Saturday, April 30, 2011

What makes weekends easier for you? Plus, announcing Easy Week!

Weekdays are usually a blur of work, homework, chores, bath, bedtime, blah, blah, blah. So I try to max out our weekends by doing as little work as possible. I typically stay up late on weeknights to hit stores and do laundry, and don't bother to pick up stuff around the house on Saturday or Sunday or care much about mess or dust (I know, now you're really dying to come visit us).

I also try to make plans for weekends early in the week. I once went to a seminar by a time management expert and one of her tips was to figure out your weekend activities every Monday; it gives you mojo to get through the week, and then you don't have that "Oops! Forgot to plan!" situation come Saturday and end up sitting around all day doing pretty much nothing except for watching TV and nuking frozen food. Er, not that we ever do that. No, not us.

In honor of all things easy and Mother's Day, starting on Monday and all through the week, I'm giving away things that make life easier for moms. It's really good stuff, although I am not giving away a therapist or a lifetime supply of Pinot Grigio or a third arm or anything. But I think you'll like Easy Week.

Meanwhile, share your ideas: What makes life easier for you on weekends?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Max loves his routines. Do your kids?

The scene: Cold Stone Creamery, every time we go.
Dave: "Max, how many milk shakes do you want?"
We order one milk shake and ask the counterperson to put it into two cups. Max finishes 'em both off.

The scene: Max's room at bedtime.
Max climbs into bed and positions his little purple teddy bear (who is also named, coincidentally, Purple Spaghetti Max) just so on the pillow with the purple pillowcase. Then he carefully lies down to the right of him. On top of his purple comforter, never under it. Once he's asleep, I toss a blanket over him so he won't be chilly.

The scene: Our kitchen.
Max has been keeping a purple Halloween bucket at his place at the table. He snatched it from my friend Betsy's house this weekend. This happens often when we go to people's homes: Max finds something purple, and our hosts inevitably let him have it when I explain his love for all things purple. Just wait, one of these days we'll visit someone who has, like, a purple armoire and Max will expect to take it home. Anyway, after each meal Max walks back to his spot at the table and positions the bucket just so, at the edge of the table and parallel to his chair. He adjusts—a little to the left, a little to the right, back to the left—then walks away. Unless Sabrina runs over and shoves the bucket, just to be charming, at which point much screeching ensues.

The scene: Our playroom.
Max asks me to prop up a mirror against a big chest where we keep toys. Then he grabs a purple firetruck and runs it back and forth and back and forth in front of the mirror. He can sit there for thirty minutes, if I let him, and do just that. Sometimes, I let him.

The scene: Our driveway, whenever we've come home from somewhere.
Sabrina and I go in the back door. Max and Dave go around the front door. Max rings the doorbell.
"Who is it?" I say.
"Ur-ul Ah-eh-hee Ax!" says Purple Spaghetti Max.
I open the door. "Purple Spaghetti Max, how nice to see you!"
Max cracks up, every single time.

It used to be that Max just enjoyed repeating phrases, especially ones involving purple and his name. Lately, he's very into routines. I am glad they make him happy and content. At the same time, I wonder if I should be pushing him to break out of them—to flex his brain cells, to keep expanding his mind.

For now, though, he's got his set ways of doing things, and all is good in Max's world.

Do your kids have their special routines, too?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Non-Disney stuff to do in Orlando (apologies, Mickey)

Yes, I'm still catching up from our trip to Orlando, where we did everything not Disney. The kids love Disney but Orlando has many other charms besides Mickey and crew.

Nissan lent us a Rogue to get around, a CUV that gets 28 mpg and has good cargo space for the overpackers of this world. Dave loved that the navigation system said "Please" before instructing you what to do. 

We splurged with a night at The Waldorf Astoria Orlando and, well, wow. It was heavenly, from the majestic lobby on in. For people wanting to hit Disney, it's just a few minutes away. Happily, they let us in despite the fact that Max kept pouring himself and the floor drinks from the lemonade machine in the lobby.

