Friday, April 18, 2014

Blogged Down

     Last week I waited for an inspiring subject for my blog, and—after running out of patience—decided in a eureka moment that waiting was a worthy subject.  This week I got inundated with ideas and possibilities.  There was Passover, which Henry and I did not celebrate except for eating matzoh ball soup.  Our son Max was away Los Angeles, Sarah went to a Seder at a friend’s house, and Henry was sick with a bronchial infection.  I could have invited my frail 86 year old mother over for our ersatz Passover dinner, but I didn’t want her to get sick too.  So much for Jewish holidays and family gatherings…. Oh well, NOT celebrating –I’ve learned from friends—is sometimes better than being thrown together with relatives who don’t get along.

     On Wednesday I went to see Temple Grandin-- perhaps the world’s most famous and accomplished adult with autism—speak at Pace University and sign copies of her book, The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s. The presentation included an art exhibition of artists with autism (including Sarah’s best friend).  I had planned on writing about Grandin’s presentation, but there was another speaker BEFORE Temple Grandin, who gave an exhaustive (and exhausting) presentation on autism, savantism and art ability.  After arriving at 7 PM, I had to wait till 8:30 PM to hear Temple Grandin speak.  By that time, my stomach was growling so loudly that it interfered with my auditory processing.  Maybe I was experiencing my own temporary version of autism: squirming in my seat, looking at my watch repeatedly, and trying not to melt down over the fact that my reason for being at the event was STARTING at the time I thought it would END. In fact, Henry had to leave before Grandin spoke in order to meet Sarah, who was waiting for us to have dinner. Plus I was coughing, sneezing and succumbing to Henry’s cold.

     Temple was wonderful—funny even when she wasn’t trying to be—and insightful about the strengths and challenges of being on the spectrum.  Many of her common sense ideas resonated:  more hands-on learning experiences in schools so kids have opportunities to discover their passion;  teaching kids work skills by age 12 by having them walk dogs or deliver newspapers; not allowing kids to withdraw and play video games for lengthy periods; and making sure kids learn how to shake hands.  Perhaps her most interesting insight was how neurotypical people think from the top down, whereas she and others on the spectrum, think from the bottom up.  For example, her “bottom up” thinking helped solve the problem of why cattle wouldn’t walk down a metal pathway en route to slaughter.  The reason?  Temple saw that the cattle wouldn’t move because they were distracted by the lighting reflecting off metal.  As soon as the lighting was changed, the cattle moved.   In a similar fashion, Temple told us in that the Fukushima disaster could have been easily avoided, but for providing water-proof doors, a simple design flaw.

     That’s really all I remember.  By the time I got home, devoured a salad and washed it down with cold medicine, it was too late and I was too exhausted to start writing this blog.
     Tonight I’m supposed to meet my friend for a drink.  I thought about cancelling, but I don’t see her often, and the last time I was supposed to meet her I had chicken pox (see “Poxy Lady,”11/13), so a cold doesn’t seem like much of an excuse.  Speaking of colds, I need to run to CVS and buy more cold medicine.  There’s not enough multi-symptom Tylenol for both Henry and me to have our night-time dose. 

     Friday is when I usually post this blog, but on this week Friday is Good Friday.  Well, not exactly.  In the morning I have to take Sarah to be tested for the umpteenth time so she can qualify for Medicaid and other services.   We must demonstrate that Sarah’s life skills are so poor, that she’s completely helpless and incompetent, in order to get the minimal help and support that she actually deserves in.  Necessary but depressing.

     As for Good Friday afternoon, Henry is taking off from work and Sarah is off from school, so we will finally spend some quality time together.   We’ll eat lunch and then take our daughter shopping  in celebration of her 35 pound weight loss.  We’d promised her a “shop till you drop” reward for her dieting perseverance.

     I won’t be posting this blog Friday night either, because it’s my mother’s 87th birthday, and we’re taking her out to dinner.  After a morning of depressing tests, a fun but tiring afternoon, and a night out with Grandma, I doubt there’ll be time for my blog.
     So much to do, so little time.  And why must I be sick NOW?   I had my flu shot back in October.   Maybe it’s this freezing, miserable, seemingly endless winter playing mind games and wreaking havoc on my health.

     Or maybe I’m just blogged down.

