Dec 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Pictures (and Five Years)

Today is Quinn’s 14th birthday. It’s pretty fabulous for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being; I have managed to raise a child to teenagehood.  And he’s a pretty great kid at that.

But as I have manically bought presents, arranged entertainment, organized cupcakes and lunch to be delivered to him at school... I have reflected on the birthdays past.

It started when my BFF posted this:  We still speak of the most epic birthday bash ever. Happiest birthday wishes & the biggest hugs & most love ever to our little Quinny.

She is speaking, of course, about Quinnapalooza.  When Quinn was eight, he entered an essay contest for Nickelodeon Universe’s Ultimate Birthday Party. You can read about it here: Quinnapalooza

Part of me still can’t believe he won. Out of 1,500 applicants, they chose him. I remember asking Nickelodeon’s head of marketing why they chose Quinn. I figured they had to have gotten essays from kids who were dying from some horrible disease, or kids who had never had a birthday party because their families were poor. Why Quinn?  Her answer?

Because he didn’t want to win it for him. He wanted to win it for all the kids he never got to invite to his other birthday parties.

Partying with 99 Friends

Quinn was the King of Third Grade for three whole months and then we moved to Michigan. Things got pretty bumpy there for a while.  He went from having an amazing group of friends and protectors to having, well, no one really.

When Quinn started 7th grade, there was a day when he sat down at a lunch table, and everyone got up and left. One girl who he had known from his previous elementary school saw him, and she left her table of friends and sat with him, so he didn’t have to eat his lunch alone. I remember him telling me that story and my heart breaking into a million pieces. 7th grade was hard for both mother and son.

This year, things are so different. Quinn has friends. Good friends. Friends he made all on his own. He even has a best friend, Ryon, who we want to adopt, we like him so much. So, for Quinn’s birthday, we brought in Jimmy John’s and cupcakes to surprise his friends.

King for the day
It’s hard to explain – the moms who have gone through this heartbreak will get it, and the moms who haven’t, won’t – but my heart swelled when I saw Quinn sitting at a table with a group of kids who had no idea treats were coming their way. They were there because they’re friends, and they eat together. I wanted to hug each one of them.

And then... the girl who had sat with Quinn when he was alone last year came up and said, “Wow! You have the coolest parents EVER!” And Quinn offered her a sandwich and a cupcake and I had to leave before I started to cry and embarrass the crap out of my 14 year old son.

Here’s to being King again, if only for today.

Oct 16, 2014

Win With Quinn!

Not quite one year ago, I had to finally make the decision to get Quinn evaluated, assessed, and the thing I had avoided for nearly 10 years of school – labeled – with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I’ve known since Quinn was but a wee lad he was a little “spectrumy” but, through tireless work with him on “social stories” (appropriate responses in social situations such as eye contact, body language, and communication), a wonderful school system in Minnesota which was willing to accommodate “Quinn’s Quirks”, and the benefit of very small classrooms once I moved him to the parochial school in Michigan – we never needed to go down that route. Not until his first year of middle school in the public school system.

As most adults will tell you, middle school is brutal. For a child who doesn’t understand the social nuances of a bunch of angsty teenagers, it’s even more so. At this time last year, Quinn was lonely, depressed, and borderline suicidal. Things were not going well and everything came to head in January of this year.

Not one to watch my precious, perfect-in-his-own-way, adorable son get beaten down by the ugliness that is middle school, I went into protective mode: we hooked Quinn into a fabulous church youth program run by a youth pastor with whom Quinn almost immediately formed a bond; we started meeting more often with his therapist; and I went to the school to get Quinn the accommodations he needs formalized and documented. He had three amazing teacher advocates – educators who took the time to get to know my kid, understand him, and connect with him (we love you, KC, RC, and KF-N!)

Almost immediately, things began to change. Quinn met some new people and started making friends – on his own! Trust me, for a child with ASD this is a huge development. He perked up, started communicating more, and became more positive. He matured in a huge way.

Fast forward to this school year.  Quinn successfully navigated 8th grade camp, his “friend circle” has grown to include so many people I have a hard time keeping track of all the names. Most importantly, Quinn has cultivated these friendships entirely on his own. It’s been an amazing journey.

This month, Quinn decided to run for student council. He had talked about it last year, but chickened out at the last minute, likely due to his low self-esteem and anxiety over his “new kid” status. We made up funny posters, hung them up all around the school, and he seemed pleased people liked his posters. We had several discussions over things like voting (“don’t forget to vote for yourself”), his platform (a buddy system for new kids), and the importance of school politics (“it looks great on a college application”).

When his funny posters got defaced with mustaches (kids!!), it was his sister who was steamed up about it. For him, it was water off a duck’s back. No big.

Today, Quinn handed out fun size candy bars (“Pick the Fun(size) Candidate & Win With Quinn!”) to his classmates. For a child with Asperger’s - that’s kind of a daunting task and he never thought he’d hand it all out – but by sixth hour it was gone. Kids were even wearing the removable stickers and saying “Win with Quinn!” in the hallways. He was beaming when I picked him up after school.

As we headed home, I started prepping him, “You know, it’s okay if you don’t win. There’s nothing to be upset about.”

“Mom! I know! And I am totally okay with it. Did I tell you kids were saying ‘Win with Quinn’ in the hallway? They came up and said they’d vote me! How cool is that?!?”

Dude. It is pretty cool indeed. No matter what the tally is, this was definitely a win for Quinn. I am proud every day to be this kid's mom.

Aug 5, 2014

I > You

Hello, dear Secret Readers. Welcome to the “new” blog. I’m glad you’re here.

I started this blog over three years ago as a personal diary of sorts. I’d started with notes on Facebook, but eventually wanted something a little bit easier to manage. Thus, Hovering at the Brink of Insanity was born.