We got a suite, with a living room and a bedroom.

Dave said the bed was the most comfortable one he'd ever slept in and wanted to take it home. I think the kids would have happily lived in that suite for the rest of their lives.

The Waldorf shares outdoor amenities with The Hilton Orlando Bonnett Creek next door. It has a lazy river. None of us can ever resist a lazy river, and we were there for hours.

Can you guess where this is? Hint: It's not the Lilly Pulitzer store.

Why, yes, it's Gatorland, a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve with hundreds of alligators and crocodiles. We learned to tell them apart; crocodiles have a long snout and are typically a light-tan color, while alligators' snouts are wider and more u-shaped and tend to be blackish-gray. Sabrina and I saw a show where they dangle chicken parts over a swamp to get alligators to jump for them, which was both freaky and fascinating.

The water play area—good, clean fun, and a nice chaser to the alligator show.

Max was enchanted. Wouldn't you love one for your bathtub? *

* Chill, it's not real.

Next up: Universal Studios Orlando. SpongeBob: He's real! The hottest thing right now is the Harry Potter section, though we didn't make it there; I would have loved to see it, but the kids aren't into Harry yet. There's also a Wet & Wild park, but we stuck with the main park, which is all about movies and TV. Because, you know, the kids don't have enough TV in their lives.

We got a tour guide from Universal (hi, Ashland!) as well as access to the park. Sadly, Max wigged out when we arrived; there was a band playing on Hollywood Boulevard, and it unnerved him. Little lesson: It's a good idea to call Guest Services ahead of time and ask about any loud outdoor shows if your kids are sensitive to noise. But Max calmed down once he saw the Madagascar crew. One surefire way to make him crack up is to sing, "Max likes to move it move it!"

If you have a kid with a disability you can get an Attraction Assistance Pass at Guest Services, which means you get to go on the Express line. If there is more than a 30-minute wait on the regular line, they will give you a time to return. All entries to rides are wheelchair-accessible, and in some cases, you can take the wheelchair on the ride, like for the Men in Black Ride and the Shrek 4-D ride.

We hit Fievel's Playland, an outdoor playground filled with oversize props from An American Tail and Fievel Goes West, and the Curious George area.

Max was mesmerized by the huge bucket o' water, we watched it tip over again and again and....

I was totally entertained by the E.T. Adventure ride, and realized that the kids are old enough to see the movie, assuming they can overcome the trauma of the ride because they were a little terrified. I was all, "COME ON, GUYS, IT'S E.T.!!!" But they didn't care, perhaps because they were seeing an alien for the first time.

Inexplicably, Sabrina thought Jaws was a laugh riot.

Max mostly stayed off the rides, but Sabrina hit as many as she could—Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, Men in Black, The River Adventure in Jurassic Park.

Her favorite area was Seuss Landing. She loved meeting the characters and riding the High in the Sky Seuss Trolly Train Ride; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and of course, The Cat in the Hat.

And of course, the place is sprinkled with stars.

I wish we'd had more than one day at Universal, and I really wish Dave and I had a night there alone, so we could do the scarier rides (Earthquake! Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster! The Incredible Hulk Coaster!), ones the kids wouldn't yet appreciate (The Simpsons Ride!) and enjoy shows and stuff like the tribute to I Love Lucy (one of my all-time favorite programs). We'll be back.

One night we dined at Pie-Fection. The pizza is delicious—you can choose from several crusts, a few sauces and about 40 toppings. It's baked in a wood stone oven. But Purple Spaghetti Max had other ideas.

Next, off to Nickelodeon Suites. The kids were out of their heads with excitement.

There are two water parks with 13 slides and flumes. This is The Lagoon.

And this is what it looks like to get slimed, aka The Mass Sliming, 4:45 every weekday. Also at 10:45 on weekends! Be there or be...clean. I wanted to go, but Max got scared of the crowd so we watched from a balcony. A month later, Max is still talking about the slime and carrying around his little green tube of it.

