Help! I’m Stuck In Survival Mode!

My Arch Nemesis...The Laundry Hamper

My Arch Nemesis…The Laundry Hamper

The other day a very wise person told me that I am in “survival mode.” I found her statement incredibly enlightening because it is true; I am in survival mode. Survival mode in and of itself is not a terrible place to be.  I mean it’ s not as if I’m in Holy Shit! My Life is Crumbling to Pieces Right in Front of My Eyes mode.  I’ve been there before, so I would recognize that awful place.  Nope.  Thankfully I am not there. When you’re in that place, you feel like you’re a peasant from  the Dark Ages, living in a cruck house, suffering from scurvy and lice and just waiting for the Dear Lord, a neighboring warlord or the bubonic plague to take you out of your misery.   I am also not in Wow! Life is Really Freaking Great mode either.  No.  Not there, unfortunately. Survival mode should more accurately be called Just Barely Keeping My Head Above Water, But, Somehow I’m Managing mode, but that is far too long to either say or type over and over again, so survival mode it is. 

When you are in survival mode, you are still able to experience happiness.  You are still able to hold onto your hopes and dreams.  The problem is that when you are in survival mode, you are only able, in fact, you are often barely able, to make it through your day.  You have your hopes and dreams and plans, but you are unable to see any of them through because you are too busy, well, surviving.  I am too busy muddling through my daily life. Sometimes I don’t even do a very good job with those things that other mothers and homemakers seem to do with ease.

My children create messes faster than I can clean them, and, yes, they are responsible with cleaning up after themselves, but they can’t even keep up with the disasters they create.  I feel like I spend my days caught in the aftermath of a hurricane (this hurricane being a perfect scenario where two storms-Storm Jack and Storm Allegra- converge to create optimal devastation).  Meanwhile, I’m being chased by two tornadoes, whipping around and tossing shit all over the place.  It doesn’t help that Jack, due to some visual perception issues, tends to dump things out in order to find anything.  He doesn’t calmly sift through a drawer of clothes or a bin of toys to find a desired item.  No. In order to locate an item, he dumps everything out and spreads it all over the floor until desired item is found.  I have to say, there’s nothing like the sweet sound of an entire bin of Playmobile figures being dumped all over the floor. 

Never mind the kids, I can’t keep up with a laundry pile that has morphed into something like the blob from the 1958 horror sci/fi movie. Before, I can make a dent in the damned thing it grows and expands, dirty clothes oozing out of the hamper and onto to the floor, spreading faster than any human can possibly manage to keep up with.  Oh, and the dishes.  I can wash dishes for hours, only turn around and find that more dirty dishes have magically appeared in the sink .Add to the dumped bins and spills and laundry and dishes the fact that I am homeschooling my son and attempting to teach two college courses.  Now it’s only the beginning of the semester. Just wait until my students start submitting term papers and research projects.  Also add that I seldom say “no” when the kids ask me to play and never say “no” when they ask me to read to them.  Another point that I have to add is that my husband is a chef and pretty much always at work. 

So what does this all add up to?  One frazzled, wreck of a woman who’s stuck in survival mode. Like I said, I still dream of doing really fabulous things with my family and for myself.  I plan to uuber organize my home Montessori style.  I plan to decorate our home in a lovely fashion.  I plan to read the thousands of books I have piled next to my bed. I plan to take my children to beautiful and exotic places. I just don’t know when or how I’ll do all these things.  When will I stop just surviving?  When will I stop throwing myself down on my bed at the end of the day and saying, “Holy Shit!  What the hell just happened?”

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. You don’t have to be a parent to be in this place.  You can be stuck in survival mode at work, in your relationships, in your own unique life.  Again, it’s not that bad.  We are alive.  We are so lucky compared to those who are in true survival mode, as in those struggling to literally survive without clean water, food, money or their health.  Again, what we are doing is really just barely keeping our heads above water, yet we’re managing.  And we should be grateful to be managing.  That said, as humans, we have the capacity for so much more.  If we didn’t, why would we dream?  We want our lives to be extraordinary.  We want the lives of our children and those we love to be extraordinary.  And they can be.  The question is “how?”  What changes can we make?  What improvements can we make in our own lives in order to enable ourselves to fully enjoy all the extraordinary things that are waiting for us.  I am an eternal optimist.  I will figure this out.  How about you?  Any ideas?

