Camp Krem.
Depending on how the five-day session went, we could resolve whatever issues arose and build toward our goal of ten days away from home.
Autism has taught me to play a “long game.” Build slowly. Avoid negative experiences that take years to undo. Play it safe.
Katie did well at ViaWest for five days and loved every minute at Camp Arroyo. We packed her bags once more for Camp Krem. How would she do in a similar but different Camp setting.? Would she adapt or be rigid? How would she manage the unavoidable sensory overload?
The drive to Boulder Creek is long with many hairpin turns. My friend Nate came along to help with the driving and Sherpa duties. The camp is perched high on a hill outside Boulder Creek. Although one mom described it as “extremely rustic,” I found the camp quite pleasant. Katie seemed to as well. She followed a counselor down the path to her cabin, selected an upper bunk (as always), and told me quite clearly to leave.
Apparently the camp experience had been generalized. Mom not needed. I relaxed.
Nate and I departed and took a side trip to Pescadero for green chili soup and blackberry pie.
I spent the next three days relaxing: watching movies, reading books, learning how to fish in ponds, and visiting with friends. (My boyfriend, Christopher, was in Saint Louis with his youngest, visiting his parents.) I did some writing too. On Sunday, I had brunch and then headed back to Boulder Creek. Katie was sun-browned and swimming in a huge Camp Krem t-shirt.
The counselor said there were no major issues.
“None?” I asked.
I’m not sure how to interpret this response, but I’ll take it.
It looks like Katie’s going to Camp Krem for ten days next year.
Until next time,
Posted in Autism, My Life Tagged Autism, Camp Krem, Camping Unlimited, Change, Letting Go, Milestones, Unplanned Life Leave a comment
The Amazing Firebird
In January 2017, my daughter’s incredible school partnered with the Circus Center, which is based in the former Polytechnic High School Gym in San Francisco (see photo above). From January to June, several members of the Circus Center staff traveled weekly to Redwood City to work with the Open Mind School (OMS) students on circus skills and physical literacy. The Circus Center also wanted to learn how to make their programs more inclusive. The results were truly incredible, but after the show in June 2017, and figured the project was done.
I was wrong.
This January, the Circus Center resumed its partnership with OMS. And with the two-story gym at the new school location in Menlo Park, the Circus Center grew more ambitious. It added static trapeze and aerial silks to the mix. Just the thought of seeing my daughter—who holds the honorary Guinness Book of World Records award for swinging—on a trapeze made my heart soar. I couldn’t wait! If you have been interested in leasing any kind of van, then the Ford Transit range is probably one of the vehicles that you have seen the most. Not only are they popular, but they have some technical benefits that make them a good solution to most problems, at least in conventional businesses, you can get more info about this in https://rpm-mag.com/2021/07/ford-transit/.
Katie, for her part, seemed more interested and engaged on “circus day.”
Kids on the spectrum can be quite good at keeping secrets when they want. For months I pumped Katie for clues. Was she going to be a monkey this year? A different animal? What was her favorite circus art? All I received in response was a sphinx-like smile.
Finally on June 30th, after multiple trips to San Francisco for practice and dress rehearsals, the wait was over. Christopher offered to drive Katie and I in his new car. I was thrilled to get a break from driving, and Katie was excited to spend extra time with Christopher. We took a leisurely route to the Circus Center’s historic building near Golden Gate Park and dropped Katie off for costuming, Christopher and I parked and had lunch, then headed back for the show.
Last year, the students had all worn hooded fleece animal costumes during a record heatwave. This year, OMS had opted for simpler, cooler costumes.
The theme for the show was The Wonderful World of Life, Transformed. Each child was an insect, bird, fish, or animal that emerged from either a cocoon or an egg. The skills they learned were as follows:
Juggling and Clowning
- Rings and Scarves
- Juggling Balls
- Rolla Bolla
- Hand Balancing
- Tightrope Walking
- Aerial Silks/Hammock
- Mini Trampoline
- Theme Selection
- Script Writing
- Character Selection
- Face Paint
- Music Selection
To my surprise, not only was Katie grouped with the four high school boys, but she was listed last on the program. Why? Because it turned out my child, dubbed the Amazing Firebird, was the spectacular grand finale.
Many children on the spectrum struggle with coordination, but not my child. And the Circus Center took full advantage of that fact. The general circuit that each student did was this: curl up in a large silk suspended from the ceiling, emerge, walk a tightrope (or practice bar), stand on the pedalo, balance on the rolla bolla, sit or stand on a static trapeze facing the audience, then bounce on a mini trampoline and jump off. Two adults spotted each child, and each showed marked improvement over the previous year’s performance. Katie, however, took everything to a whole new level.