Brunch with SpongeBob: Does life get any better? Nuh-uh. Max decided to do a dental check.

Nickelodeon Suites is a destination in and of itself. There's a crazy-big arcade, a mall area with restaurants, and lots of activities, from sand art creations to decorating back packs. Kids can meet with the Nick characters—Dora, Diego, Boots, Little Bill, Jimmy Neutron, Blue, you name it. There's a 4-D theatre (complete with wind, water, bubbles and SLIME!), and there are cool Studio Nick shows, too, including Family Improv and SpongeBob's Krabby Patty Celebration.

I was SpongeBob'd out by the time we left. Not the kids.

Last: SeaWorld! Here are dolphins, doing their thing.

Max got a little shy around Shamu. Sadly, we did not get to meet the real one, as he was shopping at the Lilly Pulitzer store.

Random dudes on stilts.

We could have watched the manatees all day long, they are glorious creatures.

Penguins have the best posture, don't they?

Max had a blast at Water Works; we had to carry him out of there, crying, but not before he tried to shoot me down with water. I have to say, his aim is impressive.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This is our new groundhog. He showed up a few weeks ago. Until now he's been camera shy, or maybe it's that Max pounds on the dining room doors and screeches whenever he spots him roaming around the backyard. Max is our Groundhog First Alert system.

He's cute, and the kids are fascinated, but I'm hoping we're not in for another season of wildlife weirdness. (Some of you may recall the house squirrel I got Dave for our 10th anniversary and last summer's dead birds/town hall fiasco.) I am quite sure wise commenter Felicia will urge me to get some Eau de Coyote Pee, aka the potion she typically recommends to fend off critters.

The Big G likes to saunter out from under the backyard shed at about 2:00 p.m. for brunch (grass). Shortly after he retires for a nap and/or a cocktail, then he returns around 7:00 for dinner (grass). Word, I do not know for sure it is a he, unless he starts lounging on our deck chair and not doing the chores I asked him to do, and then I will for sure know he's a male who might be related to Dave.

I was a little concerned he'd eat the flowers but he's all about grass. Who knows, maybe we will save big on lawn maintenance this year, because this groundhog is a porker. I wish he'd snack on the overgrown shrubbery, but no such luck.

Hmmm.... Wonder if you can train a groundhog to be a watch-groundhog. We'd get "WARNING! ATTACK GROUNDHOG ON PREMISES!" signs to deflect robbers and we'd also save a ton of money on our alarm system.

I am all about finding ways to monetize the groundhog.

Got ideas for a name? And, yes, Purple Spaghetti Groundhog is in the running.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Things that make you lose it (and you're not sure why)

Tonight, I got home from work and decided to flip through the kids' baby albums with them at bedtime. They are getting big, fast, and I felt like reminiscing about their babyhoods. The three of us cuddled on Sabrina's bed, and first we looked at her baby album.

"I was soooo cute!" she said, at least ten times.

Oh, yes, she was.

Then we looked at the two baby albums I have for Max. "How come I don't have two albums?" Sabrina asked, as I knew she would. I couldn't exactly say that after I had her life got too busy and I didn't make her a second baby album. So I said I stored all of her photos online, which is the truth. I am good at coming up with truths that don't exactly address her questions and one of these days, she is going to call me on it. For now, safe.

Max's album had his newborn pictures, including one of Dave and me holding him in the hospital. There were also lots of photos of friends holding Max. So many stopped by in the month after he was born to hang with us and cheer us up after the hell we'd been through. I wasn't sad to see any of these pictures; they were Max's history. And Baby Max was just delicious. And, yes, he did have a bit of an orange tint. And, no, it wasn't self-tanner. Max couldn't get enough of sweet potatoes.

Sabrina had a ton of questions. "When Max was born, where was I? Is that kid in the picture older than me? Why is Max older than me? Oooh, Max, don't you think you were cute like me?"

We had a really memorable evening.

