I hate this time of year. I dread it. I dread it with almost as much dread as I dread summers.Image

I know, you’re thinking: “Wow! I thought all teachers love having summers off.” But it’s not true. For some of us, summer is frustrating because it’s a break in our routine. And for those of you who believe autism is primarily genetic, I will admit that I love my routine. In fact, my classroom runs on routine. Vocab Mondays & Fridays; writing and/or grammar Tuesdays & Thursdays. Essays graded by the 5-week report card. Copies queued up for the copier before 2pm. Out of there by 2:30, home by 3:00, pick up the boy at the bus at 3:10 (the bus arrives at 3:16).

So summer mucks it all up & what’s most frustrating is that the rest of the world runs on routine when I’m home “off.” So maybe I can stay up until midnight watching movies, but my husband still has to get up at 5:45, so he can’t stay up with me. I could sleep in til 9 AM, but then I’ll be up way past when he goes to bed, and I get anxious when I’m the last person awake. To me, 10:30 PM might as well be 3:30 AM. If I’m not asleep by 10, I’m wide-eyed and paranoid. My son, he has summer school, so maybe I could just take off and go to the beach but I’d have to drive my ass back to pick him up from school by 11 AM. Think about weekday LA traffic and you’ll know that I’m not going anywhere between 7AM and 10AM. And my friends, those bastards all have jobs, so while I’m ready to hang out & go get brunch and talk about books, they’re off punching the clock. I’m actually seeing a hypnotherapist about this issue in preparation for this upcoming summer. One of her suggestions, besides the neuro linguistic programming, is for me to make friends with other teachers, but most of them I know either 1) have small kids so they can’t hang out or 2) are child-free and are partying it up and down the coast, enjoying their time off, acting like what I imagine a “real” teacher would act during summer. The worst are married teachers, because, screw them, they have two incomes AND they both have summers off so those jerks are always taking cruises or are zip-lining around South America.

I’ve never liked summer. Well, when I was a kid I did. Summer was a trans-formative, magical time. You could do whatever you wanted (see staying up late, sleeping in, hanging out with friends, going to the beach) and then somehow, those weeks off would turn you into a brand new person. Your hair would be significantly longer. Your skin darker. You’d have a brilliant Grease-like love affair with some boy. Not to mention back-to-school shopping to finish the trick. But as an adult, I love the season but not the lag between semesters. My first year of teaching, my husband was working, so I sat at home. Occasionally I went to the beach by myself but I was always too afraid to go in the water because 1) no one would be watching to nab me if I got pulled out to sea 2) no one would be watching the blanket where my phone, car keys, and wallet would be hanging. And then, of course, traffic. You can’t leave your house til after 10AM and then your husband gets home around 5, so you need to beat the traffic that kicks up around 1:30. So sure, you could go to the beach from 10:30AM to 1 PM, but mostly I didn’t even take the chance. But I remember that first year, I got so bored that I planned out trips to surprise my husband. “We’re going to Vegas!” “We’re going to Puerto Vallarta!” It was all I could do to stay sane– book trips & then make him go with me on the pretense of a 2nd/ 3rd/ 4th honeymoon.

The following year, and all years since, I have been occupied with my son, so summers have been awesome but difficult. Awesome because all 3 of us would stay home & I have beautiful memories of us getting a kiddie pool on our back patio & all of us sitting in our underwear or naked in the pool on the hottest days. Difficult because my son loves media more than he loves the air he breathes, so to get out and do something is a challenge, and also the fact that we were existing on my salary made it impossible for us to do anything really fun. We always went into debt another $5,000 each summer, just from normal summer expenses, like barbequing and the occasional overnight trip to Palm Springs or San Francisco.

So when my husband got a job, I was relieved to not have to dig ourselves more into debt– the only way we survived my husband staying home with our son is by racking up debt on every credit any bank would give us– however I lost my partner in crime. And weirder is our last summer together, I was ramped up on high anxiety and insomnia, so we were broke but I made us always leave the house & do *something* to keep my mind occupied. It will definitely be a summer I will never forget because I made us ride bikes every single day from 10 to 20 miles each morning. I made us all go to the beach numerous times. I made us swim & barbeque & drive around to make sure I stayed a few steps ahead of my worry & fear of the unknown.

No one really knows where my anxiety came from. I have my suspicions but I won’t commit them to words that can be used against me in a public forum, but one theory is that when I realized that my heretofore completely dependent on me non-verbal autistic son started to take care of himself– feed himself, dress himself, go to the potty by himself, brush his teeth by himself– that’s when a flip in me switched and I (and other professionals, I’ve seen a few!) believe that I have a preemie mother’s version of PTSD. In that I had a horrible pregnancy with 7 months of bedrest & countless people telling me that my baby was going to be born dead or severely disabled, and then a traumatic time raising my toddler, and then… he suddenly started to become a child. A boy who laughed and kissed, who would reply to a question with a phrase or a sentence that wasn’t a line from a tv show. And then I was allowed to drop my guard and allow myself to feel all the fear and pain and disappointment of all I had been through those six years that I had been bottling up and denying because I just had to survive one more day. You can’t wallow in your pain of the past when the present is just as painful. But when there’s a glimmer of sunshine after a huge storm, that’s when I start to bawl and I can’t stop.

So all those years of taking care of my son kept me busy but when he now tells me, “Go sit over there” and “I’ll sing this song by myself,” I know he doesn’t want me hovering around, his replacement best friend since he can’t maintain a friendship with other kids, and now I feel like I’m on my own. Thankfully last summer I had a reprieve in that I attended a lovely and trans-formative training for teachers & writers, and before the institute, I mapped out a routine for myself via tabling on Microsoft Word, just like I do for my unit plans, including a Mon Wed Fri routine that differed from Tues & Thurs. So I survived last summer, but I have nothing this summer.

Part of me wants desperately to find something to occupy my time, to look forward to, but so far, everything is out of town or cuts into my responsibilities with Saki. I could go to Boston for a seminar on teaching the Holocaust through writing. I could grade AP essays in Kentucky. I could teach at a writer’s summer camp for teenagers, but I want to be home for my family. I don’t want to leave them behind and I don’t want to put Saki in summer camp against his will again.

So, for now, I am looking forward to the Portland Zine Symposium. That will be my mid-summer break that I so desperately need. I’m good in June because the time off is so new, so I wind up reading a ton of books and catching up on all sorts of things I’ve neglected during the year. I’m better in August because it’s my birthday month and our school starts so early, so I spend the first two weeks of August trying to live it up before school starts again. But July is my weakness because it’s weeks and weeks with nothing to do, no one to hang out with. So I’m hoping that the trip will be enough to get me through the month. I’m also thinking of taking an extension class or a college class in the mornings just to sharpen the saw– to get me out of the house but home early enough for when my men get home.

