25 July, 2011

Sweet Lemons

My wedding anniversary sneaks up on me each year. It marks the passing of time for me much more clearly than my birthday ever will, because I can remember every year I've been married, whereas there are entire years and seasons I cannot remember from childhood (in spite of my freaky ability to recall events from the past).

We don't celebrate our anniversary like many couples do. We are hardly Hallmark, but we do exchange cards some years. I can't remember the last time we exchanged anniversary presents, and as much as I love fresh cut flowers, I haven't seen (nor would I hope to see) any long-stemmed red roses.

One thing Descartes has purchased for me over the years, and is much more representative of who we are... are fruit trees. On our property we have a cherry, an apple, a tangelo, a kumquat, an avocado, a Behr lime, a pomegranate, and the jewel of them all, the Meyer lemon tree.

When I awoke this morning I remembered that Descartes gave me that Meyer lemon tree right after we got married. He gave me the lemon and the lime. They were in large heavy pots that were too big for them, and we put them out on the cracked little patio of the teeny, tiny post-war housing-boom-era house that was the first "real house" we lived in. That house was so small that if Descartes put his shoes down on the bedroom floor there was nowhere to walk. And it was oddly chopped up, because somehow in an 850 square foot house, we had two bathrooms and three bedrooms and a laundry room, and room for a piano and a dining room table. We were so happy not to be living under someone, or with someone, and buying those trees made it feel like it was really our little house.

We moved the next summer and took the trees with us to our new home on the Peninsula, a house near Descartes' shiny new office, and much closer to mine. It was hot there, unlike the misty cool of Berkeley. It was especially hot that summer, and the owner of our rental house chose to landscape with lava rock, which just sucked in the heat and kept it there. We left for a seven week tour of Europe to celebrate our one year anniversary and had to leave those poor little trees. I worried about them so much that I bought special water gel capsule things that were very expensive at the time, and I prayed they would last that long without water; we didn't have any friends yet nearby that we could even ask to water the plants.

The trees were barely alive when we came home, but they struggled through. We had one lemon that year. I remember because I used it as a garnish on a salmon I made my parents, and Descartes' parents when they came to see our little lava rock house.

And then we got pregnant, and we decided to move again. We looked at houses, took a deep breath, and spent every dime we had putting a down payment on a house.

The trees are in the front yard of that house now, along with all the other fruit trees we've acquired. The lime is still properly a dwarf lime, it's branches spread about three feet across and it is just as tall. But the lemon tree forgot it's grafted roots and spreads 10 feet across and more than 6 feet high. It is prolific. There are lemons year-round, and they are sweet and amazing, and the perfection of what we think a lemon should taste like.

I hardly ever water the lemon and it's still out there, right now,  flowering, and heavy with fruit. We will make home made lemonade this summer; Lucy still wants to make a stand on the corner. And I've chopped a bunch of them up to put in sangria which I served over 4th of July weekend. And I'll make candied lemon peel at Christmas, and serve twists and slices in whatever drink Squid decides is her favorite. And make lemon curd, and what else I'll do...the list is as long as the ways Bubba's mom makes shrimp.

The tree in the yard makes me happy every time I see it, even I hadn't really thought, until today, how far that tree had come with us. We've been through a lot of things in the last 13 years of marriage, and that tree has been around for all of it.

We've taken down wallpaper, made beautiful babies, put up pickles, and played on beaches. We have conquered MRSA, snaked all the drains, and robbed Peter to pay Paul. We've made homemade wild plum jam and our own beer, that was worth drinking. We have happily navigated the loneliest road in America, strapped babies in a LandCruiser to put them to sleep, and driven each other crazy.

Showing our children a national park or pulling weeds in the front yard, we have the same goals in life, and we are good together.  And when it's hard, we are still good together. We make the best of things, and we treasure the moments that life is sweet. I am so grateful for every year we've had together.


