Monday, November 14, 2011

To the Moon...and Back

“…you said “I am as constant as a northern star.”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness,
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”
— Joni Mitchell, A Case of You

An email I sent this morning:

            November 14, 2011, 7:35 am
            To: Just about every therapist and teacher J has ever worked with
            Subject: What J just said

J just jumped up from breakfast announcing:

Mom! I am going to the bath room, I'll be right back!

Then he did!

I wanted to share this to all of you who contributed to this moment with my thanks. It's a rough path when you don't know the way or the destination, but the guidance and efforts of all J's teachers and therapists has kept us moving forward, and increasing our goals. I am so grateful.

Shortly after I sent that email, we were running late to leave for school. I sent J to put on his shoes while I got my coat. A minute later I walked into the kitchen and found that J had dumped a pound of sugar on the floor. And he didn’t have his shoes on.


It is 9 am on Monday morning and I’ve flown in the stars and hit the floor again. I expect I’ll drop further down by the end of the day and maybe back up again. I spend my days at the end of a bungee cord, blindfolded, never knowing if I am going up or down, whether I might hit bottom or spring loose from the harness and fly.

My family and I are becoming increasingly adept at “rolling with the punches.” Mostly this is warmly satisfying. When I deal with some annoyance as just that, an annoyance—not allowing spilt milk or an attempt to make cookies solo or give the cat a bath to raise my blood pressure or reduce me to tears is proof that I am growing, getting better at this parenting / living thing. But last night, when J ruined my oldest son’s art project, and I complemented the older boy on responding so calmly he said, in his understated way “I’m kind of getting used to it.” And I had no satisfaction in it, only sadness.

While we have to learn to get used to lots of things that would send a “normal” family into a tailspin, we have more than our share of high-altitude joy that not everyone can understand. The moments we never let ourselves hope for, the events that we may have actually dreamt about, then awoken, crying, to know it was just a dream. Those times when something happens—something that may look insignificant or trivial to an outsider, are the times when we know that there are blessings in having a special needs child, or in experiencing a loss, or in knowing for whatever reason that life is not always good; not always easy. And though there is still a tinge of bitter in that sweet, sweet moment, that bitterness is the foil that lifts the joy to a higher place. A place that makes me dizzy and is just a little bewildering and brings the realization—the reminder that, to quote Yoda (yes, I must) “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Then like Icarus feeling the sun’s warmth at the same moment he realizes the wax is melting, I fall back down—to a somewhat softer landing—and by force of…what? Motherhood? Stubbornness? Hope? Something… I grab the broom and trudge on.

There are times, I know, when the highs don’t come frequently enough to fuel the plodding and the days become so heavy, it’s hard to recall that feeling of joy, those moments of transcending the frustrations and disappointments, the pain and the fear. This is the darkness we all, at some point in life, will struggle against. It’s why we all need support—even those who don’t know how to ask for help.

But today, I’m OK. I can still feel the warmth of that wonderful announcement, of being addressed as “Mom” by my child who didn’t call out for me until he was well past three. The sugar is swept up, and I push ahead with my day. The only thing I know is that I can’t predict how things will go, but if this day brings me down, I know I won’t stay there forever.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Custom Guys

My Big Guy really wants to share some of the customized Clone War lego men he's created. Each one is based on a character from the TV show. Sorry some are blurry, he took them with a old camera. Enjoy!

My Big Guy really wants to share some of the customized Clone War lego men he's created. Each one is based on a character from the TV show. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stepping out of the Land of Autism

Learning to live with autism was a crash course. We found therapists and specialists. Acquired OT equipment. Did research, took training, learned acronyms from ABA and DRI to RDI and SLP. I can tell you about apraxia, echolalia, sensory processing disorder, weighted vests, vestibular and perioproceotive input and much more. I made new friends, frenemies, and heroes. Temple, Greenspan, Wakefield, McCarthy, Baron-Cohen (not that one, his cousin), I have something to say about them all.

Even looking back, I know it was completely overwhelming and terrifying. I put off things that felt as pressing and urgent as breathing because I quickly learned that it was the only way to avoid drowning. I couldn't tackle diet before I got him into a good school program. How could I think about school before I could sleep knowing he was safe in our home? And trying throughout it all—failing more often than not—to reassure my other boys and meet their needs. Of course their needs grew just as I had less fuel to address them. Learning that their brother had a life-long developmental disability/ difference is not something that a 6 or 9 year old can quickly process and accept. They struggled (and struggle today) to know what it meant for our family. Knowing that when my oldest son imagines his future, his baby brother's care is always part of the picture fills me simultaneously with unimaginable pride and unyielding guilt. This is one of the many dichotomies that now seem to define life in our family.