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Waiting for Everything


     From the moment we’re born, doesn’t it seem like we spend an eternity waiting?   First, we’re crying for a diaper change or breast milk, and waiting for the good enough Mommy.  Then, gradually, we acquire language and with it the responsibility of learning patience. We try to be increasingly patient with slow moving traffic and with elevators that seem to linger on high floors. How about waiting for our phone calls and emails to be returned, and—of course—for our checks to arrive?  Chill out and be patient, we tell ourselves.  Holding our breaths, we anxiously wait to hear if our kids are accepted into impossibly selective nursery schools, high schools and colleges.  Everyone waits at the doctor’s office, sometimes in several different rooms, before we’re seen. Then we wait again –often in an agony of anxiety—for the results of our medical tests and the eventual, all-important diagnosis.
     What about waiting for lovers to call or (these days) text back?  At some point in our lives, we can’t help but wait for our beloved to pop the question, answer the question, break up or make up.  And let’s not even talk about all the time spent waiting just to meet that special someone, whether by chance, through an introduction or an on-line dating site.

     Our parents have usually taught us an assortment of tired clichés in order to cope with the frustration and anxiety of waiting.  “The best things in life are worth waiting for.”  Hmm, are we sure about that? What if you’re rejected from the college of your choice, or someone else gets the job/promotion? Worse still, what if you find out you have a terminal disease? Clearly, this could be the WORST thing you ever waited to hear (at that particular moment).
     For years I hoped and watched and waited, yearning for Sarah to overcome her developmental disabilities, lose all the autism labels, and catch up to her twin brother.  At some point, I realized that dream would never happen.  Instead I began to hope that Sarah would just keep learning and growing, so that eventually she would progress enough to fulfill her dream of being an independent adult. (She’s not quite there yet, but there’s still plenty of time...)

     Now I wonder: Is receiving bad news better or worse than continuing to wait? At least while you’re waiting, there’s still hope. 

     One of my mom’s favorite platitudes is: “He also serves who stands and waits.”  As a child, I really hated that one (and still do).   What that adage means is that you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anything to influence the outcome of an upsetting situation.  Doing (or saying) nothing is your best bet. (!?) Just when you most want to scream or give advice to your teenager or young adult is probably the moment they are least likely to listen (at least to you).   In fact, if you try to offer parental warnings or wisdom, your offspring might ignore you—or worse—do exactly the opposite. 

     Though counter-intuitive, waiting is sometimes your best or only course of action.  I know, I know, waiting seems like the antithesis of action.  Sometimes waiting feels like a prison of self-imposed inertia which can easily morph into forms of passive aggression.  For example, if I remind my son Max to take out the garbage (his only household chore), he might “forget” or wait until the trash is overflowing with soda cans and water bottles onto the kitchen floor.   If he waits long enough, I might be sufficiently disgusted to take out the garbage myself, thus relieving him of the chore.  However, it’s equally possible that I’ll move the garbage into his bedroom—already a mess anyway—to spur him into action.  Two can play the waiting game.

     As I mentioned at the beginning of my blog, people of all ages wait for things to happen (and not happen) every day.  How many times have you “waited with baited breath” or “waited for the other shoe to drop?” Worst of all is when you have “the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.” Something bad is going to happen, and it’s only a question of time.  Sadly, this is the case for my son.  Every six months, Max must go for a check up on his heart.  After open heart surgery at age three to repair a congenital heart defect, my husband and I were told there would be some leakage over the course of Max’s life, which might eventually require another repair.  Right now, the leakage is holding steady at “mild to moderate.” If it gets any worse, our son will need open heart surgery again. We all try our best not to think about it during the six months between appointments.

     Clearly, waiting is very much on people’s minds.   On Google, there’s a site called “Brainy Quote,” with 26 pages devoted to people’s ruminations on waiting.  In addition, there are 213 quotes by the famous and not-so-famous on another site called “Good Reads.” Here are a few of my favorites:  “‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured.  At least by the person who’s waiting…” by Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun.  The only thing worse than having to wait “for a while” is when someone says “soon” and it turns into “awhile.” How many times have you arrived at a restaurant with a dinner reservation and the maitre’d  assures you that your table will be ready soon, and “soon” turns into 30 minutes?  Usually, the hungrier you are, the longer the wait, right?
     If you’re a baby boomer or even older, perhaps you’ll appreciate what Elizabeth Taylor (a writer, not the actress) said: “It’s very strange that the years teach us patience, that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”  I think maturity improves our ability to wait because experience has taught us that we have no other choice.  Our lives become busier and more complicated as we take on more responsibilities at work and at home.  In addition to being husbands, wives and partners, many of us are parents and grandparents.   For some of us, who have elderly parents, the caretaking roles have reversed.  Our parents have become fragile children who depend on us to different degrees.  In essence, we have become accomplished jugglers.  We have so many balls up in the air that we are often busy rushing to catch one before it falls. The juggling act leaves less time and energy for waiting and worrying impatiently.  Maybe it seems ironic that I find the time to write this blog, but writing is one of the balls I have freely chosen to juggle.

