Monday, August 27, 2012

The More Things Change

Have I told you how grateful I am for Monday Listicles?  When I get out of the habit of caring for Sperk*, Monday Listicles always brings me back, gently and successfully.  Thanks, Stasha.

Today’s theme is 10 Clues We Are Living In 2012.  But, you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

5 Clues I Am Living in 2012

1.  I have no landline. My home phone is my cell phone.

2.  My oldest is a freshman in high school.

3.  I can go an entire week without speaking to anyone, but still communicate with the world.

4.  Completed my college degree without stepping foot in a classroom.

5.  $100 buys only one bag of groceries.

5 Clues Nothing Has Changed Since 1992

1.  My kids’ school backpacks weigh over 50 pounds each.  (When will technology replace all of those binders and books?)

2.  I get calls from telemarketers soliciting time shares.

3.  Teens still have make-out parties in the basement and think parents do not know.

4.  Watching television is still one of America’s top forms of entertainment.

5.  Moms top the list as the number one most embarrassing thing in the lives of teens.

Who knows.  Some of these things may change.  Our school district will eventually embrace technology.  Kids may have online make-out parties.  But one thing that will most definitely never change:  our kids' need for love and acceptance.  

Go hug your baby.  Or your puppy.  Or go online and feed your cyber-pet.

Go forth into the new week with optimism. . . because I said so.

The best way to spend Monday in the blogosphere!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Very Informal Wednesday's Woman

It’s my birthday!

I love birthdays—celebrating the anniversary of the day of my arrival onto the planet as a being no longer requiring life support from her mother’s womb.  It’s an important day.  It means this:   I am meant to be here.  And for that reason alone, I should live well, celebrate life, contemplate making it better, take action, and so on.

As a birthday present for myself, I am quitting smoking.  Smoking is gross.  It kills.  It’s socially unacceptable, which makes me a shameful outcast.  It’s a vice I use to stuff feelings and escape.  It’s … well…

Heart Disease is the number one killer of women in America.

It’s Wednesday!

I thought about honoring myself for Wednesday’s Woman because it’s my birthday.  My judgmental inner-coach told me that would seem very prideful and vain. 

On second thought, maybe not.


Today’s Wednesday’s Woman is every woman who has ever stopped smoking!

For more interesting reading, check out last week’s Wednesday’s Woman, by Anna Mahler, spotlighting Christy Turlington Burns who is a former smoker and founder of Smoking is Ugly.

Another interesting read about women and hot off the press is from Forbes: The World's 100 Most Powerful Women 2012. 

I didn’t make the list.  But Forbes hasn't figured out just how powerful I am.  I will give them a few years.

Enjoy your day!

Wednesday's Woman is a weekly feature spotlighting women who are positive role models for our daughters and the world. . .

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Did I Miss Summer?

Did I miss summer?

Technically, no, I did not. 

I watched the Summer Olympics, traveled to two concerts, and weathered a severe wind storm that brought a three-day power outage.  I also sweated my tootsies off without central air for the third year in a row. (You know, I don’t think I will ever get central air.  I grew up without it, and this year, we survived without it during the hottest summer ever.  And my electric bill is nice and minimal during the summer.  So there. I’m living green).

Even with proof that I experienced summer break, it seems it flew by like a Peregrine Falcon.  (The Peregrine Falcon is known for its speed which can reach over 200 mph.  Yes, I watched The Big Year several times over break). 

During the time I was watching movies, complaining about the heat, sitting in self-abomination because I couldn’t make it to BlogHer ’12, and reminiscing about my high school graduation that happened 25 summers ago, fellow-bloggers gave me awards.    

I’m grateful, therefore I am going to share.  Also, my daughters went back to school, which means I need to get back to . . . doing . . . something.

The lovely writers at Ladies Holiday bestowed upon me the Liebster Award.  Have you checked out Ladies Holiday?  You should.  It’s a great collaborative site.  I personally guarantee you’ll enjoy visiting their space.

The amazing women who are the Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms bestowed upon me the Very Inspirational Blogger Award.  Talk about inspiring!  These women are smart, witty, feeling, thinking moms with tons of kids between the two of them.  They have been an authentic voice of support in the comments at Sperk* and I hope to continue seeing them here for a very long time. 