German Cabaret Artists, Cleansing, Pork Fat and Tweak the Bunny…a Week’s Worth of Conversation

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

This is Heather Nanni, taking a break from her role as Tweak the Bunny to bring you this post.  That’s right; I’m Heather, not Tweak Bunny or Dashi Dog or Captain Barnacles the Polar Bear or any other member of the Octonauts.  Problem is, throughout the day, Allegra insists that I assume the role of any number of these characters. As a matter of fact, this evening, as I played Octonauts with Allegra as she took a bath, she informed me that she was “not impwessed” with how I was playing the game and gave me notes for improving my performance as Kwazi Cat. Being that I soon have to return to work (I know. I know.  I only teach two nights a week, but there is a lot of planning and correcting at home-I swear), I am trying to give the kids as much playtime as possible.  Unfortunately, all of this role playing is making me feel a bit schizophrenic, so for the moment, I’m happy to be just plain old weird Heather, writing her weird blog.  I’ve been so looking forward to writing this week, and I’ve tossed around a lot of ideas.  I have also been feeling rather grouchy and peevish, so I thought I would write some snarky, petulant blog about something that’s been annoying me as a way of alleviating some of my general negativity. .  And I reject that!  I want to giggle.  So after some careful deliberation, I have decided  against wading over into the dark side, to ignore its enticements,to forgo dark, brooding, smart ass ramblings in favor of recounting the ridiculous thoughts and conversations I had this week, which may very well only be funny to me, so don’t feel guilt by shutting this down; thus, shutting me up. For those maniacs who wish to stick around, here goes…

In search of lighter, happier material, I reflected upon this past week and to my surprise recalled some rather silly conversations.  There was the one I had with another student’s mother at the dance studio about cleansing. She’s a lovely lady and five days into a cleanse, eating only the healthiest of foods, drinking lots of water… At some point during our conversation, I realized that I did not have the willpower to omit all  dietary pleasures and confessed that I lacked both the discipline and desire to give up martini’s and pork fat.  My admission that the previous night, when cutting my children’s meat, I removed the fat from their chops and ate it for dinner elicited a laugh.  Then there was the conversation I had with the owner of the stables where my son takes riding lessons.  He confessed his beer habit and surveyed all present on their poison.  Of course mine is vodka.  Unfortunately when he asked me my vodka of choice, I found myself recounting the sad tale of how my husband and I started out drinking Grey Goose, but how after our first child we had to downgrade to Skyy and how we now find ourselves drinking Majorska.  I then made myself feel better by stating, “It’s not that bad.  At least it comes in a glass bottle.”  I got some pity laughs for that one.  But the very best and funniest of the week came from my husband.

 On Monday Giorgio tried on a new black v-neck sweater, looked at himself in the mirror and matter of factly informed me that  he looked  like a “cabaret artist from Stuttgart.” What?  On what planet would a cabaret artist from Stuttgart be the first thing to come to mind??  Granted, Giorgio did live in Stuttgart many, many years ago, but cabaret artist?  Why not singer or dancer, or performer even?  There’s just something about his use of the term artist that tickled me. I mean he had me thinking Berlin, the world on the brink of war, a tawdry, smoke filled club and a show being emceed by some sexually ambiguous emaciated person with a pale face and dark red lips sinisterly grinning at a pseudo-grotesque, featureless audience, all faces obscured by smoke and shadows. And he delivered it with such nonchalance that you would assume that German cabaret artist  is a typical reference for those of us who reside on the east coast of the United States. 

Upon further reflection, I think, perhaps, despite his adamant denial, my darling husband kind of digs the whole cabaret thing.  It’s got me thinking.  In the very infancy of our courtship I did sport a jet black, super short, Liza Minnelliesque pixie cut.  I also had a penchant for wearing bright red lipstick and fishnet stockings. And at some point during that time I had Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories on my nightstand. Hmmmm.. 

 Anyway, Giorgio’s description  of himself as a German cabaret artist struck me as so weird and out of place and hysterical that I had to immediately call my brother Sean Crose, another daft kat with an offbeat sense of humour and love of the absurd.  Clearly, my brother and I managed to make our way out of the same gene pool, gasping for air and full of neurosis and weirdness.  When the two of us emerged from the womb, the doctors probably had to beat the shit out of us, not to help us take our first breathes but to get us to snap the fuck out of our first baby panic attacks.  While we nearly killed each other during adolescence, we became the best of friends in early adulthood.  When we weren’t running around the city getting plastered in dive bars, we spent countless hours watching and quoting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Plan Nine from Outer Space and anything from Mystery Science Theater, Giant Spider Invasion being one of our personal favorites.  So I just knew that he would fully appreciate Giorgio’s referring to himself as a cabaret artist from Stuttgart.  And my brother didn’t disappoint.  He gave me the much desired belly laugh that I had hoped for, and then we got to talking.  We talked about Germany and World War II and Mussolini and Giorgio’s parents who grew up in Italy during the war.  We got to talking about Giorgio’s mother and how she possess a style and sophistication that reminds me of Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (In addition to being beautiful, she’s a great person). We talked about Giorgio’s dad and how it’s a flipping shame that he was taken from this world too soon and how he was just one of those special people whose very presence made you feel good. Then somehow we moved back to talk about the executions of Mussolini and Clara Petacci and back to Hitler and his stupid mustache, which got us to talking about mustaches and mustache style and handlebar mustaches. We talked about how handlebar mustaches are all the rage with those damn young hipsters, which got my brother going on how ridiculous he would look with such a mustache and how he would bear a closer resemblance to our great, great grandfather who came through Elis Island after emigrating from Ireland than a young James Franco wannabe.  And this talk of the handlebar mustaches brought the conversation full circle and back to Giorgio, who, likely inspired by Kurt Russell in Tombstone, once grew handlebar mustache himself because he really is more cowboy than cabaret artist.  He’s an Italian who as a young boy developed a great love for America. He overdosed on spaghetti westerns and, in a music store in Rome,  discovered Alabama’s Mountain Music which began his love affair with country music.  When he met me, a Norwegian techno music loving east coast girl, he introduced me to country music, which I’ve grown to dig. 