After they were asleep, I hung out in the kitchen. Dave's been away on a boys' trip for a few days (I owe him for those blog conferences I've gone to), and so I had a girly dinner, string cheese and yogurt, the kind I used to eat when I was single. Then I sat down to check email.

The subject line read Love That Max.

The message was this:

Hi, Ellen. I don't know if you remember me, but I used to be a teacher's aide for Max. I do know this comes as a complete throwback, but from time to time I wonder how he's doing as he was one of my "favorites" (though I'm probably not supposed to admit that!:) ) I recently caught up with a partner aide during the Max era, and we found ourselves talking about how much we loved Max's smile. I couldn't help but look you up in this tech-savvy world to find that you have a blog dedicated to Max and your family! It was wonderful to see a recent picture of him—that smile just makes me melt.

Anyway, I felt that I couldn't hold back and had to email you to let you know that Max is truly an amazing child (but you know that already!). He left such an imprint in my heart and I'm obviously not the only one.

I cried. Sat at the kitchen table for a good five minutes bawling my eyes out. It was so nice to hear from this woman; I felt a rush of gratitude for her and all of the other teachers and therapists who have been there for Max.

But for the life of me, I didn't understand why her email made me weep.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How other kids treat kids with special needs: It starts with the parents

Something amazing has been happening on our block this spring. Max is playing with other kids. I mean, really playing and hanging out with them. And they are doing it right back. There are bike races and swinging and running around and giggling. (The purple bike lasted for one day, in case you're wondering; Mushball Dave got it at Max's request, but it was too much bike for Max to handle.)

Life around here wasn't always this way. I can still picture the look of fear on one little girl's face when Max would get too close to her. Another kid once muttered, "I don't want to play with him. He's dumb." But these days, those kids and the other ones in our 'hood accept Max for who he is. This is partly because they're used to him, and partly because they've gotten to know the bright, cheerful, fun-loving kid behind the disabilities. I have their parents to thank as well; I'm lucky to be surrounded by down-to-earth, open-minded moms and dads who do not think that kids with special needs have cooties—and who have taught their kids the same.

Several parents have mentioned that their kids sometimes talk about Max. Like the mom who told me that her child said something about Max taking a longer time to learn how to ride a bike. She responded that even if it takes Max longer to do things, he still achieves them, and that people do things on their own timeline. Love her.

Warm welcomes and inclusion are not the typical responses in situations where kids don't know Max, like on vacation. Max doesn't notice the stares and occasional snickers, but I do, and they hurt. What happened to him at that gym a couple of months ago still haunts me.

Kids who don't know Max may only see a kid who is not able to talk like they do, who walks and runs a little differently, who occasionally drools. They may have trouble accepting differences and getting that Max is like them in many ways. Sometimes, on vacation or at a playground, I'll intervene to get kids interacting with Max. It's more rare that other parents there make that effort.

Kids will be kids. I can try my best to forge connections, but I believe it's up to their parents to teach acceptance and respect and help children understand that kids with special needs are still kids.

What say you? How do the kids in your neighborhood treat your child?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A free speech app, Lady Gaga's sorry about saying "retarded" and other stuff worth knowing about (4/23 edition)

• In one of those amazing life coincidences, I met a dad the other night through my friend Wendy whose friend has a child with autism. That friend is working on a revolutionary speech app, Xalts (he explains it in the above video). It's an open source, visual language application and library. You'll be able to import vocabularies on existing devices (though not the images that are on them, to avoid copyright infringement). Or create your own set of vocabulary from scratch, then upload them to a library (and share them with others). You won't need to access this using a device with Apple iTunes; it'll work on any device. They're looking for funding right now; chip in if you're game and keep your eye on them.

• Next Friday, April 29, is the Make-A-Wish Foundation's World Wish Day, a celebration of wish giving. You can help grant wishes, or nominate a child. I loved this video of a kid who became Electron Boy on World Wish Day 2010.

And—woo hoo!—four Wish kids made it into a Justin Bieber's video, Pray. Justin's granted 35 wishes so far. Good stuff.