     My favorite quote about waiting comes from Lemony Snicket in The Ersatz Elevator:  “Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.

                “No” Sunny answered.
                “Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.  Let’s go.”

     Some choices are obviously more difficult to make than others.  Sometimes there are reasons to wait for more information before you make a decision. On other occasions waiting is a bad idea. One cliché advises you to “look before you leap.” Another warns that “he who hesitates is lost.”  In today’s gender neutral world, the previous platitude must be amended to “he/she” in order to be politically correct.

     Timing really is everything. Or is it?  If you’re a Taoist, who believes in the concept of wu wei, then you aspire to a state of “non-doing” or “non-action.” Wu wei is a state of being in which our actions are effortlessly aligned with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of nature.  In other words, wu wei means “going with the flow,” awake and calm as we become able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.  A leader who practices wu wei is (supposedly) able to rule in a way that creates happiness and prosperity for all citizens. (Obviously, Taoism has NOT taken root with American politicians).

     Another choice for an aspiring Taoist is to become a hermit and withdraw from society, meditating in caves and wandering through meadows in order to be nourished by the energy of nature. Among Taoists, practicing wu wei is considered to be the highest form of virtue—one that is completely spontaneous and in no way premeditated.  In achieving wu wei, we are in tune with the rhythms inside and outside ourselves and--realizing our place in the universe--“we can offer only thoughts, words and actions that do no harm, that are spontaneously virtuous.” Yeah, right.

     Possibly wu wei works if you live in Nepal or Tibet, but NOT here in the Big Apple. I just looked at my watch, and it’s time for me to leave my apartment/cave. It’s not nice (or virtuous) to keep my friends waiting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April and Autism

     Did you know that April is National Autism Awareness month? If you’re the parent or relative of a child “on the spectrum,” the answer is probably a resounding yes. Ditto for educators, doctors, therapists and researchers who are directly involved with autism. However, if you’re  among the (still) majority of “normal”  people with neurotypical children, then chances are good you aren’t “aware” that April is a special month for autism.  Even if you read my post on “Autism Unawareness” last April, I’m not sure you’d remember.

     The sad truth is that the only way most people really focus on autism—or any other challenge—is when it becomes THEIR own problem. I’m just as guilty of myriad forms of medical ignorance as the next person. If my son Max hadn’t been born with a congenital heart problem, I wouldn’t know anything about atrial septal defects (ASDs) or mitral valve regurgitation, nor would I have had any interest in understanding and researching those issues. Since there are far fewer babies born with heart problems (9 in 2000), compared with the epidemic in autism (now 1 in 68), there is no month devoted to awareness of atrial septal defects. More importantly, ASDs—unlike autistic spectrum disorders (also, coincidentally, called ASDs!?)—are easily diagnosed and corrected with surgery. By contrast, autistic spectrum disorders are difficult to diagnose, and currently there is still no cure.
      When a 14 year old autistic boy, Avonte Oquendo, went missing from his school in Queens, the media went into a frenzy. Night and day, the news showed a tape of Avonte running down a hallway, out of school and into the bitter cold without a coat.  His pictures were plastered everywhere, and his tearful mother pleaded for the return of her son who couldn’t speak.  EVERYONE empathized with the loss of a vulnerable child, and New York’s finest—along with the public—scoured every inch of the city until, sadly, Avonte’s remains were found.  Then there was a sense of outrage.  How could any school—let alone one responsible for autistic kids—allow a student to run out of a classroom unsupervised?  Where was the security guard?  Maybe outrage is what we need to find the cause and cure for autism. Not just in April, but all year long.

     Many autistic children wander, and Avonte’s parents had warned the school that he was a flight risk.  Why wasn’t there an alarm system? More importantly, why don’t these kids wear some sort of tracking device?  If we have the technology to locate lost iphones and reunite missing pets with their owners, then why can’t Silicon Valley develop a wrist band to protect society’s most vulnerable children? At the very least, Avonte’s school needs a complete security overhaul.

     Speaking of security, you’d think that after 9/11 it wouldn’t be possible for a few thrill seekers to reach the top of 1 World Trade Center and parachute down to the street in the middle of night!  Apparently, the interlopers simply stepped through a hole in the fence nobody had bothered to repair— until more recently, when a 16 year old managed to get into the building and up to the roof the very same way.  It’s frightening but true.

     Even more frightening (in my opinion) is the global warming issue.  We’re not talking about 1 in 68 children or a few terrible security lapses.  We’re talking about earthquakes and mudslides in California, tsunamis in Indonesia and Chile, not to mention super storm Sandy in New York City not so long ago.  A recent article in The New York Times reported that the worldwide food supply has been severely impacted by climate change, and humanity is not reacting nearly fast enough to control greenhouse gases, and stop destroying our planet.
   
