April 29, 2007

Revolutionary War Test review

L: Term for someone who loves his or her country?
J: Boy Scout

Goodbye Kitty

Inky's stay with us is winding down. Her owners tell me they will be back in town next week.

Inky's temperament has proven perfectly suited to our household: she makes her presence known, but has her own schedule and preferences. Princess that she is, she only deigns to allow us to care for her. She has her agenda and plans, and if her path happens to cross with ours, she might permit us to pet her or play with her.

After two months of warning the boys not to get too attached, I am the one who is overly devoted to Inky. (Perhaps I can negotiate visitation rights?)

Yesterday, at a sale, Hart discovered a toy calico cat, and rushed over to show me, crowing, “Inky, Inky, Inky.” We are complete pushovers for stuffed animals. I hesitated. But in that nano-second I realized that having a toy representation of Inky is bound to be difficult once she leaves. After Hobbes died, Jeff told me that the two snapshots of her on the fridge “made him sad,” so I removed them. A toy Inky is no equivalent for the real one.

“Let’s buy it for Inky’s parents!” I said to Hart. I had a brief notion of presenting it to them as a "welcome home" token. But again, good sense overcame impulse. I know that if we bring that toy into the house, we will never be able to relinquish it, no matter how well-meaning our intentions.

April 26, 2007

Amen, Sister!

After reading Stephanie Fosnight's column, I sent her an email response.

I have two, count 'em two, such children. Eating out is one pleasure I would not forgo when we adopted the twins over ten years ago. I have found that other diners do not care to be involved in a social experiment and prefer that families with autistic children just stay home . . . for the next twenty years.

The onus is on us parents to make the trip successful. My tips:

Go early, so that the restaurant is not too crowded and the waitstaff are not frazzled. But not too early, when there might be a single waiter for the whole place.

Never go anywhere that requires a wait for a table.

Avoid eateries that cater to families with children. The food is awful and there are lots of children whose behavior is not a good model for yours.

Avoid places that are so quiet you can hear glasses and silverware clink, but

Avoid loud restaurants, or ones with piped-in music. It's unpleasant and over-stimulating for autistic and hyperactive children; they can't tune it out.

Order ahead. Restaurants love quick turnover for their tables. Call your order in, sit down, eat and leave.

Request a booth, if possible, off the main traffic route. I have learned the hard way not to sit too close to senior citizens, in the main area, or near the entrance. I do not relish being entertainment for the entire restaurant!

Bring engaging activities: pad and crayons, music, small toys. Play "I Spy" while you wait.

Remind children about expected behavior. Our family's rules are: "inside voice only" and "stay in your seat." If I give more than one warning for each, we have to leave.

Let other adults at the table know to decide immediately what they want, so that they can order the first time the server approaches. If someone needs "another minute, please," they will be sorry and so will your child. Also, you may never see your waiter again.

Tip the staff well.

Eating Out With Autistic Children (article)

Skokie-Review.com Member of the Sun-Times News Group

April 26, 2007

Restaurant visits tough when kids have autism

Last Friday night, I went out for a late dinner with friends. The company was excellent; the food passable. But when I remarked that the meal seemed overpriced, a companion pointed out that we'd spent two and a half hours in a cheerful setting with great service.

"You're paying for a piece of temporary real estate when you go out to a restaurant," he said.

This comment got me thinking about just what kind of environment we expect when we go out to eat. Most of us, I'd wager, simply want a congenial place to chat and nosh on enjoyable food.
Yet for families of kids with disabilities, this is a simple pleasure often denied. Worse, these moms, dads and kids often get censured by other diners -- and sometimes even the staff -- if their children start to act up, as they so often do.

I recently sat in on a meeting of the Autism Task Force of the North Suburban Special Education District. This group of parents, mostly moms, works hard on autism issues in order to help other families like themselves.

These parents would also like to take their kids out for a meal once in awhile.

Gerry told me how she'd take her now-grown son out and hear comments like, "Look at that little brat." Mia explained how hard it is on her other children when her autistic son becomes unruly and the whole family suddenly has to leave.

"The other kids get so compromised by a child with a disability," she said.
Ann has been smarting over one incident for years. She and a friend had gone out to lunch, bringing both of their children. Then Ann's son, who's autistic, started getting fussy.

Ruined lunch?
When two other diners loudly told the manager their meal had been ruined by "that child," while glaring in Ann's direction, she started to feel pretty fussy herself.

Still, Ann and her friend tried to explain to the women that the boy had a disability, but the women merely ignored Ann and told her friend, "You have nothing to worry about. Your child behaved fine," before stalking out.

It was clear the irate ladies felt their lunchtime real estate had been pollluted by an undesirable neighbor.

The task force members know plenty of families who've just stopped going out to eat. It's too traumatic, they say. Yet staying home all of the time can be isolating. Besides, many autistic children need to learn basic social skills like eating in a restaurant, ordering from a menu and handling money. All of this takes practice.

Michelle Wolke has spent 35 years helping children with autism learn to eat out. The Northbrook resident, who runs a private therapy practice with her son Jason Portman, takes kids from all over the city and suburbs out on restaurant excursions.

Though Wolke herself is immune to embarrassment after all these years, she knows it can be annoying or even frightening to other diners when a child suddenly throws a tantrum, tries to run away, or starts shouting. One of her charges, in fact, has a habit of announcing, "All done!" before suddenly throwing whatever is in front of him across the restaurant.

