Thursday, May 26, 2016


I'm one of the those individuals who falls somewhere between "Generation x" and "Millennials." I'm old enough to know what it's like to spend an entire summer playing in with neighborhood kids the street but I also used to charge those kids 25 cents a pop to come inside and watch us play Tetris. I'm tehnologically savvy and wired to the gills but so uncool that I thought "on fleek" had something to do with the Navy. Either way, it just seems more relevant to just round up my birth year and lump myself in with the younger, lost generation. 
Recently, Millennials have received an unfair onslaught of criticism from our media and politicians. We have been told that we are lazy, entitled and incompetent. We are expected to simply recover from things that we did not invent, like subprime mortgages, by showing more "gumption." 
I'll use my story as an example. I graduated from LLHS in 2001, took advantage of the lottery scholarship and enrolled at UNM. I earned a BA in English, a first-generation graduate, the American dream.
I landed a job as an editor issuing corporate press releases. I saw myself at the bottom rung of a golden ladder, eager to reach the top. My first summer, in 2007, I spent my days issuing an untold amount of bankruptcy notices, my workload read like a shortlist for government bailouts. I had a birds-eye view of the economic collapse but I focused on staying busy, grateful to be employed. After work I'd read stories of people living in cars and unable to feed their families. I was determined this wouldn't happen to me. I worked harder. My company had a round of lay-offs but I was promoted. I gave 100% of myself to my job and rung by rung I was making it up that ladder.
My life outside of work also blossomed. I got married and had a son. I continued to work as my husband finished up his master's degree at New Mexico Tech. When my husband landed a post graduate job at a hydro-geological firm I made the difficult decision to leave the workforce and to focus on our family. I had another baby and we were the ideal American family, one boy, one girl and a miniature pack of dogs. 
Then, my husband was abruptly laid-off. I've often tried to figure out what was the most humbling moment of that whole experience. Was it sitting across from a stranger at the WIC office tearfully explaining I couldn't afford to feed my babies? Was it the sobbing at my in-laws' dinner table asking for enough money to get through "one more month?" Was it the hours spent in front of a computer trying to get past online application algorithms in hopes that somebody would look at my resume? Was it the my daughter's first Thanksgiving Dinner, when I had to leave early to fold tee-shirts at my minimum wage retail job? Was it the monthly smack in the face when we got our student loan bills which we just couldn't pay?
We couldn't understand why we were working so hard and still had nothing. We didn't want a handout but we had to take anything we could get. We weren't lazy, we were exhausted. Finally, my husband landed a job that kept him on the road 4 nights a week. It wasn't ideal, the hours were long and the pay was low, but it was something. I found job ghostwriting academic papers for pennies a word. Next to nothing, but it still, something. For the first time we have hope, we are dusting ourselves off and starting to climb that ladder again on albeit, shaky legs. This is what we have to do, this is how we move forward.
My experience has shown me that we millennials are not struggling for lack of trying. We are the smartest, most passionate generation in history. Right now we are feeding on the scraps of a bygone era but we will emerge stronger. Tasked with making something out of nothing, we will bring about unprecedented innovation. We will get there, we've got this huge mess to clean up before we can find our bootstraps, but it'll happen. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Justice for Lilly

This is Lilly Garcia.

Maybe you already know who she is, if you don’t, you should. Lilly was a bright, beautiful four-year-old girl who was taken from this world far too soon. While Lilly’s parents were driving her home from her second day of preschool they were cut off by an erratic driver on the interstate, the situation escalated quickly and culminated with the driver firing four rounds into the Garcia family’s vehicle. One bullet went through the back window and struck Lilly in the head. She was later pronounced dead at local hospital.

It was a senseless act of rage – a single moment of blind egocentrism in which a criminal decided that it was more important for him to affirm his aggression than for a child to have a chance at a future, a life.

Politician and presidential hopeful Ben Carson wrote "I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away," a sentiment that has received an unsettling amount of support. I’ve been thinking that Dr. Carson and many other Americans really don’t understand the meaning of devastation.

How would Lilly’s parents define the extremes of devastation? When they look at pictures of their daughter and see a vibrancy in her soulful brown eyes that has ceased to exist, how are they supposed to cope with that? How are they to live the rest of their lives watching Lilly’s peers grow up, with every milestone they reach a perpetual reminder of the grief that comes from being robbed of the ability see the same thing in their own child?

How does her big brother feel? What will it be like for him to live every day of his life in the shadow of this grim moment, watching his baby sister die on the side of the road? How will he be marked by being forced to live the rest of his life with the gaping hole that once occupied by the radiance of her beautiful soul?

How does her daddy feel? An Iraq war veteran who likely saw the extreme brutality of war, thinking that he’d seen the worst of humanity? How could he have even fathomed the possibility that it would be worse at home? How is he supposed to go on living with this unimaginable shock?

How does her momma feel? What about the grief she feels every time she remembers the first moments of Lilly’s brilliant life? Will she always remember the way the back of her baby’s head smelled? What will she feel when she comes across some forgotten cherished object that was once held so tightly by her baby girl? Where did all her hopes and dreams for her child go, how can something like that simply disappear? In 15 years, when senior high-schoolers are released into the world amid a flurry of Pomp and Circumstance, excitement and potential, will it feel like a funeral song?

How does the off-duty police officer who pulled over to assist the family in the initial moments of the fatal chaos feel? What did it feel like for him to brace himself for worst, thinking the child had fallen out of a vehicle, only to find that she’d actually been executed in an act of senseless fury? How will he ever get those images out of his mind?