     What do security lapses and global warming have to do with Autism Awareness month?  Nothing and everything.  In order to cure autism, protect our kids, and save the planet, more people—more entire countries—must become aware and ACTIVE in looking for solutions.

     Although there has been a lot of autism research, there’s still no consensus on the underlying causes.  Some studies say the risk of autism increases with older fathers. Others say environmental pollutants play a role.  The latest report in Sunday’s New York Times (3/30) suggests that maternal stress during pregnancy also increases the risk  of autism, as do elective caesarean sections.  Not surprisingly, the author suggests reducing the risk by not scheduling a c-section. Duh.
    
     As for genetic studies, it has been demonstrated that 60 - 90% of identical twins will both be autistic, whereas fraternal twins (who share 50% of the same DNA) have about half the risk.  With such a broad range of statistical results, it's clear that genetics are only one piece of the puzzle. Also noted is the fact that prematurity occurs more often in multiple births, and thus greatly increases the odds of developmental disabilities, including autism, in all twins.  And if you’re one of those diagnosticians who believes that ADHD can be considered the mildest version of autism, then my twins, (Max with ADHD and Sarah with an ASD) are your textbook case—unless of course, you happen to meet them.  Despite the fact that Max and Sarah emerged from the same womb sharing 50% of the same DNA, they are so different from each other in personality and cognitive ability that one twin could have been born on Saturn and the other on Mars.

     Let’s just say I am not impressed with the latest research results.  When Max and Sarah were born in 1990, the risk for having an autistic child was 1 in 150. Last year, the number of babies born with autism was 1 in 80.  This year it’s 1 in 68.  Or maybe it's 1 in 50, depending on where you live or what graph you consult.  What will it be next year? 

     T.S. Eliot was right: April is the cruelest month.

 

 

 

  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Blogaversary


     Believe it or not, March marks the end of my first year in blogdom, with “The Never Empty Nest.” I’d like to say “what a difference a year makes,” but that would be a lie.   The truth is that while some things have changed—like Max graduating from college and Sparky dying—mostly everything else has stayed the same.  Is that good or bad?  The short answer (and blogs are meant to be short) is both good AND bad. 
     When I first started my blog (“The Never Empty Nest”: An Introduction, 3/1/13), I didn’t know how long I’d be able sustain my own interest, let alone find readers who shared it.  How many weeks or months could I write about the comings and goings of young adult twins—a son with ADHD and a daughter on the autistic spectrum—and their impact on our home and my psyche? Would I be able to focus on related issues in politics, the economy and the outside world with passion and humor? More importantly, would there be enough people out in cyberspace interested in reading it?  I was hoping the issues I explored would be universal enough to be meaningful to all families, not just parents of young adults with special needs. 

     The good news is I have 11,156 page views so far.  Over the last few months, the traffic on my blog has averaged from 200 to 400 visits per week, up from 100 -150 when I started.  In the beginning, I had no idea how (or where) to post on social media, and I didn’t know how to upload photos. Since then I have emerged from this isolated and illiterate state, to being a “top contributor” in two of my Linked in groups where I post a link to my blog.  The bad news is I’m nowhere near viral in terms of traffic.
     I’m also far from up to speed on technology.  Whereas most young people today toddle from  cribs to ipads, computers and cell phones, I started life with an Etch-A-Sketch and telephones with cords and dials. Instead of doing research on Google (or Bing), I consulted the World Book Encyclopedia and National Geographic. All of my essays were written on lined paper in high school, until senior year when I began typing papers on an IBM Selectric.  (Yes, I KNOW I’m ancient). Once in college, the only way to do research was at the library.   (Please, tell me there are readers who remember those days)!

     In spite of my technology limitations, I managed 51 posts during the first year of my blog, including topics both predictable and unexpected: Henry and I celebrated our 25th anniversary and he turned 65; Sarah lost 35 pounds and found a boyfriend who had bedbugs; Max turned into a hypochondriac and graduated from college.  Our dog Sparky had knee surgery in September and died from lymphoma in January.  Besides taking care of my family, I spent the year ruminating on autism issues, the challenges of parenting millennials, my daughter’s movie and my son’s documentary. There were also posts on weather, politics and what it’s like to get chicken pox in your 50s.  I also managed to publish some of my writing in a literary journal, an anthology and an on-line humor journal.  I guess I was lucky that my life was filled with enough drama to inspire me with new topics each week, but not overwhelming or time-consuming enough to gobble up my writing time.
               