I have always written. I don’t know exactly how many Young Author awards I won - but suffice it to say, there were a lot of them. I write to memorialize. I write to purge. I write to forget and remember (which is basically the same as memorialize and purge - but let’s try to look beyond that.) The first three posts in this blog were things I had written about on Facebook, and simply copied over. They were just funny stories about the kids.

Since I started this blog, I have had over 25,000 unique individuals read it. 25k! I don’t think our whole town has 25,000 people in it. I have had one of my posts picked up by a national magazine. I have had posts tweeted about and shared. This baffles and embarrasses me, I don’t know why. And yet, I secretly hope someday I will write something as awesome as this and it will land me a book deal.

Hope springs eternal.

Quinn and Claire’s teachers, my dad’s girlfriend, Peter’s family, my ex-husband - they all read my blog and tell me they enjoy it. I had a friend message me today and tell me, “I enjoy your rants. You are one of the best writers I know personally, and I lived in Hollywood surrounded by hacks who called themselves writers.”

I say all this, not to pat myself on the back, but to try and explain why I do this. I write for me. I like that people read it, and I like that people like it. But if no one read it - I’d still write. It’s part of who I am.

Yesterday, I found out that “someone” wrote a letter to my bosses and used this blog as proof that I am unfit to work for their organization. I say “someone” because the person who did this was a complete and utter coward (of course, bullies always are cowards) and sent their letter anonymously.

This person (and I think it’s an injustice to the human population to include them as part of the species) cherry-picked through my posts, copied portions of them, and used them as supposed proof as to my ability to perform my job. So they included the picture of my kids flipping the bird, but neglected to include the post wherein I explained that it was part and parcel of a life lesson discussion I had with my kids about swearing and inappropriate gestures.

They included the paragraph where I said I had 487 rum and cokes, but neglected to include the post where I said that the reason why was because I had just gone through the stress of the First Communion process with my two kids, it being the first major celebration/sacrament thing for them since I was divorced. And... really? If I really had 487 rum and cokes, I’d be dead - not writing blog posts.

They said that I provided my son with illegal pornographic material, but neglected to include the post where I said I bought my kid a Maxim magazine so he wouldn’t surf porn, and the whole “teachable moment” I created to talk to my teenager about sex.

What they didn’t include was the post I wrote about the amazing job my mom’s nurses did for her while she was in and out of the hospital before she died. They didn’t include my post about my friend’s son who was critically ill, nor the one I wrote after he died. They didn’t include the post I wrote about the little boy who died on his birthday and how hard it was to take Quinn to his first funeral. They didn’t include the posts I wrote about how terrifying it was to find out Claire has incurable brain disease, or about the dog who was being neglected, or about missing and abused children.

They didn’t say anything about the humorous posts: the ones about lice treatments and how I’m not a MILF and how kids are not toasters.

No. They claimed, “The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of the type of person you have as the voice of your organization, interacting with families, and conducting your workshops. After what I have read about Andrea, I am appalled that this person would be in the position of mentoring parents in building parent/professional partnerships. Her behavior and character are morally questionable and reprehensible.”

They tried to get me fired from a job that I love, that I’m GOOD at, that helps families in the community navigate the complicated special education system to make things better for their special needs children.

This was a person who didn't have concerns - they had a vendetta. And they tried to take away my livelihood because of it. And they tried to take away something I love doing - writing - because they cannot stand that people read what I write... and like it.

For the record, I am about 99.9% sure who this person is, or at least who they associate with. This isn’t the first time they have maliciously attacked me or my children, and it likely won’t be the last. But what I know and what I can do something about are very different things. Fortunately, Eric is going to speak with his attorney in Minnesota to find out what he can do to protect the kids, and I have a call in to my attorney as well.

I am *very* fortunate that my boss took the time to go through nearly two years of my blog posts. The coward that tried to get me FIRED was an idiot to include the link to my blog rather than just the photocopies of portions of posts. My boss said she found my writing clever, said I was talented, and said she didn't want me to just delete my blog. She's the one who told me how to make it private. She also complimented me on my parenting style, saying that it's obvious I am a very creative parent which is a good thing.

So, today, despite this “concerned parent’s” best efforts - I’m still here. I’m still writing. I am still going to mentor parents, educate the community through trainings, and build parent/professional partnerships. You didn’t win anything. You didn’t take anything away from me. And I am still better than you. Always.

Jul 21, 2014

Where is Sarah McLachlan When You Need Her?

UPDATE: I received pictures of this poor baby. The quality is blurry because the photographer was a little afraid of getting caught trespassing. I was told the dog is tied to the pipe, with no food, or water beyond what concerned citizens bring to it.

This post isn’t about me (shocking!) It’s about a little dog being abused/neglected in a little town in Michigan, and how the “authorities” don’t want to do anything about it. I’m hoping that social media can do what it sometimes does, and right a wrong.

My friend lives in Alpena, Michigan. I’ve known her, well, pretty much all my life. She is a lover of underdogs, human and otherwise. She’s a special education teacher, mother to two amazing kids, loving wife, and a friend to all animals, large and small.

Every day she drives by a field and sees this poor little dog, neglected in a huge empty field. Every. Day. This poor fur-baby of unknown pedigree has only a plastic house for shelter. In the heat of summer, with nothing to shade it, the temperature of that house must exceed 120 degrees. In winter, I can’t begin to imagine how cold it is.

Every day my friend stops to make sure this little guy has food and water. She’s talked to the so-called owner of this “pet” and he laughs and tells her to move along. The owner knows that no one is going to do anything to him.

I hope that doesn’t stay true.