What about the other police officers? The ones who had to scour an eerily vacant highway, in the freezing cold rain, looking for bullet casings, because at that point the only thing they could do was find evidence? How were they able to complete this somber mission while knowing Lilly had already left this world?

How did the hundreds of mourners who attended Lilly’s funeral feel? Had any of them ever seen a child’s casket before? Had they realized they were going to see a direct visual representation of how young this child truly was? Were they struck by an absolute sense of unfairness? Were they inspired to seek justice?

Devastated, in the truest form, that’s how they felt.That's how our entire community feels. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be more devastating than this. This is devastation in its most absolute form.  

Lilly’s story is just one of hundreds of similar losses to gun violence that we have witnessed just this year.

Perhaps the most devastating thing about all of this is that our politicians, law-makers, and general public seem so ready to throw their hands in the air and say “there’s nothing we can do.”

How can we as population just accept that answer? How are we so focused on arguing the semantics of the constitution that nobody is even willing to have a reasonable conversation about gun control?

I refuse to accept the notion that there is simply no way to fix this problem.

I refuse to live in a world where picking my children up from preschool puts them at risk of execution.

I understand that there are many, many factors which have lead to our nation’s extremely volatile climate, but we have to start somewhere if we want any hope of it getting better.

Let’s start by regulating guns with a reasonable degree of sanity. Let’s be absolutely, positively, clear here before this turns into something else: I’m not advocating taking ALL the guns away, not even close, I’m saying, let’s actively try to keep these guns out of the hands of criminals. Clearly, this is not a black and white argument, but right now we aren’t even discussing it.

Why is it such a big deal to close these gun show loopholes? Why don’t responsible gun owners want to do everything they can to prevent criminals from getting their hands on these guns and protect the integrity of their trade? Why do we even do background checks if they can be so easily averted?

Why is it that if I buy a bottle of wine I’m explicitly reminded that if it gets into the hands of a minor, I will be held responsible and charged with a fourth-degree felony, but If I did the same thing with a gun, well, who could’ve prevented that? Why is it if an 18-year-old with a fake ID tricks a bartender into serving a beer, the bartender subject to those same felony charges, but ID verification when purchasing guns is regarded as an infringement upon our constitutional rights? When did we decide that we as a society are only responsible for protecting our children, from certain, specific dangers, but not others?

Are fat pockets worth more than full lives?

Please. Please. Please.

We have to do something other than waiting to see whose baby goes next.

We cannot allow Lilly’s death to have been in vain. Speak up. Write your senators. Think, with your brain first and then with your heart.

We have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


To say that I am fond of the Internet would be an understatement. I remember the first time I ever got online the way some people remember their first love. My freshman honors English class spent a day in our high school library computer lab on the World Wide Web looking at ancient pottery to expand on our reading of Keat's Ode to a Grecian Urn.  I was so excited, it felt like the world was opening up to me for the first time and the possibilities were endless. Not surprisingly, I had set my expectations too high and my first time fell short of anything enjoyable. I was befuddled by Netscape. Our access was restricted to only images of pots. My lab partner came upon a naked male form on one of the pots and spent the rest of our time zooming in and closely studying the naughty bits. It was all grossly uncomfortable.

Still, when my parents popped a free America Online CD into our fancy new computer's supermodern CD-ROM drive, I was undeterred. Soon, I was hooked and there was no question as to whether we were keeping our membership after the free trial period. I became obsessed with Snopes, an urban legend reference site, and I spent ungodly amounts of time in chatrooms, just chatting. I loved to learn how people lived in other places. I was curious about the way they wore their pants and how they used slang and OMG, IS THERE A WHITE CASTLE WHERE YOU LIVE? I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO TRY ONE OF THOSE SLIDERS.

It was fun and innocent and people hadn't figured out how to be terrible Internet predators quite yet. We were just connecting, as humans, who wanted to know about other humans.  It was the kind of glory days that I think my generation will look back on and bore their grandchildren endless tales of A/S/L.

I was addicted. As someone who's just never felt quite right in the world, the Internet was a haven. It was amazing to realize that maybe I wasn't some freak, I just hadn't seen enough of the world to see how I actually fit in as much as anyone else possibly could.

Then, my sophomore year saw emergence of another one of my favorite hobbies: photography. I was lucky in that my school had a pretty decent photography lab and I was thrilled to spend my afternoons developing grainy black and white pictures that I'd taken on my mom's clunky 70's era Pentax SLR. I want all you hipster kids to know that in the late nineties I was already into "retro" before most of you were even born. I wasn't very good and I always smelled like formaldehyde, but I really really enjoyed it. For a kid who was constantly running from her social anxiety issues, the cool, calm, dark isolation of the darkroom was a sanctuary.

That these two events happened roughly in the same time span is not insignificant. My school was soon gifted with several high tech digital cameras and nobody was interested in film photography any more. The Internet exploded. Then imploded. Then started calling itself "Web 2.0" and we were all ushered into the Wild Wild West of social media. By the time I really started to figure out photography, my phone had camera that could take relatively decent pictures which I could instantly upload to anyone who might like to see them.

I realize that phone cameras are not ideal and that they're no match for something "real." To that extent, I have a very nice, very expensive Nikon DSLR, which never ever ever gets used. I also have two children under the age of five. And I will legit lose it if somebody touches my lenses. And my kids cannot "not touch" the lenses. Its better for all involved if that thing just stays in the bag.