ONE, a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable diseases, has this awesome public service ad out about caring about kids in Africa. They desperately need vaccinations that'll help stop pneumonia and diarrhea—two of the biggest killers of children in poor countries. Yes, it's hard to believe that poop can be deadly, but it takes the lives of more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. They die from dehydration.

Sign the ONE petition (it literally takes three seconds) to ask world leaders to support funding. This effort could help save 4 MILLION children's lives in the next five years.

• There's a new curriculum being implemented in elementary and middle schools, Choose Zero, that'll teach kids about reducing carbon emissions in their homes, schools, and communities. It features the Nissan LEAF, an electric car that was just named the 2011 World Car of the Year.

On the site, kids can see the effects of their choices on the environment—and you can enter for a chance to win a three-year lease on the LEAF.

• "I've written loads of music. Why would I try to put out a song and think I'm getting one over on everybody? That's retarded," Lady GaGa told a writer doing a story for British music mag NME. After advocacy groups called her on it, she issued an apology to Perez Hilton: "I consider it part of my life's work and music to push the boundaries of love and acceptance. My apologies for not speaking thoughtfully. To anyone that was hurt, please know that it was furiously unintentional."

Who knows whether GaGa or her pr person were the driving force behind the apology. I don't care; what matters most is that a celeb is drawing attention to the issue. You, me, other bloggers and groups can raise hell about the use of the word "retard," but it takes a celebrity to get a whole lot of people thinking about it.

Meanwhile, my post about tweeting to people who use the r-word continues to get spectacularly clueless remarks. Sample: "People with mental retardation will never be campaigning against the use of the word 'retarded' because they do not have the intellectual capacity to understand why it is offensive. If it doesn't bother them, why the heck does it bother you so much?"

Le sigh.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's B Kind 2 Earth Day...Help Mom Earth! She Doesn't Have Her Own Blog!

It's overwhelming, isn't it, to think of all the help our planet needs. What difference can one mom or two mom or a hundred moms make?

A lot.

It starts with one. Plus one plus one plus one. And suddenly, we're making a difference. Consider this:

• Every minute spent driving to a store involves 10 times the energy of buying online. (Er, as if you needed another excuse to indulge your Zappos habit.)
• A mind-boggling 75 percent of all energy consumed by households is standby power. Put a lot of appliances on one power strip, remember to turn that sucker off when they're not in use and you'll save serious energy.
• Plastic water bottles take about 700 years to begin composting; 80 percent of them aren't even recycled.

The B Kind 2 Earth Day project is happening Friday, organized by Nickelodeon, the National Wildlife Federation and The Motherhood. They're asking families to do at least one earth-friendly action today (and beyond).

I'm planting veggies in the backyard with the kidsAdd Image—cherry tomatoes, zucchini, peas and cukes. I am sure the groundhog who's taken up residence there will enjoy them. I am not sure what he is doing in honor of B Kind 2 Earth Day.

I'm also going to talk with the kids about doing a better job of remembering to turn off lights when we leave rooms. We are embarrassingly lazy about that in this house, and it's just about one of the most no-brainer green things ever.

What eco-good thing can you do?

Want a groundhog?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Helping kids with special needs fit in: I did not buy the purple Crocs

I stopped in my tracks in Target. "Whoa!" I said, though I was by myself. Right there in front of me, hanging from a display: a cluster of purple Crocs. Gloriously purple Crocs. Max nirvana (yep, he is still obsessed with purple).

I stooped down, looked for his size, dropped the pair in my cart, started to push it away.

I stopped again.

Bright purple crocs on an 8-year-old boy with special needs: Not so cool. Maybe other 8-year-olds could get away with them, I don't know. Max is plenty cute, and he'd look extra cute with them on. But cuteness does not win you boy friends when you are 8 years old. Cuteness alienates you from other children, especially when you have certain traits that already make you seem younger than you are.

I've been very conscientious lately about helping Max look more his age. We just got him a new haircut, some homeboy clothes for spring, and custom purple bandanas to help with the drool situation. I mean, the bandanas aren't inconspicuous but they sure beat the terrycloth bibs.