 

But I’m hoping admitting this is an issue with me will help. That I’m getting professional help. That it’s not just a funny neurotic quirk. Now I openly tell people, “I literally go crazy during summer with all that time off,” and they laugh, and I reply, “No, I’m serious.” So now I’m telling you this and admitting that even here in February, on the verge of a thunderstorm, with my 5 week grades just posted a little while ago, I’m still thinking about summer. That on August 13th, I was already thinking about June 3, 2014, but I still have my planned out routine from last year and I have a plan to aggressively pursue friendships with other people lazing about their lives– mothers, teachers, unemployed people. I might bike the 20 miles by myself but dammit, if I’m not paying for private swim lessons for my son once a week until that boy learns to swim because there is nothing I would love more than to spend my mornings writing and cooking, and my afternoons reading by the pool while he turns into a little golden fish puckered with chlorine.

ImageOkay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for a few months now. I don’t like to talk about it because my feelings are overwhelming positive but they’re also very personal, and I don’t know if I can really capture the experience without major self-censoring.

Yeah, you know, the Internet. I don’t want my teacher or my partners reading this stuff because there’s a lot of silliness and awkwardness in mixed martial arts. No one else seems to write about it, so to write about it is to acknowledge it, and I’ve always felt that if you are allowed to sneak into a subculture, it’s bad form to write about it in a way that is less than exuberant.

That said, I’ve been rolling a list in my mind of all the things that drive me crazy about training jiu jitsu.

Another cavaeat– I’m a white belt with one stripe right now and I make no claims to be any sort of expert or to have any particular knowledge on the subject other than the very simple basics. I’m still learning how to sit properly on the mat when we’re receiving instruction, so this is just my own list of my pet peeves. My brother told me “what happens on the mat, stays on the mat, ” so I’m probably violating every nondisclosure line item in the imaginary rule book, but I plead ignorance.

1. Teeth brushing. In every other physical activity I’ve participated in, teeth brushing is voluntary, and in fact, general hygiene wasn’t even an issue. In yoga, you’re in your own space. MMA you may get close enough to get a take down with your head jammed into their stomach, but in BJJ, you are literally in each other’s faces. Not all the time, but enough to notice what someone had for dinner, which is what’s annoying about training with the occasional teenage boy. Some of them have no concept of personal hygiene and more than once, I’ve considered tapping to being on the verge of gagging because of someone’s garlic breath.

2. Farting. Do you know how hard it is to eat vegan and then go to class and not fart? Do you know what it’s like to hold a fart in for 45 minutes, only to have it escape when your blue belt partner rolls you unexpectedly? Luckily this has only happened once, and my partner was gracious enough to pretend like nothing happened even though I literally farted in this man’s face.

3. Little cuts and bruises. LIke magnets, where do they come from? In MMA, you know “Ah, this huge bruise on my thigh is when that girl went for an inside leg kick and I didn’t block it fast enough.” In BJJ, you are in a whirlwind of sweat, limbs akimbo, hair everywhere and random squeezing and pain. Then you get home and notice little purple splotches on your forearms, little papercut like holes in your fingers, and a vague notion that your head hurts. Oh yes, didn’t your partner kick you in the face when going for a shoulder lock? Now that sounds familiar.

4. Hair. Every woman who trains BJJ will admit that hair is the number one nuisance when it comes to training. Men have to worry about wearing the best fitting jock strap, but we women are constantly fretting about our hair. French braids (one or two?), top knot bun, high ponytail, two side braids? No matter what you choose, one misplaced hand going for palm-to-palm grip under your head will pull out your elastic or worse, pull out your hair by the chunk. I’ve always been vain about my hair but now I can’t afford to be. Wispy piles of it bunches on the mat like innocent tumbleweeds. One brown belt tells me, “Just shave your head” whenever I balk that he’s on my braid. And between rounds, if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that almost every woman flips up onto her haunches and immediately grabs her hair to redo her ponytail, bun, or braid before the next round begins. I have no idea how the most successful women in MMA do it and how their hair stays perfect on tv. They must have some insanely tight braids going on, and no YouTube tutorial I’ve seen yet has gotten me to that level.

5. Being a wallflower: The most awkward part of BJJ is not the few minutes before class starts when everyone is circling up and talking, and you’re wondering what to say. The most awkward part is not finding a partner for drills because generally there’s at least one cool person to work with– another white belt or a friendly purple belt who’s willing to show you the ropes. But the most awkward part is finding a partner when you actually free train, or spar, when you’re actually grappling with someone for 3, 5, 7 minutes, and it’s a less secure bet. Usually you start with the person you did the drills with, but then the instructor commands, “Switch!” and you have to find someone new. I feel like I’m in an odd position because I’m not new enough for everyone to want to train with me because I’m easy to beat, but I’m too new to really offer much of a challenge for the more advanced students, and being a woman makes it weird for the younger men, and being an older woman makes it weird for everyone, I think. So many times I will sit on the side of the mat and try to look approachable. I’m an extroverted person by nature so it’s a challenge to not go up to people immediately but I never know what they’re thinking– are they down? Luckily my studio houses a ton of humble, friendly people, and a few women, so I usually only sit out for a round or two before I see my opening and I charge up to someone and hope they won’t reject me.

6. Periods: Acknowledging this may get me benched forever, but there is nothing weirder than figuring out if you should go train or not when you’re on your period. You remember all those ridiculous tampon commercials where women are running marathons and swimming in pools and “feeling secure”? How we laughed at them? Well I’m not laughing now. I actually read a funny blog where this woman listed all the different ways you can protect yourself (and your partners), like wearing an extra pair of shorts, she even said wear a pad and a tampon (which reminds me of ridiculous birth control suggestions like taking the pill & making your partner wear a condom), but it is a weird thing. I still put a lot of stock in Ayurveda (you can take the girl out of the yoga studio but you can’t take the yoga out of the girl), so on the first day of my cycle, I tend to stay home and commune with my womanliness, but then the next few days, I’m like, “Ugh!” and then I buck up and by the time I’m out there on the mat, I forget everything except “Oh God, I gotta get this sucka offa me!” and “Wait, gimme that arm!”