And last, but certainly not least, Carrie, who is at a new space called Written Ramblings, offered me the Very Inspirational Blogger Award way back on June 29th.  I was right in the middle of the power outage and planned to respond as soon as AEP worked its magic.  But then I did something else--something much less important than saying “Thank you.” 

To accept the awards, I must pass them along to other bloggers and give random facts about myself. 

First, the facts:

* My Chihuahua, Frodo, is always on my lap when I am writing.
* I have a serious problem with procrastination.
* Tomorrow is my birthday.
* I think kids rule.
* Music makes me happy.

Now, the awards (if you accept, proudly display the honor on your blog, pass it onto others, and give some random facts about yourself):

Liebster Award (up and coming with less than 200 followers):

~One Funny Motha

Very Inspirational Blogger Award:

Monday, August 20, 2012

10 Things Car

My car is old and not pictured above.  That's a fantasy car.  My real car is paid for and I like the lack of monthly payments.  But I do have moments where I daydream about driving around in a shiny BMW or a sporty new mini-van. 

Here are the cars, listed in no particular order, I fantasize about driving:

1.  2013 Mustang Shelby GT500 Convertible – For speed, hotness, and being an American woman.

2.  1967 Mustang Fastback – For when I am nostalgic and wearing my best vintage attire.

3.  2012 Volvo XC70 – For carpooling from school and heading to the softball tournament.
4.  Volkswagen Beetle (any year) – For shopping trips in the trendy Short North.

5.  2013 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class – For valet parking at Hyde Park Steakhouse

7.  New Honda Odyssey – For when I am being practical.  I have wanted one ever since my sister put herself on a waiting list for one in 2000.  A waiting list?  Really?

8.  BMW X5 – For driving across the country to visit my friend Corrie in Oregon.

9.  Range Rover Evoque 5-door – For Sophia.  I asked her what kind of car she’d replace ours with and    she replied, “A small SUV.”

10. 2012 Mitsubishi I – For Antonia.  I asked her what kind of car she’d replace ours with and she doesn’t    care.  So I chose an electric car for her.  She’s hip and environmental like that.

If you could choose any ONE car to own, what would it be?

The best way to spend Monday in the blogosphere!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Christy Turlington Burns

Christy Turlington Burns (credit)

Today's Wednesday's Woman comes to you from monthly contributor, Anna Mahler, who blogs at The Mommy Padawan.  Anna is a strong voice for self-care.  Her philosophy is that if we love and care for ourselves we will share that goodness with others.  She is an advocate for children and women and has recently been featured at MindBodyGreen.

Wednesday's Woman: Christy Turlington Burns

Christy Turlington Burns is an incredibly beautiful woman. She's a highly recognizable face backed by a very successful modeling career.  But there is more to her than meets the eye, another side she is not as recognized for. She is also a mother and longtime advocate for preventable health and wellness. Her concern and compassion for women’s health issues have led her to become a film maker and activist for two important causes, both close to her heart. 

After losing her father to lung cancer and conquering her own nicotine addiction, Christy began working to help educate others on the damaging health effects of smoking. In the late 1990's, she co-created anti-smoking public service announcements for MTV, presented at the SurgeonGeneral's first report on Women and Tobacco and in 2002, created the website Smoking Is Ugly.  

The site provides resources for those trying to kick the habit, information on the health effects of smoking for women and Christy's own story of loss, her personal struggle to quit and what she's learned and gained.

Her more recent and possibly more well-known work is her 2010 documentary on maternal mortality around the world, No Woman No Cry and the creation of her organization for this cause, Every Mother Counts

In 2003, Christy gave birth to a healthy baby girl at home. Her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter were both normal but shortly after delivery, she experienced PPH – Post Partum Hemorrage. While her midwife and obstetrician were able to manage this complication without a problem, Christy learned that PPH is the leading cause of pregnancy related death in the world, especially for those without access to pre and postnatal care, even here in the US.

While pregnant with her second child, Christy spent time traveling with CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting global poverty with a special focus on working with women. With them, she was able to visit parts of Central America and Peru and saw firsthand some of the work being done to help lower maternal mortality rates in these areas.

Deeply effected and wanting to find a good way to share what she had seen and learned, Christy began working on her documentary, No Woman NoCry. The film includes women's stories from Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and the United States.