So that’s it.  The story of how a silly remark led to a much needed laugh and a great conversation about evil villains and beautiful people and how a great conversation led to a flood of good memories and my personal conclusion that my husband is one awesome and strange dude.

So, What Does Your Christmas Tree Say About You?

CrazyTree PicBefore I begin this post I feel compelled to offer an explanation as to why I have not posted in weeks.  In a nutshell, I needed to think…hard.  When I began this blog four months ago, I assured myself that I would post weekly, and I did, until November.  I derive great pleasure from blogging. Before writing I think about each post a lot.  I think about what I will write about while I drive, while I shower, as I’m falling asleep at night.. I love, love, love to think about my blog.  For me, the prewriting experience is almost as fun as the writing itself.  So what happened?  I needed to think about something else. I know.  Do I really need to allot specific times to think? Am I really incapable of thinking about more than one thing at a time? Yes. When it comes to important matters, yes. I guess I am intellectually limited in that way.  This poor brain is easily strained and, hence, incapable of multithinking.  So here I am.  I did what needed to be done. I thought about what needed to be thought about.  As a result, I made some relatively decent decisions in my life. Now me and my demented brain are back and ready to blog.  On with today’s order of business..Christmas trees!

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had a very beautiful Christmas tree.  I always selected the most perfectly shaped tree, not too short, not too fat, without bare spots… It was always elegantly adorned with red and gold bulbs, nutcracker ornaments and miniature pointe shoes.  Of coarse, it goes without saying that it had white lights.  I loved my Christmas tree, selecting it, decorating it, until one day my dear husband informed me that I was a “Christmas Tree Nazi.” Of course I couldn’t have that, so I decided to change my rigid, unfun, unbending Christmas tree decorating ways and lighten up. But this was not easy.

You see, at the time we were pretty broke and struggling and living in the 500 square foot in-law apartment attached to my parents’ house. And it wasn’t just my husband and I. It was also Jack and eventually Allegra. Of course part of me was ashamed that we weren’t doing “better” in life, so, it was extremely important to me that from the outside we looked somewhat legitimate, despite the fact that we lived in an overcrowded one bedroom apartment furnished with my grandmother’s old furniture. Christmas provided me the opportunity to say,”That’s right. We’re broke. We live in my parent’s house. But I still have taste. I am an elegant lady. Look in my window! Look at my beautiful tree! Just imagine what I will do when I have money.” At night, when the neighbors passed on their way home, they would look at that stunning tree in my window and think “Ahhhh, there’s hope for that girl yet.”

Then Giorgio accused me of being an intolerant, control freak, and I knew he was right. I needed to make a change. So the following year, colored lights. And the year after that, colored blinking lights. And Jack and Giorgio were happy (Allegra was too little at the time to voice her opinion). And I learned not to give a damn. And then…I realized that I liked the colored (unblinking) lights. They reminded me of my grandparent’s tree. Growing up, I loved my grandparent’s house at Christmas time. Theirs was a tree you would NEVER find at the White House or picture in Elegant Home magazine. Theirs was a simple, middle America Christmas tree, adorned with cheap gold garland and silver tinsel, colored bulbs and popcorn balls. My Grandpa used to sit in his big easy chair next to the tree and literally throw tinsel at the poor thing. His favorite ornaments were the blue glitter bulbs, so my brother and I, who loved to help my grandparents decorate, always made sure that plenty of blue bulbs were visible from Grandpa’s chair. Sadly, I grew older and snotty and pretended like I didn’t like it.

So what do we have now that the four of us have moved into our own home? Well, I don’t want to fall back into my rigid, fun busting ways, so, we compromise. Downstairs we have a beautiful tree adorned with my nutcrackers and pointe shoes and the kids’ homemade ornaments. Yes, it still has colored lights. And upstairs…CRAZY TREE!!!!