My friend, this lover of creatures in need, worries about him. She goes and talks to him. She says he wags his tail at her. Her heart breaks. She’s worried about ticks. She’s debated stealing him in the dead of night (a move I encouraged) but personal circumstances (and, unfortunately, morals) prevent her from doing so.

A few days ago, she discovered that another person was as concerned about this little guy as she was. So concerned, she wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Alpena paper in hopes that someone would save this poor animal’s life.  Apparently, no one wants to officially help.

So let’s see if we can change that.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, when you notice an animal suffering from cruelty, abuse, or NEGLECT, you are to notify the police and the proper animal welfare agency.  

Well - it just so happens I know how to Google.

You can call the Alpena County Sheriff's Department at 989-354-9839. Please tell them that you have become aware of a small dog being a victim of extreme neglect, located near 6422 Werth Road in Alpena, Michigan 49707

You can also call the Huron Humane Society at (989) 356-4794 or email them at

I would also recommend emailing the Humane Society of the United States at this address: and/or calling them at 866-720-2676 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., or Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time.

According to the HSUS, law enforcement can get involved.   “The officer may speak with the owner and issue a citation and give the owner a chance to correct the violation.”

“If the neglect or abuse is extreme, a humane agency may take custody of the animals to protect them. The agency will present the case to the prosecutor's office for further evaluation and possible prosecution.”

Please. Do what you can to help. Call the officials whose job it is to serve and protect these animals. This little dog deserves more than to die in a field all alone, especially when there are people in the community willing to take him in and love him.

Don’t make me play the video.

Jul 15, 2014

Chasing Beauty

A friend tagged me in a post today on Facebook. It requested (required, encouraged, obligated...) me to post five pictures of myself in which I felt beautiful. I responded that, while her pictures were indeed beautiful, I would be opting out.

I have never been beautiful. I am not saying that in the coy way some women use in order to garner compliments. I know what I am, and I know what I am not. I am not beautiful.

In thinking about writing this post, I wondered if, in my formative years, I was ever told I was beautiful. If I was, I don’t remember it. But I don’t think so. I seem to recall “cute” - maybe “pretty” - but “beautiful” doesn’t spark any memories for me. It is not as though my mother didn’t know how to say the word, she thought both of her sisters were beautiful. She mentioned one of my friends was beautiful. But me? No. I don’t think that was ever a word connected to me.

My high school friend was (and still is) beautiful. Julee, of the huge, expressive blue eyes, the blond hair, the golden skin. She has this breathy voice that makes everything she says sound sweet, and maybe a little sexy. Growing up, she is what I thought beauty was.

In my 20s, the twosome of Becky and Traci - they were my beauty ideals. Becky is the friend my mom said was beautiful. “So beautiful, she doesn’t seems real” is how my mom described her. Hair like a rain of dark silk, flashing dark eyes, ruby red lips, and skin like porcelain. She looked like a priceless doll. She still does.

Traci was fierce. She has a black belt in karate. Wide greenish eyes, hair drawn tightly back, lips that would put Angelina Jolie’s to shame. She exuded an “I don’t give a shit” attitude behind a facade that was uniquely gorgeous. This was beauty to me.

In my 30s and now, it’s my friend Tammi. She has eyes that are like topaz. Yellow, like a lioness. Who the hell can rock yellow eyes? Hair that has been a rainbow of colors and always manages to be stunning. A wide smile of perfect, white teeth (and she never had braces). And, let’s face facts, the bitch is still a size two after giving birth to three children. She is beautiful.

I’m not. I never have been. The closest I ever came to it was on my wedding day to my kids’ dad. I felt... more than pretty that day. At least for a little while. One time, I asked my then husband what he thought when he saw me walking down the aisle? His response? This man who wrote me poetry and had a heart full of romance took the first time I ever knowingly fished for a bit of romantic prose and replied, “Nice tits.” Eh. So much for that.

It’s strange for me, this concept of beauty. I don’t often tell Claire she is beautiful. Not because I don’t think she is (I do), but because so many people say she looks so much like me, that it leaves me with the queasy feeling I’m calling myself beautiful. So I say she is strong. She is smart. She is kind. And I leave the label of beautiful for special times when I know she feels it herself.

Five pictures. Too many. Too hard. But here’s what I’ve got.

I have a picture with this man. I don’t feel beautiful, but it doesn’t stop him from saying it, every day.

These two children. They’re beautiful and they’re mine.

Okay yes... it’s the 80s. And I’m wearing a hoop skirt. And the whole thing is just too precious for words. But, it was the first time I’d ever really dressed up in my life and I felt like a movie star. So... this. Yup.

Sorry for the poor quality but after the age of 14 I started avoiding having my picture taken.I don’t know if I felt “beautiful” in this picture, but I know I loved how my hair turned it. Yes... I had “the Rachel”. And I rocked it.

These are my Minnesota friends, Tammi and Julie. I never look very good sitting between the two of them, but in this ONE picture I actually held my own. It was an ugly sweater party, so that kind of figures.

I will never be beautiful. But I am funny, smart, strong, and witty. And that’s okay with me.

Jul 7, 2014

What Happens If The Drama IS Your Mama?

Since the 4th of July, I have endured a heated, acrimonious email battle with another mother - complete with insults to my person and my parenting style, and accusations that I am a manipulative instigator.  Why, you ask? Because my 11 year old daughter invited her friend to join her for an honor roll celebration at Great Wolf Lodge.

Crazy, right?

Let’s back track.

For the two months before school got out, Claire was struggling grade-wise, and her honor roll status was in jeopardy.  School is VERY important in this house, and, as I like to say, the kids have ONE job - to succeed in school. They don’t have a ton of assigned chores outside of keeping their rooms cleaned (although they are expected to help when I ask), because I expect them to devote their time and energy to their classwork.