I love you and our life filled with lemons, lots of sweet, beautiful lemons. I would choose you again.
Happy anniversary to my wonderful husband.

p.s. sorry you are reading this at the same time as the entire interwebs. uhm. yeah.

a version of this post was an editor's pick today at OpenSalon.com 

14 July, 2011

Parenting in the Park

I took both of my children to the park the other day. It shouldn't be some sort of big announcement that a mom takes her kids to the park, but I was by myself with my two children, who have very different, needs, wants, and abilities, and I am a chicken. There. I said it. I am a scaredy-cat when it comes to taking my kids out into open, uncontrolled situations by myself, unless Jake is buckled into his wheelchair. He has escaped my grasp so many times, wrenching my shoulder as he goes; and he is fast. And as mature and amazing Lucy is at 5, she really is still a small child who deserves to be looked after on a busy street, or a park... but it is summer, and my children are convincing, so I took them.

Lucy providing high direction, high support
Lucy was very excited about playing in the cool water fountains that are shaped like Crayons. She got to learn the word "arbitrary" when I remembered that the park and rec department turns off the sprinkler fountains between 12pm and 1pm, and again from 3pm to 4pm. Because, apparently we cannot decide for ourselves when our children should have lunch, and a snack. It worked out fine because she got to play in the water puddle that had already been created, and managed to put together an engineering plan to create a dam that rivals the Hoover. She had no problem hiring the one of the unnamed boys near her to hold 'on' the foot sprayer nozzles to collect water, and the other to bring the bucket to her building site. She seemed like a decent overlord boss.

Meandering with Purpose
Then there was Jake. Precious boy who I forgot to put in bright orange before we left the house; I am rather particular about this. When he goes on a field trip, to camp, into the woods, into a crowd, okay, when he goes almost anywhere I put him in yellow, but more often, orange, actually, bright orange. He has his own hunter-safety-orange cozy jacket for camping trips. The afternoon we "lost" him in dappled sunlight when he was only 6 feet away from us was the last time I let him get near any vegetation without an easy way to spot him.
Can you see him? Yeah, Neither can I.

So of course the first thing he does is head for the only corner of the top portion of this park where I would not be able to see him. I didn't worry a bit because the chain link fence runs the entire way around the park. But wait, I couldn't actually see that corner post, and what if the fence were made by two brothers who got in a fight half way through the project and so there are really two corner posts, and a gap between them which leads STRAIGHT OUT TO THE STREET. I was only about 40 feet from him, but if that corner was open, which I knew it wasn't, but if it was, he was only 20 feet from cars pretending to drive 30 miles per hour.

myBoy in urban camo
I ran. I ran as fast as I could, and I lost a shoe on the way because I am an idiot and had thought, "Oh I can just wear my sandals because I am going to sit and watch my children play, and I will put my toes in the warm sand." I ran across the tan bark that my son loves so much with one open-toed sandal and one bare foot, and there he was, in the corner, where the fence was perfectly closed and built to code etc. I tried to give him some space, but it was very hard for me to not be able to see him, even if I knew there was no way out except past me.. because maybe today was going to be the day when he gains that fence climbing skill? We just never know. And if you are wondering if he laughed a little bit when he saw me plucking tan bark out of my sandal, the answer is, "yes." I let him play in the corner until he was done, and it may be my imagination, but as soon as I stopped being riled up about it he stopped going back there.

ooooh so close to escape.
Our visit to this little neighborhood playground, it wasn't all bad, or scary. On the busy street I had to parallel park between two cars that were over their little hash lines into my space, but we did get the safest spot, right next to the path that leads to the park. And every single family that went through the gate on that path, closed it behind them. The weather was beautiful, and Lucy was a good listener the entire time, which was pretty remarkable all by itself. When it was time to go, she left the park without complaint or stomping of the feet.

And while we were there, Jake got to work on those motor skills that are so important. He practiced "jumping off", which is different than "walking off", of something. I got to practice letting my son be outside of my grasp, which feels a lot like being "thrown off" of something. I did put my toes in the sand for a moment, and the kids had a great time playing.