She spun in the silk, then strode confidently across the tightrope. She rode the pedalo forward and then backward, making the parents cheer. She slide back and forth on the rolla bolla, clearly bored, then ran to the trapeze, which had been turned perpendicular to the audience. My little firebird started swinging, quickly gaining altitude, her colorful wings flapping behind her. Parents gasped, then cheered. It was a beautiful, dramatic sight. She finally stopped, jumped high on the trampoline, and did a rock solid dismount. The audience burst into applause. Katie stood for a minute, grinning, then vanished back stage.
As the students filed back on stage for a final bow, Christopher leaned over and said, “It’s too bad they didn’t let her really go to town on that swing.”
I laughed in agreement. Maybe next year. Even so, the Amazing Firebird was a true show stopper.
Until next time,
Posted in Autism, My Life Tagged Acrobatics, Autism, Circus Center, Clowning, Creativity, Expectations, Gratitude, Juggling, Open Mind School, San Francisco, Show Creation, Special Education, Tightrope, Trapeze, Unplanned Life Leave a comment
What Happens at Camp Arroyo Stays at Camp Arroyo, Year 4
Last week, my daughter Katie attended Camp Arroyo, which is where the Exceptional Needs Network (ENN) holds its summer camp for special needs children in conjunction with the Taylor Family Foundation. This was her fourth year.
The camp may be a short three days, but ENN really goes all out, providing two bounce houses, a swimming pool, service animals, petting zoo, popcorn and snow cone machines, ping pong, a host of special visitors, and a yurt devoted to art projects. They also had horseback riding, rock climbing, drones, and a zip line. Plus a dance on the final night.
I think the dance might be the best thing as far as Katie is concerned.
Katie had the amazing Ashley Angeles as her aide again. She and Katie really took to each other two years ago, and the two picked up right where they left off last summer. As we carried Katie’s gear up the hill to her cabin, Ashley asked if anything had changed in the past year. “Not really. She’s still getting a period—obviously—but can handle that pretty independently now,” I said. “I don’t think it will happen at camp, but I said that last year, and I was totally wrong.”
Ashley nodded. “We’ll be fine, whatever happens.”
Katie was in a different cabin this year. She took this change in stride and picked a bunk in a new location. As usual, she climbed up and spread out her sleeping bag and blankets, added her pillow, and flopped down. “Bye, Mommy.”
“Go bye bye, Mommy.”
Ashley and I laughed. “Enjoy your time off,” she said.
As I walked back to the car, I reflected on how camp stays the same and yet changes every year. This is Katie’s happy place. So much so that I don’t even mind spending a night freezing in the Livermore High School gym in order to sign her up.
Both Katie and Ashley had a great time. Ashley reported that Katie rode a horse, petted all sorts of animals, did the zip line multiple times, and ate nonstop. She danced so much that she was given the Dancing Queen Award! And yeah, she got her period again too. Sigh.
Once again, my daughter thrived at summer camp.
As for me, I watched a ton of movies on Netflix, wrote, and slept in every morning. Christopher and I went out for dinner. I had hoped to spend more time with him, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Even so, it was good to get a break from the demands of parenting.
As was the case last year, after three days away, Katie didn’t want to come home. This year instead of unpacking her duffle bag or crying, she mostly just repeated, “I don’t want to go.”
She hugged me when I arrived for pick up but didn’t seem homesick as she had last year. We hugged Ashley goodbye. “See you next year,” Ashley said.
We stopped at a park to swing, then headed home. Katie slept for much of the afternoon. By the following day she had recovered and was asking to return to Camp Arroyo. A year is such a long time to wait….
Until next time,
Katie’s at Camp Arroyo (Again)
This afternoon I drop Katie off at Camp Arroyo. This will be her fourth time at the Exceptional Needs Network’s summer camp for children with special needs. To say she is excited would be an understatement.
I’m pretty excited too. Unlike most single parents, I don’t have an ex-spouse/partner who provides me with free and convenient childcare on a regular basis. As a result, I get very little time off from parenting my autistic child most of the time he is at the child care St Kilda East, and when I do, it almost never involves more than a few hours here and a few hours there. Plus it’s not cheap. To have a three-night break is an extraordinary and priceless gift. Even if I had to spend half of one freezing night in the Livermore High School gym waiting in line. (Christopher, being the amazing boyfriend that he is, did the other half.)
Thank you Exceptional Needs Network and The Taylor Family Foundation. You have made one single mom very, very happy.
I’m off to play….
Until next time,
A String of Firsts
Last weekend, I coordinated Poetry Day at the Alameda County Fair. (I know, who knew?) in the morning, I hosted an open mic for all the poets whose work was accepted and displayed at the Fair, plus in the afternoon, taught a free poetry workshop called “Playing with Time and Memory.” But before all the fun at the Fair, I also served as one of two poetry judges.