Until the era of sticky fingers has come to pass, I'm happy to hone my skills on Steve Job's greatest(?) contribution to mankind. For that reason, I really enjoy photo sharing via social media, particularly via Instgram, the popular photo sharing network.

I guess I like sharing pictures for the same reason I like writing: I really enjoy telling stories. If I have one true gift, it's likely my words. Photographs, the opposite of words, really, force you to tell a story without without them,  althought I do believe a picture is still mandated at being, at the very least, worth 1,000 words. I find the challenge absolutely thrilling. One tiny square with such an enormous task, and a lot of times it doesn't even work out. But when it does, when some tiny part of the world is perfectly illuminated so that others can appreciate its significance, there is nothing more profound.

Some people,  I realize, don't appreciate this as much as I do, and there is a noted backlash against people like me who engage in "too much" social media. In particular, there are multiple hot button studies that, interestingly enough are constantly shared over social media, linking depression and social media use.

Well, yeah. Of course. I've been relatively frank in my struggle with depression before, what I will add is that it is an ongoing fight that never really just disappears, but there are lots of ways to work through it. For me, sharing my thoughts and ideas with the world makes me feel relevant and less isolated.  I chose to share beautiful things because I feel that for the most part the world is a dreary place, but if I capture a moment of bliss I think it doesn't hurt to share it, if only to remind myself that there is still good to be gleaned from the world.

If I take a picture of something particularly delicious I've cooked, it's because I've failed, and failed, and failed at cooking before and when I get it right, I want to celebrate. I'm prone to taking pictures of sunsets and landscapes because they often sneak up on me. I'll be lost in some daydream and look out the window and find myself shocked by some huge, glorious display of majesty that I just came incredibly close to overlooking. I'll share it to remind myself how quickly things come to pass.  I'll share pictures of my kids because I'm still in awe of the fact that I've been charged with taking care of these precious, magnificent creatures. I'll share pictures of things that they destroyed because I'm looking for somebody to laugh with me so I don't have a total breakdown. I'll post pictures of them sleeping because it's the only time they are still enough to achieve a nice focus.

I think it's really idiotic to assume what somebody posts on social media is somehow supposed to be a reflection of their day-to-day life. Absolutely, it's filtered and edited so that we only show the best of the best, what else would you expect from something with the term "media" in it's name? By definition alone, there is some expectation that the information has been previously processed.

I don't post pictures of everything I cook because I realize that nobody wants to see endless pots of fluorescent mac and cheese and microwaved chicken nuggets. I don't post pictures of every landscape I drive by because most of the time power lines are way. I didn't post when my son bit all the way through his lip and looked like a scene from a horror movie. I didn't post when my daughter took her poo out of the potty and painted the wall. I don't post these things, although indicative of my current state of affairs, because quite frankly, nobody wants to see that shit.

I think there are two major problems with these studies linking mental illness and social media use: first, it seems everyone is quick to confuse correlation with causation, and I find this incredibly problematic. Does social media make people depressed? Some people, likely. Do depressed people like to use social media? Sure. It's it all just a bit more complicated than all of that? Absolutely. For people like me who use it as not only a means of personal expression but also a coping mechanism, I'm hesitant to cite social media as anything other than an outlet for a preexisting condition.

My other problem with these studies is in the way that they are shared via social media itself. It's often done in such a way to shame 'oversharers' into silence by essentially saying, "Only depressed people share this much and you don't want people to think you're depressed so stop sharing." Implying that not only is depression something that should be easily cured by something as simple as cancelling your facebook account, but that also one should expect no support on their journey to healing, because, god, all those annoying pictures are clogging up the endless stream of content babble that we can no longer live without. It speaks volumes about the stigma of mental health care and why so many people refuse to seek it even thought they desperately need help.

I don't think the focus should be so much on shaming those who are desperately trying to engage in some kind of dialog because, for what it's worth, at least we're still truckin', right? We should be worried about those who have become so hopeless that they've withdrawn all together. We should focus on being friendly to those who need a friend instead of laughing at them for being friendless. We should keep sharing beauty because there will always be darkness, but at least now we have a way to know that the light has not been completely extinguished.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fashionably Late

Anyone who has had the pleasure of speaking with my mother for more than 10 minutes knows that people have been waiting on me since literally the day that I was born. I'm surely famous for the fact my mother spent four DAYS in the hospital in labor with me. It seemed as if I was never coming out. During those cold early days of December, I made it quite clear that I was not quite ready for the world.

When I started first grade, which is when kids used to learn to read, I was put into an oft-teased remedial reading group. It wasn't happening for me. Even though there are only five of them, I just couldn't wrap my head around vowels - much less cruel words like "phonics" which are not pronounced the way they sound. I wasn't exactly ready to read. 

When I was in middle school I was far more interested in reading and re-reading Jurassic Park than making out with boys. For this, I was soundly abandoned by all of my friends due to the threat that I might be a lesbian. In high school, the first boy I ever "went out" with broke up with me almost immediately because I wouldn't "hook up" with him in the trees behind where we worked. I really wasn't ready for all of that. 

When I graduated high school I was completely lost with what to do with the entire future that had just been unceremoniously handed to me via a fake diploma (because kids might misbehave if you give them real diplomas at graduation, don't you know). I procrastinated all that summer before eventually enrolling in college with a vague notion of becoming an actress, using student loans to supplement the next two years of unrest and indecision. I was not ready for college.

When I got my first "real job," I turned out to be woefully inept in the corporate world. I struggled with every single aspect of my job, I was a dumb kid who owned one cheap polyester suit, waiting for the day that I would get fired when everyone realized that I was dragging the whole team down. I wasn't ready for the real world. 

