Sunday, April 22, 2018

Holding on to Happiness

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
-Forrest Gump, in the movie.

For weeks, Wonder Boy had colds and repeated strep and ear infections. There was agitation, loss of language, refusal to use his talker, jump on the trampoline (a favored activity) or play on his own. He woke from a sound sleep in tears, required constant adult attention, was not coping in school.

One day after Wonder Boy’s sedation dental procedure, his unhappiness, discomfort and unrest began to improve.

The first clue to the coming joy was the silence.

Wonder Boy is not a morning person. He does not like getting out of his cozy bed in the early light. But this week? He rose without sound. Giggled while he pottied. Danced while he dressed.

Transitioned smoothly from one activity to the next. Ate all his breakfast. Brushed all his teeth.

And while he waited for his bus? He read his books. Stimmed his trains. Played piano. Asked to go outside. Where he played some more.

Wonder Boy’s teacher reported better days at school.

“Our independent (boy) seems to be coming back…He…walked down the hall and out the recess door by himself…”

Wonder Boy took turns. Played alone. Ate lunch. Did his work.

And when he arrived home, he told his bus driver good-bye with words and a fist bump. Fell into his grandmother’s arms. Requested a popsicle using his talker and returned to the talker to specify the color of his popsicle. Played in the sand. Climbed a mountain of dirt. Did his piano lesson and greeted his therapist with zero screams-hits-tantrums-refusals.

He raced his therapist to the door for outside breaks. Jumped on the trampoline! Played on the slides and swings.

At the end of the day he chose his own bath bomb. Sang head-shoulder-knees-and-toes. Perused a book.

And Amaze Girl? It’s hard to be a sibling of autism, especially during periods of unrest. Amaze Girl has thrived in her brother’s happiness: joy-filled mornings. Breakfast conversation. Successful time tests. Climbed a tree. Ran for the bus.

She’s received positive reports from her teacher. After school, she raced home, arms extended, shoelaces flying; poured giggles into her grandmother’s arms. Hurried outside without bothering to snack. To her tree and sunning place. Where she climbed a mountain of dirt.

When it was time to work, she said, “okay!” and came inside. Completed homework, wrote poems, collected vocabulary, read books, did puzzles, played piano, sang songs, danced.

She cheerfully ate all her dinner. Finished bath on time. Built a pillow fort.

After their story times with Daddy, both shared kisses, hugs, squeezes,“ I love yous.” Lights out. Sleep. Peace.

Until the next wonderful day full of laughter, communication, connection, family reunion:

                                           Our Katie has returned to Kansas City!

 And language: “Good catch, Nonnie!” “I want Daddy.” “I’m hungry.” “Let’s go eat.” “I want to go outside.”

Autism and learning differences present unknowns that challenge communication, interaction and – sometimes – one’s ability to cope. But for this moment? Today?

We’re holding on to the happiness where it appears.

Contented Morning

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Water, Concrete, Mud: What It's Like to Add on to a House

Rain streamed from the sky in roaring sheets. Hubby peeked through a gap in the plywood nailed to the recently cut opening between the home’s existing foundation and the newly-poured addition. The concrete slab surrounded by smooth cement walls was now a wading pool.

Inside? At his feet? Rainwater crept over the threshold and drained into the existing basement.

He slogged outside and dropped a sump pump into the concrete pool. As rain pelted his skin and wet his hair, he plugged the machine into an unprotected extension cord. He trailed the wire through the garage and prepared to plug it into an outlet. Lightening flashed.

What’s it like to add on to a house?

It’s a toilet in the front yard.

It’s two years of dreaming, planning, revising, finalizing. It’s interviewing disinterested contractors. It’s lining up subcontractors who go out of business before work begins.

It’s gravel, cords of wood and rebar dropped on the driveway while you’re in the bathroom.

It’s pumper truck hoses raining concrete into cavernous holes. While dangling over the house. It’s gloves, cigarette butts, paper bags, crumpled plastic and concrete blocks. Dropped in the yard.

