Parenthood and poop…

A couple of weekends ago, while sitting at the Urgent Care waiting for J to have an X-ray, Dada and I were pondering the role that poop has played in our lives since our respective parenting roles began.  I, of course, am a long-time poop veteran and connoisseur, but Dada comes in a close second in expertise.  If you have not gleaned from this that poop was the reason for our trip to Urgent Care, then you might not be a parent…yet.

Yes, yes…we went to the Urgent Care on a lovely Saturday evening because of poop.  Or, rather, we went because of a lack of poop.  That we ended up there shouldn’t be a surprise.  When your child has issues with communication, you tend to err on the side of caution when you can’t quite figure out what is bothering him.

I feel compelled to insert here a little anecdote about my father.  As the youngest of four children by seven years, my interactions with my parents usually took place in a sibling-less environment.  I visited them on weekends (not EVERY weekend, but here and there) and my brothers and sister were older and not always at home.  Being #4 out of four meant that a lot of what was done with me was done on “auto-pilot.”  Surely, my mother thought, I had the same blood type as my siblings.  I don’t.  I’m the ONE kid who isn’t O negative in the whole bunch.  We all had brown hair, brown eyes, were right-handed (or right-hand trained) and so on and so forth.  One day, at around the age of nine, I asked my dad if he knew what color my eyes were; he was reading the newspaper and I was 100% sure he wasn’t paying any attention to my presence.  He replied that my eyes were brown, and when I asked how he knew he replied that I’d always had constipation problems.  It seems that early on in life I developed a reputation for “stinginess” (my mother had studied Freud and these two characteristics, so I’ve been told, are related,) and the height of my parents’ concern for me was entirely related to constipation.  If I was in a bad mood, a can of prunes was promptly handed to me; if I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner a little too much, I was automatically told I would be constipated.  Until I had babies and I experienced the correlation between what goes in and what comes out, I had thought that my parents’ obsession with my bowel movements was completely absurd.

In a nutshell, J made twenty trips to the bathroom on that particular Saturday, and the look on his face indicated that he was not happy about them.  Since the trips were short and frequent, and we had ruled out the opposite of non-production, we figured something else was afoot.  Out came the iPad with the Proloquo2Go, and we tried everything we could think of to get him to explain how he felt.

J described that he was happy, and worried.  He indicated he had to go to the bathroom.  He also indicated he had pain.  He drank so much water that we figured he’d start sloshing on the inside as he walked.  After we suggested the doctor and the reaction was positive, we got packed up and drove off to the Urgent Care.  I packed a bag as if we might get sent to the hospital because, d-uh, if you’re packed and ready it doesn’t happen.

“Constipation.”  The doctor was blunt.  We sort of expected it and were profoundly happy that it wasn’t “appendicitis” he was being blunt about, and when he suggested a quick X-ray to check the extent of the issue J, with minimal hemming and hawing, agreed.  TGG escorted him, and Dada and I waited.

Dada started musing about how immune one becomes to poop as a parent.  I have to agree.  Parents react to poop in an entirely different way than other adults who haven’t dealt with children.  As I go to check the mail, I can see people walking their dogs, and I can identify the childless ones almost immediately.  The same women who baby-talk to their dogs yet pick up their poop as if they’d just stumbled onto a broken plutonium container are very likely childless.  There are qualms that are definitely obliterated when one has a child at home.

Long story short: an alteration in J’s diet because of a school field trip had caused a digestive issue, and poor J was experiencing discomfort and this eventually passed.  No pun intended, but it’s rather inevitable, isn’t it?  He was soon right as rain without incident and without intervention.  Lesson learned?  J’s tolerance for cheese and junk food is rather low these days…

Over the years we’ve had our share of poop issues that, quite honestly, we don’t want to revisit.  Whatever intimacy exists in a family has an inevitable relationship to what happens in the bathroom.  At one point or another everyone is seen naked; at one point or another you have to tell the kids it’s not cool to sit in front of the bathroom door while you’re on the toilet; at one point or another you will have to ask someone if they’ve gone to the bathroom, have to go to the bathroom, are done in the bathroom, and so on and so forth.  Toilet paper will be requested because someone forgot to check if there was any before they went into the bathroom.  Plungers will be needed.  Remedies for poop issues will be asked for, and provided.