Ahhhh…Crazy tree! It is a sight to behold. Its home is in our TV room and it is all things children love, and also all things that any adult, who isn’t in need of a lobotomy, finds completely insane. Crazy tree looks like something my grandfather would decorate, if he was on crack. Since words cannot express that which is Crazy Tree (except that if you stare at it for too long you feel like vomiting), I’ve posted a picture. The scary thing..we all really dig Crazy Tree.

I still love my beautiful, elegant white light adorned tree, but, right now, it’s not us. It can wait. And when Allegra grows old enough to pretend she doesn’t like colored lights any longer, I will be sad. Right now, downstairs I have a fun tree and upstairs-Crazy Tree, and, for now, we like it this way. It’s funny, but just as those lovely family portrait Christmas cards can be complete misrepresentations of who we are, so too can our Christmas trees. I mean, if I really wanted to let everyone know how the Nanni’s are doing this year, Giorgio and I would look like we’re on the verge of nervous breakdowns and the kids would be punching each other. Although we will continue to send dignified cards that are gross misrepresentations of ourselves, we will also continue to have Christmas trees that reflect who we are–child friendly (always), tasteful (sometimes) and, as reflected by Crazy Tree, insane (more than we want to admit). Merry Christmas!

The Lesson My Children Taught Me

CYMERA_20131116_210439

I love the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.”

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be *

This song is a part of the soundtrack of my life. When I listen to the news and learn of great inexplicable tragedy, I find myself playing it over and over again in my head. It is remarkably comforting. Despite the fact that Paul McCartney wrote this song about his own mother, and, given my extreme ambivalence towards matters of religion, it strikes me as somewhat odd that I still like to think that the song is about the Blessed Mother, and, now that I no longer give a shit if it sounds uncool, I am okay with admitting this. Although I have been engaged in my own personal battle with my religion for years, I find great comfort in the divine Mother Mary. She is a mother’s ideal: a gentle, patient, ever comforting presence. I have no delusions of grandeur, but as a parent, I do strive to be gentle, patient and comforting, and I hope when I am gone, many, many years from now, my children will remember me in this way. But what of this idea of letting it be? As parents we strive to help, to fix, to make everything better for our children. What of letting it be? Letting them be? This week both my children taught me lessons in how to do this. What I learned is that letting it be can painful, liberating, inevitable and right.

The first part my lesson was delivered by Allegra, my four year old daughter. I volunteered to help out for muffin baking at preschool. This year Allegra has blossomed socially and has even made a best friend. Last year, if I had volunteered in her class she would cling to my leg and not only not let go but also not allow any other child to come within five feet of me. Soooo, with last year still fresh in my mind, I was a bit apprehensive about showing up at school, just when she is beginning to make true friendships. That said, this is her last year before “big kid” school, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be in her class for the morning. I thought it through and had a plan in place-if, in any way, my presence was disruptive for her, I would leave (great plan right?).

Well I am happy (and sad) to say that my dear soul sister Allegra did not give a damn if I was there or not. Actually, I just lied; she didn’t want me there at all. As a matter of fact, she actually pushed me away when I attempted to sit next to her at cicle time (talk about feeling like an ass). To feel relief and loss at the same time-what a strange experience! But those were my feelings, relief and loss. On one hand, I felt a sense of pride and victory and relief. I was so proud of my littlest one. I had sent her out into the world, and she found happiness. She found friendship. She is a glorious creature. On the other hand, well, it hurt…it hurt a lot. You see, Allegra and I, from the day I brought her home from the hospital, have been attached at the hip. Literally, we have been attached at the hip. For the first two years of her life, she loved to be held, so I held her. I held her on my hip. I held her on my hip as much as I could. I cooked and cleaned and did pretty much everything other than drive with her on my hip. As she got a bit older and too big to constantly be held, she remained as close as possible to my side. And she has remained by my side until a few weeks ago. Recently, I have noticed that she has needed me less and less. She wants to be a “big girl” and as such, wants to do most things on her own…like a “big girl.” And I want to scoop her up. I so want to pick her up and yell “Stop! Please stop! Don’t grow so fast. What’s the rush little one? Just stay with me a bit longer.” But that is wrong. She is happy. This is as it should be. This is life. This is my job, to let her grow, to let her go, to let it be. Let life take it’s course Heather. Let it be. Let her be. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold her back. Let her be. Let it be.

And now onto my Jack. Jack gave me my second lesson in learning how to let it be. Jack doesn’t run with the pack. He is a lone wolf, a wonderfully brilliant, kind, unique and creative lone wolf. Unless he is with those family members who are closest to him, with whom he has deep and meaningful relationships, Jack prefers to be on his own. Of course, I worry. In the society in which we live it’s all about being a member of a team; there are sports teams, work teams, cooperative teams at school and teams on the playground. And if it’s not teams, it’s partners. Work on your math with a partner, play catch with a partner, complete this project with a partner. Jack doesn’t like working with teams and partners. I have pushed him to engage in group activities. I have encouraged him to try to enjoy playdates. How stupid is that? How can you possibly encourage someone to enjoy what they do not like? Why would you ever try to encourage (force) someone to learn to “like” something they do not like? Jack is not anti-social. He loves deeply and has meaningful relationships with those dear to him. Period. That is how he is now. He may change in the future. Who knows? But for now, he just doesn’t enjoy teams, groups and artifically “manufactured” by your parents relationships.