There will be a day when my children don't want to go to the park, not like this at least. An afternoon will come that my daughter doesn't ask me, even one time, to play with her. It's possible that Jake will live somewhere without me when he's older. I want my kids to remember playing and running around. I want the smell of sunblock to remind them of all those days of being in the sunshine in our beautiful park-filled city. I'm trying to remember that these are the days when we should paint, or make lemonade.. or do as Lucy has asked and have a lemonade stand with a painted sign.

And I am trying to get over my fears that by myself, out there, in a park, or on a walk downtown, that I won't be able to keep both of my children safe. I know I am perfectly capable, but there are so many ways things can go wrong, and I've thought of them all. My brain hurts quite often with all the "choose your own adventure" stories in my head. However, I'm aware that emotion does not make fact, nor does a lively imagination, so the truth of it is, that most of the time, everything goes just fine. Everything will be okay, or it won't, but fear has very rarely led to anything good in this world, and it certainly has kept me from some beautiful days in the park.

a version of this post was an editor's pick today at OpenSalon.com

06 July, 2011

Is the Gate Locked?

check. double-check
We don't ever really relax. We think we do. We get babysitters and go out for drinks with friends. We take turns keeping an eye on Jake, but really there are only five days a year I do not worry about my son: the 'week' he goes to camp. Other than that, my mind, and quite often my body,  is on duty twenty-four hour a day. Part of that responsibility is just what it feels like to be a parent, but I've seen other parents with typical kids, and I see how they can let go of their child's hand in the store, leave the car door or window unlocked, leave the back gate without double-checking the double-lock. They can expect that their child is not going to shimmy through the dog door, and just about disappear in silence.

But there are places that are easier than others. Places where I can let my guard down a little bit, because I either have the safety in numbers of responsible adults, or a well-enclosed space, or just one other person who completely gets my kid, and can recognize things that will be dangerous even if they look safe for another special needs kid.

Our house is one of those places, and thankfully we own our home and can make improvements and adjustments to the walls, and fences without asking any one's permission. Our home is safe, but not without some very serious rules, and a lot of attention to detail. If you come to a closed door or gate in my house...there's a reason, and it's probably not because I don't want you to see me naked. If you make a mistake and leave even one gate or door open, there could be consequences that range from, dirty shoes on the bed (so don't care), to a child covered in dog poop (completely annoying), to a boy who has wandered past the driveway (very worrisome, and I can guarantee that I will cry when we find him), and of course, there's death, because we really can't be sure of Jake's safety awareness, and it's not like he is just going to come back on his own, unless he decides to return through that open gate. Lucy just turned five, but after a pre-teen visitor to the house left the back gate open, I told her that no matter who comes in behind her, even if it is a grown up, it was her responsibility to make sure the gate is locked after any time she passes through it. She gets it, and has done it without complaint, but the amount of responsibility we must place on her is nearly unbearable to me.

Mt. Tallac at sunset.
Tahoe is a safe place for Jake. My sister and her husband, and their children all look out for him, know his abilities, and know when he is not okay by the tone of his vocalizations. The backyard is large and gated and filled with toys and tan bark and a trampoline where the little kids entertain him with their bouncing, twirling and bickering. I know that Jake cannot escape from the backyard, so when Demanda and Jaster clean up the entire place for Jake (thank you thank you thank you), all we need to do is periodic checking for dog poop, which you would do for any bunch of kids playing. With everything taken care of, we can sit on the upper deck, all four children within our view. With nice weather and a frosty beverage this almost looks like relaxing.

And even luckier, I have a few friends who either have Jake-safe homes all the time, or who care about his safety enough to change things while we are there. One family has cleaned up a dirt area and put in palm-sized rocks for Jake to tumble, and ensures that the pool gate is locked at all times, and another has a big front yard that is fenced and filled with dogs and kids who will not let him go out the front gate. We have still more friends who try, in every way, to make their houses a place where we can bring our entire family, by checking gates and keeping the front door closed, even when it's an Open House.

But as much as I really do not want my child to be injured, there is another part of him being safe in our home, in our extended-families' homes, and our friends' homes which may be even more important; it's acceptance. Acceptance cannot be nailed into a wall, or double-locked. Creating an environment of acceptance is not as easy as just sweeping up.