We apologized to the doctor for our exaggerated concern for J’s pooplessness, and he shrugged and said “all extremes are bad…at least you know it’s got to come out at one point or another.  And you have a sense of humor about it…people sometimes forget that parenting and poop go hand in hand.  Poop is universal.  If we’re lucky, our kids will be willing to deal with ours when we’re too old to take care of ourselves.”

On the way home, TGG said “so we ran to the Urgent Care for poop?”  Dada and I nodded.  “Usually it’s for too much poop, right?”  We nodded again.  “Remember when J learned to use the toilet?”  We nodded.  “That was a very happy day for me!”  We nodded again.  “I remember you guys dancing around and clapping when J refused to wear his Pull-Ups and was dry all night.”  We nodded again.  “Is that when he started insisting on sleeping naked?”  We nodded once more.  “Wow!”  J laughed.

Dada, TGG and I exchanged looks in the rearview mirror.  We’ve all had to deal with caring for someone who couldn’t take care of this particular issue on their own; some of us for work, and some of us with a loved one.  TGG sighed and said “I had never thought of how much poop you guys have dealt with over the years.  I’m not ready to be a parent.  I can only deal with professional interactions with poop.  As long as it’s work-related I’m fine, but try to stay sharp and able for a while, will you?”

Dada and I looked at each other.  Sure, we said, we will…we want to, believe us.  We can’t promise, but it’s something we really, really want to do.  But it’s “circle of life,” and all that good stuff, you know…  “Yeah,’ TGG said, ‘I know.  Makes you wonder about indoor plumbing, the invention of toilet paper, nutrition and all that stuff, huh?”  We nodded again.  “It’s like a computer,’ said Dada, ‘your brother has an issue of GIGO.”  TGG nodded.  “OR,’ he said after a moment, ‘more like GIGNO.”

True…all too true.


Yesterday morning we switched from shorts to long pants courtesy of dropping temperatures, the firm grasp of autumn weather and our usual “might as well just do it” approach to everything.  I was sure that J was going to resist the switch, but he seemed happy to be wearing his cargo pants.  His, might I add, size 40 cargo pants…

Yes, my friends, J now wears -with sufficient room to move in comfortably- pants that are two sizes smaller than those he wore (uncomfortably) at the peak of his weight.  Also, J now tips the scales at a little over 237 pounds…  Callooh-callay, oh frabjous day!

Last year I worried about negotiating with J so he would eat something good for him.  Now this is no longer a problem.  J has become “the easy child to feed.”  It is well-known that J now eats any vegetable we put in front of him; he doesn’t necessarily like it, but he eats whatever we serve him.  If he shows that he really doesn’t like it (and this does NOT involve gagging sounds, spitting, or screaming,) then we put it on the “unfriendly vegetable list.”  Even green beans are fair game; I don’t put them in the rotation as often as I put other “friendlier” veggies, but J eats them…  Last night I had to actually negotiate with TGG to eat some cauliflower, and J found his brother’s attempt at eating a whole serving of seared cauliflower rather entertaining.  Eight year-old TGG would have totally loved eating “brains,” but 23 year-old TGG puts up with the cauliflower because he is “an example to his younger brother.”   J thinks this is funny.

The hard work that J has put in over the past 10 and a half months has definitely paid off.  He is svelte in comparison to his former self; he is comfortable in his clothes, moves with greater energy, alacrity, and flexibility.  If you see him for the very first time you might tell yourself “wow, that kid needs to lose weight,” and -yes- he can lose a few more pounds (gently, slowly, judiciously) over the next few months.  If you see his pictures from last October side by side with pictures taken today you say “WOW!”

J hasn’t eaten Ramen noodles since January; J now accepts that 19 pieces of candy corn are more than enough for one day, and he’s not past trying to finagle another serving, but he also doesn’t turn into “on fire Mr. Stay-Puft Man” when I tell him NO.  J accepts that a box of Cheez-Its is supposed to last weeks, and savors TWO sandwich cookies  more than he did the ten he would abscond with whenever he was given a chance.  J actually goes to the garage and takes inventory of the groceries he has bought, and will take chips out of the rotation if he wants to stretch them out until his next shopping trip.  The kid has learned his own version of crop rotation…callooh-callay!

It’s wonderful.  It’s an awesome feeling.  It’s great to see him getting healthier at a good pace without sacrificing his likes, without completely removing all treats from his diet.  J now accepts that mac and cheese has pumpkin in it, that scrambled eggs might be made with only egg whites, carrots and a small amount of cheese, that seared cauliflower might be consumed with a sandwich, that waffles are delicious when made of something other than plain old Belgian waffle batter, and so on and so forth and yadda yadda yadda.