That said, the other day I asked our babysitter to come by so that I could run some errands. When I told Jack that the sitter was coming, he asked if he could run errands with me. Jack has never asked to run errands with me. I was thrilled. So I tweaked my plans to include lunch at IHOP. When our sitter arrived, I gave Allegra a kiss (Allegra loves her babysitter. Rightfully so; she is a wonderful woman) and off I went with Jack. At lunch we talked about life, about where we want to travel, about Christmas. He played the game on the IHOP placememat and identified the flags of various countries. The Australian flag got us talking about penal colonies and Britain and Australia and the United States and Jamestown. Then, somehow, we moved on to animals and log cabins and having a farm and Christmas and how great it would be to live in a log cabin on a farm and decorate it for Christmas. It was awesome. Then, rather than run errands, we ran around the mall looking at Christmas decorations (I know. I know. It’s early, but Jack LOVES Christmas). I can sincerely say that I had soooooo much fun, and I know Jack did too. That night I thought about my Jack. I thought, let him be. Let him be. He is lovely. He is brilliant. He is kind and gentle. He loves Christmas and log cabins and animals and his family. He loves his dog and blue skys at 4:00 pm on winter days (something we all learned to appreciate from his Uncle Sean). He loves the book Owl Moon. Let him be Heather. Stop pushing. He is perfectly imperfect. He is Jack, wonderful, beautiful Jack.

These are not times of trouble and darkness in our house. Our children are healthy. All is well. Every night I am blessed to kiss them on their soft cheeks and know that they are okay. All is well. Let them be Heather. Let them be.

* McCartney, Paul. Beatles. “Let It Be.” EMI, Apple Records, Lyrics. 1970.

Mrs. Nanni Makes a Home…With the Help of Her Blog

How about a picture? Curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

How about curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

I have read a few articles by writers who state that blogging has made them better people, and I get it. It really makes complete sense. At the end of the day I don’t want to read my blog and realize that I am nothing more than the member of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, recounting sad tales of my days and providing myself with the insights I could have used in real time rather than in hindsight. Worse yet, I don’t want to read my blog and realize I have been the protagonist in my own life, jacking things up for myself and everyone around me. While it’s one thing to employ self-effacement for humor and levity, it’s another thing to just be an ass. Soooo…what’s my point?

I think I should begin with this. It is a fact that I am domestically challenged. In my adult life, I have yet to make a house a home in the physical sense. For me, experience transcends the material. Following this logic, as long as there is deep love and joy and excitement, some sense of joie de vivre, then the actual setting where life takes place has been relatively unimportant. My thought has been if you take away the happiness of experience then you hold to the setting, the material, for some sort satisfaction. My reasoning, however is deeply flawed.

While I keep a clean home, it is stark. I have simply been too busy living life with my family to give it much attention. When we first moved into our house I had grand decorating plans. I had the children’s rooms freshly painted. I bought beautiful comfortors with matching curtains. I even hung the curtains, until I took them down to have our windows replaced. Now they sit in a closet, almost forgotten because I have been too busy living life.

The question is, have I been living my life or have I been consumed by my life? It’s not as though I’m always happy. I worry…A LOT. I am stressed…A LOT. I work all the time. I am tired. It really would be so nice to have a warm and inviting place to rest at the end of the day. But I didn’t give this much thought until last week.

Giorgio and I were sitting in the kitchen when our Jack came in with a catalog from some home furnishing company. It was their winter issue and in it were pictures of homes beautifully decorated for Christmas. Jack loves Christmas and winter and snow. He loves to look at Norman Rockwell’s painting of main street Stockbridge at Christmastime. He loves images of Sundblom’s Santa sitting by a roaring fire and paintings of villages during winter with their white steepled churches and homes with illuminated windows that leave the viewer to imagine the cheer and warmth and fragrance that is within. While Jack was sitting in the kitchen showing us his catalog, his eyes filled up. When asked “why” he responded, “It’s just so beautiful.” This is the moment that I realized that setting really does matter.