But more work lay ahead as Christy explained what caused her to start Every Mother Counts:

“The experience of making the film was life changing and thegeneral response since completing it has been validating in that it has proventhat the effort that went into it has been meaningful to so many. But bringingthese stories to those who previously didn’t know about any of these maternalhealth challenges was only a start. What is awareness if not harnessed andturned into action? At every screening I attended, people were asking what theycould do to help, how they could get involved. The issue was obviously touchinga nerve and I found that people were reacting exactly as I had hoped—like me.Once you know the facts, how can you ignore them? I wanted to create a placeothers could go to learn more and be a part of the solution.”

The web site for her organization provides detailed information on women's maternal health issues and ways you can help, from donations and fundraising to telling your story and supporting products that donate and support the cause as well.  Information on the organization's progress is also included online including current information on goals, partnerships and work being done to help women around the world.

Christy Turlingtons' outer beauty is undeniable, but it is her compassion for other women and mothers and her desire to educate and help that is her real beauty to me, this is what makes her shine.  That is what inspires me about her and why I choose her for Wednesday's Woman.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Turn Back Time, Again

I was questioning everything I did like it was my first day on the planet.  Everything was wrong, even my attitude.

Then I got a message asking me to participate in an outstanding blogging meme at Chosen Chaos.  I enthusiastically said, “yes!” and even though I wasn’t scheduled to contribute until later in the year, being considered was more than enough to turn my negative attitude into goodness. 

Jamie Walker created If I Could Turn Back Time as a way to meet new bloggers and learn some life lessons:

Rea­sons for this series include…
Intro­duce my read­ers to some great blog­gers out there
Learn a les­son from some­one else’s les­son learned
Enjoy some “thank God for that” thoughts that we never haveto be 18 again
Remind our­selves that we’ve come a long way… and still havea long way to go!

The meme was comprised of one question:

If you had the oppor­tu­nity to sit down with your 18 year old self what would you say to her?

I thought of all of the funny things I would tell my 18 year old self and quickly typed them out.  However, how many funny posts at Sperk* have you read?  Zach Galifianakis is not burning up my Twitter feed with requests that I collaborate on writing a movie.

I put it away for a while.  I had time.

Then I had one day.

Thinking of what and how to write my submission was difficult.

It stirred things up.

I became angry—mad at my 18 year old self, frustrated with my 42 year old self, and furious at time.

Then I wrote.

Things don’t go away without effort.  One has to let them go.  Then one can make room for a new outlook, a fresh perspective, a space where breathing is effortless and living feels right. 

That’s what this post did for me.  It was featured at Chosen Chaos on July 20th

Today, Chosen Chaos is celebrating a full year of If I CouldTurn Back Time by linking up all of the bloggers who participated.  My submission is below followed by a link that takes you to that link up. I encourage you to go there and spend some of your time.  Each writer approached it differently.  Each writer gave the reader something to hold onto that is inspiring. 

If you had the opportunity 
to sit down with your 18-year-old self, 
what would you say?

Put down that beer right now. It has caused you enough grief already and I am sure that if you stop drink­ing now, it will save you a lot of grief in the future. You do not need it. It just makes you seem silly and makes you a target for abuse.

Now, call your mom back and tell her you will be changing your major even though she thinks you won’t be able to succeed at anything else. Danc­ing is her dream, not yours. You want to be seen AND heard.

Unfortunately, your life has been based on how you appear to others and it has made you very inse­cure. You will never measure up to the incredible standards you have created for yourself. So, just do it. Change your major from dance to psychology.

Here comes the difficult part.

You are not crazy.

You are right.

The drinking, the eating disorder and the incredibly low self-​esteem are connected. I know you have been searching with all of your might, try­ing to find the missing piece, trying to get it to make sense. I know you do not want to drink and you do not want to count potato chips. You want to walk into a room and confidently say, “Hello.”

The missing piece is a lost memory. You suppressed it because it was too much for your developing brain to handle. I am not sure your brain can handle it now, but I do know you’ll waste less time if you know—now.

If you need to leave school, do it.

If you need to stop talk­ing to your mom and sis­ter, do it.

If you need to join the Peace Corps, do it.