The only downside to this is that now J isn’t happy when we’re running low on yogurt, pear chips, hummus, whole wheat pita bread, lentils and such.  The kid eats codfish chunks and home-made, oven-fried potato chips with the same gusto he would reserve for salt-happy hot dogs and preservative-laden fake-cheese mac and cheese.  I’ve seen him smile broadly when he realizes that I am making pea pesto, home-made spinach pasta, pumpkin French toast, and egg salad with carrots and just a whiff of mayo.  The same child who used to gag when mashed potatoes were even mentioned now eats a prudent portion of them and relishes them.  The same child who used to spit at the thought of fruit now will try even the most absurd concoctions made from them, gently turning down a second spoonful if they don’t appeal to him.  We DON’T have to leave the store with a cartload of snacks that will appease his moods rather than his hunger or peckishness.  J now knows when he is truly hungry, when he just wants a little something-something to tide him over or tickle his sweet tooth, and when he just needs to find something to do to entertain himself so he doesn’t eat out of boredom.

It’s a great feeling!

I know we have a way to go.  J’s blood pressure is perfect now, but he can stand to lose a few more pounds.  According to several different charts, J won’t be considered as being in a healthy-weight range until he’s in the vicinity of 128 to 156 pounds.  That means that J is somewhere between 110 and 80 pounds away from his ideal healthy weight.  That, my friends, sounds like A LOT to me.  Of course, 50 pounds sounded like a huge amount, an impossible amount!, last November, and look where we are now.

Slow and steady wins the race.  We’ve proven that.  We’ve witnessed that.  It’s not a bad approach, and J seems to have taken to it.  The first fifty pounds have been, one could argue, very easy to lose in spite of how long it’s taken to happen.  The next fifty, or eighty, or 110 are another story entirely.  How far, really, do we want to take this?  Are we going with what the charts say, or with what the doctors say?  Are we looking to make J the poster child for weight-loss, or is our goal solidly planted in “we just want him to be healthy?”

I am trying to picture J with eighty less pounds on him, and I’m having trouble with that, but we’ll see what happens when his check-up rolls around later this month.  I hope the doctor is impressed with the progress, and I hope J gets the recognition he deserves for his efforts. I don’t want this to turn into a frustrating visit for him because it would be dispiriting; I also don’t want to suddenly be forced to come up with an unrealistic weight-loss expectation.

For now…hey, he’s a lot less to look at and hug than he was this time last year, and we’re very happy for him and his BP.



It must be love…

“Perhaps one girl who was moving in a fine line finds one boy in back that she can always stand behind…  – It Must Be Love, Rickie Lee Jones

Fifteen years ago today, Dada and I got married.  It was HOT that day, even by California standards.  TGG was dizzy from the heat, and I thought he was going to faint before he valiantly took a deep breath and walked me halfway down the aisle.  Then he went and got his Dada, and brought him to me.  And we walked the rest of the way together.  It was a sweet wedding.  My ring wouldn’t fit, and I had to push it in place.  J decided to run all over the place, and prompted my sister into dumping him at my feet because he wasn’t letting her “mingle.”  The kids ate mac and cheese and hot dogs; I don’t remember what we ate.  The cake was good…and beautiful without being wedding cake-like in appearance.

Marriage, though, isn’t about the wedding.  If you judged our marriage based solely on our wedding you’d see a slapdash, thrown-together event peppered with home-made souvenirs, a dress that wasn’t white and wasn’t expensive, kids running around having more fun than kids should have at a wedding, people who didn’t even know we were madly in love attending a wedding that they didn’t know was going to happen.  Makes for an interesting picture.  One of those “I give it six months” deals…

Behind the workings of throwing a wedding together, a family had already taken root and started to grow.  The man who had nieces and nephews he hadn’t carried until they were old enough to not break, and whose diapers he had never changed was suddenly a father of two, changing diapers for a nearly-five year-old J.  On that hot Saturday afternoon, our dynamics were already incomprehensible to many.  Whatever doubts existed in other people’s minds at that moment should be completely moot by now…

You know those conversations that happen when the room is still dark, the alarm hasn’t gone off and you’re wide awake but not yet ready to start the day outside the confines of bed?  We had one of those this morning.  It started when I sat bolt-upright in bed at 4:48 and said “happy anniversary” before kissing my husband and dashing off to the bathroom because I keep getting these e-mails saying your odds of having a heart attack are reduced by drinking lots of water before going to bed.