Changing behavior
Wolke is, of course, working with the child on correcting this behavior, but she also warns other diners when she brings in her students.

"I tell them I'm here with an autistic kid and that he might throw something or kick," she said. She also asks to be seated in a back booth, brings activities for the children to play with while waiting, and asks the manager for quick service and patient wait staff.

The best restaurants, according to the parents I spoke to, are understanding and accomodating. They prepare meals according to an autistic child's special request, move them to the front of lines, and understand if the family needs to make a quick exit.

But what about the rest of us?
If you see a child throwing a tantrum or being especially fussy, ask the parent if and how you can help. Don't judge if you see a kid watching a portable DVD player while the rest of the family eats, or if a mom lets her boy sing to himself as she finishes her meal.

Whether you're at McDonalds or at Charlie Trotter's, be patient and remember that these kids may be unruly but they're still kids. Just like any other kids, they deserve to go out and order a meal.

The rate of children born with autism has risen from 1 in 166 to 1 in 150 in just two years, according to the Autism Society of America. More and more parents are bearing the immensely heartbreaking, high-stress burden of trying to raise an autistic child as normally as possible.

The least we can do is welcome them onto the grounds of our temporary patch of real estate.

Stephanie Fosnight may be reached at sfosnight@pioneerlocal.com.

My orthodonist would be proud! (photo)

Suzanne, Lisa and Meiya

April 24, 2007

Llama (art)

Llama, Jeff, from ANIMALS OF THE WORLD

April 16, 2007

Cats are fickle creatures (photos)

"I love you, I love you, I love you."

"Talk to the tail."

April 15, 2007

April 12, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

One of my earliest jobs when I moved here to the big city was in the rarified world of contemporary art. And, in my career since, I have had a number of devil-bosses. So the film "The Devil Wears Prada," was tremendously enjoyable and hysterically familiar.

However, the filmmakers have taken pains to demonstrate how competent boss-from-hell, Miranda Priestley, is. She is shown at an editorial meeting, gala events, working late hours on her computer, and nightly reviewing her upcoming magazine at home. She is blunt, arrogant, opinionated and imposing, but she is unmistakably competent. This is surely a Hollywood conceit, because my devil-bosses have been, to a one, astonishingly incompetent. If they have shown genius, it is at deflecting responsibility, claiming credit for ideas and projects that they attempted to undermine, and unabashed cluelessness.

Miranda's coat-tossing is imperious, but it's also a shorthand for "I'm here. Let's get to work and make fashion news happen." I knew a coat-tosser in the art world (really), but it was all about making an entrance. The only message was, "I'm here. One of you little people, fetch me some coffee." Later, my boss' boss, the actual real-life model for Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, only deigned to come to meetings if food was being served, and then only if she was able to choose the restaurant. Six or seven people participated in this charade monthly; the real meetings took place informally without her. The boss-from-hell's presence inspires stifled sniggers more than creative ideas.

Miranda Priestley knows what is going on in her organization and in her field. Although she doesn't engage in small talk or traffic in personal confidences, she KNOWS what everyone is doing. In fact, her proteges are quite loyal to her. At the finale of the film, Miranda makes an unsolicited phone call to recommend the hapless heroine for a new job. Now that is real movie magic. The devil-bosses I have worked for do not know what their co-workers and subordinates do, nor do they care.

We regularly kept our boss busy for weeks criticizing the copy for donor solicitation letters through drafts 6, 15, 20 . . . draft 3 had gone to the printer and into the mail, weeks ago, on schedule. Once fearing the worst, I asked a friend to phone a former boss to ask for reference for me. He told her that he remembered my name, but could not remember what job I had had with the organization. (I had left about two months before.)

Supervisors are unlikely to attend charm school any time soon. However, a wonderful boss I had early on once told me, "When you have a good boss, you learn about yourself: when you have a bad boss, you learn about other people." Though I would not relish having Miranda Priestly for a boss, the employees of fictional RUNWAY magazine are on their best game in both fashion and people skills.

Everyone loves a devil-boss horror story. Click here.

Julian and Chloe (photos)

April 8, 2007

April 6, 2007


A year or so ago, Jeffrey took strange delight in harassing a classmate who had similar sensory issues, by creeping up and making a ringing sound. This was very distressing, and Jeff got a big kick out of the boy's reaction. Then Jeff went off to junior high and I never really thought about it again. In fact, I haven't seen this particular kid in over a year.

The reason: He has developed an irrational panic disorder about Jeff. He hasn't been able to attend any event or school program that Jeff may or may not be attending without having a complete breakdown. His friends and classmates have taken it upon themselves to act as lookouts so that they can warn this boy if Jeff is in the vicinity. Jeff is blissfully unaware of this, and I was, too, until his mother told me so she can implement an intervention with the help of a behavioral therapist.

How crazy does a kid have to be to make another crazy kid even crazier?

April 5, 2007

Family Portrait (photo)

This image has not been altered. Hart and Jeff are as tall as I am.

April 1, 2007

Inky proofreading (photo)

Medical Miracle!

Since Hart had pneumonia, it seemed wise to get a chest X-ray for Jeff. So while Hart was napping in his hospital room, Jeff and I headed to radiology. Moments after Jeff was summoned, he and the technician came running out to look for me.

"His X-ray is completely clear. I saw this kid yesterday in the emergency room and he had pneumonia!"

"It's not really a medical miracle. This is a different kid," I had to tell him.