Yes - I know that Claire has the whole incurable brain disease thing working against her, but we have a plan in place to address those difficulties. She wasn’t using the services provided to her and she was doing badly. So badly, that she was grounded for a week from pretty much everything - the first time she had ever been grounded - because of poor performance. After that “Come to Jesus” moment, (miraculously!) Claire was able to bring ALL her grades up by the end of the school year, achieve honor roll, and she also received the President’s Award for Academic Achievement. Hurrah!

Quinn also busted butt this school year. He had a personal goal to achieve the All A honor roll in the last trimester. He ended up missing it by one point - but his dedication to the task was worthy of reward as well.

The reward? Quinn and Claire were each allowed to select a friend to bring with them for an overnight stay at Great Wolf Lodge. Swimming, Magi Quest, fun, and frivolity for all! Claire loves e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. so choosing just ONE friend to invite was difficult. Finally, she decided to invite Emily, Peter’s daughter. And that’s where things got messy.

See, Peter and his ex have been embroiled in a contentious, acrimonious, litigious, and (IMHO) ridiculous battle for the past 4.5 years. It has been costly, both emotionally and financially, for all parties involved. As much as humanly possible, I try to stay out of it. This is not my battle, nor my drama. However, since his ex has attacked me and my children in both the courtroom and the court of public opinion, I have been forced to defend myself at times. It’s gotten so ugly, my ex-husband has retained legal counsel in order to protect our children and me from her attacks. I mean, we’re talking a whole new level of cray-cray.

Despite all this, the girls, Claire and Emily, are friends. They are only 8 months apart and have several similar interests: WebKinz, loom bracelets, and Animal Jam among them. They frequently “hang out” on the computer, chatting and playing their games. Sometimes the kids will meet at the local playground to hang out in real life. It’s obvious they enjoy one another’s company, so it didn’t surprise me that Claire wanted to invite her as her guest to Great Wolf Lodge. However, knowing how things can go south so fast when dealing with Peter’s ex, I felt that it would be better... safer... if I asked Emily’s mother first, before Claire invited Emily. I sent an email, explaining that Claire had earned a trip to GWL and wanted to invite Emily, and if it would be okay. She replied that it sounded like something Emily would enjoy. Good enough! Claire got to ask Emily, the girls were really excited, and all was well in the world! Yay!


Two days later, at midnight on the 4th of July, I receive a nastygram from Emily’s mother, angry that Quinn and Peter were going to GWL as well, pissed that I hadn’t invited Emily’s younger brother, and informing me that Emily could not go because she was sobbing and guilt stricken because her brother wasn't invited too. Wait... what?

Like I said... the girls being friends gets messy.

See - I look at it like this: There are times where the girls do “something” between friends - a birthday party, a sleepover, a reward celebration - those are situations where Claire is asking to spend time with Emily. When those situations arise, I am the one who communicates with Emily’s mother.  The are other times - a camping trip, a Halloween celebration, a trip to the pool at Crystal Mountain - where it’s visitation with Peter and his kids, and HE makes those arrangements with his ex. To me, this occasion seemed pretty clear - Claire was inviting Emily as her guest for her celebration, the same way Quinn invited his classmate as his guest. It never occurred to me to invite Daniel because this wasn’t parental visitation - this was Claire inviting her friend, who just so happened to be Peter’s daughter.

Through the course of all of this, I found out that Emily’s mother was using Emily as the tool to interrogate my child in order to perpetuate her fight with Peter and me. And that’s where things really became NOT okay with me. Peter’s ex pimped out her own daughter to question mine in order to create a huge, allegedly tear-filled, drama-drenched fight. All so she could deny Emily an opportunity to do something fun with her friend, Claire, and do so under the guise of me being a horrible, cruel, manipulative mother for taking MY son along to the honor roll celebration, but not taking HER son too.

The thing is, I don’t make my children do everything together. They are individuals, and thus need to develop individual friends, interests, and attitudes. They aren’t conjoined twins, they are two separate people, and I treat them that way.  They both do acting classes, but I won’t let them be in the same class. Quinn goes to (and loves) his youth group, and although Claire has begged for months to be able to go too, I won’t let her. That is Quinn’s thing to enjoy, without his annoying little sister tagging along. Heck, I signed them both up for sailing class but Claire is doing the morning one and Quinn the afternoon so they can have some time apart. Quinn has his birthday parties without Claire, and vice versa, and it’s been that way for years. They do family things with each other, like weddings, vacations, etc., and friend things apart. Simple, right?

This just seemed so clear in my head - this was Claire and Quinn inviting their friends, not a blended family outing. It never occurred to me that Peter’s ex would make Daniel out to be some pathetic, excluded victim and Emily would be made to feel like she was a horrible, selfish sister for wanting to go do something fun with her friend. What kind of mother creates those kinds of emotions in their kids?

For 4.5 years I have dealt with this... person... calling me horrible names, spreading lies about me and my family, attacking my children. I have watched her belittle and disparage her children’s father again and again, in public and in private. And have I mentioned the lies? I have had complete strangers come up and tell me the things she has told them about me, my family, my life. And I’ve stayed silent (mostly). But this? This is about screwing over a kid to further her own ridiculous, vindictive, and cruel agenda. I’m disgusted, furious, and appalled.

Six ugly emails later and the result is, the girls’ friendship is irreparably harmed, as Emily’s mother sits, like a fat spider in her web of lies, happy with that result. It’s what she likely wanted all along.  How sad.

Jun 1, 2014

Dear Parent or Guardian

You know those really organized Moms who keep track of all their kids extracurricular activities, remember when the class snack day is, know when the field trips are (and where they are going), and just generally have it goin’ on?

Yeah - I’m not one of those Moms.