We laugh a lot.  You’d think we don’t because we’re living with a severely autistic individual, but we do laugh a lot.  We laughed at our aches and pains; we laughed at what we see in each other; we laughed at the fact that people don’t see those things and this makes them weird in our eyes; we laughed at why people buy houses in TV shows after specifying that they need granite countertops and they like to entertain; we pondered what “we like to entertain” means, and then we laughed at the couple who gets married and his idea of entertaining is watching football while she likes to hang out with the women drinking wine in the kitchen.  We also wondered if there are those girls out there who suddenly realize that the idea of entertaining their husbands harbor involves playing D&D.

Dada and I talk like the Gilmore Girls.  This is not an exaggeration.  We skip from one thing to another using a variety of random references that only WE get, and which -when explained to others- elicit a shake of the head and a “huh????”  This morning’s riff involved how Dada resembles the kid who, when visiting grandma, desperately wants to play one-on-one with the taciturn, cantankerous old cat who wants attention while still scoffing at it.  That would be me…I’d be the cat that gets wrangled into tea parties and playing pirates even when I think I’d rather take a nap on a sunny spot on the couch.  And it’s when the cat is napping that the kid wants to play, and it’s when the kid wants to play that the cat pretends like it’s offended and annoyed.

We then wondered out loud if our pirate personas would rather have an eyepatch, a peg leg or a hook for a hand, and what we would carry when taking over a ship…  And that, my friends, was without one single bit of coffee yet in our systems.  By the time the alarm emitted its increasingly loud beeping, we were doubled over laughing, and it was time to rush through the morning routine.

Don’t worry.  Our life is plenty romantic.  We do make time to not be goofy together, and we succeed beautifully.  Our kids understand that we are one subset of the larger set we make up together, and that the subset has its own dialect and rituals, a private covenant that helps the general well-being to survive.  We dance in the kitchen…Paul Simon’s Kodachrome will do that to us; we start every vacation jumping on the bed…literally, like kids, jumping on the bed…even if we’re going nowhere interesting; we are expressive in goofy, wonderful ways that hark back to the people we are deep inside and that have hidden under layers of adulthood; we neck on the couch; we go for walks; we are sexy with the bodies we have and the same energy and emotion of much younger people…and then the Tiger Balm comes out of the drawer and we laugh about how creaky and rusty our joints are.  We argue with the same gusto of an eighteen year-old and a twenty-one year-old who haven’t yet learned to “talk” to each other, only to let the 49 and 52 year-olds take over and make sense of how absurd it all can be.

Our wedding was a rather spontaneously-unplanned event, but our marriage isn’t.  If Gwyneth Paltrow used “conscious uncoupling” as a crutch for her divorce, we can only argue “stubborn in-your-face love” as our reason for being together.  We are people who argue with each other saying, rather forcefully and with sincere feeling, “well…I…LOVE…you!”  And then we laugh…because it’s true…we don’t just love each other; we are IN love with each other.  Like Johnny says to Frankie in Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune, “we were a couple before we met.”  Of course, Johnny refers to the song Frankie and Johnny as much as he means that he recognizes something in Frankie that fits perfectly with him…

Rickie Lee, by the way, finishes that line I quoted at the beginning with “…and it’s still you and me ’cause that’s where we want to be.”  Sounds about right, doesn’t it?



And October arrives…

There is no surprise in the arrival of autumn weather when it’s this late in the year.  A week ago the leaves were still green, a rogue yellow, orange, red or brown leaf peeking out from behind the other younger-looking ones.  Like the appearance of those few first stray hairs, I almost convinced myself that fall colors were still in the future…

Summer came and went in what seemed a wave of crises.  It began with the news that Dada’s father wasn’t doing well, and it ended with his interment.  In the middle of all that, my father (a sturdy man of good, rural Calabrian stock) was enfeebled by a stroke.  My calls to my stepmom no longer involve “what mood is he in?” but rather “how well is he holding up?”  The once-mighty is now like a child who complains and seeks comfort from a woman he can’t quite remember being married to for the past twenty years.  No wonder the leaves are turning so quickly…

J has managed the stress of all these situations quite well.  It seems at times he’s handled it better than us.  I would like to think that this speaks of the resilience built into youth, but I know that we have added another success to our record: we haven’t “lost it” in the middle of all the things that have been happening.  And if we HAVE lost it, we’ve managed to keep it away from J.  While we know that J won’t always have the benefit of being surrounded by cotton wadding in the middle of crises, we didn’t feel it was fair to unload on him all the emotional strife that we’ve been experiencing.  Two parents in precarious health are quite a lot to deal with when you’re not a family with a special needs person in its midst…when you have an autistic kid who cannot fully comprehend the abstract concept of dying (because people leave rooms, go elsewhere, travel, move to another house, get in a car or plane or train, but dying is not just the act of ceasing to be alive) it would be cruel to surround him with angst that he can’t process properly.