I just didn't think those purple crocs would do much for his image—perhaps it's time to call in the What Not To Wear people. Sure, in theory, Max could trek around in purple crocs only at home, but that would never happen. He would want to wear them 24/7. He'd want to sleep in them. No, if I'd bought him the purple crocs, they would have been on his feet from now until the first frost, and probably beyond. I could practically hear the wails and screeches that would result when I made him take off the crocs to leave the house.

I am not the least bit ashamed of Max. He amazes me every single day, minute, second. And as you know, I am all for purple paraphernalia. But I want to help him help himself, even if he isn't yet aware of the things that make him stand out from other kids.

I put the purple Crocs back on the hook. Stood there for another couple of minutes, gazing at them. I felt a twinge of regret—they would make Max really happy.

And then I walked away.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dear staffers at the pediatrician's office: pleas from a parent

Dear staffers at the pediatrician's office,

First off, thank you for keeping my children healthy, vaccinated and lollipop-licious. I am genuinely amazed by how calm you remain in the face of bawling, screaming kids. Is there some special anti-freakout antibiotic you receive, and where can I get my hands on it? Also, how do you manage to stay healthy despite being exposed to trillions of germs a day, yet I get sick if my kid with a cold so much as blinks at me?

Anyway, I appreciate all that you do. I have just a few small observations and suggestions to share:

• There are two people in this world who may call me "Mom." Sorry, but you are not one of them. My first name works fine. So does "Goddess."

• I know you have appointment slots to fill but when you call me at the office and ask if I can come in with my child at 10:30 or 1:00 or 3:15, it bugs me. Some mommies work. Perhaps you could note that in my kids' files? "Goddess with a job" would be just fine.

• What is up with charging parents $10 to fill out a form that has all of three lines, one of which is "Child's name"?

• By any chance, could you call when the doctor is running an hour late? I have approximately 379 other things I could be doing. Consider karma: Someday, you might find yourself in that big waiting room in the sky, where you will be forced to wait for all eternity. With no TV and only Entrepreneur Magazine to read.

• Why are the toys in the waiting area so filthy they look like they're harboring Ebola virus?

• Idea: If you took that original Fisher Price Little People Parking Garage—so what if the elevator hasn't worked since 1972 and it has drool stains and Ebola—you could sell that sucker on eBay and make enough money to buy subscriptions to a couple of good magazines.

• Do you really think you can fool us by depositing us in an exam room and leaving us stranded for a half hour? The doctor will NOT see us now! Delay tactic! We are onto you.

• Word, it is not humanly possible to entertain a small child for a half hour by messing around with the crinkly paper on the exam table and the ear probe and getting so desperate that you are tempted to go get Entrepreneur Magazine from the waiting room and read it to him, just for fun.

• My kid squirms and whines because he has a thing about standing on the scale; I think he inherited that from me. Can't you guess kids' weight just by staring at them? The people at the county fair can!

• Ear wax flushing is really gross. May I please leave the room? I don't think my child will someday require therapy because I abandoned him, but I might if I'm forced to witness that.

• Why do I have to fill out those appointment reminder cards? Isn't that what YOU get paid to do? Next time, I am charging you ten dollars.

That is all.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Top books for kids in Early Intervention

I follow several speech language pathologists on Twitter, and last night a bunch of them had a discussion about suggested reading books for Early Intervention. Here, their picks. There are some Max and Sabrina faves, one I loved from my own childhood, and a couple of cool books I'd never heard of.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (I so loved this as a kid)

Where's Spot? and other books in the Spot series

Caps For Sale; I have fond memories of my mom reading this book to me, too.

Not A Box

Binky (a Sabrina favorite, because she used to be obsessed with her pacifier, aka her "habifier") and other books by Leslie Patricelli

Each Peach Pear Plum

Is Your Mama A Llama?

Where Is Baby's Belly Button? (a Max fave) and all the other adorable books by Karen Karbo

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