7. Cauliflower ear: I figured I’d never have to worry about this because I don’t really know what I’m doing, and it seems like only the most seasoned veterans have lasting physical effects, but one day I noticed that my ear was sore and it wouldn’t stop hurting, so upon further examination, I noticed that part of the cartilage was red and swollen. When I pushed on it, it felt hard and tender. When I showed everyone, mostly they were excited that I had a battle wound, except for one guy who said, “Aw, you don’t want that!” But I pointed out that my husband said it was “cute,” so I’m conflicted– I like the idea that what I’m doing is legit– I’m not doing the corporate gym version of BJJ, but real BJJ, but seriously, I am not down for sticking a syringe in my ear in the parking lot to drain out fluid before class.

8. White belts: I know it’s silly to be a white belt complaining about white belts, but seriously! So many white belts have no control and just want to go apeshit bananas when you’re training. They don’t let you breathe and get butthurt if you get them in a compromising position. I also get annoyed by the wb’s who are friends with each other and who only train with each other so it leads back to #5, wallflower with cauliflower ear-ness.

9. Where do I put my hands? My toes? I’m getting the hang of this now but for the first few months, I had no idea how to protect my extremities. My favorite brown belt would balance me on his legs like I was a kid playing airplane, but the next minute he’s flipped me and I’m supposed to know to roll, but I don’t, so I put my hands out to catch my fall and I crush my hands. No kidding, my hands are my bread & butter, but it was kind of thrilling to walk around with numb, tingling hands for a few days. I just can’t believe I didn’t break anything as I caught my fall and bent my fingers all the way back as I lurched onto my face hitting the mat, leaving a huge red bruise on my forehead. Toes are weird too because your toes can also be bent in weird places getting stuck on the mat when the rest of your foot has decided to head in another direction. So I’ve learned to keep my hands near my chest unless I’m going for someone else’s extremities, and I’ve learned to keep my toes flat to the mat, not curled.

Which leads to…

10. Pedicures: You can’t paint your nails and do BJJ. Well, I guess you could, but for me, I like to apply a nice coat on my toenails and let it sit for a few weeks. In BJJ, my toenails are constantly dragging against the mat leaving a huge reverse skidmark on my toes. It’s usually the big toe and second toe, and yet I’ve never seen the polish smeared on the mat. Then again, I’ve never looked for it either.

So now you know why I brush my teeth, make sure my toes and hands are flat and sans polish, why I don’t really care if my hair gets pulled, why I’m more liable to introduce myself to strange people– especially if they’re tattooed, sweaty, and are north of 200 pounds. And why I’m always eating a nice steak or a couple of chops before class. Not for the protein, but more for the steadiness it gives my gut.

Despite all these, I have to say that my training is a blast, and every night I’m either ecstatic or on the verge of tears. I can handle someone else’s random hair in my mouth, the strangely sweet smell of a worn gi an hour into training, the suffocating claustrophobia you feel when someone who looks like your dad has got you in a mean full mount, and I love the idea that I am watching less MMA now that I’m training it. We only watch the fights when women are headlining now and now when I watch, I’m not frustrated by the ground game– hoping for an astonishing, highlight reel knockout. Now I watch hoping for the take down so I can see some professionals working it out in ways I can imagine I can kind of understand in a moment of clarity.

It’s good stuff, but then again I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing staph infection or ringworm, so the adventure continues…

ImageMy father-in-law, my sister-in-law, my husband, my son, and a cart full of Red Hook beer boxes with 7″s from years past made our way down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

I had decided that since I bought most of the records from that store, it only made sense to return them home.

I should have gone to Berkeley, I really should have. But I was the first person in my family to go away to college (and finish college), so I didn’t know when the SATs were or when apps were due or that I needed to do extra-curricular activities all throughout high school, not just cramming in a bunch my last year: creative writing, journalism, yearbook, AP lit– sounds like a dream schedule to me now, and I remember my counselor telling me I didn’t need to take math or science my senior year because I wasn’t a “math person.” I also remember them pushing me to take CPEG (college prep English grammar) instead of AP because they thought I wasn’t “ready” for an AP class. And then I got a 5 on the exam, even though I thought the teacher was a wimp & ditched most of spring semester. And now I teach the damned class, but that’s enough. The idea is that I should have gone to Berkeley but I was too scared to apply so I only applied to one school where I knew I would get in: SFSU (San Francisco State University).

Most of my freshman year was all about the east bay. The first day after we moved in to the dorms, I met my would-be boyfriend. He was sitting on a bench, smoking a cigarette. He was adorable– with tousled blond & green hair with dark roots and dark eyebrows. He wore a spiked dog collar and incongruously had a Madness patch on his chocolate brown work jacket.

“Are you a riot girl?” he asked me, blowing out smoke, surveying my polyester zip-up dress, my leather mary janes and white tights, my bleached white bob and my electric blue cat eye glasses.

“What’s that?” I said, sitting down next to him.

“Um, well, it’s like a punk rock feminist,” he replied.

“Yeah, then I guess I am,” I confirmed.

From that moment on, we were inseparable. His friends didn’t like me, though, because I wasn’t really a riot grrrl. I was a rude girl. The year I took off between high school and college, I found myself reverting back to the scene I loved in junior high. I loved 60s fashion (hence the dress and glasses) and ska music. I even had a flight jacket donned with pins and patches from all my favorite bands, including a Minor Threat patch, which I thought was as funny and as incongruous as my future’s boyfriend’s Madness patch. One Friday night dancing at Marilyn’s, I got in a fight with a femmy rude boy. “Nice Morrissey patch!” I scoffed. “Nice Minor Threat patch!” he quipped. But punk & ska made sense to me in a way that it did not make sense to anyone else. Especially my crusty boyfriend’s friends in Oakland.

“Hey, rude giiiirrrrl,” they teased. I wore my flight to Gilman the first time I ever went to a show. “Rude grrrrrrl!” they screamed, tottering with a 40 ounce in their hands, hands dirty from drinking in the abandoned field across the street.

I bought myself a peacoat, but I still wore a fred perry and a pair of black and white creepers to Blatz shows.

The man behind the counter wore a fred, and it immediately made me feel safe. Why is it that we belong to a subculture that scoffs at materialism and brand-worshipping yet sects of our subculture hold up fashion trends and labels in the same mindless way? Why are there rules for dressing like a 70s street punk? Why is Fred Perry a label that’s okay to wear but Guess is not? We don’t even play tennis. And I know that I have the skinhead ethos drilled in my brain about how working class kids wanted to look nice on a budget to reaffirm their style and their substance, so when I see a Fred Perry, my brain goes, “Cool, a fred! This guy must be cool.”