And it’s mud. Outside, inside, everywhere. Garden ruts the size and shape of backhoe treads. Waste concrete dumped wet and dried hard. Pebbles in the bathroom. Clogged drains. Late night trips to Home Depot. Nail guns, tape, sump pumps, shop vacs. It’s remembering to use the wood ladder and not the metal when it’s storming. It’s air billowing through a boarded-up door. It’s snow in April (and other delays).

It’s strangers with clipboards. Pickup and pumper trucks, semis, trailers and cement mixers in the driveway. It’s flatbeds laden with “two-bys.”

It’s burst pipes and broken wires.

It’s borrowed money. Late nights paying bills. Screeching, rumbling, shouting, laughing, thrumming; noise.

It’s (finally) getting-to-know-the-neighbors. “We want to add on, too” and “will you do one for us?” It’s a room for him, a space for her, an area for Mom and Dad. It’s the promise of closets, storage, no-wait bathrooms, another bedroom, a library. It’s a two-car garage reconverted to its original purpose (ie, cars, not boxes).

It’s a thin blog, posted late.

And it’s electrical connections exposed to rain.

Hubby plugged the cord into the outlet. Outside, the sump pump groaned to life. Inside, the basement leak slowed. No sparks.

When the rain stopped, he would rerun the cord through the foundation opening. Raise it safely above the puddle. Cover the plug’s connection with plastic and tape. Dry and replace soaked towels. Mop.

He returned to the sloozy outdoors. His hair and skin glistened. Chunks of earth dropped from the yard-length mountain of wet dirt and settled at the silt screen that protected the neighbor’s space. Rain slowed; the air cleared. Stars shimmered around a full moon.

Water gushed from the sump pump’s hose, balanced over the new foundation wall. He wrenched a boot free from the oozing sludge and held it to the stream until his shoe was clean.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Popsicles and Netflix, Sedation Dentistry

“…If allowed to remain on the teeth, bacteria begin to attack and break down tooth enamel, which can lead to cavities and tooth decay…”

Until he was 5 years old and before he lived with Super Daddy, Wonder Boy purportedly subsisted on sugary foods, pepperoni and sweet juice. He rarely, if ever, brushed his teeth.

Later, and before he had words, he persistently pushed his mouth onto soft things, like pillows and blankets. He progressed to holding his face to people’s arms, legs and toys. Finally, he pressed other people’s fingers directly onto his teeth.

He wouldn’t allow the first dentist to look in his mouth. A second dentist got a quick view. A third saw cavities. Four, in fact. Which would need to be filled.

Cavities in baby teeth should be filled because “…tooth decay, particularly if left untreated, can result in infection, chewing difficulty and even malnutrition. If the decay is bad enough, abscesses may develop, affecting the health of the child’s permanent teeth…”

The procedure would take time. It would be uncomfortable. Due to his autism and the accompanying difficulties treating Wonder Boy, it was decided he would be sedated.

Wonder Boy would be made chemically asleep while his cavities were filled.

The appointment was scheduled two months away; payment required in advance. No eating or drinking 12 hours prior to the procedure. Wonder Boy should wear pajamas and bring a second set of clothes, “just in case.”

As time went on, Wonder Boy became increasingly agitated. He had repeated bouts of strep throat and an ear infection. He rejected his toys, stopped playing independently, required persistent adult attention, and refused to jump on the trampoline, a favored activity.

On procedure day, Super Daddy took the day off work. He arrived early at the outpatient clinic. Alone, he carried his son into the room where the dentist, anesthesiologist and others would sedate and treat Wonder Boy.

"Sedation dentistry is used to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for certain people receiving dental treatment. It enables individuals too afraid to go to the dentist to receive the dental care they need while avoiding...apprehension..." 

When the procedure was done and his time in the recovery room time complete, Wonder Boy would enjoy a Netflix marathon, beginning with The Robinson’s. He’d eat a bowl of popsicles, drink cool water, nibble animal crackers. He’d spend the day wrapped in his weighted blanket, with his daddy and favorite snugglies close by. He’d wear a hat, because he likes that. The next day, he’d go to school, participate in therapy and jump joyfully on the trampoline for the first time in many weeks.

But first? He wobbled out of the clinic on his own steam. He paused, turned and tottered toward Super Daddy. “I need help,” he said, his words slurred.