My son is very, very smart, and autistic.  We need support, but can offer less to our communities than we would like.  We struggle financially, but if I got a full time job and paid someone qualified to watch J and take him to all his appointments, I'd net less than I make part-time. Our boys love each other fiercely even as their respective needs are frequently in conflict. Our various communities tell us that they value our family, however we haven't managed to find a way to participate fully. We feel socially isolated even while we are overwhelmed by the opportunities we have for “getting out”.

This is the struggle that engages us most now.  Now that J is in a great school, has wonderful therapists, is finally feeling good and sleeping well on a special diet and supplements, we have come out of the dark to see that we are a family apart.  All the fun family activities feel like more trouble than they are worth.

Our boy requires a huge amount of supervision and every kind of environment presents some challenges. How can we expect our host or event organizer to prepare for or accommodate a five-year-old explorer with an extremely limited diet reciting a Sponge Bob episode at top volume? Sometimes we hire a sitter, which is a good some-times answer. But between the "special" expense and the guilt of denying J an opportunity to interact (he's the one with the diagnosed need for society, after all), sitters can't fill the gap.

While J needs less supervision in our home, it's a monumental task for any busy family to have guests. As much as we would like to reciprocate the kind offers we receive, we rarely have the energy needed to plan, clean and host. We still crave time with friends but we have simply lost most of our social motivation.

So while we've matriculated from the crash-course that followed diagnosis, and graduated from crisis mode (more or less), there are real, long-term adaptations to make. We are still feeling our way, there's no Thriving in a Special Needs Family for Dummies. How much we need from friends, family, and our various communities is, we've learned, more than we can reasonably ask. Finally, we can now perceive our limits before we smack noisily into them (usually). We back off, tuck in, sometimes even hide out. All the while feeling left out, un-tethered. Our mission now, it seems, is to find out whether we are living in a real-life Catch-22, or whether me might finesse a balance on this rickety bridge between the world and our life in the land of autism.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I, like many others with kids—especially kids wish special needs, am always on the look out for developmental progress. I celebrate even tiny steps, examining them with a microscope, if necessary, and use them refill my piggy bank of hope, or relieve some of my anxiety, or just generally provide reassurance that what I see overall is progress, not regression.

With my youngest, who has autism, I'm looking for indications that he's increasing his language & communication skills, in particular. Which is why I was so pleased on the way to school when he told me that he had "library time with Rose" today.

He never tells me about school, it's like pulling teeth to get any information at all. He answers my questions maybe 25% of the time, and usually then after lots of prompting and falling, in the end, to yes/no questions. So, you can forgive me for wondering if "library time with Rose" was from some book he had been read, or from an app on his iPad. But when we arrived at school, his aid confirmed that Monday is library day. He would indeed be having library time this afternoon. I was so happy I didn't even bother asking if there was someone named Rose involved.

Such a small thing, but such a big indicator of developmental progress. I was so excited I called my husband  to share the story. But it strikes me as interesting to contrast this how I react to the developmental progress of my oldest son, who just started middle school.

My big guy lost his house key, and when we went to have a new one cut he saw the specialty keys and immediately got excited about owning a house key with a skull on the top. Fine with me, if he paid the difference between a regular key and a skull key. Next, he had the idea that in order not to loose this key, he needed a chain to attach it to his belt loop. OK, he's starting to accessorize. I am actually really happy that he's developing his own style, it's developmentally appropriate to try to assert an individual identity at his age. But I had no idea where to buy such a chain.

We were at the mall yesterday to buy my eight-year old some new sneakers (Tony Hawk skater shoes with day-glo orange laces, he's definitely been watching his big bro) when we spotted Hot Topic, the store I know only from a South Park episode in which Butters is taken there by the Goth Kids (or Vampires, as he identifies them) to darken his look a little.

It was kind of a weird moment. I was cool, at least I used to be. The best I could hope for now was to be a cool enough mom to take my baby into Hot Topic and buy him a metal chain to hang from his pants. I know full well that it won't be long before my son will refuse to be seen with me at the mall, period. So I embraced the moment, and marched into the store, boldly telling the very cool and extravagantly pierced sales girl what we were looking for. Leaving later with not just an perfect chain, but also a "awesome" belt engraved with some sort of skeleton-dragon thing. (Like I said, he's accessorizing).