     According to a recent Nielsen report, consumer interest in blogs keeps growing.  By the end of 2011, NM Incite tracked over 181 million blogs around the world, up from 36 million only five years earlier in 2006.  So who are my fellow bloggers?  The majority of bloggers are women and half of all bloggers are aged 18 – 34.  Clearly, I’m in the fossilized minority.  But at least bloggers are well-educated—70% have attended college, and like me—most are graduates. One out of three bloggers are Moms—yes!—with kids under 18—definitely NOT me, (though my millennials often act considerably younger).  Oh yes, and we’re very active across social media—twice as likely to post or comment on YouTube, and even more likely to post in Message Board/Forums during the past month.  Hmm… I guess there’s a lot more for me to be learning and doing.

     Maybe this is the moment to make a list of New Blog Year’s resolutions: Improve my social media and computer skills. For example, I really want to be able to post on “Top Mommy Blogs,” but I can’t figure out how to move their “flag” onto my site and complete the registration. Perhaps there are bigger and better places to be posting, and I need to find them? The Huffington Post never responded, but that’s no reason to be discouraged, right? I must tweet more often, comment on other similar blogs, and follow them in the hopes they’ll follow me. Maybe I should add hash tags too. These efforts strike me as tedious and time-consuming, but maybe if I stay at my computer long enough, they’ll seem like fun.  After all I hated vegetables as a kid, and grew up to love most of them. 
     I’d also like to add interviews: with parents, ADHD and autism specialists, and business people who employ young adults with disabilities. It would also be fun to have fellow bloggers as my guests.  Best of all would be if I could have a couple of advertisers on “The Never-Empty Nest,” to help feed my no-longer-baby birds.  Of course to attract advertisers, I’d probably have to greatly increase my page views and do everything on my resolution list.  According to a parenting blogs analytics study, to boost traffic, I should also change my content to include topics, such as holiday themed contests, shopping guides and product reviews and use clickable words like “best,” “healthy” and “easy.” My titles should start with “How to…, “Top 5 Places/Products to…,” or “What to do about….” Oops, I’m dozing off.

                Maybe I’ll start next week.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Letting Go


     The question of when to let go of our children—how much and how quickly— is extremely challenging. This seems especially true if you have special needs kids, and it becomes even more complicated when you have twins.  All things being equal, most people would probably allow two children the same age to have similar responsibilities and freedom.  But things are NOT equal with Max and Sarah, nor, I suspect, will they ever be “equal,” in the sense most people understand that slippery word when applied to humans.
      In spite of the fact that my twins are chronologically “equal” in age, Max has always been far ahead of Sarah in terms of social, academic and emotional development.  Although Max has ADHD, his faster-than-average verbal development helped us to see early on that Sarah was lagging far behind. Thanks to this contrast with her twin brother, Henry and I got Sarah tested at 12 months old, and as a result, she was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum unusually early for babies born 23 years ago. 

     Max began travelling alone to school and to his friends’ homes at age 11.  Sarah went to a special school on a yellow bus that picked her up and dropped her off right in front of our apartment building all the way through high school.  Sarah didn’t even HAVE any real friends till high school.  Henry and I finally (nervously) allowed our daughter the freedom to walk and take the bus to her friends’ apartments at age 13 or 14.  During her childhood, Sarah was often insanely jealous of her brother: “Why can’t I go to a friend’s house like Max?  When can I have sleep overs?” Answering her was heartbreaking. 

      Growing older, she asked: “How come Max can take the subway and I can’t?”  Here we relied on the sexist answer.  “He’s a young man and he’s much bigger and stronger than you.  No one will mess with him, but you’re a pretty young girl….”

     The truth was much more complicated.  I worried Sarah might push the wrong person in order to get onto a crowded train, or perhaps take a seat from an elderly person who needed it.  Or maybe some crazy person would engage her, realize her vulnerability, grab her purse, or God forbid, throw her onto the tracks…. At 16, Henry and I finally allowed her to travel on subways with older male friends.  At last, at age 19, when she transferred to Pace University, Sarah began taking the subway everywhere on her own.  She was so thrilled with this overdue freedom that she preferred to carry a heavy suitcase on the train, instead of letting us drive her to her dorm after vacation or when the weather was bitter cold.

     Max graduated from college in 4 years with the class of ’13.  He sort of lives with us, and sort of doesn’t.  By that I mean, he spends most nights at his girlfriend’s house in Brooklyn (except for 1 or 2 nights when she’s here).  He also spends time at a friend’s house in Los Angeles, looking for work.  Floating in and out of our apartment, Max showers, changes his clothes, does his laundry and devours enough pretzels, cheese and Coke Zero to feed a battalion.  In the last year or so, I have insisted that Max refill his own prescriptions, set his own alarm and carry  his own  key (with limited success).