Super Daddy circled his arms around his son. Wonder Boy relaxed into his father’s chest and sighed.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Words In-Between

“By 18 months, babies have heard 4,380 hours of spoken language…If AAC learners only see symbols modeled for communication twice weekly for 20-30 minutes, it will take 84 years for them to have the same exposure to aided language as an 18 month old...”
– Jane Korsten, SLP, and author of Every Move Counts, QIAT Listserv 2011

We like to read...
Bodies close. Shoulders touching. Knees entwined. We are huddled around a book.

Twenty little fingers caress smooth paper. Four blinking eyes watch letters dance, absorb color and texture. Two little noses delight in new book smell.

Amaze Girl interrupts the story to comment. Wonder Boy giggles. There is a torrent of unrelated-to-the-tale language.

Reading lights a child’s imagination, incites curiosity, fuels play. It’s a sensory experience; chocolate for the brain, a hot toddy for the heart. It’s I love you and You’re more important than Reese’s Cups.

But reading is not the best way to grow a child’s brain.

What’s more important than reading? The words that happen in-between.

“Parent talk is…the most valuable resource in our world…In the same way, the lack of language is the enemy of brain development…”
Thirty Million Words, Building a Child’s Brain, by Dana Suskind

A University of Kansas study shows that children whose parents talk to them from birth to age three adopt language more quickly and are more successful in school by the end of third grade. (The Early Catastrophe)

The study revealed a correlation in the number of words a child hears to socioeconomic status: children from wealthier families heard more words than those raised in less affluent households. Thirty million more words, in fact.

“Talking and language…is food for the developing brain. The words you speak, and how you speak them, (build) baby’s brain.”

No, tv doesn’t count. Neither do video games, texting, computer or phone apps. Parental imperatives like “pick up your socks/sit down/do your homework/brush your teeth” add to the total number of words a child hears but are not brain boosters either.

What matters most? Dinner table conversation. Bath time chatter. Focused narration, description, recitation, affirmation. Counting bath bubbles, relaying textures, color, likes and dislikes. It’s everyday use of consequential words to share ideas.

A daily dose of focused parental patter lays critical groundwork for a child’s future literacy, discipline and academic success.

What about kids who arrive at elementary school language-deprived? Children neglected in their early years, those raised on tv? Kids with difficulty communicating due to autism, ADD/ADHD and other learning differences? Will increasing the quality and quantity of parental talk help them succeed? Does modelling use of a child's talker matter?


Dana Suskind founded the Thirty Million Word Initiative, which seeks to close the word gap. She recommends parents employ the Three T’s:

Tune In: turn off the tv. Put down the phone. Engage.

Talk More: ask questions, narrate tasks, use rich words.

Take Turns: gestures, babbles, scripting and aided language are conversational; respond with words to keep the talk going.

And then? Maybe? Snuggle close with a good book.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Super Sensory Excavation

In autism “…Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times…”
It’s home addition excavation day at Super Daddy’s house.

Wrapped in a blanket, Wonder Boy breakfasts at a glass door overlooking the digging. He leans back in a kitchen chair, legs crossed, shoulders relaxed. He sips cranberry juice and nibbles waffles. He presses himself to the barricaded opening to improve his view of the production in process.

The skid-steer loader is a “small, engine powered machine with lift arms used to attach a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments.” This day the vehicle is equipped with a sharp-toothed front-loading bucket and rotating, rubber covered tracks.

The machine rumbles to life and the earth quakes. It roars across the ground and the house shakes. The bucket drops with a clang. Teeth tear through the damp soil, teasing nostrils with musky, wet-dirt scents. The odor alters our senses of taste. When the machine travels in reverse, it screeches, beep-beep-beep. When it maneuvers near the main house, teeth scrape the foundation like fingernails on a chalkboard.

It’s a sensory rich spectator event.

Amaze Girl? Sleeps in. She briefly joins her brother at the window before donning noise reducing headphones far from the hubbub.

Wonder Boy oversees the activity for hours, reveling in the sights, sounds, tastes, smells. He watches the machine eat through the earth. As the hole deepens, the skid-steer’s path out of the widening crevasse is both precarious and engrossing. The little machine powers sideways, spins and turns. It teeters almost vertically up the lofty wall.