The little laurel meant to me that the man behind the counter might understand my collection, whereas the ironic buttrockers in LA don’t appreciate it. In LA, they go through 50 titles and keep 10, offering me $20 trade. Up north, I had a feeling they’d know who Comet Gain was, The Headcoats, Mecca Normal. And I was right. The man flipped through my boxes with sweat forming at his hair line. As we wandered around, I saw him pulling out records and calling people over. I tried to keep my son’s hands off the merchandise (“No we are not buying a $27 used copy of Toy Story on blu-ray!”) but wanted to see where the “No” pile was. The “No” pile would be all that would ever be left of my 7″ collection as I don’t listen to vinyl much, and 7″s never.

He called my name over the PA system, and I slinked to the front. I saw my record collection in tiny stacks. “Which is the no pile?” I asked meekly, hoping the Russian fairy tales record I bought in Moscow would still be there.

“We’re taking everything!” he said. “You have some great stuff. You have, like, every Holly Go Lightly single ever released!”

“I know. I used to be a collector,” I replied.

“Is $300 cash okay?” he asked. I said yes immediately. I just wanted it gone. Every time I cleaned the living room, there were those annoying boxes– where do they go? Where do I put them? Am I really going to list each damned title on ebay & hope that some old school riot grrrl collector would “buy it now”?

So we returned to the car, my father-in-law, my sister-in-law visiting from Prague, my husband, and my son, my empty cart. I put the cart in my backseat and held the cash in hand.

I hoped the records didn’t just wind up in some balding hipster’s collection. I hope some 19 year old girl who just moved to the city from the suburbs finds my Fifth Column or my Corn Dolly or my Huggy Bear and buys them all, listening to them on her little stereo in her little dorm room on her little campus at the beginning of her new life.

ImageThis weekend was big for me. I have grades due on Tuesday, so I spent the last two weeks grading essays every night, doing data entry between classes, chasing down missing work. I posted my grades on Thursday (four days early!) and was able to attend a staff development meeting where I learned how to use imovie, google for grading (Flubaroo), and podcasting via ipad. It’s so rare and wonderful to feel caught up on work and to be paid to be trained on new technology. It set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

On Saturday I read for the L.A. Zine Fest. We got a sitter because we knew no matter the venue, my son would be running around the whole time, so my husband wouldn’t be able to enjoy the event. My dad met us there with his little Lakeshire terrier in tow. In my mind, I had this image of a well-lit bookstore with hardwood floors and folding chair seats, kind of like a westside version of The Last Bookstore, but instead we were at Beyond Baroque, Venice’s former city hall building, where we read in a little theater, complete with raised seating, black painted walls, a blinding spotlight, and a microphone.

I’m used to being half-pleased, half-annoyed at zine events, but everything keeps getting better and better, I’ve found. The diversity (forgive the over-abused word) is amazing in L.A. Everyone has a different story to tell and a different way of telling it– the schoolteacher who read about sarcastic students, the waitress on the graveyard shift who read the voiceover on her comics on a laptop connected to a large tv, the funny & poignant wails of a woman in a mid-life crisis, the women from Memphis who wrote about making friends and adapting to a new city. Everyone was engaging and on-point, and yes, most of them were from out-of-town so maybe it’s unfair for me to attribute my enthusiasm to how cool L.A. is but I can’t help but notice either the zine scene in general has improved dramatically since the late 90s or L.A. draws in a crowd that is more down-to-earth, hilarious, and talented than other cities I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s both.

The announcer mentioned Kurt Cobain was Lactose Intolerant… with such excitement that I decided to read from that first. I read the manifesto, and my favorite piece about his eating habits. I got a few titters, but it wasn’t like the last reading I did where people were laughing joyfully at the lyrical analysis of “Scentless Apprentice.” I decided to close the door on that one. It’s run its course. That joke isn’t funny anymore, and although I’m proud of the zine, it’s 15 years old now and maybe it’s time to devote myself solely to my new work.

I read “Call Me Mommy” because I knew it was indicative of my new style– self-referential, tongue-in-cheek, ecstatic and in love but lonely and confused. It got more laughs (which is how I gauge effectiveness– I never read the sad stuff because I can’t imagine looking up into the spotlight, pretending to make eye contact to a silent and pensive crowd) and I figured to leave it off there.

When I first came to the mike I pointed out my dad & said, “Now do you know why I got so much mail from strangers when I lived at home? Here are all the strangers!” When I sat down I asked him if he understood me better and he just chuckled.

I couldn’t sleep the night before the fest. I kept waking up in annoyance then I’d calm myself down by thinking of people I was looking forward to seeing. It sounds weird but I’d think, “Oh yeah! Her too. I wonder what she looks like…” and I’d drift off to sleep.

The day of was a bunch of choices– take the car or take the train; jeans or a dress; hair up or down; sell zine at cost or make a profit, etc. I decided on the car because even though it’s Jamzilla weekend (the freeway from my house to the fest was going to be intermittently shut down), riding the train would mean I was at the mercy of the train. At least in my car, I could pull over, stop for a coffee, take a different route, and I didn’t know if my huge box of zines was going to be any smaller by the day’s end (spoiler: it wasn’t. I traded so much that the box I took home was just as heavy & full of zines, just 1/2 of them weren’t mine). I decided on work pants because my jeans were all wet in the dryer and I was nervous that it’s be too cold for a dress. I kept my hair down because with work pants and my comfortable work shoes on, I felt like I was already too close to looking like I was in my “teacher gear.” I decided to attempt to make a small profit because I’ve been doing zines for a long time and I deserve a buck for my efforts. This may or may not be why I only made enough to pay for my table–just like last year. The first year I fested, I had a lot of $1 zines because I was trying to get rid of old stock that I thought was useless (who really cares about 20 Bus anymore?), and I made three times as much. Last year, I brought only my heart-felt expensive zines, so this year I purposefully printed a simple zine at a more affordable price but I still think $2 is too much for a cold read. I may just make a special $1 one-shot to test the waters next time.

But money doesn’t matter, I do these things to keep my feet wet– to feel like I’m still part of the independent publishing community, to meet cool people, to connect with folks I never ever would encounter otherwise, and that I accomplished. The venue was a huge indoor parking lot with 3 rooms– an art gallery/ reading space, the front & the back. We were in the very back along a wall of the most colorful and interesting writers in the room. You could just scroll our back row & get enough entertainment & reading material for a year. We were next to two friends who wore pompom headbands and we noticed that trend of friends & lovers wearing matching outfits (including black cowboy shirts, 80s workout gear, silver space-age suits). We saw a guy come up to our table with a  RUSH shirt on, and ready to make conversation, I read the bottom of his shirt which said “Sigma Nu,” and then we all freaked & everybody dared everyone else to ask him if he was only here for extra-credit for class.