(Here I should mention that I utterly failed the cool mom test by repeatedly asking my son whether he wanted a Justin Beber t-shirt, which was hilariously displayed among all the goth, heavy metal and reggae shirts, in front of the cool sales girl. I couldn't help myself.)

So, when I tell you that my son spent ten precious minutes this morning looking for a particular t-shirt, and that I had to warn him that his awesomely-belted & chained pants were dangerously low, and he was not to "sag" his pants at school and we better not get a call from the principal that the top of his boxer shorts were showing, I lamented that all the the teenager stuff I've heard about is already starting. But really, you already know that secretly I was pleased. That's progress. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

And many more...

Just a quick post after a quick (2 night) trip to visit my parents in MN. It was my mom's birthday and little J impressed us all by coming into the dining room for the birthday rituals of singing, candles & cake (OK, his was gluten-free "ring-tings" which is all the store had, though I am not quite sure what they actually were!).

Most of the time he is at my parent's house he spends upstairs in grandkid's bunk room, in the TV room, or covering his ears. While we all sit and kibbitz in the adjacent dining room/ living room, he disappears, appearing only with his hands glued over his ears. We haven't been able to figure out why, we've checked the lights, my dad's hearing aid, anything we can think of—even ruled out strange smells because sometimes covering his ears is the only filter J can think of to use, regardless of what sense is being assailed.

But Thursday night my guy was a champ, singing and clapping and helping glow out the candles, then hanging around long enough to eat and ask for more.

We were so happy he included himself in the fun. The beauty of it was the ritual. He has celebrated enough birthdays in enough venues to know it's always pretty much the same, no surprises. When he knows the plan he can let go of some of the anxiety that seems to contribute to his sensory overload, and actually relax enough to interact socially.

I can only hope that that as he learns more and more rituals, the day to day challenges will become fewer. Starting with mundane ones like waiting in line for rides, taking turns at games, while we work toward more complex rituals like meeting new people and making small talk—they will all become easier for him.

I've been writing about times when the challenges I face raising a special needs child seem to come a little easier, and about how it seems like I am moving forward, even when it feels like I'm pushing against a wall. Sometimes my little guy's progress is simply sharing a happy occasion with his family, and then it's time to step off the path and smell the roses.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No Shame in Asking

I’m not very good at asking for help. I don’t ask often, and almost never for help that I really, really, can’t do with out (I’d hate for someone to feel pressured). I find a way. I let my own work go undone or just do everything half-assed or late, or not at all.

Asking for help is a struggle. If there is any sort of negotiation, I back out if I can, and I sure won’t ask again. It’s not out of spite, at least it’s not always out of spite, it’s something else. Being down just reinforces my own warped belief that I should be able to manage alone. I’m learning that this is something I have to work on.

Last Sunday was our block party. My boys were thrilled. ALL the kids were out; and since our block is heavily populated by large Orthodox Jewish families and since multi-family dwellings outnumber single family homes two to one, ALL is a lot, like, dozens of kids. A fire truck comes and lets the kids climb into the cab, and an inflatable jumper sets up shop for an hour or two, people set up games and share treats. But the thing that the kids get the biggest kick out of is that they can ride their bikes in the street because traffic is blocked at both ends.

Coincidentally, the next block over was having their party too. Before our jumping jack arrived, they had a giant inflatable slide, a water slide, my oldest claimed, he wanted to go check it out, but I put him off. The party was about spending time with neighbors and he couldn’t do that on the next block.

We were discussing this as I was closely following my five year old who was peddling down the street. I paused to introduce myself to a woman who recently moved in up the way. I asked big brother to shadow little brother and to remind him when it was time to turn around— he was headed toward the busy cross street. Big brother argued for a moment, seeking clarification on how long he had to babysit, could he check out the slide after, could he have a soda? I shook my head and told him that I needed him to watch his brother a now and turned back to my new neighbor.

A moment later I heard a shout. I looked up and was running full sprint, dodging kids and bikes and anything that was unfortunate enough to stand between me and my nightmare. The Boy had cast his bike aside and was running toward the giant inflatable slide on the next block, undeterred by the flashes of cars on the cross street between the slide and himself. I shouted for him to stop, I ran, and simultaneously questioned whether we could catch him in time.