Soon the pile of removed dirt is a mountain range that spans the yard’s length. It encircles the swing set, traps the trampoline. With each full bucket, the elevation of earth and clay rises. Beeping, belching, growling, groaning, the little skid-steer crawls higher up the mountain to release its catch.

Long after Amaze Girl retreats to homework, piano and books, Wonder Boy watches the machine at work. He is enraptured, enthralled, enchanted.

Until he isn’t.

Sensory overload in autism may appear like a tsunami on a sunny day: one moment the sea is warm, placid and calf-high. The next, calm recedes into a broiling horizon, uncovering moldy rocks and flopping fish. It returns as a wall of water, high, salty, angry.


Wonder Boy flat-palms the kitchen table. He circles the living room and races down the hall. He slams the bedroom door, screams.

He rejects his talker. “Pick me up,” he says, when he wants a squeeze. “I want juice,” he says, when he needs a hug.

Wonder Boy’s in-home therapist arrives. Wonder Boy drapes his talker across his chest and relaxes into the comforting structure of one-on-one attention, routine, work.

After the noise is done, we sit on a picnic bench outside. We are walled in by the mountain of dirt; a breeze tickles our backs. A fat robin hops about the silence, searching for worms in the upturned terrain.

In this moment? There is peace.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Speed isn't Everything

“…Processing Speed could be defined as how long it takes to get stuff done…”
Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, by Ellen Braaten, PhD
and Brian Willoughby, PhD

Hare claimed he could run faster, harder, longer than anyone else. “I can beat you!” he said to Tortoise, known to be the slowest creature in the woods.

Tortoise nodded. “Maybe,” he said.

“No maybe about it,” said Hare. He hopped circles around Tortoise. “You’re slower than ketchup on a cold day. Slower than molasses in the snow.” He sneered. “Slower than a snail.”

Tortoise shrugged. “Okay.”

Hare jumped up and down. “Let’s race. From here to the fencepost, three times about.”

“Sure,” said Tortoise. He trudged off.

Hare stretched his arms and legs. Cracked his fingers. Drank a liter of water. Checked facebook and answered email. Completed 100 bench presses and 200 over-unders.

Finally, he bounded forward.

Hare arrived at the fencepost four hours ahead of Tortoise. “I won, I won!” he sang. He did 50 burpees, 75 squats and a 5 minute Victory Dance.

Tortoise arrived sweaty and exhausted after hours of toil over the hot, dusty road. He stretched his broad muscles. Looked into the bright sky. He yawned and smiled.

After a nap or maybe next week, he’d paint Hare’s victory portrait. He’d patent an idea that slowly brewed in his simmering mind. He’d write a book about his process and build a financial empire.

Because, if fable were real life? Hare would win. Because Hare is an elite athlete, congenitally built to race. Tortoise is heavy and slow in body and mind.

But speed isn’t everything.

“…one could argue that much of the world’s progress has been made by deep, slow thinkers. Whether it be in innovation, art, or literature, many of our most treasured works were likely completed by gifted individuals who worked at their own pace…”

Amaze Girl’s therapist smiled. “Do time tests,” she said. “Write letters: A, B, C. Fast.”

“Yes,” agreed Teacher. “And retell stories to use in speed practice.”

Comprehension work, writing exercises, timed sentences from science, social studies, vocabulary, spelling. Drills, flash cards, Q&A, crossword puzzles, piano lessons; physical exercise.

For mental strength, conditioning, dexterity, clarity. Speedwork is Crossfit for the brain. Gymnastics for the mind.

Because performance matters. And the ability to demonstrate knowledge in an increasingly fast-paced world is critical to success in school. Here it’s necessary to process large amounts of information quickly and rapidly shift between different types of tasks. Here, capable, clear and concise expression is necessary and important.

Here, success is determined more by what you do with what you got than by what you got.