     What I still haven’t done is totally let go.  I still make my 23 year old son’s appointments with the dentist, cardiologist and internist.   I’m afraid he’ll forget and neglect these routine but necessary visits. In the case of the cardiologist, it’s crucial to monitor Max's heart every six months, because he had open heart surgery to repair his mitral valve at age 3.  There’s been some leakage over the years and if it worsens any further, he will need another surgery—a fact that’s he’s too frightened to focus on (understandably).  But when it comes to minor health complaints (real and imagined), Max calls the dermatologist, orthopedist and urologist and makes his own appointments.   I know he’s worried and therefore motivated to make the call and stay on hold.

     Sarah expects to graduate from college this May after 5 long years, including summers.  More than once my daughter has asked: “Why did Max graduate in 4 years and I’m doing it in 5 years?” 

     “You had to do some remedial at work at Landmark, and then you lost a few credits when you transferred.”  I explain. “Max started college with advanced placement credits; he didn’t transfer and his school had fewer core requirements than Pace.”  The truth is that it’s a miracle Sarah made it to college at all. Not only will Sarah graduate, she has just been invited to join an honor society for students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.  Henry and I couldn’t be more proud and keep telling her that whenever she worries about Max being “ahead” of her.

     Living at home and commuting to school, Sarah isn’t home much either.  Like Max, my daughter can sleep at her boyfriend’s house or stay out till 3 AM with friends at a late movie, as long as she texts me in advance.  Of course, I still worry about her more than I worry about my son.   Sarah has accomplished an incredible amount in her 23 years, yet she is vulnerable, still lacking in many simple life skills.  For example, she’s afraid to turn on the oven!  I know she’ll learn because she wants so badly to be independent, but even so….

     As for doctor appointments, I make all of them for Sarah.  She is not comfortable dealing with menu options and talking to the receptionist herself.  However, Sarah does refill (and always remembers to take) all of her medications without any help or reminders from me.   In this one area, she is actually ahead of her brother. Like Max, Sarah goes to all of her doctors on her own (except for the first visit where I fill out the paperwork and introduce her). 

     I’m trying hard to believe what the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan (a leading child psychiatrist) once said: “Does it matter if your child learns to write script at age 9 or at age 11?  Once she learns it, no one will care when she mastered it.” (Nowadays it probably doesn’t matter if your child EVER learns script, since nearly every written communication is typed).  But his point was that life isn’t a race.  If Sarah learns more slowly and takes longer to become independent, so what?  Raising a child on the autistic spectrum is a marathon, not a sprint.  To a lesser extent, the same is true for a child with ADHD.  It just takes longer for special needs kids to grow up, and parents have to be patient and work harder.  Easier said than done!

     The media would have us believe that many parents of 20-somethings are “helicopter parents,” who have hovered and overprotected our kids to their detriment.  How many of those journalists have special needs kids?  On Google I found one article for 18 year olds and college-bound kids to guide them in making independent health care decisions.  Of course, the article notes, confidentiality is tricky if the young adult is covered by the parents’ insurance, which these days can be up till age 26.

     Perhaps the most depressing article discussed the disturbing fact that 36% of Americans 18 to 31 years old are still living with their parents.  That's the highest level ever recorded! According to Time Magazine, that statistic means approximately 25 million U.S. adults are still in the nest with Mom and Dad.  So what’s causing more Americans than ever before to live in a state of “perpetual adolescence?”

     It seems financial independence has become increasingly difficult to achieve for a whole host of reasons: an all-time record of $1.08 trillion in student debt, an 11.5% delinquency rate on these student loans, and the fact that our young people are struggling to find employment.  In 2013, only 43% of those in the 18-29 year-old age bracket had a full-time job.  Even if a young adult is able to find a job, that doesn’t mean he/she will earn enough to survive independently.  The quality of jobs in our country continues to worsen and so do wages.



     No wonder so many young people remain in the family nest. Letting go seems to be a long, drawn out affair, no matter how much parents and kids yearn for the day that we can all live truly independent lives.

 

 

 

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Nest Guests

     Not only have the male Elisofons flocked back to the nest, but it also looks like a couple of guests will be joining us. (Temporarily, Thank God).  Sarah’s boyfriend, Jake, will be staying at our apartment Friday night instead of our daughter going there, as she usually does.  Just when I was getting comfortable with the idea that Sarah and Jake were peacefully enjoying Friday nights at his bedbug-free apartment, he noticed a bite (or three?) on his arm.  (See my 10/9/13 blog, “Going Buggy”).