When all of the people I grew up with started having babies I nervously held their children at arm's length, cringing at the very real possibility of having another human being spew the last thing they ate all over me. I was not ready for children. 

Undeniably, I spent a lot of time bemoaning the fact that I am, by nature, a late bloomer. I wondered what was wrong with me, what planet was I on? What planet was everyone else on, so I could just go there already?

I've been called immature. Weird. Impossible. 

Of course, eventually, it all came together. As my mother was finally wheeled into the OR for a c-section, I said "oh yeah, guys, I'm here, put the scalpel away," and there I was, screaming, naked and ready to take on the world. Once I wrapped my head around those darn vowels I became an avid reader, finding my happiest places buried deep within the paper-back confines of my beloved fiction. I figured out the boy thing, went after a guy that I really liked and now we've been married for 5 years. The passing of one and a half presidential terms coincided with me finally getting my bachelor's degree, which turned out to be a useless if not honorable accomplishment. I shook out the wrinkles in that damn suit and eventually my job declared that I was so "not terrible" that I could be the boss of other people. Twenty-nine years after I'd made my own belated entrance to the world, my son was placed into my arms - and  I knew exactly what to do. Finally, I was ready. 

Most importantly, and I was obviously late to this revelation, but I figured out that there's nothing wrong with me. Just because I've always been a person who's always enjoyed the lingering journey rather than the arrival doesn't mean that I won't eventually get there and the benefit is that I've picked up some interesting stories on the way.

I've figured out that just because we late bloomers are not in a rush to get to the end simply to prove that we have the ability to get there doesn't mean that our path is flawed or our destination is somehow made less valuable by the wait. 

What's the rush? Maybe if you feel like your life is a rat race you should stop hanging out with rats - they run too fast anyway. 

To my kids and anyone else who may just feel like they might be a little off-schedule: Good. What would you rather be? A fragile, transparently pastel bud that can barely withstand the first few days of spring? Or a vibrant, deep flaming red flamenco skirt of a bloom that seems to consume everything in its whirling radius? 

It takes a lot of time to build strength and depth - but how can you deny it's worth it?
Maybe it's taken me a little extra time to get here, but I'm totally ok with that, because so far, waiting has worked out really well for me. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Yes, you do have the right to be a total moron.

I have a remarkably clear memory of one specific day back in my freshman year of high school: A group of girls and I were sitting around waiting for the bell to ring and talking about what jeans we were going to buy with our hard earned part-time job money. In those days, in my high school, our thirst to fit in was marked by one of two extremes: the super tight, high-waist western jeans called Rockies, or the ludicrously baggy, giant pocket, intricately embroidered denim tents called JNCO's. In general, the FFA-loving, junior rodeo crowd was fond of the Rockies and the sk8ters/gangstas/etc. wore the JNCOs. For the record, I wore neither because we all know that I'm fond of dresses and that I have never been cool.

One of the country girls, who I had always thought looked like Cindy Brady in the very last episode of the Brady Bunch where Cindy finally lets down the pigtails, was talking excitedly about a pair of Rockies she'd seen at Western Warehouse. They had the "Rebel Flag" sewn across the front panel. This was a few years before every toddler in the nation had "Juicy" emblazed upon the butt of their sweatpants and we kept our insignia to the front. In my naiveté, I figured the "Rebel Flag" was some sort of declaration of personal independence, yet another secret symbol that all the kids who got it were in on and I was in the dark. I pictured a goofy smiley face or something. Maybe a cartoonish raised middle finger. I tried to recall every t-shirt I'd seen at Hot Topic the last time I'd gone to the mall and I couldn't remember anything with a flag on it. 

Finally, my curiosity overruled my compulsion to look like I was in the know and I asked "what does it look like?" What does what look like? The Rebel Flag? It's the Confederate Flag, dummy. From history class. The one from the South. 

Yes, just like the terms "69" and "dime bag," "Rebel Flag" entered my lexicon in the intensely rushed frenzied moments of freedom that come right before the bell released our hormonal bodies to the blissful purgatory of passing period. 

Before I had kids, I had an extremely high, squeaky mousey voice and I'm picturing myself now standing up, squealing in my overdramatic fashion "THE SLAVERY FLAG?! YOU WANT THE SLAVERY FLAG ON YOUR JEANS?"

The entire class turned to giggle and smirk at me. It wasn't about that, the girls explained to me. It was a symbol of Southern Pride. They weren't racist, oh no no no no no, not racist. Just proud. 


It didn't matter, they said. It was about heritage, they explained. The bell rang. My confusion was lost in the anticipation of heading to biology, where my teacher was like, totally cute.

Today, in the midst of the horrific tragedy in South Carolina, the memory came flooding back to me.

I'm not going to pretend that the moment spurred some lifelong fight for social justice within my fifteen-year-old psyche. Like I said, I forgot it almost as immediately as it happened. I do remember feeling the same sort of confusion and agitation when I discovered there is a popular restaurant called "Soup Plantation," where people willingly eat chowder to their heart’s content without any sort of unease about the name.

I’m also not going to give you a history lesson about the Civil War. We all get it. We had slaves. It was bad. Honest Abe fixed it.

Today, I wonder why we keep glorifying our past injustices. Is antebellum fashion really just that pretty? My love of dresses ends long before they reach the hoopskirt stage, lord help me if I ever show up in anything made out of curtains. We love the idea of a gleaming white estate sitting on acres and acres of perfectly manicured lawn so much that we emblazon it on our cans of iced tea – yet nobody wants to think about the fact that the forced labor of dozens of slaves held hostage was necessary to create such an image.