I’m the Mom who forgot preschool “Wear Red Day” for four years straight - two years with each kid. Well - actually I remembered for Claire’s second year of preschool, but didn’t want to break my perfect losing record, so I sent her to school in pink instead.

I’m THAT Mom.

To wit, I have a stack of mail from the school, all addressed “To Parent or Guardian”. My thought has always been, if it were really important, it would have my name on it. For the most part, my theory has served me well. Not perfection, but I’m aiming more for middle-of-the-road anyway.

At 8 o’clock this evening, I’m sorting through my stacks of school mail, my letters from the college, my work stuff, and all Claire’s medical crap, trying to find out when the 5th grade field trip is. Claire is very much looking forward to this trip, and I am worried it’s on the same day she’s going to Ann Arbor for her angiogram.

As I’m shuffling through the detritus of at least 100 murdered trees, I find yet another “To a Parent or Guardian” letter. It was sent to me back on May 20th, and I am fairly certain that I didn’t look at this letter, because it is the one notifying me that Claire is going to be a recipient of the President’s Award for Educational Achievement.

What the... what?

Claire? My Claire? My sweet, hard-working kid who has practically killed herself simply to remain on honor roll since her surgery and despite all her strokes? That Claire? The one who dropped from an A+ to a D in Social Studies this trimester, and has worked her butt off to bring it back up to a B in the past week? That kid? But... she’s not all A’s. She barely managed to get herself back onto the A/B honor roll.

And then I read this:

“The purpose of this award is to recognize students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment or intellectual development in their academic subjects but do not meet the criteria for the President's Award for Educational Excellence. The criteria for this award is:

  • Show tremendous growth but did not meet all the criteria for the President's Award for Educational Excellence.
  • Demonstrate unusual commitment to learning in academics despite various obstacles.
  • Maintain a school record that would have met the school's selection criteria for the President's Award for Educational Excellence but illness, personal crisis, or special needs prevented the student from maintaining such high standards despite hard work.”

Oh. Okay. Yep - that’s my kid. Holy crap! She’s getting an award! She had no idea! I had no idea! We need to get her a dress. We need to get me a dress. HOLY CRAP!

She went to bed floating on a cloud of academic achievement. I’m sitting on my bed, typing this post, floating on my own cloud of parental pride.  Except...

Can someone please tell me when the 5th grade field trip is? Because I’m still THAT Mom.

May 26, 2014

Let It Go

At the doctor - Chillin' like a villain
On April 15th, we found out Claire’s neurologist suspected her pial synangiosis surgery wasn’t as effective as we’d understood it to be. Whether Claire’s father Eric, Peter, and I all misunderstood what Claire’s neurosurgeon told us in January (which seems a bit unlikely) or if we were misled - the reality is the blood flow on Claire’s right side of her brain is still severely blocked and she’s not where we thought she was.

Since Claire’s original neurosurgeon has left his Michigan practice, we met with the new neurosurgeon he’d recommended at the University of Michigan. At our consultation earlier this month, we were told it was unclear if Claire’s first surgery was working and Claire needed to undergo additional testing to clarify that issue. We also heard the news I hoped we’d never hear - Claire’s Moyamoya disease is developing on the left side of her brain and she would need additional surgery in the near future.

I admit it - when I got that news all I wanted to do was scream. Kick people. Throw things. I want to punch people who complain that their Starbucks wasn’t made right. The drama creators, the vaguebookers, the whiners, the complainers... I want to run them over with my car. Having a child in a near-constant state of medical crisis has stoked the fires of my vengeful side. I want to infect all the children whose parent’s take them for granted with something terrible so those parents know the fear and anxiety and worry I do - and then I feel awful for feeling that way. Unless you’ve dealt with a critically ill child, you can’t understand what I feel. But I can’t help it - I’m just. so. mad. I stomp around the house. I shout. I hate everyone.

Then I look into the faces of my kids and I realize, I can’t do this. I have to pull myself together and deal because if I don’t - how can they?

Today Claire asked what’s coming up this week. I told her she didn’t have any doctor’s appointments or testing this week and she was so excited. This led to a discussion about what’s coming up next week - an angiogram. For some reason, Claire is really concerned about this procedure. The upcoming brain surgery, however, she’s still not talking about.

I tried my best, in layperson’s terms, to explain what an angiogram is, and why she shouldn’t be worried about it. Quinn hung out for the description - since he likes all things science. I answered any questions she had as best I could and then we got to talking about what the upcoming brain surgery, or surgeries will mean to her. What her prognosis and life expectancy is. That she’s gotten through it before, and she will again. And someday... someday... this will all be behind her and she can be “normal”.

We had a bit of a laugh... Claire hates the drug Versed. It’s what doctors use for “twilight sleep” and while most people enjoy the buzz (Quinn was absolutely hysterical to watch on Versed when he went in for his adenoidectomy) Claire despises it. I explained to her my theory about why she hated it so much - because she’s my darling little control freak, queen of Type A tweeners. Versed makes her feel like she’s out of control and she hates it. I told her I intended to tell the doctors she doesn’t like Versed very much, but she might be given it anyway. If she is, I said she was to relax, close her eyes, embrace her inner Frozen princess, and just... Let It Go.

She laughed.

As most of these types of family talks do - it led to some discussion of what type of behavior and attitude I expected from her, and how things are going to be. Then I told her... “Claire, you have faced more challenges and adversity before age 11 than some people face their whole life, and you’ve faced it with a shrug and a smile. Which makes you pretty fantastic in my book.”

The reality is, I can think of many adults who’ve not faced half of what this child has handled with aplomb, and they act like every little bump is the most egregious thing in the universe. While I can’t speak to whether or not that makes them ridiculous or my child amazing -- all I know is she’s a thousand times the human being that I could ever be.