There were babies and dogs– strollers and korgies and arm-held chihuahuas. My tablemate’s husband and son strolled up early and her two-year-old son pretended like he read my zine while I snapped photos. We ate a ton of hummus and I chugged my homemade kombucha as we caught up on our lives– having been friends for probably 18 years now– but being too busy to hang out since we both became moms. Ex-boyfriends visited our table, as she had healthy, grown-up conversations with hers, while I will always be bitter with mine because our relationship ended in the stupidest way possible. Despite all of the personalities and the history in the room, the awkwardest part is when someone walks up to your table and you smile, and they keep walking. I don’t know if my extrovertedness or my training to always smile at people being a teacher, but that always freaked people out. I think they wanted me to be knitting with knitted brows or reading someone else’s zine or swiping on my smartphone. Making eye contact and making conversation still weirds people out, but I can’t help it. Even weirder is when you’re people-watching (& people-watching is primo at a busy zine fest– hey, is that guy wearing a dog suit? Is that guy selling comics out of a hot dog vendor’s box?), and you catch someone’s eye and you smile to be polite and they look away and pretty much dart in the opposite direction of you. Or when someone is fingering your zine for 5 minutes, so you try to talk to them about it & they immediately put it down, nod and split. It was so nice to have a tablemate, so when we would talk, someone would hand you money, and you’d be like, “Oh, thanks!” with no “hard sell” or weird feelings. It was also nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, and to work the room when I was getting bored.

The highlight of my day was a woman who picked up my newest zine immediately then pulled on her friend’s sleeve to read the description. Turns out her friend’s son had just been diagnosed with autism and she was feeling what we all felt those months right after the diagnosis. I gave her the zine and talked to her about services, encouraging her to email me, and realizing that this is exactly why I wrote this issue. Maybe I’ll be written off as a bougie breeder from the suburbs, but for parents who are hurting or are confused, they can use my zine as a means of trying to make their way through this new chapter in their lives. Not that I have any answers but that I’m going through it, I’m surviving and I’m loving it (mostly).

Here are all the zines I got. I am a habitually notoriously bad trader so I probably won’t finish reading these until next year, but I wanted to plug everyone anyway. You guys are what make the fest an amazing event.

Rad-ass people:

Sweetheart Redux by Robin Crane http://sweetheartredux.blogspot.com/ My main tablemate & my friend for many, many years. I was delighted when she asked to split the table with me, and I had such a good time talking with her. You’d think you’d run out of things to say after sitting at the same table for 7 hours but here it is, a day later and I miss her. I even texted her what I had for dinner last night. She copied a ton of her old zines from the 90s for the fest, and there’s no doubt that her zine Sweetheart was one of my favorites, but what I like more is to see what people are doing now– how they’ve changed and grown, and her blog does not disappoint. This issue is a compilation of her blog posts, and it’s fiction & nonfiction mixed (which drove me crazy because I’d read the fiction pieces, thinking they’re nonfiction. Then I’d read the nonfiction pieces, and hope they were fiction). I hope she continues this trend of blogging then putting the best excerpts in print. I am all tl;dr when it comes to the Internet (which is ironic because of this post, right?) but I am all about cuddling up with a good zine late at night.

Invoking Nonna book by Sage Adderly– http://www.sageadderly.com–; she’s one of the zinesters I was excited to meet when I couldn’t sleep. She drove down from Washington & her son told me, “We went camping in California!” and I told him, “I’ve been to California! I love it there!” I tried to start her book last night but it’s about a mother & daughter witch team & I couldn’t read it. I can’t do anything fantasy/sci fi/ occult based when I’m riding an anxiety wave, but it sounds like it’s going to be one of those books I’ll casually put on my Sustained Silent Reading shelf at school & hope the cool girls will pick it up.

Kelly Dessaint http://www.kellydessaint.com–; he was one of the readers at Beyond Baroque and he reminded me that we used to interact on alt.zines & various other So Cal zine events. His new zine is called Piltdownlad which is cool because I played drums in a band called the Piltdowns. I love coincidences. He read an infuriating piece about being institutionalized for stuff he wrote in his private journal when he was a kid. He traded me a ton of zines about him growing up because he wanted me to be ready for the kind of shenanigans my kid’s getting ready for. I know– at 9 years old, he’s on the precipice of adulthood. He already changes the lyrics of songs to “Kill kill kill, kill the truth!” so he’s ready for his own punk rock band. (Which I guess has already formed with his cousins & they’re called the Hot Dogs?). I’m sad he and his wife moved up to Oakland instead of stayed in LA & had a baby. We need more breeders in LA, and fewer cool couples in Oakland, imo.

I’m Sorry I Have Nothing Special to Draw– Eryca Sender– http://thestateimin.tumblr.com Man, she is such a cool girl. Robin (my tablemate) told me Eryca has a nice face & I agree– she’s enthusiastic and makes me smile. It’s because of the zine fest founders like her & Meredith who make me come back for more each year.

Miss California by Agusta Gail, lettering by Aurora Lady http://www.auroralady.com–; Aurora’s an artist and one of the pom-pom tablemates. Everything she does is so colorful and affirmative, it’s nice to be around someone positive. I follow her on Instagram just so I can see how cool her hair looks every day.

Hurricane by Kim Burly @kimburly One of my tablemates– she read at the fest & I loved her performance. She writes about heartache & strength in a funny, wry way that made me sit up in my seat. I also think it’s adorable her husband proposed at the zine fest last year and they seem smitten with each other, yet she still wallows in those heart-breaking, character-forming past relationships. I would be friends with this girl if she lived closer & she let me :D

Truckface by LB Lbj4prez@hotmail.com (is that a joke email?). Bro, why did no one tell me of this zine? It’s all about teaching sassy-pantsed teenagers and having reality buck up against your idealism. I’ve heard of this zine for years but no one told me that it would be right up my alley. lb also read at Beyond Baroque & I laughed so hard. I’m going to read this one first.

Couched by Brodie Foster Hubbard. http://www.fairdig.com Brodie is the guy with the long beard and the gentle voice– wait, he’s clean-shaven now, good thing he posted that on social media before the fest or no one would have recognized him. Brodie is like the boy version of Eryca– they’re both enthusiastic, sweet, and devoted to zines. I have a special affinity for Brodie since the first zine of his I read was about his miserable experience trying to train MMA. After some ploying, he told me the studio was the sister studio where I train so I’ve always thought that that makes us kindred spirits. When he wrote, “Sometimes you just want someone to punch you in the face” in his last issue, I was like “Yeah!” I think I just misquoted him quoting someone else but that’s ok.