One of the greatest fallacies we humans continually fall into is if we don’t personally find something offensive then we dismiss its capacity to be offensive to anyone else.  This sort of egocentrism thrives in the naming of sports teams, the marketing of snack foods, and of course, in the flying of flags. The message is clear “We don’t care that you find this symbol deeply offensive and it is a direct representation of the continued oppression of your people, we think looks cool so we’re keeping it.”

How many boots did we need to cut off Oñate’s statue before someone said “Hey, this dude was responsible for torture and genocide of the entire Acoma Pueblo, maybe glorifying his misdeeds with 12 tons of bronze is inappropriate?”

I guess we’ll know if the statue ever comes down.

The thing is, if you’re not offended, then it’s not about you. You don’t get a say.

Also, you SHOULD be offended because this is total lunacy.

Our history is riddled with horrifying atrocities, but most of us feel no long standing effects. However, there are many groups of people for which their culture’s blatant mistreatment continues to reverberate through each generation.

It seems unfathomable that anyone could be so proud of systematic oppression so as to insist on emblazoning these ethnically loaded symbols on their bodies, their cars, their state capitols. It takes a psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others to defend such a practice.

As Americans, we don’t usually take kindly to the enemies we’ve defeated in the past. I’ve met men who would rather let a car rot to rust than fix it with Japanese replacement parts, hell no, they’re not supporting the Axis powers. Cuban cigars are illegal. Guantanamo bay is still operational.

And yet, the misguided logic has somehow flipped itself and there are those who’d rather align themselves with the losing side than believe that all men are created equal.

This is devastating. This needs to change.

Next time you think that a culture should just “suck it up,” because it is more important for you to feel cool with your cutesy symbols, just remember, you may have the right to be offensive but you do not have the right demand that nobody be offended.

It’s more important to be a good person than it is be so “prideful” as to defend a debunked ideology defeated over a hundred years ago. It’s more important to acknowledge that your belief system may be flawed than to viciously defend your idiocy. It’s more important to teach our children to embrace the differences in others than to sip your sweet tea under an x made of stars.

Flying the confederate flag does not make you a “rebel” it makes you an idiotic follower. Perhaps the flag’s origins were a little more innocent but it has grown to mean something dark and hostile.

How can anyone support that?

On a side note, the last I heard of the Cindy Brady girl from high school is that she was gifted with a nice set of silicone orbs for her 21st birthday. No word on what kind of pants she wears these days. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Big "A"

About two weeks ago, my son, Lucas was diagnosed with autism. Of course, I knew he was behind, I'd been tracking his milestones since he was born. He was "late" to grasp objects as an infant, late to sit up, late to crawl.  I quit my job when he was 18 months old partially because he wasn't walking yet and I felt that if I was home with him during the day then my presence as a "good" mother would get him back on track. "He's just cautious," his doctor told me.

Last spring, right after he'd turned 3, he still didn't seem to have the hang of walking, he'd fall a lot, he'd get tired after going short distances, he didn't seem to have any muscle coordination. I'd take him to play groups with other kids his age and he just wasn't "keeping up." I looked up three-year-old milestones on the internet and he hadn't reached any of them. He couldn't run, or hop or pedal or trike or do anything that the CDC said that he should be doing at his age. "All kids develop differently," I told myself, "I'm not exactly graceful."

I became convinced that something was wrong with his legs. Maybe one of his legs was longer than the other? Maybe I'd broken his foot when he was an infant in a particularly terrible diaper changing incident in which he'd gotten his foot stuck in the railing of the diaper changing table. Maybe he had cerebral palsy due to a brain injury at his birth. Or, even worse, I pondered the idea of him having a heart condition. Oh my god, what was wrong with my baby?

I took him to our family practice at the time, a nurse practitioner, and asked her to check out his legs. She said "everything looks fine, but are you concerned about his speech?" My response was pretty much no, my kid spoke just fine, he was only three and his vocabulary was outstanding. I'd been marveling over his verbal abilities since he was about 9 months old. I was not concerned about his speech, let's talk about his legs. Why does he walk so funny? Her response was to send me to have him evaluated at Child Find, an early intervention program that works through the public schools. I thought this was a lazy decision, that she was passing the buck, and I made the decision to never, ever take my family to a nurse practitioner ever again. She wasn't a REAL doctor, she didn't know what she was talking about. I set out to find a pediatrician who would actually listen to me.

Either way, since she sent in the referral Child Find called me a few days later and I set up an appointment, because, well maybe they could see what I was talking about. The Child Find evaluation confirmed what I was seeing in the motor skills department, for whatever reason, my three year old  had the motor skills of an 18 month old. He was the required "two standard deviations" behind that qualified him for the special needs pre-k program. I wasn't too surprised there. I'd already committed the CDC's milestone checklist to memory. I knew what he could and couldn't do. The thing about Child Find is that it's a comprehensive evaluation, and they found another problem. My son had a language delay. Specifically, he was markedly behind in his "language comprehension" skills, much farther behind than even his motor skills. This was in stark contrast to his "language expression" skills, which were off the charts. It was odd, they told me, that the two skill sets didn't match, that he seemingly understood less than he spoke, but with therapy they hoped by the time he'd reached kindergarten that he'd catch up with other kids his age. Honestly, I didn't see it. I mean, yeah, the kid seemed like he was constantly, actively ignoring me, but I figured it was because I was just a lame mother and kids do that to lame mothers. And whatever, free pre-school.