Dada traveled to his father’s funeral alone.  I think he thought that he could handle this by himself.  Nothing is more jarring than realizing you’ve miscalculated your ability to handle grief.  Jet lag didn’t help the sombre nature of his trip to California; the hectic pace of the proceedings should have brought some respite to everyone, but it just seemed to serve as a way to not directly deal with the situation.  If you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic you’ll immediately start discussing how the roads are just too jammed with cars, how late it makes you to everything unless you factor in all the possible routes, delays, etc.  The exhaustion of all this distracts you from the fact that you’re about to put your father’s ashes in a crypt until it’s dark and you’re alone.

J noticed Dada’s absence, and took advantage of FaceTime to interact with him.  The kid who won’t talk on the phone was sitting on the floor just gazing lovingly at his Dada’s face while Dada talked about his day, the woes and delays of travel and traffic, and so on…  By the time the kids returned from the gym on Sunday evening, Dada was home in his Doctor Who lounge pants, and all was right with J’s world.  We’ve slowly fallen into our groove since then; grief is translating into other positive things; we talk a little more, reminisce a little more, just hang out together a little more.

I am mere weeks away from my fiftieth birthday.  OK, the new year has to arrive before then, but it’s weeks…ok, four months-ish.  The end of my forties, however, seems imminent.  As I was telling Dada this morning, the person I see in the mirror really needs to go and find my reflection.  I’m sure there’s a younger version wandering aimlessly inside the mirror.  The woman who went to dinner with my husband on Saturday night was clearly a middle-aged woman of rather ample dimensions and significantly grayer-than-I-thought hair.  Maybe if I fostered the habit of looking at my reflection more often I’d be more accustomed to her (seemingly sudden) appearance.  Dada says she’s totally recognizable and doesn’t look as bad as I claim, but we all know that he’s a desperate old man with failing eyesight, dwindling options and very low standards.

I suppose that when many difficult things happen in a short period of time, we start feeling our age a little more.  Of course, you can argue that Sandra Bullock , Monica Bellucci, Famke Janssen, Mariska Hargitay, Mary Louise Parker, Marisa Tomei, Juliette Binoche, Bridget Fonda, Laura Linney and so forth are all fifty (or close to it) and they look fine.  Well…give them a year in this household and we’ll see.  You could also argue that a lot of my classmates are 50 or close to it, and they look great.  I guess we just age according to the elements that come into play in our lives.

Dada came home with a large box full of printed photos.  The plan is that I will scan them and distribute them so everyone has a copy of the family album.  Last night we spent an hour organizing the packages of pictures by date, and we looked through them.  We saw the evolution of a couple into a family, and we saw children grow into adulthood.  And, as we look around the house, we can see the same children turned into adults turned into parents of children who have turned into adults.  TGG has realized, from looking at pictures from two years ago, that Dada has, in fact, joined the ranks of the middle-aged and that I’ve happily (and inevitably) joined him.

With the skinnier part of 2014 comes the realization that we are all getting older.  The “old guard” (as my aunt liked to call older people until she became one herself) is slowly going away.  Dada was surprised at how few of his father’s contemporaries attended the funeral, and how many of the children he grew up with showed up looking, well, middle-aged.  A picture taken during this trip shows five brothers looking like time has just kept on rolling, and they’ve rolled with it.

J is ready for his colder-weather wardrobe.  His colder-weather wardrobe, though, isn’t ready for him…everything is too big.  Every pair of pants, even with a belt, is much too loose.  In the course of a year, J has changed enough to warrant a new winter wardrobe.  He has learned to eat better; he has learned to handle his temper; he has made peace with the fact that dogs exist and they will, unexpectedly, cross his path.  It has been a year of changes…at least the ones J’s experienced are good, and make us feel encouraged and warm inside.

The rest of the stuff that’s altered, well, we’ll work through it little by little, together, more awake, more aware.  That’s why we’re here.