Whatever it takes to begin your journey of healing, do it now.

All else will take care of itself.

No need to worry about getting too old to dance. You won’t be a famous dancer. Dance for fun.

If you want to be famous, head towards that lit­tle room in the basement of the university next to the sports equipment storage—the computer lab. That’s where the money is. And yes, you are smart enough to do it.

Work on your voice. Write. Laugh. Go for a walk and write some more.

No, I’m not kidding.

That journal writing you have been doing is good stuff. It really, really is. And don’t throw away any of them. You’ll want all of your writ­ing, even the stuff you wrote when you were eight years old.

People will hear you.

You will be heard.

It will get very lonely sometimes. But it will pass. It all does. Everything does. Darkness turns to light, sadness to joy and vice versa.

Yes, there will be darkness.

When it is especially difficult, look in the mirror and say, “I love you.”

Look at me, right now, saying, and “It wasn’t your fault.”

You will get through this.

You have survived the worst of it.

There will be light.

And I will be here, with you, always.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Medalists, Wells and Harper, Bring Us All Down

It pains me, when on a world stage, medalists in the Olympics bring fellow-athletes down—especially female athletes.  This is an historic year for women at the Olympics.  Every country has a female representative and the US women outnumber the men.  So why, when Kellie Wells, bronze medalist in the 100m hurdles, and Dawn Harper, silver medalist in the same event, were interviewed by NBC’s Michelle Beadle, did they have to bring down Lolo Jones?  It wasn't just in their words, it was also in their attitudes (see interview here).
"I just felt as if I worked really hard to represent my country [in 2008] in the best way possible," Harper said, "and to come away with the gold medal, and to honestly seem as if, because [the media's] favorite didn't win all of sudden it's just like, 'Were going to push your story aside, and still gonna push this one.' That hurt. It did. It hurt my feelings.
"But I feel as if I showed I can deal with the pressure, I came back, and I think you kinda got to respect it a little bit now."
But if Harper's beef seems to be as much with the media's treatment of Jones as Jones herself, that wasn't the case for Wells.
"I think that, on the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed," she said. "And that's all that really needs to be said."
"Boom!" Harper responded. "Just like that."
One could argue they are jealous of Lolo’s media attention.  Who wouldn’t be?  I’m jealous of Lolo Jones’ media attention and more so, the pay checks that come with it.

However, at what cost does Lolo Jones gain this attention?

She grew up in poverty, sometimes homeless.  She had an absent, incarcerated father.  She’s a two-time Olympian and a World-Indoor Champion--both of which take more work than most of us can even begin to imagine.

This is the kicker--she’s pretty.  The media loves pretty women.  However, rarely do we get to see beautiful women who are also inspiring  and courageous.

Do I wish Lolo would keep her clothes on for magazine photo shoots?  Yes.

Do I wish Lolo would not talk about her sexuality?  My answer is not quite as definitive on that one.  I wish we, as Americans in the 21st Century, wouldn’t make such a big deal about a person’s sexuality.

I can’t imagine having to perform in the global arena of the Olympics surrounded by so much attention and controversy.  It’s astounding that she qualified for her final and finished 4th.  It’s even more astounding that this was a comeback Olympic performance after hitting hurdles and losing the gold in 2008.  It takes a lot of mental strength to overcome so, so much.

Yes, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells both have stories of adversity, too.  And as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I was truly hoping Kellie Wells, fellow-survivor, would win the gold—for us.  But the bronze did not disappoint and I celebrated wildly in my living room.

However, it hurts me, you, them, and us when we bring each other down like Harper and Wells did in today’s interview with Beadle.

It makes me think Harper and Wells do not understand the concept of timing in personal branding.  If I were a potential sponsor, after hearing today’s interview, I would walk away from both of them.  And really, their negativity shines more light on Lolo--contrary to what they seem to desire.

It makes me wonder about how much pain these two accomplished women are still experiencing from the adversity in their past.

It makes me ache for how much pain they are causing.

Ladies, let’s raise each other up, not bring each other down.