     “They’re probably mosquito bites.” Sarah tries to assure me. “But just to be on the safe side, Jake asked if he could stay over at our house on Friday.”

     I look at Henry (who had blissfully drifted off to sleep during the evening news) and nudge him.  But how can we say no, when we’ve been allowing Max’s girlfriend to stay overnight on a Friday or Saturday night? Especially since Jake was trying to “protect” Sarah…. During a previous bedbug incident in the beginning of their relationship, I had been able to keep the romance on hold until Jake’s apartment had been fumigated.  But now, almost six months later, there’s no keeping these autistic spectrum lovebirds apart

     “As long as he takes precautions…” I sigh.  Those precautions include changing into a bathrobe and putting his clothes into a sealed plastic bag before entering our apartment.  It’s one of those times that saying “yes” is just as difficult as saying “no.” Both choices leave me anxious and unhappy.  

     I love my kids dearly, and they are always welcome. But our apartment is on the snug side, and I never envisioned our home turning into a motel or dorm room with amenities.   Still, it’s my own fault for opening the door to their respective girlfriends and boyfriends.  I wanted to know my kids were home safely, and I didn’t want to worry or wait up till 3 AM or later.   Being a worrier, I also didn’t want to put Max’s pretty young friend at risk by forcing her to take a long subway ride home in the wee hours of a Saturday night with all of the drunken partiers.   Okay, I admit it I also wanted to be the cool mom, who occasionally said “yes” to things many parents wouldn’t allow.  Instead I’ve become “unreasonable” and uncool for not allowing Max to have his girlfriend stay over during the week.

     After 9 days in California, Max has returned home to wait for news on his career.  The suspense has been torture for him (and no picnic for us either).  Jittery and exhausted, he asked if his girlfriend could stay over. 

     “Yes,” I said, partly out of the goodness of my heart, but also because I saw a way to make a deal.  I’d trade him Tuesday night for Friday, so I wouldn’t have his girlfriend AND Sarah’s boyfriend both bunking chez Elisofon on the same night.  I know I’m probably crazy.  As the innkeeper/ Mama Bird here, I have the right to turn away guests whenever the rooms are full (or even if I’m not in the mood).  Henry and I pay the rent; our 23 year old twins now live here at our discretion, not theirs.

     How many parents allow their young adult kids to have their respective boyfriends and girlfriends sleep over? None of the parents of daughters I know do (with one quirky exception).  Probably most would be horrified.  Even in today’s more liberal (but still somewhat sexist society), most parents of sons don’t allow it either.  Not a single one of Max’s many friends had that privilege.  Since his senior year in high school, Max was the envy of all his friends (and the subject of disapproving gossip among their parents).

     What do the parents on Google say?  When it comes to “co-ed sleepovers after college,” most of the parents who posted said no, regardless of whether they had sons or daughters.   Some who allowed co-ed sleepovers insisted that guests of the opposite sex sleep on the couch, in different rooms, or at the very least, required the bedroom door left open.  Often the decision to allow the sleepover happened only because of the fear of kids driving home drunk late at night.

     While Henry and I are definitely in the permissive minority, there were some insightful posts from a few parents who seem to agree with our position:

     “Co-ed sleepovers are forbidden in our family unless the offspring is 18, in which case it’s his/her decision and responsibility.”

     “College is a 4 year coed sleepover.  If you’re going to trust her to make her own decisions then, why wouldn’t you trust her now?”

     “When well over half of high school seniors are sexually active, there’s an awful lot of sex not happening on this board (or someone’s not telling).”

     “No one on this board has kids who drink or have sex (except me)?!”

     Of course the question of whether to allow your kids to have one (or more) overnight guests of the opposite sex is as complicated as it is personal.  How did you feel about your parent’s rules?   Are your kids mature and/or responsible enough to have sex and at what age?  Do you allow any and all young men and women to stay over?

     I respected my parents’ rules—no co-ed sleepovers, no (obvious) sex—as typical of the era, even if I didn’t like them.  After college, I simply didn’t come home on some nights, which my Dad didn’t like but had to respect because I was over 21.

     As for my own kids, Max had his first serious relationship at 18 with a high school sophomore whose parents happened to be liberal.  Luckily, they really liked my son and—crazy though it may sound—allowed their daughter to sleep over.  That relationship lasted three years.

     Sarah had her first serious boyfriend during her first year of college.  He practically lived with her in college, but didn’t “sleep over” at our house till our daughter was 20. Their relationship lasted two years.