Mid-life Isis by Marya Errin Jones maryaerrinjones.com. She also read at BB. She’s a phenomenal reader, incorporating breathing and facial expressions, tone & pitch. Quite the performer! Her allusions are to die for– the fainting couch, Heathcliff & Wuthering Heights, Rescue Remedy (which lb also loves!). It’s all about her getting older but refusing to commit to a “mid life crisis” instead, it’s her “mid life isis.” I love it.

Zine Crush #3 zinecrush.com I love the idea for this zine– people write in about crushes they have on people in the zine community. I just wonder if any couples have actually hooked up because of what one person wrote. I’m sure it’s happened– I want to attend the first Zine Crush wedding.

She’s Not a Morning Person by Jen. http://skinnedknees.net This is one of 2 zines I read waiting for the crowd in the morning & I’m glad I did because it’s all about shoplifting, or “liberating” items from a store. So I laughed when I saw a girl walk by wearing a tiny see-through 90s mini-backpack stuffed full of zines (because Jen lamented how easy it was to tuck stuff into her mini-backpack back in the day). I also thought about her when a guy grabbed my zine then walked down the row to some artist’s table. I thought, “He’s liberating my zine!” but then he came back to me, took a picture of it, then put it back and said “thank you.” This is a great zine, a quick read, and it’s sure to bring back some nostalgia if you ever five-finger discounted anything back when you were young.

Absolutely Zippo by Robert Eggplant http://wemakezines.ning.com/profile/roberteggplant After the reading, we dropped our stuff off at the venue so our load would be lighter the following day and so we could check out other writers & artists before the crowds. I saw a ton of Slingshot newspapers on a table & my mind was transported back to San Francisco. Everyone had a Slingshot organizer that you used to pencil in vegan potlucks, acupuncture appointments at Chicken Soup, and Epicenter monthly meetings where everyone sat on dirty couches & argued about NOfx. So the next day when Eggplant came to my table, I jumped up & gave him a hug. He inspired me with my first issue of That Girl, as he walked around Giman, giving away copies of his zine for free. As a recent transplant to the bay, I had no friends but the boy I was dating who was up to his chin in east bay ethos and lifestyle. I figured an easy way to make friends was to sell a cheap zine (I didn’t have the heart to make it free- can you imagine offering someone a free zine & them saying no? Well, Eggplant had to deal with that all the time). So the first issue of That Grrrl was a nickle. AZ was (is?) a zine all about east bay punk & politics with goofy pictures and adventure stories. He also gave me a tape compilation (tapes! I will sell my MC Hammer tapes but never my homemade punk comps) and a zine anthology of old punk flyers from the east bay. I love seeing people from back in the day, still publishing, still writing, still trying to make connections with people. He bought a bunch of my zines to take back to Oakland, but I warned him that he may be taken to task at the next coop meeting for bringing in my stuff & tainting the collective’s ideals.

Cool people I traded with but I don’t know much about (yet):

Dreams at explodingbuffalo.com– it looks like an anthology of short stories

Cardio Arts facebook.com/cardioarts– looks like a short-run collection of a variety of mediums– poetry, photography, etc.

Excuse Me While I Think Freely excusemewhileithinkfreely.com (site coming soon)– the form reinforces the theme (I think I will always review zines like an AP English teacher now), as each page is cut & stapled on the side (instead of folded). I can appreciate something new! Poetry and comics, mostly.

Like… Heart On Presents…Made of Dead Stars the only contact info I found was http://chuckchillout.tumblr.com/. This one caught my attention because it’s handmade– the paper is glued together (instead of copied back-to-back), the cover has stickers and metallic marker on it, and there are photos and other cool, color little details that make it stand out in a world of black-and-white photo copies. Collage art & poetry.

I Heart Technology mableisms@gmail.com– I like this zine because it blends the traditional zine print style with internet memes, which are my favorite things in the world. It’s a compilation from very authors about their experience with modern technology–including a piece about okcupid dating which I can’t read because the writer wanted it published anonymously even though I know the writer so now I’m like “Oooh!”

Now I’m even happier to have gotten my grading done so I can pretend like I’m a free-wheeling zinester for just one more day as I read through as many zines as I can before I have to go back to grading comparative poetry prompts… When I have fears that I may cease to be, I’ll remember self-publishing, and bags full of singles, and handmade rings that don’t make your fingers turn green.

I’m having a Woody Allen moment. I’m sitting in my car at the post office parking lot because I’m early for my appointment with my therapist & I don’t want her to see me sitting in
my car in her parking lot.

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The first time I met my friends’ son, he was sleeping in a carseat in the main part of a shopping cart.

“I love this baby!” I proclaimed. “I knew he was my favorite baby the moment I laid eyes on him!”

“I was a baby!” my son sulked, sitting on top of a beer box in the main part of another shopping cart.

“Yes, you were,” I tell him, kissing his face. But truth be told, he was a manic baby and he is a lovely child.

I used to tell people that our son was an ethnomethodological experiment—to see what would happen if Family Guy raised a child from birth to childhood. He was born early and sickly, but where other parents counted fingers and toes and breathed a sigh of relief for health or normality, we prayed for breath. When we didn’t get breath, we prayed for artificial respiration and when we got it, we felt like we were the rulers of the universe. Toe count, finger count, blindness, deafness, dumbness, none of that mattered as long as somehow air was circulating through the little boy’s lungs, even if it was through a respirator, a ventilator, an oscillator, eventually, oxygen made its way through a small cannula, and then just on its own.

The doctors warned us that he would be frail and meek. He’d be developmentally delayed and that the slightest cold would hospitalize him again. We were prepared for our blue baby to come home, probably be on monitors, still wired up to a machine checking his heart rate and his oxygenation. What we didn’t expect is that he would thrive and become an unsatisfied beast. He wailed and wouldn’t stop wailing, as if his little lungs were asserting themselves in the world that doubted them.

We tried everything—we swaddled him into a baby burrito, we soothed salves on his chest, played opera, sang corny songs to him, sang rock songs to him. He refused to latch, and even his choice of beverage was cold breast milk thawed from the fridge. He didn’t want fresh milk just pumped. He didn’t want breast milk thawed and heated gently on the stove or from the microwave. Take the tube, pop it in a Pyrex with warm water, and as long as the slushy becomes more smoothie, it’s ready to go.

We considered putting a mini-fridge next to our bed—full of beer for Daddy and icy milk for the baby.