Of course setting matters. Yes you can perform a play in a black box theater, but the brilliance of that is that each audience member gets to set it as they like, as his imagination deem best. I feel that my Jack and Allegra lack for nothing other than a setting. Jack craves warmth and coziness, and I am sure Allegra does as well. Yes, they have all they could possibly need and more, toys and books and clothes and joyful experiences and the great love of parents who have placed them at the center of their universe. But they don’t have a beautiful setting for which to settle their memories. As time marches forward and memories become more and more distant from the actual experiences those feelings they had as children will need to be paired with images just as powerful in order to survive their battle against time and old age. More importantly, they need the experience of a warm and inviting home now because they deserve it. We all do. Home is not just an abstraction. It is physical; it is material, and as such, it should be beautiful. I know. I know. Most everyone else figured this our ages ago.

So this brings me back to my initial point. How will I use this blog to make me a better person? Each month I will post pictures of the progress I make as I attempt to transform the Nanni house into a home…in the physical sense. I don’ want to just make a joke out of my lack of domestic prowess; although, it does provide some pretty decent comedic material. I don’t want to look back and regret that I never paid attention to the setting of our life together as a family. Here goes. Wish me luck.

Oh. You Are Also a Specialist? Of What, If You Don’t Mind My Asking?

    A few years back, we were invited to vacation at my husband’s boss’s beach house. One evening we were dining out on the patio, which happened to abutt the path down to the shore, when two ladies from the neighborhood attempted to pass us while taking their nightly stroll to the beach. As the ladies passed, and before Giorgio and I knew what was happening, our then four year old son hopped up and said, “Ladies, would you like to join us for a bottle of wine?” Being the persistent little fellow he is, when the ladies giggled and declined, my dear Jack then continued, “Well then, how about a brandy?” This is the same little boy, who very recently at the age of seven, alarmed us by asking, “What if we don’t really exist? What if this is all a dream?” He has been described as an old soul and free spirit, and, yes, he is in fact both. He is charming and precocious and very intelligent, and he HATES school. He has learning differences and sensory issues which have made his experiences with school quite unpleasant and continue to make finding an appropriate educational setting a challenge. As an educator, it drives me mad to think that learning has become such an unpleasant, onerous task for my bright and curious little boy, and I have made it my mission to find a way to make learning and life, as joyful and wonderous as is realistically possible.

    In fulfilling this mission, Giorgio and I have learned is that there are an awful lot of experts and specialists out there. I mean there are specialists that super specialize in the specialists’ specialities. There are soooo many people who want to help out there. What I also figured out is that “helping” our children has become and industry and a lucrative one at that. I mean one family with one child with learning differences can spend thousands, upon thousands of dollars. We pay the college tuitions of our specialist’s children while we ourselves become increasingly stressed because after we dole out all our money to special schools and experts and specialists, we can’t even afford to register our kids for dance class much less pay for their education, which was our main concern to begin.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I certainly don’t want anyone to think that I believe there is no place for specialists and experts. When our children are struggling it is our obligation as parents to seek help. It’s just that we need to be cautious. We need to be savvy consumers. WE need to determine when our work with a specialist has run its course. We also need to discern when we really need the services of another party and when we as parents can, with time and research, provide appropriate services ourselves.

    When we began our quest to help our son, we dove in a rabbit hole and into a surreal world where everyone is an “expert” and where the only thing “experts” can do for you is refer you to other “experts” (with whom they share an office) whereupon they hand you a bill and where only one thing is certain…all experts charge fees that are staggering.

    Just this past week, Giorgio and I had an appointment with one of the many specialists we have consulted over the past few years. Prior to our appointment, I spent two hours filling out a twelve page questionnaire, which was to be reviewed by said specialist prior to our meeting. Two hours! Twelve Pages! Prior to meeting! Giorgio was immediately suspicious and repeatedly asked me why we were writing answers to questions about topics we should be discussing in person. I reassured him, certain that this was just preliminary “stuff” and that we would elaborate on our answers during our $300 per one hour not covered by insurance appointment, an appointment which required Giorgio to rearrange his work schedule and me to make childcare arrangements.

    Well, Mr. Specialist’s office is an hour plus away from our home, so we frantically raced out of our house, dropped the kids with my parents and arrived ten minutes early. So you can imagine my disappointment when ten minutes after appointment time, our specialist hadn’t come into the waiting room to greet us. I have to say, I’ve got a real “thing” about waiting…it pisses me off. I just believe that we are called upon to wait much too often. For the majority of us, if we are late for an appointment, we are deeply disturbed and apologetic towards whoever we have kept waiting. Yet, doctors, specialists and so many others seem to feel as if our time is less valuable than their time. Anyway, the receptionist must have heard me bitching to Giorgio because she quickly disappeared and promptly returned to tell us that Mr. Specialist was in a meeting and would be with us soon. Five minutes later, he emerged, alone, so I wonder who the hell he was meeting. One thing was for sure, I was going to make damned sure he gave us the full hour, the $300 hour, the hour of gold.