Acceptance is knowing that my son might trample your new grass, or steal the top soil out of your planter, and inviting him to play nearby them anyway. It's not really keeping track of the number of little things he's swiped off your counter, and hidden or broken. And not being too bothered by the copious amount of food that always seem to be at my child's feet. It's inviting a child, my child, with 'toileting issues' to come swimming anyway. It's believing my son has something to say. And it's forgiving me when I can't clean up our debris and dishes because we "have to go RIGHT NOW."

It's inviting us over at all.

And it's inviting us back.

I am thankful.

a version of this post was an editor's pick today at OpenSalon.com

01 July, 2011

Venting Frustration: Mental Health

I think Jake might need to go back on a medication to help him concentrate at school, and be able to sit down for dinner, which he can no longer do unless he is in his wheelchair. He stopped taking the previous meds in the fall, after several weeks of behavior that did not dictate further use of the medication, but before the next round of school I think he should be evaluated... so I put in a request with his psychiatrist at the medical foundation we visit; a place about which I usually have lots of good things to say.

In response to my request for a morning appointment any time between now and the end of ages, I got an email back, saying that since it had been over a year we needed to contact the Intake Coordinator via the website or by phone. The visit to their website didn't take me any further in the process.

So I called them, and was told that we need to do a "patient intake."

Fantastic! She asked for all of our insurance information, and verified our billing address, and my husband's ID numbers. And I got to hear about how the doctor we've seen for five years is going to be an out-of-pocket expense, and of course I know that because it is very expensive to go to an out-of-network doctor; but he is worth it. This guy knows his stuff, and more importantly he knows my kid.

But wait!  As it turns out, Jake's 'regular' doctor is no longer accepting 'new patients' because we are now considered a new patient. I can call back in three weeks and see if he has opened his practice to 'new patients', and continue the intake process. Even though we have seen this doctor six or seven times in the last five years (more than he's seen his dentist or his neurologist), we get to start over.

Oh, and because we are a new patient we get to pay over $500 for a 1-1 1/2 hour parent/child visit, then several hundred more for a 45 minute patient only visit... good luck with that one. And as a reminder, I may not leave a child under the age of 13 unsupervised in the waiting room. Acknowledged.

And, this was just the first phone call before I can even schedule that appointment. Next comes the call from the other half of intake coordination... asking all of the medical history part, except it might be a short call since he's been seen here already. Well that's nice.

So are we a new patient? A kind of medium-old patient? We're like a 'restored' patient maybe? We saw the doctor 20 months ago. If I had made an appointment 8 months ago.. just to "check in", even though we didn't really need to,  it would have cost us $150, and we could just make another appointment with him now for another $150.

This is not about the money for me really though. I am just sad and frustrated, because dammit this life is hard enough already.... why else would I be calling them? At what point in this process are they taking care of the mental health of my child (or me for that matter?) How many phone calls before I can schedule an appointment? How many hoops?

But let this be a public service announcement: If you want to keep seeing your very-important-to-your-health doctor when you need to, ask what their policy is on how often you must be seen to remain an active client. If the doctor has a wait list, chances are they have some awesome policy like this one. Let me tell you how much I wish I had just sent them $150 bucks last year.

Okay then. I cannot take care of this any more today or my head will pop off. I already said the f-word in a conversation with my parents, so that tells ya where I am with it all.

and now I will return to my regularly scheduled packing for a wonderful weekend in Tahoe. We will be adding brandy to the sangria tonight. Have a lovely weekend friends.

an update: the office staff called me Friday afternoon late and we decided she would contact the doctor to get an exception. The phone call I received this morning 7/5 confirmed that the the practice is still closed and I can try in three weeks to see if there is an opening, or start over with the other doctor (who is also out of network... no thanks.)

I am not going to fight this one because I can't have a doctor/patient relationship with a provider who shows this kind of disregard; my son's appointments take approximately 35 minutes once a year. We pay $150 for this privilege. It's time to start looking for a new doctor.

I will not slander the medical abilities of this doctor because he has been extremely helpful in the past, however I will not be recommending him in the future.
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