We played loud music for him and bounced him in our arms—he preferred techno music, especially noisy and disturbing electronic music like Aphex Twin. He wanted to be swung constantly—never happy unless being squeezed in a pair of arms or in the under-the-sea themed swing on the highest motion.

At about six months old, he was rocking in the swing as I changed the channel. We mostly watched tv those days as the doctors said he was too fragile to take out in the world, so my best memories are watching the entire series of Deadwood as I rocked him in the glider. I flicked past the Disney Channel and his eyes grew wide. I put it on “Charlie and Lola” and I saw him settle in his seat and take note for the first time in his life. We didn’t have the kind of baby who liked to stare at his parents’ faces and coo for hours on end. This was the first unprompted smile. We stood there watching him, and the lightbulb went on. Television! Who would have thought?

Granted, all along we planned on being the crunchiest parents we could—here we had this beautiful tabula rasa and we couldn’t mess him up with junk food, meat, television, disposable diapers, formula, vaccinations, etc. That is, until he made himself known in this world and found his first few months of life in the hospital where you can attempt to parent—cloth diaper, reject formula, delay vaccines, etc. but it’s a fight no one wants to fight when you’re just trying to get your kid considered healthy enough to discharge, so all your idealism about the proper way to parent get waylaid by your intention to just survive babyhood.

Television, it is! So while we used to sit around the tube as a family, we found ourselves turning on a program for him while he lazed around, gumming toys made out of toxic plastic and lead paint. We found Family Guy was the perfect combination of colorful animation and ear-pleasing timbres. He especially loved Lois. He would cry until Lois would make an appearance in the episode, then he would self-soothe into a hypnotic state.

I admit this with guilt and humor, but really, when your baby is “colicky” for months, you will allow anything that gives him solace in your home.

Somewhere around nine months, he pulled himself up by his father’s pantlegs, patted a knee, and pronounced, “Up!” His first word. A few weeks later, he was chewing on a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I dragged it out of his mouth as he protested, “Maaaummmm!” And then, “Dadadadadada,” a reverie of a favorite syllable or a label for the stay-at-home caregiver, we had no idea but we went with it.

Suddenly he got violently ill—vomiting white everywhere he went. Suddenly we were just as ill, the entire family laying on a blanket on the living room floor, exchanging permission to run to the bathroom or clean up piles of puke. He was diagnosed with rotavirus, which has given me a phobia to this day about changing stations in public restrooms. My child can talk to any stranger on the street but the minute he attempts to pull down a plastic folding table, I scream with fear, “Don’t touch that!” I have a maniacal phobia about baby feces now, and while I used to be skeptical about vaccines, I am now showboating around for a rotavirus one, because our seven pound one-year-old lost an entire pound, thanks to the virus. His speech stopped. He seemed lethargic and disinterested in the world. He didn’t even cry as much. He just seemed…tired.

We were thankful that he started gaining weight again and that the Pediasure and soymilk were staying down, as the breastmilk stash ran dry around six months, but he seemed changed.

That year is a blur. We watched as each developmental milestone marker flew by with little to no progress. We knew he’d be delayed so we stayed optimistic albeit frustrated. I remember holding a bottle above his head, just out of reach, saying, “Milk! Mmmmmilk!” over and over, while signing it—a clenched fist opening and squeezing, mimicking milking a cow’s udders. He just cried with no discerning syllables. “Milk! Mmmmmilk! Just say Mmmm then!” I’d give him the bottle, feeling like a failure. What was I teaching him about life? That if you cry enough, you get what you want?

Baby Einstein had taught us the basics of baby sign language as we got in his face, our fingers akimbo, “Mama!” “Dada!” Up! was gone. He crawled, then he began to stand again, months after his first attempts at cruising along with furniture. He steadied himself against a wall as he turned out and took a step toward the dining room table. “Maaaum,” he said. He was 19 months old.

At 24 months, we decided to ask for help. The hospital told us to get him involved with early intervention, but we figured we’d wait until there were severe enough delays to warrant outside help. So stupid, I think now, as we contacted Regional Center, and they wanted to know why it took us two years to contact them. We were supposed to contact them immediately since he was such a precarious case. I transferred the blame to our pediatrician who specialized with special needs kids. “I thought you were already working with Regional Center!” she threw back to us.

How could we know if no one told us? The hospital vagued that he’d need “intervention” but we didn’t know where or how or who. We weren’t even ready to have a typical child, so how would we know about the resources for unusual children?

We found ourselves in the early intervention program, a lesson in guilt and ignorance. A woman came to our house explicitly to play with our son via floor time. She rolled a ball to him. He denied it. She put him in her lap and wrapped her arms around him so he couldn’t crawl away. She put his hands over his as they put together puzzles, read books, touched things.

I didn’t know we were supposed to do this, I thought stupidly. My husband and I were very independent children. I don’t remember my mom doing anything with me or for me. I remember playing by myself, reading by myself, etc. We read to Saki, we fed him, we clothed him, we kissed him, we loved him, but he didn’t seem to care to play or to interact, so aside from trying to get him to communicate with us, we allowed him to chew on his books and toys and to laugh to himself in his exersaucer.

“Just like the gardener has the most unkempt lawn!” my boss laughed when I told him my son didn’t like to read, and my guilt grew as I realized that as a teacher, I knew better than to just allow a struggling child to do what he wants. I began getting on the floor with him, trying to get him to interact with his toys in a typical way—roll the ball, roll the car, look at the book’s pictures, don’t eat the pages, etc.

We were placed in a group therapy class a few miles away. He was walking but not talking. His baby headbutts to communicate became his only means of communicating as a toddler. The top of his forehead ridged like  a Klingon from the inability to say or sign “No!” in an effective way. The teacher wanted a picture of him for her bulletin board but he was terrified of the camera. He ran away to a toy kitchen set and began stacking the dishes. We called his name gently as he turned to face us with a tiny spoon in his mouth. She snapped the Polaroid. While every other kid had a close-up, not all of the kids were smiling, but our son was from 10 feet away. It seemed symbolic of his struggle, and I can’t look at that photo without crying.

Eventually he would sit in the circle of parents and children, screaming as they were singing and clapping. He loved the free time, though, and was at that play kitchen whenever he could.

In the meantime we had a behaviorist come over to give us some informal counseling. She watched him carefully and even more carefully gave us her assessment. “He’s not autistic,” I stated plainly.

“How do you know?” she probed gently.

“Oh my God, are you serious? Not every kid who has delays is autistic.”

“Well, look at him,” she said as he banged his fingertips against a cabinet in time to the Muppet Show theme song.

“He’s playing piano!”