Mar 20, 2014

Happy Happy Happy

It’s “Happy Day of Endless Facebook Notifications” to me.  I had originally intended to turn the ability to post on my wall off, but people started messaging me, so I turned the feature back on. I’m a bit OCD about messages, and I was worried I’d end up having 200 chat conversations.

When I was a child, birthdays meant being woken up by my father picking me up out of bed, and dropping me back into it. Several times. And then perhaps being beaten over the head with a pillow for good measure.  I would walk downstairs and the entire kitchen would be decorated with signs my father had drawn, with stick people doing inappropriate things.  Dad was the king of inappropriate stick people.

It was lasagna and pink cake, both made by my mom.  Dad didn’t much care for lasagna, so it was a once-a-year treat. I remember in my early 20s suggesting that maybe we switch things up for my birthday and have something else for dinner, and my mom practically cried. She wanted her once-a-year special baked pasta, and my birthday was the excuse to have it, dammit.

As I got older, birthdays started to mean less and less. It felt like just another day on the calendar. Oh, I liked the presents... and going out for a nice dinner with the boyfriend of the week was nice. But it stopped feeling special.  Until...

For my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to do something special. My then-husband and I traveled back to my post-college hometown, Grand Rapids, to gather together with friends old and new, eat at my favorite restaurant (San Chez Bistro), get drunk on Sangria, and celebrate.

It was a helluva celebration because... nine months later, along came Quinn. And with his arrival came the departure of my birthday celebrations. I think once I became a Mom, it sort of became all about the kids, and less about me.  A gift was a shower and a nap, and good take out being delivered.

This year, I’ve been sick since the end of January.  Nothing major, just the same old asthma flare ups I get every year. But it’s sticking around as steadfastly as the snow, and I’m, well, crabby is an understatement. I’m somewhere between “raving bitch” and “complete lunatic”.

It’s been a long winter.

But the day dawned and a happy birthday was wished to me numerous times by people I love and who love me. I grumped about it for a little while, and then I got to thinking how lucky I am.

I am here, when many people I cared about are not.

My kids are here: happy, healthy, and thriving.

I have a man who loves me and does his best to take care of me, especially when I’m too distracted to take care of myself.

I have a friends who support me, love me, laugh with and at me, and enrich my life in every way.

I have a job in my field, doing what I love, with coworkers I adore.

I’m doing well in college. I never thought I’d go back and finish - it felt too intimidating. Now, with the guidance of my friend and advisor (taskmaster) Lisa, I am not only planning on finishing - my final goal is Dr. Andrea Sargent, Ph.D.

I’ve got it pretty good.

So, yes. Break out the confetti - bring on the cake. It’s my birthday, bitches! Let’s celebrate!!

Mar 7, 2014


On the bright side, her hair looks fabulous.
Because I love to overshare...

Yesterday was an exciting day because, for the first time in my life, I bought a car without the benefit of father or husband doing all the dirty work for me. I knew what I wanted, haggled it down enough to make the salesman cry, and was done with the whole shebang in 2 hours.  It may sound stupid, but I felt kind of (I know the word is SO overused but...) empowered!

Dropped off the future Oscar winner to carpool for play practice, then took my best girl out for a girl's night dinner. A lovely evening... until...

Got the princess home and in the shower. Suddenly, a tremulous voice... "Mom???"

Uh oh.

Went in to the bathroom to see what might cause that fear in the princess's voice and she is holding out a finger, with a giant lice (louse?) on it.  "What is THIS?"

Remember when I gave up swearing for Lent? Yeah. That promptly went out the window.

I may or may not have screamed "THAT'S LICE!!!!"  Which may or may not have been what caused Claire to hysterically begin shrieking.  Which she did not stop doing for the next three hours. Have I ever mentioned that Claire is not supposed to cry. Like, ever? Awesome.

To make matters worse (so. much. worse.) we had been told in September at our neuro's office that, because of various brain surgery reasons, lice (and their toxic treatments) are more than just an annoyance or inconvenience for us... they have the potential to make Claire *very* sick. So she was certain she was dying.

I called Peter at work (I'm sure it was hard to hear me over all the shrieking) to go get Every. Lice. Treatment. Rite Aid sells. Every. One.

Then I had to call Claire's neuro team - who were not very happy. More awesome.

And then I had to call the moms of the kids who Claire spent the night with at the overnight sleepover last week. No one wants to give, or receive, that call. I felt like the worst Mom ever. The moms I spoke to were so kind... but I imagine if they find a bugger in their kid's hair - they will be cursing my name. I don't blame them.

I have no idea who Patient Zero is... but he or she are givers. And, ewwwww.  And it sucks because we're so hyper-vigilant about this stuff due to Claire's medical condition.

Four hours later, after pulling out a fair majority of her hair with the metal nit comb, using up two boxes of lice treatments (which did, in fact, make her ill for a few hours), an entire bottle of olive oil, an entire bottle of tea tree oil, an entire jar of mayonaise, scrubbing her multiple times with rosemary mint soaps and shampoo, I finally fried the suckers with my fancy-schmancy flat iron that heats up to 450 degrees and sent the exhausted princess to bed with a lovely 'do rag on her head.

And by bed I mean the couch, from which all pillows had been removed. She's had all her (thousands) of stuffed animals taken away and either scalded in hot water, or frozen outside - not to be returned for two weeks. I bug bombed her room and shut the door with clear instructions that she isn't allowed to enter until Tuesday.  I sprayed every surface in our house with lice killer. Every towel, sheet, and article of clothing she has touched in the past week has either been thrown away, or boiled in hot water and toasted in a hot dryer.

And then this morning, we got up and did the whole thing all over again, for another two hours. No crying this time. She is either too exhausted, or too resigned. Mom is on a mission, and Claire is just going to have to deal. And, at last check, she appears to be all clear. Not a bug (big or small) to be found.  Thank God.