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Wednesday's Woman: The Athletes of the XXX Olympiad

Tower Bridge, Games of the XXX Olympiad, London

With the 2012 Olympics officially ending in just a few days, I am preparing for my post-games grief—that feeling of missing seeing great sports on television.  This grief is typically experienced at the end of the NFL season, so I am used to it.  Luckily, there are still many events in the Games of the XXX Olympiad to watch, and many events involve female athletes.

This is the first Olympics in history that every country has sent a female representative.  That’s awesome. 

Today, for Wednesday’s Woman, I am taking a pause from my viewing of Olympic coverage to celebrate the female Olympic athlete.

First, I give you the bad news.  According to two new studies on past Olympics, televised coverage of male athletes surpasses the coverage of female athletes (click here for the numbers).  The numbers are not yet in for this year’s Olympic coverage, of course, and I’ll be interested in the results. 

Also, the media is still calling females “fat” when they aren’t.  These are athletes.  They are in top condition.  Get a grip.  Some standards are ridiculous. 

Now, the good news. 

Yes, all countries have female representatives for the first time ever.   Another first is that the U.S. team consists of more women than men-- 269 female athletes to 261 males.  Wow.

It’s not a gender-numbers competition and the U.S. team is certainly pretty close to even.

However, for women in some countries (remember recent Wednesday's Woman, Maziah Mahusin?), getting to the Olympics is a feat accomplished beyond athletics:    TheMuslim women who overcame the odds and the prejudice to make history today onthe Olympic stage

Some of my favorite moments have been during the track and field events.  I love hearing the broadcasters tell the life-stories of the athletes as they prepare to place their feet onto the starting blocks.  After the events, seeing their bright faces and hearing their outpouring of gratitude rouses my ever-growing appreciation for those who have overcome adversity.

Some of my favorite stories:

Alysia Montano winning heat 1 of the 800m on her grandmother’s 100th birthday.

Lolo Jones finished 4th in a comeback, after hurdle mishaps which caused her to lose in the 2008 Olympics.  To me, she was already a winner after overcoming a childhood of homelessness and poverty.  And no, I do not care about the controversy over her sexuality (although I do wish we'd focus less on it).  She's a winner.  End of discussion.

Another to overcome a troublesome childhood was Kellie Wells, a survivor of child sexual rape, who won the bronze in the 100m hurdle.  I do hope she overcomes her bitterness for Lolo Jones' media attention.  I've always loved the quote, "You don't have to blow out another's candle to make yours shine bright."  And Kellie is no less than a winner, too.  I hope she continues to tell her story and is eventually a power advocate for healing.

There are many, many more stories about the inspiring female athletes of the XXX Olympics.  What are some of your favorites?

For of their courage,
 all of the female athletes at the
 2012 Olympics 
are today’s Wednesday’s Woman.

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photo credit: Viktor Hertz via photo pin cc

Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, August 6, 2012

10 for Dinner

Monday Listicles and Bridget are sharing who they’d invite to dinner--people either living or dead.  I’m playing along, but staying within reality, somewhat.  The people on my list are alive and possibly would accept a dinner invite from me.  Possibly.  I do think they would all be willing to eat a delivered pizza, so they're in...and for some other reasons as well.

10 People I’d Invite to Dinner

I - IV Chumlee, Rick, Corey, and the Old Man 

Gold and Silver Pawn Shop
     for interesting stories

V   Lolo Jones

     for inspiration

VI - VII  Corrie Ortner and Christa Weber

Corrie, Me, Christa, hot tub
     for old times and friendship

VIII - X  My family

  for love 

Who would you invite to dinner?
The best way to spend Monday in the blogosphere!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Save It for Later: BlogHer '12, Reality TV, and Back to School

In Save It for Later you’re getting a brief run-down of each week's stand-outs from around the Web.

"Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat."

Voices of the Year
Thanks to the kindness of Ashley Taylor and Stacey Gill, I had the opportunity to go to BlogHer ’12 and celebrate my VOTY honor.  Thanks to my inability to overcome the fear of the dentist, I missed it.  Also, dentists are expensive--more expensive than what I had saved for a flight to NYC.  I was faced with deciding between a cracked front tooth and lost crown being fixed and attending the conference.  The situation depressed me.  And I still haven’t found an affordable option for fixing my teeth.  I’m in a funk and hoping to overcome it by continuing a fearless examination of what it means to be me:  Sperk*, a human, mom, friend, and one who sometimes loses sight of the fortitude I already hold (that was in no particular order).