Then my husband was laid off from his job, and we suddenly found ourselves without health insurance so I halted my quest for medical answers. The pre-k program turned out to be amazing, and I thought, "ok, well there you go, just a little behind, nothing to worry about, now we're on the right track."

Then, his pre-k teacher called me, saying that she was seeing a regression in his ability to follow directions, he seemed tired all the time and kept falling, he was having difficulty applying new skills he learned in one activity to another, and also, how was potty training going? I was so embarrassed. I had a three and a half year old that wasn't potty trained yet. I'd been trying and failing to get him on the potty for at least a year and it just wasn't happening. What exactly was the point in being a stay at home mom if I couldn't even get my kid potty trained? Clearly, I wasn't cut out for this, clearly, I wasn't trying hard enough. Still, the falling thing bothered me, because it always had, so I tracked down our newly minted insurance cards from my husband's new job and found the kids a new pediatrician, a REAL doctor. One who went to medical school, and I told myself that we wouldn't leave that office until she gave me a referral to a neurologist because at that seemed as good a starting point as any.

When I started to explain my concerns to the doctor, she interrupted me about 2 sentences in. "Have you ever had him evaluated for autism?" she asked. NO. NO. NO. Not another medical professional who was going to blow me off. NO. I could not believe that she was changing the subject. She wasn't listening to me.  I needed a referral to a neurologist. I needed answers. Why do doctors seem so intent on diagnosing everyone with autism? But, because I'm me, I just stared at her and let giant hot tears of frustration roll down my face. "I'll give you a referral to a neurologist," she finally relented, "but I first want him evaluated for autism. I think he's probably at the high functioning end of the spectrum, but you need to have him evaluated." Fine. I left the office fully intending to skip the autism evaluation all together and just take him to the neurologist, I had my referal. That's all I needed.

What exactly did this doctor think she was seeing? I was truly convinced that she was "taking the easy way out" not referencing her presumably encyclopedic medical knowledge and figuring out the real problem with my son. I'd worked with people with autism before. That's not my kid. The neurologist will know. But the neurologist was also booked solid for the next six months.  So I relented. "Ok, I'll schedule the autism evaluation. But she's wrong, she doesn't know my kid. Autism is NOT my kid."

I started obsessively taking online autism quizzes. I think I took the MChat and AQ quizzes at least 50 times each, the result was always the same, "your child exhibits the signs of autism and you should have him evaluated." OMG HOW STUPID ARE INTERNET QUIZZES, WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME?!

Did my son often not respond to his name? Yeah, but again, I'm lame and uninteresting. Does my son have violent tantrums? Yeah, but I have a pretty bad temper too, he's just learning from me. Does your son have sensitivities to light/noise/textures? Yeah, but honestly, does anybody really like tags in their clothing or the sun shining on them in the car or the sound that the vacuum cleaner makes?

Yeah, but. Yeah, but, Yeah, but. That's how I was answering all those questions. Yeah, but.  I had a million excuses and zero answers.

And it's not like I never considered autism. I'd actually been fearing it for quite some time, when my baby who couldn't even crawl yet had the remarkable ability to stack blocks one on top of another until the stack was taller than he was. When I tried to put all the balls from his various toys into one bin and he went and sorted them into correct piles. He'd spend hours making his "machines" or meticulously lining up his toy cars. His favorite toys were two bungee cables he'd taken from my dad's garage. "Ok," I'd tell myself, "he's a little different but incredibly smart. Isn't that the best way for a human to be anyway?"

Then I started down a YouTube spiral of despair. Since my husband works out of town during the week I'd stay up all night watching YouTube videos of kids with autism (there are so, so many) and I'd end up crying myself to sleep because I'd spent the entire evening watching video after video of children behaving just like my kid. He talked like they did, he walked like they did, his tantrums were just like their meltdowns. But not exactly. Not exactly. Not exactly. That means it can't be autism, because he wasn't EXACTLY like all those other kids.

God. No. It's just the internet. The internet can convince you of anything. No. My son does not have autism. No. Go to bed.

Then I'd start my game of looking at old pictures of him on my phone, telling myself that if I could verify that he was making eye contact in 90% of the pictures then he didn't have autism. When that wasn't working, I'd say "Ok, 80%." 70%, 60%, 50%... and so on ... but really who makes eye contact with the camera anyway? He's a kid, not Kim Kardashian. Then I'd start the whole process over again looking for odd body postures or his fingers near his eyes all while conveniently ignoring the plethora of "tantrum" pictures I'd texted to my husband on particularly bad days when I couldn't figure out why my son was screaming his head off. "Put the damn phone down and engage with your kid already," I'd tell myself, "The reason he seems distant is because his mother is distant." "I need to stop being so cold." "I need to work on my patience." "I need to set a better example."

I started fishing for answers from my friends and family. "You guys don't think he has autism, do you?" And they'd always oblige, "Oh, no, of course not."  Did these people have PhDs in psychology? No. But they'd all probably seen Rainman so and I allowed their opinions to placate me. I also found myself hanging around with two of my oldest friends: carbs and wine. I'd ask my husband if he could tell if I'd gained 15 pounds in my butt. "Oh, no, of course not." (my jeans, however, were not so forgiving.)

The thing is, he's such a good kid. He's kind and loving, he likes to be snuggled tightly and held close. He laughs and plays. He has an imagination, albeit how odd it is. His smile. His dimples. That didn't fit with my idea of autism. He's my son. My joy. My light. My baby. How could he be anything else?