My older son got a hold of his brother's arm ten feet or so from the intersection. I was there a moment later, praising one child and reminding the other, in a falsely calm voice, that he may not run away and streets are not safe and cars can hurt him and he must come inside now because he MAY NOT RUN AWAY!

Though outwardly I did not loose my cool, inside I was sick and worse, confused that I had run past many adults who could have interceded, but didn’t step in to help. Now, they avoided looking my way as I half marched, half dragged my son up the block. I was angry. Why had no one tried to help? It had been clear that we were chasing a small boy as he ran toward the street, but it was as if we were alone despite the crowd. What kind of neighbors were these?

Inside, I tried to catch my breath and slow my heartbeat. My eyes burned as I told my husband what had happened. I was scared, angry and—as the story unfolded—ashamed. Ashamed because once I could think, I knew why no one had helped, why everyone had looked away.

 Because they didn’t know. Because I have never told them. Because I had never asked for help.

Sure, I’ve mentioned my son’s diagnosis. I’ve never hidden it. But generally I’ve assumed that either word got around or that my boy’s behavior would speak for its self. Most typical five year olds don’t sing “We are riding our bikes! We are riding our bikes! We are riding our bikes!” as they cruise down the sidewalk. Most don’t hang out windows pretending to be Astroboy, just before he learns he can fly. For that matter, typical five year olds can usually walk from car to house without being led by the hand. Heck, on our block, they’ve been playing outside unsupervised for at least a year.

But I presumed too much. Whatever people might have noticed, they have been careful not to jump to any conclusions. Whatever I’ve told them, they have kept to themselves, lashon harah, literally “bad speech,” including gossip, is avoided and condemned in the Orthodox community. If I want my neighbors to acknowledge that my son has autism, if  I want them to keep an eye out for him and intervene when necessary, I must be explicit, I must ask my neighbors to help me keep him safe.

There’s no shame in asking. The shame would be not asking for help. And if my life had not been touched by autism, I might never have known.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Empathy for Gru

We’ve known for a long time that progress for kids with autism is uneven. But sometimes if feels like all we are doing is going through the motions, with no progress. The motions themselves loose their meaning and become rote, we don’t even think, just do.

As we trudge along, stressed and tired, days, weeks, whole months feel like a long, dark tunnel. We don’t know how far we have to go, can’t see how far we've come, and we don’t truly know where we are headed. Suddenly we round a bend, and we see something that makes every step worthwhile. Maybe a skill is acquired, or maybe it's just a flash of what we hope is the future.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband left our boy’s room after putting him to bed. “We just had a conversation,” he told me, with a stunned but excited look. He told me about an unscripted exchange in which my son replied appropriately to a series of questions with novel language, meaning he wasn’t repeating something he’d heard (echolalia) or  reciting something he’d been taught to say. He was clearly expressing his own ideas with his own words. The ideas and words weren’t complex, or even on par with what a typical five-year old might say, but his expressive language exceeded anything we’ve ever heard from him before.

In the morning, and for the next few days, we tried (somewhat compulsively) to engage our now tight-lipped boy in another conversation. We never got as far as Barry did that night. That didn’t matter, we had seen a flash of that potential everyone perceives in him that never quite reaches the surface, and it was exciting. Reinvigorating. I wrote a letter about it to his brother, my oldest son who has been away at camp for weeks. He, maybe more than anyone else, is stung by his sibling’s inability to communicate. He’s often the target when his littlest brother is unregulated and is looking for someone on whom to take out his crazies. Big brother tolerates a lot, but also grieves the barriers in their relationship. He takes autism personally, and takes it hard.

As you might guess, our little guy really misses his object of affection and aggression. Several times a day he recites a line from the social story I made in preparation for his brother’s departure.  “I will miss him, but he will be home in a few weeks,” he repeats. This alone lets us know how keenly he feels his brother’s absence, though he’s never been able to express it with his own words. Then, the other night, he did something that nearly blew us over.

Our boy was watching Despicable Me on his iPad (again). In the story, a softy villain adopts three girls to help him execute his latest evil scheme. Of course he and his household of minions quickly become attached to the charming girls and they become almost a family. Seeing how affected the villain is by the kids , his assistant arranges the return of the girls to the orphanage. We know the story very well around here, not just because parts of the movie are played just about every day, but also because the boy will recite whole scenes verbatim.