Fortunately, Quinn, Peter, and I seem to be okay. We keep checking (and are treating just to be on the safe side) but it seems Claire was their favorite tasty victim.

But just to be clear... that no-swearing thing? Over it. And I'm not giving up booze or chocolates either. I have a feeling, God understands.

Feb 28, 2014

Becoming Real

“'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

When Quinn was a roly-poly, dimpled cherub, all of about five months old, I had him wedged in the shopping cart during a trip to the Meijer in Illinois. We were strolling through the baby aisles in search of bargains when I happened upon this weird stuffed animal pillow thing with a dog’s face. It had been tossed onto a random shelf and I picked it up to show it to Quinn.  His entire face lit up like the 4th of July and he began kicking and squealing and flailing away in that “MINE!” gesture typical of babies and toddlers.

I handed him the stuffed toy and he immediately plopped his drooling face down onto it, snuggled in, and started cooing. And I thought, “Uh oh.”

You see, we were poor in the way all first time parents are poor.  No one really explains to you, not really, how expensive babies are. It’s more than just diapers and formula (yes, Quinn was a formula baby). It was lotions and diaper cream and onesies and baby Tylenol and a million other things that seemed to pop up on a daily basis.  We were broke.  Stuffed animals were expensive and were a luxury we could not afford.

But Quinn bonded with this weird brown dog thing immediately. All the other stuffed toys that were given to us when he was born he showed absolutely no interest in. But this thing, I was already imagining the heartbreak of leaving it behind.

I started looking for a price tag. I was preparing myself for sticker shock of upwards of $50, and trying to figure out how I was going to explain to Quinn’s dad that I spent that much on an ugly stuffed dog. Because, of course I was going to have to buy this thing. Quinn was so obviously in love with it... I was going to have to.

Except... there was no price tag.

I started to look around the store, trying to find other stuffed animals like this one. He was one of a kind and Quinn was NOT going to let him go.  I gently tried to pry his chubby fists away from it, but he was not budging.  Quinn had claimed him for his very own.

Panicked, I approached a sales associate and asked her how much the thing was. Quinn wouldn’t let go enough for me to even let the clerk get a good look at it. I must have been oozing desperation because the clerk took a good look at me, a good look at the fat little boy who had this lovey clenched in both hands and said to me, “You tell the cashier that Marge said the price is $4.”

Every night of his life, for 13 years, Quinn has slept with who he eventually named Chewie.  He has slept with him in hospitals, and at friends’ houses. Chewie has traveled via plane, train, and automobile with us.  He has traveled to school and to Grandma’s house. He is part of our fire evacuation plan. He has been patched up and sewn back together and loved and loved and loved. He is never left behind.

Until today.

Today Quinn packed up his sleeping bag, his pillow, and Chewie, preparing to go to his very first middle-school lock in. And as he placed Chewie on top of his pillow, getting ready to leave, he stopped and looked at him. He seemed to ponder him deeply. And then Quinn placed his hand on top of his constant companion of 13 years and said, “I think I’m going to leave Chewie home. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to him.”

So, I carried Chewie over to the sofa with promises that we’d take good care of him, my heart breaking a little bit.

Before he left, Quinn walked over, rubbed his hand over Chewie’s ear, then grabbed his backpack, and walked out the door.


“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

Jan 22, 2014


I wasn’t going to talk about this because, well, it’s awfully embarrassing.  But then yesterday while I was out shopping, a friend came up to me in the store and commented about my writing, and how much she enjoys reading it.  And she said, “I think it’s because you’re so brutally honest.”

I realized, if I’m not honest about everything, that’s not truly being honest. So... here goes.

This past Thursday I received the phone call from a principal that you don’t ever want to receive... your kid is in trouble, and you need to come get him.

I’m not going to go into a lot of the details of what Quinn did - to protect the innocent.  But, suffice it to say, he did a bad thing using some bad language that was, well, not very well received or much appreciated.

Well, shit. I have NO idea where he learned those words from.

Yes, I have a mouth that would embarrass most truckers.  I know it.  I’m not proud of it but, well, there it is. I swear. Sometimes an awful lot.

However, Quinn knows, and has known for quite some time, that those words are not appropriate to use in certain circumstances.  Slam your thumb in the cupboard at home and yell an emphatic s-word and we’re okay.  Drop an f-bomb in the school lunchroom? Not a very good plan.

I’ve also had lengthy conversations with both children about what hate words are (like “faggot”, “retard”, “gay”, and, of course, the n-word) and why they should never ever ever under ANY circumstances use that language. Ever.

So Quinn getting in trouble for using bad language - Mama was NOT happy.  And Quinn felt awful.  He was depressed, despondent, morose... So there have been many discussions and many meetings (with his therapist, his youth pastor, his grandfather, his principal, the dean of students, his father...) about how, just because he did a bad thing, it does not make him a bad person - it is what he does now that defines him.  A big part of that is accepting responsibility for what he did wrong, and trying to make amends.

Thus Quinn started on what we have been calling his apology tour.  First, he apologized to me. Unprompted, with big tears in those sweet brown eyes, he gave a pretty mature apology to his mother, which I have to admit must have been a little scary because I’m fairly certain I looked like I wanted to strangle him.  And it wasn’t one of those, “I’m going to say I’m sorry so I get out of trouble” apologies either. It was a sincere, “I really screwed up, I’m sorry for disappointing you, what can I do to fix this?” apologies.

That was a step in the right direction.

Then there was having to go back and face people at school.  That’s a pretty daunting thing for anyone - but for a kid like Quinn who doesn’t have a normal response to stressful situations, it’s especially difficult.  Quinn just isn’t able to shake things off like other people do.  He takes things far more personally, they hurt far more deeply, and take far longer to get over - if he ever does.  It causes him a lot of pain, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights, bitten-to-the-quick fingers, migraines, and queasy stomachs.  Life hurts kids like Quinn a lot.