Still, by the time the actual evaluation rolled around, I pretty much knew exactly what the result was going to be. After the 6 hour evaluation process, in which I'd watched my son "fail" test after test,  the Dr. said he'd like to see my husband and me the next week to discuss the results. I knew what was coming. But then again, I thought maybe I was wrong. That I'd missed something. It was like one of those terrible dreams that you have where you forget to go to class for an entire semester but you still show up on finals day hoping to perform some kind of miracle.

So when the doctor told us that my son had high-functioning autism I wasn't surprised. I stoically absorbed the information as if I were being told the groundhog was predicting eight more weeks of winter. I didn't cry, or question the diagnosis. I asked a few necessary questions about the next steps in the process, took a tour of the autism treatment center and went on my way. Ok. That's the answer. My son has autism. It doesn't change anything.

The thing is, sometimes you can see a train coming at you from miles away, but no matter how much you brace for the impact, it still rips you to pieces.

The next day I was struck with the most unimaginable grief. The dam of denial that I'd been sitting under for years had finally burst and I was flooded with reality. My baby. My baby. My baby. The world is not what I thought it was.

My answer left me with infinite questions.

I still don't know what all of this means. I'm still a mess. I don't know what the future holds, but really, does any mother? I know that I'm not going to let it define him as a person, that I will do whatever it takes for him to grow into the amazing adult I know he will be. That no matter what, he's always going to be my Luko. That giving a name to this thing that was previously undefined does nothing but open up doors to the help he needs. I'm not labeling him "autistic," I'm avoiding labels like "bratty" or "lazy" or "stupid." I know that 20 years ago he probably wouldn't have been diagnosed with anything, but I also know that there are  20-year-olds out there whose futures would've been infinitely brighter had they received the help and understanding that my son will obtain through this process.

While I do believe I've sliced through my denial and carved out acceptance, the wound is still fresh. It still hurts. So we're just going to take it day by day, because really, we didn't just suddenly find ourselves on the spectrum, we've been here for quite a while.

NOTE: I have the utmost respect for the medical professionals who've helped us through this journey and I am ashamed of being so cross with them, I was just lashing out at them because I was scared and confused. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

May You Never Lose Your Shivers

Today I posted this instagram pic of my daughter and her latest must-have accessory, "BeBEEEEE":

They have the same barber.

The doll pictured is my very best childhood friend, "Shivers." She is named as such because she is a New Born Baby Shivers(TM) doll, manufactured for the delight of young girls everywhere in the late 80's. What made her different than other dolls at the time was that when you took off her PJ's, she got "cold" and began to shiver so you had to warm her up by either putting her clothes back on or giving her a hug. She also looked really, really lifelike, which was uncommon in an era where girls were more apt to play with Cabbage Patch Kids.  When the doll came out I was obsessed with it in the way that my kids are with those idiotic Snackeez cup thingys now.  I would go around singing the jingle from the commercial "New Born Baby Shivers, my love will keep you waaaaaaaarrrrrrrm!" How could you not resist something like that? My LOVE would keep her warm! She needed MY love. After a months-long campaign of begging and selective listening, I finally got my Shivers doll in December, as a birthday present from my grandma. 

Every year for my birthday my Grandma would take me to see The Nutcracker and then we would we would go back to her place and drink cocoa and eat angel food cake and she would give my my present, it is one of my happiest memories, and the year of Shivers was no different. When I opened my present I was elated and wanted to play with her immediately. Luckily, my Grandma had already opened her up and put the batteries in, and the doll came out of the box ready to be disrobed. I ripped off her yellow gown, and she began to shiver! In an era before iPhones, this was high-tech. I put her clothes back on, she stopped. Strip her again, give her a hug, my LOVE was keeping her WARM. Eventually, Shivers was warm enough, or her batteries wore down enough, that she stopped shivering all together. I asked my grandma to show me how change the batteries and she refused. She said I was too young to know and that she'd do it after I'd gone to bed. What did she think I was, some little kid?! I'd just turned seven! I was old enough to change batteries. So I went to the box and found the instructions and read how to change the batteries myself.  Turns out my grandmother was right in trying to save me from the emotional trauma of recharging the doll as the batteries went in her neck, and you put them there by removing her head, which you had to twist 180 degrees, exorcist style, to get off.  As if the act itself wasn't scary as hell, the doll without a head was just totally freaky:

This is what happens when you don't listen to grandma. 

Although she initially gave me therapy inducing nightmares, I still loved that little doll something crazy and Shivers became a family member, slept in my bed every night and went with us everywhere. She also had a little quirk, in that, basically, she was always cold. She would get phantom shivers in the middle of the night and wake my whole family up, or once we almost got ran off the road because she shivered from the trunk of my mom's Geo Prism. Eventually it was decided to permanently remove Shivers' batteries and her constant presence became much more tolerable.  