But as he watched that night, he wasn’t reciting lines from the movie, though he can recite whole scenes verbatim, including the soundrack. As the scene when the girls are dragged away approached, we heard him reciting lines from the social story about his brother going to camp. “My brother is going away for a while, I will miss him,” then, suddenly, be began sobbing! Watching the little screen he exclaimed “He cannot look at the girls” and crying, completely overwhelmed by his, and the character’s, sadness. He was reading the characters expression as he walked away from the girls as pain, not the indifference Gru hoped to show. A very subtle reading of emotion, indeed.

Um, huh?  This display of understanding another's emotions (albeit a cartoon) was so far beyond our expectations for our autistic five year old child, so far beyond the kind of empathy that any autistic person is “supposed” to show. We just stood there gaping, unable to truly believe what we were witnessing. Not a sudden light, more like the rolling thunder of a train that approaches, passes, and is gone. His own strong feelings of missing his brother helped him perceive the emotion of another and empathize.

He wouldn’t talk about it later. He doesn’t have the words and he won’t let us put words in his mouth this time. It was a completely spontaneous event, but the culmination of so, so much work. I’m not surprised that this pivotal moment would hinge on my oldest son, whose place in our family, if we were a single organism, would be it’s heart. I’ve always noted that my two older boys are their brother’s best models. And, I think, hope, pray, they will always be best friends, and that they will always know what is in the others' hearts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jump in, the water's fine!

My youngest son, who is five and has autism, has a field trip scheduled. He is going to a water park tomorrow. Without me. Without Dad. With camp.

His camp is awesome. He is going to a regular summer camp through a special needs inclusion program. So far there’s been nary a hitch. He has not once, all summer, run into the street and gotten hit by a car, drowned in the pool or disappeared from the camp grounds. On top of Those Things not happening, he has established friendships with typical peers, participated in a ton of great activities, and finally puts his head underwater when swimming-—in fact, he now spends more time under water than on top of it when he’s in the pool. He’s a fairly proficient swimmer; he’ll love the water park.

And it's not even really a water park. It is a park district aquatics center. Two slides, a zero-depth pool, some play structures that dump water, the kind of place that I’ve taken the kids to lots of times without incident.

So why am I a nervous wreck?

It has been suggested that many parents of autistic kids suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, most familiar from the its effects on many former combat soldiers). Our lives do have more drama, and sometimes trauma, than most. My son learned to escape his exersaucer at 9 months, could open virtually every form of child lock by age 3, and has slipped out of the house more than once, forcing us to lock him in his bedroom at night and put extra locks and alarms on all the doors. Lately he’s been opening and climbing out of our living room window, dressed in his underpants and snow boots, pretending he’s Astro Boy, just before he learns he can fly. Eventually the high level of anxiety becomes habitual. We’re always on high alert, waiting for the next emergency.

You may have heard that a new diagnostic code was recently approved for wandering. “Wandering” sounds sort of harmless, you imagine a child walking away from mom and into a toy store at the mall or an old lady in a hospital gown picking flowers in somebody’s yard. But wandering is sort of misnomer.

Autistic people usually don’t just wander; they don’t just distractedly follow a butterfly and end up miles away. Autistic people decide to go somewhere, or do something, and don’t understand the dangers of pursuing that plan on their own. My son, tired of waiting for us to get ready for an outing last weekend, left the house and went to the car on his own. It was terrifying and he was only “missing” a minute or two. Luckily he wasn’t waiting for us within sight of water. The statistics on wandering and drowning are downright frightening. Although, even I have to admit most of those tragedies don’t involve lifeguards and the buddy system.

Truth be told, my son is probably going to be safer on his field trip than he is during certain times under my own supervision. I’ve got distractions: other kids, phone calls and chores and when I have couple seconds, I sometimes use the bathroom. His aid has only one job, keeping my son safe.

Of the many flavors of jive I work to push out, fear is one of the hardest. Anxiety is a strong emotion, sufficiently powerful to obscure the powerlessness I feel over all the “what ifs”. Parents of autistic kids don’t have a monopoly on clutching at worry or letting fear dictate their behavior, but when my little guy is out of my sight, I can’t trust in the rules I’ve taught him, his carefully cultivated good judgment, or even his fear of consequences. He has none of these. My fears are all I have to hold on to.