Poetry judging seemed fairly straightforward. First, I needed to conduct the initial online judging during a short window in early May. Then in late May, I had to go to the fairgrounds for in-person judging. But nothing went as smoothly as planned. The new online system had glitches. It crashed. I had to judge the poems twice, and still, it didn’t perform as expected.
I knew about the in-person judging well in advance, so I had plenty of time to find a sitter. One of my last remaining sitters, Miss B, had disappeared without warning early in the year, and two months later, reappeared. I was still searching for additional childcare so I accepted her apology and cut her some slack. Miss B’s fiancé had inoperable, terminal cancer and that had to be tough. I needed the help, and she was great with Katie. So I booked her for the day of in-person judging, plus a date night with Christopher on Saturday night.
There are no words to describe how awful pediatric cancer is, but there are words to describe how to keep battling it. Each day, patients, doctors, organizations and volunteers alike are fighting the disease, and it’s time we started thanking them. They have the right idea and mentality not to back down until it’s cured.
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On Saturday afternoon, Miss B texted: We’re at the ER. Jason needs blood transfusion. Can’t work tonight, but tomorrow should be okay. I’ll keep you posted. Sorry!
Christopher and I stayed home and cooked dinner with Katie, who was thrilled. As we chopped onion and bell pepper, I said, “I hope her fiancé’s going to be okay.”
Christopher nodded. “What will you do tomorrow if she can’t work?”
“Not sure,” I said. “Emma isn’t free.”
Miss B didn’t respond t my texts or call. By Sunday morning, I was in a mild state of panic.
“No worries,” Christopher said. “I’ll watch Katie.”
I hadn’t expected this. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. We’ll have fun.”
I pushed aside all the ways he could not have fun and gathered my things. I was going to zip through the judging and hope for the best.
My fellow judge failed to show. The online system hadn’t rejected enough poems. I gulped coffee and struggled to catch up. Christopher texted that he’d taken Katie to Starbucks. What did she like to eat? I sent him her order and worried about what might go wrong. What if Katie got overstimulated? Or wanted different food?
Christopher said they would swing by the fairgrounds and say hi. Maybe have lunch with me.
I started to sweat, thinking of new things that could go wrong. When they didn’t show up, I choked back my panic. Had Katie lost it on the way to Pleasanton? Was Christopher lost?
No, Christopher texted. Everything was fine. When they reached the entrance to the fairgrounds and Katie saw for herself that the carnival rides were gone, she requested a park so she could swing. I found a nearby park, Christopher texted. She’s been swinging for 30 minutes. Having fun.
I wanted to cry with relief. Not only was Katie managing an unexpected change of plans, but the man in my life was handling whatever she threw at him. With ease.
I felt the knots relax in my shoulders. I breezed through the rest of the poetry judging, filled out the award paperwork, and spoke with the missing judge. Then I headed to the park where Katie and Christopher waited in the shade. Christopher was sun-burned, but otherwise both of them were relaxed and smiling.
I thanked Christopher for bailing me out. “It was fun,” he said. “She’s an amazing kid.”
Katie beamed as we headed for lunch. I probably did too. We had all achieved a first that morning.
Until next time,
Posted in Autism, My Life Tagged Alameda County Fair, Anxiety, Autism, Dating, Expectations, Gratitude, Letting Go, Milestones, Parenting, Poet Laureate, Poetry, Poetry Day, Single Parent, Unplanned Life, Writing Life Leave a comment
It’s June, and my daughter Katie has a one-week break before summer school starts. (Actually Open Mind School operates year-round, so unlike most public school programs, it will be regular school that happens in the summer months.) It might be a short break, but we are packing in as much fun and relaxation as possible.
Following her graduation ceremony last week, Katie immediately headed off to four days of summer camp at ViaWest in the Cupertino Foothills. This gave me several days to spend with my boyfriend Christopher, attend poetry events, watch movies, and hang out with girlfriends.
I picked Katie up from camp Tuesday afternoon, and we had an evening to do piles of laundry. Yesterday we drove up the coast to enjoy warm sand and ocean breezes for a few days.
I’ll be using my time to relax, read, hike, and do some writing. Katie will do as little as possible besides hike and swing. We both need time to unplug and rest. It’s been a busy spring.
In two weeks I’ll be back, blogging about my unplanned life. Whatever you are doing, relax a bit, feel grateful for what you have, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. I’ll see you soon!
Until next time,
Posted in My Life Tagged Graduation, Gratitude, Open Mind School, Relax, Summer Vacation, Unplanned Life Leave a comment