    Since I now have a significant amount of experience, I have changed my approach. While I am always nice and respectful, it is no longer important that the specialist likes me. I make my needs clear up front. This time I informed him that we are not wealthy people and that we are frustrated because everyone we consult refers us to someone else. Well do you know how the meeting turned out? At some point during our visit it became painfully clear that Mr. Specialist never read our two hours worth of paperwork. He perseverated on one topic, of only minor interest to my husband and I, and, in the end, he referred us to an educational consultant who works in his office. With a bit of research we learned that this consultant would charge us a minimum of $750 for her services. Oh yeah, after only forty minutes he started to look at his watch. When he attempted to end the appointment at the scheduled time, despite the fact that he was fifteen minutes late,I kept him talking until the full hour was up. Go girl.

    After our appointment, Giorgio headed off to work, and I returned home, frazzled and anxious. And I got to thinking. All that time lost. I could and should have been home with my kids, teaching, playing, mothering! Instead, I wasted time. And I have wasted soooo much time visiting specialists and special schools.

    I once visited a school, a thirty thousand plus a year school, which is located in a very affluent community in Connecticut. It seemed great. Prior to my visit, I read their website which explained that they incorporate original play into their curriculum. Play! Great! We love to play (I either didn’t notice or completely ignored the word original)! Jack will love a school that allows a little bit of fun! During my visit everything looked great:students appeared happy, teachers seemed nice. There was nothing strange about the place at all…until the discussion turned to original play. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Silly me for thinking it was normal human play because, as it was explained to me, it actually mirrors animal play. The kids roll around on a mat; a teacher facilitates. And guess what? In eighth grade, if they’re really good at this original play thing, the kids get to travel to Florida to swim with the manatees. Are you kidding, you ask? No, sadly I am not. Strange right? Of course when I got home I researched original play and let me tell you, it is very hard to find out anything other than a clip on YouTube where a big bearded burly man demonstrates how it’s done. Perhaps I am a sceptic, but I prefer to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and educated. Evaluating research was a big part of my graduate studies. You know; instruction should be researched based and good research studies require thousands of subjects and a control group and blah, blah, blah. Why is it then that educators are engaging in practices when there clearly is not enough research to support those practices.

    A larger question is how do specialists and educators get parents to subscribe to their practices? The answer, I believe, is that desperate parents are easy to exploit. I don’t mean to suggest that these professionals are intentionally exploiting parents; most are well meaning. Regardless, parents are being exploited. When we as parents see that our children are struggling and are told that we need to do something about it, we desperately seek out those who can help. I am beginning to realize, however, that there may be something fundamentally wrong with our process. Sometimes because our children are different we are made to feel that they are broken and that they need to be fixed and changed and altered by experts and specialists. What would have happened if teams of professionals “fixed” the young Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill, both of whom were quirky kids and bad students?

    Professional educators, therapists and specialists do have an important role to play. They can help. They have helped me. I have met some great specialists. We shouldn’t feel that in order to be good parents or viewed as good parents we need to constantly seek the help of “experts.” We as parents are the only TRUE experts of our children. Sometimes, rather than shuttling our kids from one appointment to another to be evaluated, analyzed and over analyzed and spending hours on the computer and telephone searching for professional help, our children would be better served if we just spent those extra hours with them , learning their patterns, understanding what works for them and what doesn’t. In a world full of experts, we have lost our confidence as parents, and we need to reclaim that. No one will ever know or love our children as we do. Our instincts and opinions count. We know when our children are just different, when they just need another approach or another way to learn and when we need the help of knowledgable professionals. We know. We know when it’s a matter of doing something different or better as parents and when we need to seek outside help because we just don’t know what to do. We know when to say “help” and we know when to say “enough!” We must trust ourselves and know.

I Don’t Need to Bring the Dog In the House. Bigfoot is a Vegan.

I love Bigfoot. The mere mention of his name transports me back to the late seventies. My brother and I are hanging with some kids from the neighborhood in some finished basement. It doesn’t matter whose finished basement; they were all pretty much the same, with the exception of the Ralph’s. You see, for the first ten years of my life, I lived in a neighborhood that embodied all things glorious about being middle class in the seventies. It was a seventies oasis in a desert of well-built 1950’s homes. All the houses were either ranches or raised ranches, cheaply built with what appeared to be a cardboard like material which eventually began to fall apart with the years. During the winter we all used kerosene heaters, since the “modern” electric heat wasn’t efficient enough to heat drafty matchbox houses. And the piece de resistance of so many of these homes (my brother and I were two of the unfortunates that were deprived)…the basement rec room. The design aesthetic was the same in all. Each was finished with faux wood paneling, cheap indoor/outdoor carpeting, an old plaid couch with some sort of velvet like leopard, zebra or dolphin throw blanket to cover the holes in its arms. And yes, in case you were wondering, people did decorate their walls with velvet Elvis. And if painting on velvet a la Bob Ross wasn’t your thing, you would hang up some poorly rendered painting of Hawaii or Puerto Rico or Bora Bora. Now, the Ralph’s basement was another story entirely. Theirs was equipped with a pool table, aquarium which ran the length of an entire wall AND their parent’s bedroom which included a waterbed with a mirrored frame. Anyway, I digress, but I just felt so compelled to convey the setting.