There are plenty of legitimate things to worry about, and in the end I will always err on the side of caution when it comes to this kid. As hard as it is for me, when it comes to a field trip to a water park, I just have trust in the team, and let him dive in. Even if I’m the one holding my breath.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chain reaction

I can't avoid this blogging thing any longer. It's just not fair to keep the curtains drawn and prevent you from peeking in. Sometimes it's all butterflies and show tunes and Sunday-morning pancakes. Sometimes it's a train wreck. And sometimes it's so fracking ridiculous that you'll laugh AND cry. Like just now.

It's been a long day. A long week really. My 5 year old autistic son has strep throat. My husband's grandfather is in the hospital. I really need to work as much as I can, despite covering my husband's allotted kid schlepping and having a sick kid home two days. It was a night for a quick, easy dinner served early because my DH, we'll just call him Barry (ask me why Barry some other time) had a much-needed man date for a drink.

So Daddy was out and I was going to make the best of it. I'd try to be a fun mom. I try to do that sometimes. However my attempts usually end up biting me in the ass.

I stepped out of the kitchen for just a couple minutes as the boys were finishing their dinners, I wanted to look online for an ice cream place with non-dairy options.  Instead of just waiting for bedtime we would go for ice cream, that's fun, right? I was looking at a promising menu when heard the unmistakable crash/ring of breaking glass.

"Mommmmmmaaaaaa!!" calls my 8 year old (let's call him Danny) but I was already in the room, colliding with The Culprit, who was shouting "Somebody broke that*" over and over and laughing at his cleverness. I pulled the dog away from the spilled coconut milk and scattered shards, and as I swung Captain Destructo over over the doggie gate I smelled it. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Ever hopeful, I sent him to the bathroom. "If you poop on the potty, I'll take you out for ice cream" I called (yes I am an opportunist), and sent Danny to sit with him as I squatted down to deal with the broken glass.

I should have known better, but I soon gave up on the squat and put one knee down as I reached for a jagged piece. Concurrent with the realization that there was a hunk of glass in my knee came the call that the boys had reached the toilet too late. The damage was done. I tossed a handful of glass into the trash and headed to the bathroom, where I was greeted by Danny shouting "He's was putting his fingers in it!" So. Yeah. In... that.

I absently swiped the Boy's fingers with a wipe and leaned over him to get to the real mess. Being a mother, and Jewish, I can't be blamed for what I did next, but it was my fatal error. I straightened up and pointed to my bloody knee, "Momma has an owie because you broke that glass!" As I returned to the business end as he RUBBED MY BLOOD ALL AROUND MY KNEE WITH HIS FINGER!!"

Yeah, the one with poop on it.

No big deal. I got him in the bath, washed, medicated, and bandaged my knee. All is well in our home sweet home,  and no one has even complained about missing the ice cream. I still have the dishes to do but I'm way past worrying about the state of my kitchen. No one comes over anyway. Here's the point:

I really stayed pretty calm through the whole thing, and so did the boys. It wasn't so long ago that I would have screamed and cried, unable to prioritize what crisis needed my immediate attention first. I would have simmered all night and resented Barry for being out, I would have lectured about where big boys did their poops, lashed out at Danny, and generally indulged in psycho mommy mode.

It's hard to be a parent. Harder to be a single parent, even for an evening but exponentially if it's permanent. Having a child on the spectrum ups the ante. Trivial annoyances and inconveniences seem monumental because so often they happen all at once, many things gone awry in just a few minutes.  The awful feelings that accompany those things linger much longer. It takes a lot of work to avoid diving into the comforting bosom of self-pity. I'm no bodhisattva, and I regularly tell myself "don't panic" well after panic has wrapped itself around me and started to squeeze. Lately though, once in a while, I find myself feeling good with how I handled some adreline spiking mini-crisis. My quest for inner calm is coming along—in fits and spurts, and I owe much of the credit to Montgomery Burns.

Monty Burns, Springfield's villainous nuclear power plant owner and who coached Homer Simpson back into shape (his usual shape, at least) after Homer had gained weight intentionally to achieve disabled status and be allowed to work from home. (No judgement, we're all disfuntional here.)

As he stood on a platform leading his employees in slow-motion aerobics he chanted:

"Push out the jive, bring in the love.
Push out the jive, bring in the love.
Push out the jive, bring in the love"

It's become my mantra. And if Mr. Burns can do it, so can I.

*name the movie he was quoting i'll buy you a dairy-free ice cream

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