But speed isn’t everything. For some of us, victory is in overcoming the obstacles that hinder participation – and then? Finishing the race.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Nobody Had Autism When I Was a Kid

When I was a kid
We treated infections with alcohol, gargled salt water for sore throats, painted scrapes with “tincture of merthiolate,” a mercury laced antiseptic. We drank water from hoses, chewed lead pencils, ate food off the ground. Kids were fast, slow, smart, dumb, cool, weird.

In my world there was no such thing as “autism” or “learning differences.”

Although the first case of autism was officially diagnosed in 1943, researchers have only recently sought to understand and define it. While educating and involving an ignorant society.

What I‘ve learned: autism exists as varying symptoms along an infinite spectrum that includes virtually everyone. At one end are high functioning, fast thinking savants and intellectuals. At the other end are those with difficulty communicating, housed in bodies that don’t respond to command.

The rest of us lie somewhere in between.

What’s unknown: the definitive cause(s) of autism, how to “fix” it, and if there’s a natural or chemical balance to be had.

When it comes to autism, there are still more questions than answers.

Other things I’m learning about:

Strep Carriers

Some healthy seeming people walk among us with live streptococcus housed in their bodies all the time. No fever, sore throat or symptoms…except for the nasty part about being contagious. Yeah, there’s that. Dogs are commonly – or rarely, depending upon your health care provider – strep carriers. It can be difficult to clear a strep carrier of the virus.

Occult Strep

Strep can hide in a person’s body. Your urethra, for example. Ready to lash out as soon as the latest round of meds are gone. While wreaking havoc in the form of:


Not the cute cuddly black and white bears. This acronym stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections and affects children who’ve recently had the strep virus. Symptoms include tics, rashes, a sudden change in mood and disposition, increased OCD and separation anxiety. Symptoms subside weeks…or months…after the child’s last bout with the virus.

Some doctors believe PANDAS is a made-up ailment, as disputers claim about the next condition:


Studies now indicate the sometimes hyperactive inability to focus/listen/learn associated with Attention Deficit Disorders has a physiological basis related to Parkinson’s Disease. Both conditions are marked by ineffective production and maintenance of appropriate levels of dopamine.

And hyperactivity (the “H” in ADHD) is treated with a stimulant. Which raises the levels of dopamine in the body, easing symptoms of the condition, like, for example:

Speed Processing; It’s a Thing

The rate at which one’s mind operates is an actual, diagnostic condition. There are official tests that quantify the mind’s agility and exercises to improve the speed (in a typically developing brain) at which neurons fire.

When I was young, “retarded” was a clinical description. The “short bus” and her occupants were mysterious and, in our ignorance, a little scary. Nobody talked about “learning differences.” Some people were smart and the rest of us were low IQ, average, slow…or just plain stupid.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Happy Family, c.1970

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"He's Trying to Tell Us Something..."

Too sick to celebrate a birthday
Wonder Boy whined as he woke. Whimpered as he dressed. Raged at the table. He refused to play with his toys, demanded constant attention, asked to be picked up, held, squeezed.

At school, he threw himself to the ground and cried. In therapy, silent tears coursed down his cheeks.

We brought his talker to him; guided his fingers. “Something hurts,” the machine intoned. “It’s my…” His finger hovered over the bright page of highlighted body parts.

Stomach? Head? Teeth? Did he fall? Did someone hurt him?

A therapist noted a rash on his backside.

He sweats; he sits for a long time on the potty; he has sensitive skin.

Wonder Boy’s lower lip quivered. He knocked his talker to the floor. Shook his head. Stomped his feet. Flailed. Finally, his chest filled with air. He opened his mouth and screamed. High pitched, long and loud.

In desperation and on a Sunday, Super Daddy took Wonder Boy to the doctor.

It seems Wonder Boy had strep throat.

About a week after beginning the medicine, Wonder Boy’s sweet personality returned. He played independently with his toys. Sat with his books. Participated in school activities; aced therapy programs.

Super Daddy dutifully took Wonder Boy to a follow up doctor’s appointment. The strep test was negative.

All was well. Until Wonder Boy again refused to go outside, stopped asking for his toys, rejected the trampoline; whined.