Did you go to BlogHer ’12?  How was it?

What Are You Watching?

I’m into the new HBO series The Newsroom.  I like its intelligent take on the media, challenging viewers to be critical thinkers as they take in the news and other forms of entertainment.  In episode four, I'll Try to Fix You, viewers got a fictional and yet impactful look into gossip magazines’ “takedown” stories.   Regina Kulik Scully and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who write for the blog at Miss Representation, recently wrote an article related to the episode, asking us to take into consideration why we watch reality television.  Although I do not view most reality shows as “takedown” stories, they have a similar trashy feel.  The article, The Toxic 'Takedown' Fast, raises interesting questions related to both tabloid 'takedowns' and reality shows.  

With the premiere of TLC’s new show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo , premiering on Wednesday, I have to ask, “When will we say ‘enough!’ to reality television?”  And, "Who are we taking down with these shows?" 

I’m grateful my own reality TV guilty pleasure, Pawn Stars, is not in the TLC, but airs on The History Channel.  I’m afraid Honey Boo Boo is going to cause me to boycott TLC.

Back to School Shopping

My kids start school earlier than usual this year—August 15th.  That means school supply shopping is not right around the corner.  It should be happening now.  I’m unprepared.  And both of my girls have long lists of items that need to be purchased in order for them to be prepared for learning (insert a hint of sarcasm here___).

According to a CBS News story, Americans will spend on average $689 per family on back to school shopping.  Here’s some sound advice from J.J. Montanaro, who writes at USAA, on how to make it a little less painful: 

Find something interesting while surfing the Web this week?  Let me know in the comments. 

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photo credit: Sarah Deforche via photo pin cc

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: The Real Superwoman, Part II

What is Wednesday's Woman?
Courage, honesty, authenticity, and humility--any characteristic that speaks to the power of what can happen when we are in touch with our own humanity.  She can be famous or unknown.  She can be working wonders at home or on a global scale.  A Wednesday's Woman inspires.

Stacy Gill, who blogs at One Funny Motha, found someone who, without question, fits the bill.  Part One of her piece, The Real Superwoman is extraordinarily inspiring.  Part II is no less extraordinary. 

Read Part One here, follow Stacy on Twitter here, and read her humorous musing on motherhood and life at One Funny Motha. 

Wednesday Woman: 
The Real Superwoman, Part II
by Stacey Gill, One Funny Motha

When Ben was three Joanne and John decided to have another baby. Joanne had always known even as a young girl she wanted a family, but she made the decision about another child with much consideration and caution.  

“I don’t want to die having buried my only child,” she said. “But I didn't want to bring another child into the world with this disability.”  

So she did her homework.  

“Part of going to Chicago was finding out what the risks were in having another child.”  

When they’d originally seen the expert in Chicago, they learned the problem in her first pregnancy was most likely related to a blood flow issue in her placenta. It was rare and unlikely to happen again. “It was a fluke,” Joanne said.  
Still, she wasn't taking any chances. She saw a high-risk ob/gyn at Columbia Presbyterian and ordered up tons of tests.  

“We controlled everything we could,” she said. “I told the doctor I wanted every test.”  

Even with all the precautions, Joanne couldn't control everything, and after her second son, Sebastian, was born concerns once again began to grow.   

“He had five words at one, but at a year and a half he wasn't using them anymore.”  

Joanne took him to the pediatrician, but the doctor seemed unfazed. Joanne sensed denial, but she’s convinced the doctor’s denial sprung from his sincere desire to spare her from another shocking diagnosis. Relying on her instincts and her knowledge as a special education teacher, Joanne insisted on having Sebastian tested. He was diagnosed with autism.  

“We still went through the process to come to terms with the diagnosis, but it didn't shock us when we heard it.”  

Joanne hired a private speech teacher and entered Sebastian in a preschool where he would have a certified special education teacher working with him in the classroom. In his first year Sebastian made “phenomenal progress.” He began talking in simple sentences, and by the middle of the year he was even potty trained. To Joanne this was nothing short of miraculous. But in his second year his progress slowed and by kindergarten Joanne saw significant problems.  