One time my family took a camping trip to the Jemez and of course Shivers came along.  It wasn't a particularly great camping trip. I'd decided that I wasn't going to use the bathroom in the woods and I refused to eat or drink anything for the entire weekend.  We'd also seen a lot of cow patties on a hike and I didn't trust the integrity of our tent's walls against a two-ton bovine so I'd spent the night sleeping/crying in my dad's truck. Needless to say, I was pretty delirious by the time we packed up the next morning.  As we were getting ready to go two hikers came down out of the woods, carrying Shivers.  We'd left her on top of a large boulder that my parents designated a bathroom spot, and despite the fact that I could not see the appeal in its intended purpose, the boulder made an excellent table/crib/general household furniture when playing house. "Is this your doll?" the hikers said, "We thought it was a real baby."  I sheepishly grabbed Shivers and thanked the hikers and didn't think much about it at the time.  Now I wonder what the hell those hikers must have thought, when they come across what looked like a flat, stone altar, in the middle of the forest on a Sunday morning, with an abandoned newborn baby laid out with its hands raised to the sky. I always picture the sun shining so that it perfectly illuminates the doll like some divine prophecy. Did they want to run? Call for help? Maybe they thought it was the second coming of Christ. When did they get the courage to go up to the baby shrine and realize it was a doll? Were they on drugs? Do they still think about that day, like I do? I'll never know. At the time I was just grateful that I didn't leave my precious Shivers in the forest and lose her forever like in some bible story I'd heard. 

Eventually, all little girls outgrow their dolls, and by the sixth grade I'd pretty much stopped playing with Shivers all together. Although I'd still occasionally peruse the Barbie aisle at Walmart, concurrently making up a story how I was looking for a present for my "cousin" in case I ran into anyone I knew, I was more interested in how get a certain boy to notice me or signing up for band but never going and so I could read old copies of "Cosmo" in study hall than I was in playing with dolls.  

My teacher must have sensed our raging hormones and one day during health we were given the ever popular assignment of "be a parent for a day." Traditionally that meant that you'd carry around a 5lb bag of flour with you at school for an entire day and you were supposed to take care of it like a real baby, feed it, change it, don't let it end up with giant gaping holes, and by the end of the day you were graded on the condition of your flour. My teacher thought this was wasteful and didn't want to get flour all over the classroom, or maybe she had a gluten allergy, so instead of flour she had us all bring in a doll for the day and we were to care for it like we did an infant. Even though the lesson was pretty mature in that it was trying to teach us the perils of having the bad bad sex and becoming teen parents, 6th grade is still pretty young. Shivers came with me to school that day and my friends and I spent the day delighting in the activity and playing with our dolls. It was like nothing had changed, we weren't right on the cusp of puberty, some of us even hiding our training bras, dipping our toes into the bleakness of the adult world. We were just little girls, playing dolls. It was glorious. I got home from school that day and I didn't want it to end but I was hit with the brilliantly clear knowledge that it had already ended. I knew at that moment that I really was done playing with dolls. I went to bed early that night with a stomach ache and I took Shivers with me. I curled around the doll and cried as I mourned the passing of my childhood and fell asleep. The next morning I put Shivers away for good. 

I'd nearly forgotten about the doll completely when my parents built a new house and moved out of my childhood home after they'd lived there over twenty years. My mom came across the doll and thought I should have it. I was, at the time, a shiny, newly engaged young woman, a rising star at my company. I was going to make lots of money. Travel the world. Delect in the delectable for the rest of my life. I told my mom to give Shivers to St. Vincent de Paul. I had no use for her in my modern life, I had just bought a Nespresso machine, after all. Still, my mom insisted, and I took the doll home and left her in a storage bin in the garage. 

Nine months after my wedding I was pregnant with my first child, my son Luke. Long gone were the dreams of jet planes around the world, instead I was flying spoon planes of applesauce into my child's face with the intent of landing them in his mouth. For Luke's first Christmas his great grandmother sent him a silly looking brown monkey with long arms and legs and soft feet and hands. The fact that this was in fact a dog chew toy was lost on both Luke and his great grandmother. Luke was instantly attached to the monkey and named him "Brown Monkey" (naming things is a genetic trait) and despite a brief hiatus in which Brown Monkey was lost in a folded up bounce house for an entire summer, Browns, as he is often called, goes with us everywhere.  Brown Monkey instantly reminded me of Shivers. When I became pregnant again and learned that I'd be having a girl I started looking for Shivers again but my garage was a total disaster due to a valiant, yet failed attempt to recycle in Los Lunas, I couldn't find the doll. When Lils was born her grandfather made her a beautiful wooden doll cradle and I knew that Shivers would be just perfect for it. Still though, I couldn't find the doll. I figured that as the result of various moves and recent life changes that Shivers was probably lost for good. I forgot about her again.

And then this summer. We decided that we would redo our backyard and I wanted to put up a Gazebo that we used to have at this other house, in the pre children/recession era when we had money for things like Gazebos, and I sent my husband hunting for parts in the garage. And there she was, underneath a stack of textbooks, Shivers, patiently waiting all this time to be rediscovered. She was filthy and her head was completely smooshed in from the weight of the books but other than that intact. I cleaned her up with a magic eraser, changed her clothes and left her on a window sill in the hopes that the warmth would help her face regain its original shape. Every single night for two weeks straight either my husband or I would catch a glimpse of this very lifelike baby doll with a crushed cranium in the window and momentarily think this was it, this was actually the end. The horror movies were right all along. Eventually the doll's head did even out and she looked as she had when I was a kid. I gave the doll to Lils, promising myself that I would NEVER, EVER tell her the secret of replacing the batteries. 

And then today: I was sitting outside, watching her brother play in the sandbox. And Lils came up to me, beaming, toddling in her little weeble walk, "BeBEEE, mama, BeBEEE," dragging Shivers by the foot behind her. She was equally delighted in herself and the fact that she gets to be part of this world. The joy was infectious and I scooped both of them up into the chair next to me and took her picture. I realized then how important it was that I never lost Shivers.