And for the Mom watching him suffer, it hurts even more.

So, when I received a message from one of Quinn’s teachers that said, “...our kids will forever make us humble, and that doesn't mean they are bad people. Quinn is without a doubt a quality being. He made a mistake... It doesn't define him ...He is not at all a bad kid! He made a mistake. We all do that. Like I said, I have no idea what happened, but I still love that little guy. He's a great soul.”

I let Quinn read the message, and it made him not quite as scared to face the doors of OJ.

Today, Quinn met face-to-face with another of his teachers.  After they discussed Quinn’s assignments, Quinn took a deep breath, stood up straight, looked his teacher in the eye and said, “I want to apologize that my behavior caused me to miss your classes.”

His teacher stood up, came around the desk, shook Quinn’s hand and said something along the lines of “I don’t know what you did to get in trouble, and I don’t care. You’ve never behaved badly in my class, so we’re good.”  I’m paraphrasing because it was hard to get it exactly right, what with the tears in my eyes watching Quinn perk up and give his first truly genuine smile in several days.

Quinn then continued on with his apology tour by meeting with another teacher, with much the same response.  This teacher informed Quinn that no one had ever taken the time to apologize to her under similar circumstances, and how proud she was that he took the time and responsibility to do so.  Another big grin.

To those teachers who spoke so kindly to Quinn - you really have no idea how much that means to him.  Thank you so very very much.

It’s been a pretty rough couple days at the Sargent household.  But I think today the message really came through that it’s not the horrible things that happen to us (or that we do) that define us - it’s how we react to those horrible things that matter.

Redemption.  It feels pretty good.

Jan 11, 2014

Tiny Dancer

'85 Prom. Not awesome.
My 13 year old middle schooler had an “activity night” at school yesterday.  Back in my day, I think we called them school dances, but these activity nights have games, and they can play around in the gym, and sometimes they have the pool open. Anyway, I knew nothing about it because, of course, Quinn didn’t tell me.  When I asked him why not, he said he didn’t want to go. When I asked him why not again, he said he doesn’t really play basketball very well (so the gym thing is out), he’s not a great swimmer (so the pool thing is out), he’s not terribly interested in the games being played and... there’s that dancing part.

And then he got this weird, embarrassed look on his face and almost shouted, “I just didn’t want to go, alright?!?”

Hmmm. My mom-spidey-sense sprung into action. Do I sense a teaching moment?

See, not all my teaching moments have to do with flipping the bird, and girlie magazines.  This is one of those times where I felt it was important to get a social message across.  So I gathered the children together and began to discuss that most awkward of teenage milestones, the school dance.

First, I asked Quinn if he even knew how to “slow dance” with a girl.  Nope. No idea.  So Peter and I showed him the ungainly circle shuffle of our era: the boy places his hands at the girl’s waist, the girl throws her arms gracelessly upon the boy’s shoulders, and they slowly shuffle their feet while moving in a circle, mostly trying to avoid looking at each other or (God forbid!) talking to each other.

I really hated school dances.

I have no idea how it’s done now, but I imagine it’s not much different. Oh, I’m sure the fast dances have changed -- less jumping around, more twerking --  but I doubt slow dances have improved much over the decades.

Then we moved on to the anxiety-ridden part of the school dance: asking someone to dance.  I started my teaching moment with Claire.  Basing it upon my own school dance experiences, I told her that I didn’t care if the class toad - the kid who was a foot shorter than her and twice as wide, who smelled like cheese and sweat a lot - if he asked her to dance, she was to smile nicely and say, “Sure.”

When I was in middle school and high school, if I didn’t suddenly have to go to the bathroom when the slow songs came on, I would dance with anyone who asked me.  Not that many did, but if anyone asked, I would say yes.  Peter can actually attest to this.

See, I felt that if anyone had the courage to walk across the cafeteria - that wasteland of gawkiness - to ask me to spend 3 minutes shuffling across the floor with them while Spandau Ballet crooned what was “True” in the background, I wouldn’t negate that fearlessness by embarrassing anyone and laughingly telling them, “No way!”  Nope. Not gonna do it.  I takes a helluva lot of guts to walk up the the girl you sorta, kinda, maybe like a little bit and ask her - in front of all her friends - and that bravery should be rewarded, not made fun of.

So I told Claire I didn’t care who asked her to dance, she was to smile and say yes.  She didn’t have to dance every dance with that person - she could limit it to one. But she would say yes. And if her friends all laughed at her, or ewwwww’d her - she was to tell them that it take a lot of courage to do what that boy did, and she wasn’t going to be mean to him.  Maybe that message would get passed on to the mean girls. Maybe.

And then I talked to Quinn.  I told him that someday he was going to have to make that trek across the enemy lines to ask a girl to dance. That he should. And that, more than likely, the girl was going to laugh at him and say no. Because girls are bitches.  But that he should not let them stop him, and he should keep asking. Because, eventually, he was going to find that girl who was nice enough to dance with any boy who asked her.

Even if he is a foot shorter with sweaty palms.

And when the song was over, he needed to look her in the eye and tell her, sincerely, “Thank you for dancing with me.”  Because, at the end of the day, I still believe that graciousness and good manners will win over mean bitchiness.

So Quinn said that maybe next activity night he’ll go. And maybe he’ll even go to the dancing part. And maybe he’ll even ask a girl to dance. And if she turns him down, he’s just going to shrug it off and say okay. And not let it bother him. Because he’s cool with himself, which makes me so proud.

Just don’t expect me to chaperone. I hate school dances.