“…he’s trying to tell us (something) with his behavior…”

Communication barriers make life difficult for conscientious people with incompetent co-parents and is a recipe for trouble to parents of teenagers. But the ability to communicate is stolen by illness, disease and genetic differences like Parkinson’s, stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s and is a common side effect of autism.

The ability to communicate is one of those things a person doesn’t fully appreciate until it’s gone.

How did the kids do this weekend? Are they eating and sleeping? Anybody sick?

Are you angry? Sad? Frustrated? Do you want to read a book? Play with trains? Are you hot? Hungry? Is your bath water too cold? Do you have to pee? Is your sweater scratchy? What do you want for lunch?

Where do you hurt?

In desperation and on a Sunday, Super Daddy took Wonder Boy back to the doctor where Wonder Boy was again diagnosed with strep throat.

Recurrent strep infections may be caused by repeated exposure, antibiotic resistance, neglecting to finish the medication, carrier status and in rare instances, contact with dogs.

With medicine, Wonder Boy’s sweet personality returned. He sat with his books, showed interest in his toys, played independently, stepped outdoors, giggled and laughed.

Wonder Boy placed a palm on each of my cheeks. He smiled into my eyes and spoke.

The words were unformed, but they were neither script nor repetition. They were independent expression; his words.

My heart swelled with love. And hope.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Mom Job

It’s the hardest job I ever loved.

My kids were fed, watered, cleaned and clipped. Taught to read, write, compute and get along in polite society. Given direction, graduated independence, religious training, boundaries, love.

Meeting kids’ needs, supporting one’s co-parent/partner, maintaining a clean, safe home? It’s traditionally known as the Mom Job.

Of course, the Mom Job isn’t always Mom’s job. Sometimes Dad runs the house while Mom works. Unmarried teens and others get life done with help from extended family. Grandpa cooks, cleans and gardens while burping a coo-ing baby. Step-parents help raise a partner’s child. An army of nannies, maids, housekeepers, tutors, surrogates and wet nurses do for the 1% what one person does for the family in the real world.

And sometimes? When a parent hides behind her own insecurities and disengages from her children’s everyday, Grandma pitches in to help the parent-on-deck. With talker updates. Homework, tutors, meal planning, carpooling, grocery shopping, list making. After school buses, vacuuming, ironing, scrubbing toilets and the ever-present, never-done laundry, laundry, laundry.

I’ve been here before: teacher meetings, supply lists, sports events, birthday parties, play dates, homemade Halloween costumes, classroom Valentines, car repairs, doctor appointments.

Hubby and I argued then about money and who got to mow the grass (while the other watched the babies). I was frequently and irrationally mad at him for having a job where he conversed with grownups in the outside world. While I wiped pee off the bathroom wall, cleaned snot from headboards and scraped chairs free of crusted spaghetti sauce.

I wasn’t perfect. I was addicted to a soap opera called The Guiding Light. I told my kids Reese’s Cups and Diet Coke were grownup-only delicacies and if they partook hair would grow on their chests. Afternoons, my son sat in his bed for two hours until his sisters outgrew naptime. While I closed the blinds, unplugged the phone, ignored the doorbell, ate chocolate from a bag and watched tv.

One minute my babies played naked in the backyard pool. The next they were riding bikes through the neighborhood, going on dates, graduating high school, doing college, moving across country, getting married.

When my kids left home, I studied languages, ran 5k’s and a marathon. Got a job. Played piano. Joined a writer’s group, attended conferences and seminars. Wrote and sold articles and short stories. Travelled the world.

And then? The most amazing opportunity changed everything:

The Mom Job is different as a grandma. I need authorization to talk to teachers. I don’t sign permission slips or school notes. I have no responsibility, make no final decisions. I don’t attend IEP meetings or family therapy sessions.

I do meet buses. Oversee time tests and piano lessons, clean toilets, fold clothes. I’m the Mom-Behind-the-Curtain; a soft-lapped worker-bee.

I am the Nonnie-Nanny.

My refrigerator is stocked with mac’ncheese, popsicles, fish sticks, fruit. I know the names of the Thomas the Train trains. I own a copy of “Everybody Poops.”

It’s the hardest job I ever loved. Again.