Since Sebastian was a higher-functioning kid, he didn't fit the typical model for any of the special education programs offered by the New York City Board of Education. Without a program to specifically address his needs, the best solution seemed to be placing him in an inclusion classroom (one where special education students mixed with general education students) with two teachers, one general ed. and one special ed. But the teachers quickly began to complain of Sebastian’s lack of participation. Joanne asked about the various methods they used with him but wound up instructing the teachers on effective strategies.  

Joanne also worked with Sebastian at home. She tried to prepare him for participation in morning circle time by putting together what amounted to mini oral reports complete with photos each night. The next day in class, though, Sebastian simply read off the poster board.  

Then one day early on the school lost him. Although Joanne had warned the school that Sebastian ran away whenever he got scared or upset, he still managed to get away, and the school, which sat next to a highway, left their doors unlocked. Sebastian was found unharmed, but Joanne knew it was time to find a lawyer.  

“I stopped being the mommy and started to be the advocate.”  

Joanne once again started the rounds of visiting schools in all five boroughs including private schools just as she had done the previous year prior to the start of kindergarten looking for a suitable environment for Sebastian. She actually found a private school that was about to open a class for higher-functioning autistic kids, and it was already on a list of schools approved by the NYCBoard of Education. Joanne just had to get a referral from the BOE for Sebastian to attend the school. But the clock was ticking. The school only had a limited number of spots. Joanne pushed for a meeting with the BOE to determine Sebastian’s placement for the following year, but the day before her resolution meeting, she was notified the last spot had been taken at the school.  

The next day she got the approval for private school. “So I had private school funding and nowhere to send him.”  

By that point Joanne said, “Sebastian had severe school anxiety. Everyday he cried. Every day he begged me to find him a new school. I felt I had completely failed him.”  

This from a woman who did everything, everything, in her power to attend to the special needs of one child while simultaneously and often single-handedly caring for every need of her other son. That’s the curse of motherhood. No matter how much you do, you always feel you could have done more.  

“I never felt so desperate and depleted as I did after that experience,” she recalled, a telling statement coming from a parent with Joanne’s history.  

“I just wanted to walk my kids to school.”  

That was Joanne’s dream. To walk her kids to school. But the simple wish eluded her. She would never join the millions of other New Yorkers in the rather ordinary routine of walking their kids to school. Ben’s special needs required him to attend a school located in another borough and now Sebastian would need to be bussed (once Joanne found a school) elsewhere as well. Joanne and her husband even considered moving to Manhattan just to make the education of their two sons a little more manageable.  

“We’ll sell everything and move into a two bedroom in Manhattan, and we’ll walk them to school.”  

In the end the two New York natives sold their Brooklyn home and moved to the New Jersey suburbs to be in a school district that would serve the needs of both their children. And while Joanne misses the life she knew in Brooklyn, she’s certain she made the right decision.  

“On the last day of school when all of his workbooks came home, I opened them up, and they were all blank.” She realized then that kindergarten had just been “a babysitting service.”  

Through it all Joanne never stopped working her day job. She is a special education teacher in a preschool in Brooklyn, which she says in no way prepared her for the life she now lives. Although she no longer resides in the city, Joanne still drives into Brooklyn each day for work. She gets her kids off to school, leaves for work and returns home just in time to get her kids off the bus.  

“Sometimes I wish I could do another job. It’s good and it’s bad. I have a parent’s perspective, but sometimes I relate to the parents too much emotionally. I never get the break.”  

No, she certainly doesn't, which is what I find so astonishing. I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d do the same in Joanne’s position. We would remain strong. We would do anything for our child. We would persevere. But I question myself. Could I really do it? How can anyone do it? It seems almost beyond human capability. But Joanne manages, and she does so with her career, her marriage and her humor in tact. Those are things I find difficult to handle on any given day, and I’m not nearly under the strain Joanne is.  

I know I can’t change things for Joanne, but I can in my small way with this piece pay tribute at least to a woman who is remarkable in her extraordinary strength, unflagging determination and unbreakable spirit. More than admire Joanne, I am in awe of her.  

Joanne is working on a memoir about her experience raising two sons with severe disabilities.  Stay tuned to Sperk* and One Funny Motha for more information on the memoir.  

photo credit: atlnav via photo pin cc
photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photo pin cc