     Contrary to the way it might appear to some readers, I don’t allow casual sex or one night stands in our apartment.  As I have explained to Max and Sarah, our apartment is NOT a motel  or a co-ed dorm. There are rules about who can and can’t stay overnight, how often and under what conditions.  My kids may find my rules arbitrary and not fully understand them.

     But make no mistake.  When it comes to guests in our nest, Mama bird has the last word.

 

 

 

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Nest Half-Empty

      As of Sunday morning, the men in my family had—temporarily—flown the coop.  For me, their same-day departures were strangely unsettling, lots of commotion around packing for different cities, arranging to be picked up two hours apart: one going to Kennedy, the other to Newark.   I had already suffered through a double dose of: “Have you seen my blue shirt?” (Henry)  “When is the cleaner delivering?”(Max)  “Can you fold my shirts and blazer?  I give bad fold.” (Henry).  “I can’t find my medication…” (Max).

     Uncharacteristically, Max was the early bird, somehow managing to depart at 6:45 AM to make a 9:00 AM flight for Los Angeles.  He has an exciting career opportunity, and his potential boss required his presence before 1 PM Pacific Time.   Aside from Max’s worry about whether his venture would succeed, he was leaving home with a bad cold and a sprained ankle in a brace.  Nevertheless, a jump rope dangled from the handle of his suitcase as he dragged it out of our apartment and into the hallway.

     “Don’t tell me you’re planning to jump rope in LA with your bad ankle?”  I bit my lip to restrain myself from saying anything further.  Amazingly, Max had not tripped over the jump rope or snagged it on the wheels of the suitcase.

    
     “Don’t worry about it, Mom.” He rolled his eyes and punched the elevator button a second time.
     I ran out and quickly stuffed the rope into a zippered compartment on the outside of his suitcase.  “Maybe you’ll forget about it?” I asked, hopefully.

     Back in bed (wide awake), Henry and I tried to close our eyes and go back to sleep.  It was 7AM and Henry wasn’t being picked up till 8:45 AM, plenty of time to slumber till the next alarm went off.

     Five minutes later the phone rang. “What’s my flight number?” Max asked. He’d forgotten the folder with his boarding pass and flight information which Henry had left on his bed.  The driver needed this information in order to drop off our son at the correct terminal.

     “Hold on.” I dragged myself out of bed and sprinted to Max’s bedroom to give him the information.
     When I returned to bed, Henry was massaging his forehead. “What will he do about his boarding pass?”

     “Print it out at the airport.”  I shrugged and pulled the covers up to my neck.

     Both Henry and I burst into laughter.  (We could have cried just as easily).  “Does he know what city he’s going to?  I hope he gets on the right plane.”  We continued laughing.  Sleep was out of the question.

     Both of us had been up since 5 AM.  Henry was worrying about whether he’d end up getting paid for his case in San Francisco.  He was also upset about leaving on Sunday and giving up half of his weekend.  The mediation wasn’t until Tuesday, but his client had insisted he come early, afraid—understandably—that another snowstorm might cause Monday flights to be cancelled,
     Shortly after my husband left, the phone rang again.  It was Henry calling to say that Max had forgotten a piece of film equipment in the car. (No, I’m not kidding).  Fortunately, Henry and Max used the same car service.  In another stroke of good fortune our son’s driver discovered the equipment in time to give it to Henry’s driver, who had just dropped it off with our doorman.  Would I please try to remember to bring it upstairs?

     Still bleary-eyed later that morning, I dragged myself to the gym with my daughter, Sarah, who left to meet a friend for lunch afterwards.   Sarah was very excited because this would be her first lunch after 8 months of drinking smoothies on her meal replacement diet.
     After my daughter left for lunch, I went home alone.  Maybe too alone.  I’m still trying to get used to not having our dog, Sparky, sleeping in a patch of sunlight next to the dining room table or sitting by the front door anxiously awaiting our family’s return. Sadly, Sparky has left us forever. (See my 1/31 blog, “For Love of Sparky)."

     Henry returns on Wednesday (unless there’s another blizzard).  And Max, well, that’s an open question.  He may come home in a week or a month.  Or perhaps he’ll move to Los Angeles and spread his wings at last…. We’ll have to wait and see.

     With no one at home, I decided to pass some time in cyberspace, like the rest of the modern world.  I was happy to discover that one of my essays, “Dog Bite,” had been published (as promised) in the March issue of Hobo Pancakes, an online humor publication.  (To read it, just go to http://www.hobopancakes.com/2014/03/03/animalania-10/).  That essay had been written almost a year ago and reminds me yet again that even when my son goes away—whether it’s to college or on to the next chapter of his life—he remains extraordinarily present.