So back to Bigfoot. It was in these basements where many a serious Bigfoot conversation took place. Was he real? Could we catch him? Was there any possibility that he lived in one of our backyards? The beauty of bigfoot was that he wasn’t really THAT scary. I mean, he could be and he was depending on the day or the weather or our mood. He also had the potential of being the motherlode of pets or friends. No one knew. Was he a man-eater? Was he shy? Was he mischievous? Who cared? We’d take Bigfoot anyway we could get him. We just liked him. He was exciting and mysterious and cool. The thing about Bigfoot was that he wasn’t super creepy or diabolical. He wasn’t Rosemary’s baby, but he could, like some of the neighborhood kids, be the giant lovechild of two potsmoking, LSD tripping hippies (although I was too young to even imagine that at the time).

Bigfoot mania was not just a U.S. phenomenon. Apparently, we used to export the worst possible shows television had to offer, and Italy was happy to accept. One such show was Bigfoot and Wildboy. Neither myself nor my brother can recall this show, but my husband, who grew up in Rome, remembers it well. Here’s the plot. A young boy is lost in the dense forest of the American Northwest. Bigfoot finds the young boy, raises him and when the boy grows up, they become the dynamic crime fighting team of Bigfoot and Wildboy. The best part you ask? Well they filmed it in the wooded Hollywood hills and you can actually see the Hollywood sign in the background. Better than that, no one can track down Bigfoot and Wildboy…although they roam the Hollywood Hills. Pure Awesomeness!

Now that my husband and I have grown into monumentally immature adults, you can imagine how thrilled we are with the whole “search for Bigfoot” industry. Once in a while we’ll watch “Hunt for Bigfoot” and be delighted and stupefied by the fact that they ALWAYS search for bigfoot at night. Also the hunters always seem utterly oblivious to the fact that they are in the forest, and that is why they hear noises, that perhaps the sound they keep hearing is acorns falling from trees and not Bigfoot throwing rocks at them. It’s just good stuff, and the people on the show just seem like good eggs. Nothing malicious, nothing scary, just like bigfoot himself.

What’s even cooler than Bigfoot shows? Well, the fact that now my son is into Bigfoot. And over the past couple of days, there’s been some great Bigfoot material. Twice in one week we received BIG Bigfoot news. First, the Sasquatch Genome Project (yes, you read that correctly) claims that they have DNA evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot, which is mind-blowing, considering that after all these years there has been not a single shred of physical Bigfoot evidence, not a bone, not a hair, nothing. Then, a Pennsylvania hiker claims to have spotted two Bigfoots AND he has the pictures to prove it! Eureka!

So all this Bigfoot talk got Jack, Giorgio and I talking. Of course, having a chef in the family, we had to talk about what Bigfoot eats. Now that completely depends upon what exactly Bigfoot is (too bad we don’t have the Sasquatch Genome DNA evidence handy). I always pictured him to be more of a man-bear, which, of course, would make him a carnivore. My husband, however, made the compelling argument that he is more of a man-monkey, and, after pondering the evidence, I have to agree. That said, it is not only plausible but likely, that Bigfoot, given that he is more monkey than man, is not only a vegetarian but a vegan. So that means if Bigfoot found his way into our backyard, assuming that he does not play too rough, our kids and dog could be relatively safe. But that is neither here nor there.

Anyway, once we sent Giorgio off to work, Jack and I continued with our Bigfoot inquiries. In fact, I was able to get my son to do some internet research, which is a miracle in and of itself, given his distaste for anything “academic.” We read Bigfoot articles, looked at Bigfoot pictures, videos…basically we OD’d on Bigfoot. And it was so much fun.

My childhood was not perfect, but it was pretty great. I grew up in an age when the word playdate didn’t exist. We freely roamed our neighborhood, finding ourselves in our neighbor’s subterranean dens, and our parents didn’t worry. They should have, but they didn’t. It was just a different time when the only thing children feared was that there was the slightest possibility that a giant man/monkey/bear could be lurking in their backyard. Our children can no longer roam their neighborhoods freely. They know the horrible reality that things much more sinister than human like animals roam close to home. We tell them. We teach them. We must. But let’s enjoy those silly moments when we can lose ourselves in stories about innocuous creatures like Bigfoot. And let’s hope they don’t really exist. But until we know for sure, let’s bring our dogs in at night, especially if we live in Pennsylvania, the American Northwest or, of course, if we live anywhere near the Hollywood Hills.