Luckiest grandma ever.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Diagnosis Glasses

Amaze Girl scribbled. She wrinkled a corner of the paper. She wiggled in her seat and fidgeted with her shoe. She stared out a window.

I sighed. Impatience niggled at me. Babe, I said. Look here.

She startled. Rotated her attention back to the page in front of her.

Hey, look here.

She sighed. Shook her head. Tapped her pencil. Turned. Her eyes rolled to my ear, slid along my forehead, down the side of my face.

Babe, I said. Focus. My fingertips tapped the area just above my cheeks.

She opened her eyes wide until her irises were surrounded by white. Raised her chin. Frowned.

Now she was looking at me - more or less.

The assignment was math; double digit subtraction with borrowing. She knew how to do this. Why was it taking so long to complete?

Was the problem an innate inability to focus? Poor attention, slow thinking processes, ADD/ADHD, early exposure to lead? Bad attitude, ineffective effort? Low self-esteem? Does she watch too much tv, eat too much sugar? Need to run, more positive reinforcement, extra practice?

Sure, there could be other concerns to address.

But first? It seems Amaze Girl couldn't see.

If your child has a vision problem, he or she may act out in certain ways…be inappropriately or appropriately diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD or ADHD. Some children appear to learn normally but become frustrated quickly.

Amaze Girl's first eye test was done in a medical doctor's office and showed nearly perfect vision. It took a moment but she read all the tiny numbers. Saw all the big letters.

Amaze Girl's second eye test, completed by an optometrist while her eyes were dilated, revealed a significant need for visual correction. Or in the words of one technician, "Whoa!"

"A typical child's eye muscles are strong," said the optometrist. "Muscles expand and contract, move. When muscles work hard to compensate for a visual impediment it can be a cause of focus and attention issues in school." He smiled. "Dilation inhibits the muscles' ability to adjust so we can read her true prescription."

Amaze Girl is far sighted, which means her eyes focus easily on far-away objects. When she turns her attention to objects that are close up, her eyes require time to adjust. They'd labor again every time she glanced away/turned back.

After a while, the exhausted organs would be done for the day. Even if Amaze Girl was not.

If there is a problem in how easily or quickly our eyes focus, that visual problem is called an accommodative dysfunction…children have a large amount of focusing capacity…(but) may be unable to quickly change the focus of their eyes from near to (far)...

With glasses, Amaze Girl's handwriting improved. Her intellectual endurance lengthened. Since she no longer had to wait for her eyes to adjust and refocus her reading was more fluid.

I held up my camera. Hey, Babe, look here, I said.

And immediately, without hesitation? She did.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Searching for Mojo

The following is an edited version of a blog originally published in September, 2012 when hubby and I lived in Doha, Qatar, a tiny peninsula shaped country in the Arabian Gulf. Where I spent my days studying Arabic, assuming my way into the culture and writing about it.

Mojo: muse, inspiration, drive, motivation; a person's "umpf"

Oppressive humidity ran my mojo off.  I wallowed a while.  Ate expensive M&M's from Spinney's, ie, the Middle Eastern 7-11, binge-watched Breaking Bad on my computer and ignored writing projects, research opportunities, Arabic homework. Finally the day came when the cupboards were bare. Test approaching. I'd watched all the episodes. Publication was imminent.

Time to find the runaway and drag her home.

I headed into the desert.


Welcome to my Doha summer. Where humidity sucks moisture from the body until all that's left are teeth, toenails and wet clothes. Where Mojo tempts with blue desert skies, taunts with freezing inside temperatures, mocks with unresearchable ideas, teases with a writing sale or two (or three), then…runs away.

I climbed a mountain of sand. Glittering grains danced across the dune's lip, tumbled into the crescent and collided. The sand sang.

listen to the dune sing!
What makes a sand dune sing? Size, shape and texture of the grains is important. The dune should be shaped in a semi-circle, like a bowl. Granules must be in motion - and very, very dry.

Niagara Falls, but without the wet.

There are only 40 known singing dunes in the entire world and one of them is right here where I live in Doha, Qatar.

I pressed my fingers into the warm, gritty strand, lifted my face to the sun and listened as ideas circled my brain.

I laughed at Mojo.

Now I know where you live.