“He’s stimming,” she replied.

“I don’t want him to be another flavor-of-the-month. Every boy has autism now. I’m not saying he’s not delayed but autism is being over-diagnosed. My son is special. He is not just another number in this so-called epidemic.”

At age 3, he was officially diagnosed. The state-funded psychologist blew bubbles at him—he didn’t care. Followed him down the hallway, he didn’t notice. Put toys in front of him—he lined them up. Tried to talk to him about us—he wouldn’t look at her. I cried, and the psychologist looked truly regretful.

“I knew this was coming,” I told her. After the behaviorist planted the seed in my mind, I knew it was inevitable the diagnosis was coming. As we left the Regional Center offices, I said to my husband, “Your son just got diagnosed with autism! What are you going to do?”

“We’re going to Disneyland!” he cheered. And so we did.

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He traipses down the stairs, minutes before we’re supposed to head to the bus stop. He’s a last-minute leaver. I have to open the garage door, get in my car, and turn on the engine before he’ll tear through the door, shoes in one hand, yelling, “I’m coming! Don’t leave me!” twice a week before karate.

He makes his way down the stairs. The behaviorists wanted him to alternate feet with each step, but he haphazardly slides down at an angle, butt against the railing. He stops in front of me. He drops his socks and tugs at the sides of his pants. At 8 years old, he should be tying his own shoes, but it’s still a crying, yelling tug-of-war to get him to even try, so we just prostrate ourselves before our little king, arrange his socks just so (it’s still not right, though, he still needs to straighten the heel and the toes), and then place each foot in each shoe, like Jesus’ Maundy.

I notice the unusual gesture today, though– a tug at his waist to make his trainer pants sit on his hips. As a high school teacher, I’m suspicious of adjustments to clothing items. “Are you trying to make your pants sag?” I probe. He smiles at me through his bangs. “Do you want people to see your underwear?” He smiles again, so I know it must be true; otherwise an interrogative sentence like this would have made his 8 year old self go, “Ew! That’s super gross!” (Or, really, “Ew! Dat’s supa gwoss!”)

“Listen,” I say, prepping my pre-adolescent disciplinarian voice, “If you show people your underwear at school, I’m gonna make you wear suspenders.”

“What are susnenders?”

“Belts you have to wear around your shoulders to hold onto your pants so they don’t show your underwear.”

“Oh. I don’t like belts.”

“Okay, then, pull those pants up. You’re a hipster. You wear skinny jeans, okay?” I brush his bangs with my fingers.

“Okay,” he says, tugging his pants up.

“I don’t like belts,” he sulks.

Now I knew this was just a matter of time. And numerous people have made the Alex P. Keaton-Family Ties prediction for us: “Oh, he’s going to grow up to be six foot two, play football, and vote Republican!” And we laugh and we agree, but somehow I imagined this rebellion to be something that happens overnight. One day, he’s a baby wearing Cure t-shirts and black leather booties with teddy bear faces. Suddenly, he’s a burgeoning skater kid, in his white and black geometric hoodie that might as well have a Diamond Supply company logo on it, and his Luke Skywalker hair. We figured that around junior high or high school, he would suddenly wake up to see us as The Enemy Inveterate, and that we’d have to tolerate 5 to 10 years of him despising us, and espousing everything we hate just to test the waters. Then he’d slowly come back to us, and we’d all meet at some happy medium. Either that, or I’d wind up becoming a booster mom for his team. I have changed so much in the 9 short years I’ve known him, sitting at the table at a bake sale would be a no-brainer.

But I never knew that this division would happen so early. I’ve always encouraged him to be his own person, unless it’s something that fundamentally encroaches on human rights, like the time he came home from school with a gay marriage joke he didn’t seem to understand, and I drill & killed him on who has the right to marry– “anyone who wants to” “anyone who is in love” “anyone” “anyone”– but as far as clothes go, I try to influence him when I can. I wheel the shopping cart to the Jack Skellington t-shirts. “Hey, look at this! Isn’t this cool?” “No, I don’t like skulls,” he replies. My heart breaks, but then I allow him to guide me over to the purple striped t-shirts with huge Angry Birds silk screens on them. It’s fine, it’s fine, I tell myself. I want him to have his own sense of style, but I can’t help but get snippy when I see my little boy getting corrupted by his peers at school.

I love public school. Adore it. I love that he is learning to deal with diverse people, that he learns structure, routine, discipline, and all the things I would be terrible at if I even had the mental ability to homeschool– I do not. We would just read poetry, do science experiments, and watch Drunk History if I homeschooled. But the kids at public school scare me. And not because I’m a teacher. In fact, my students are open-minded, beautiful, creative, responsible, and adorable. And I am not being sarcastic. I am proud to know them. But then, I teach high school. The beasts in the upper-grades at elementary and those at junior high are not the young people I surround myself with.

I don’t know what’s him and what are the effects of longing to fit in, but I know that it first started with our house. My parents afforded us kids every privileged luxury of a middle class lifestyle– we had a big house in the suburbs with a pool. Everyone in my family of age had a car, and my parents would lease new cars for themselves every four years. I appreciate what my parents gave me; however, I know this kind of lifestyle impeded us from traveling– sure when I was in my 20s, my dad started inviting us on location for his movie jobs, but when I was younger, we went to 1) Disneyland or 2) Utah to see relatives. I didn’t go to Mexico until I was 20, when my then-boyfriend’s family drove us down to En Senada for Thanksgiving. I was shocked– all this beauty, fun, good food, etc. just hours away and my parents never took us. How easy to drive down & get a nice little hotel for the weekend!

I started traveling internationally by myself– which I thank my parents for paying for it and allowing me to go on my adventures– but I told myself when I grew up, I’d never stop travelling. I’d make it a priority to leave my house and see the world outside my community. I’d live simply so I could afford other things. I lived in a closet, I leased a car once then told myself I’d drive my next car to the ground. You’ll find me at the clearance rack at Target and trolling Goodwill for a decent pair of jeans.

So luckily I married a man with the same goals– we have a small and comfortable townhouse in a good complex in a bad neighborhood. We paid off our cars years ago. We lived off credit cards while my husband stayed home with my son until he was school-aged. Now we’re paying off cards and beginning to enjoy life again, because he’s working full time. In the meantime, our off-spring has let us know, “I hate my house!” He says it’s too small. When we point out that we have a pool and a park nearby, and that our mortgage is cheaper than most people’s rent, he just shakes his little head, and says, “I want a big house!”

He attends school in one of my favorite parts of town– the houses are older but they are big, with nice yards, and big parks within walking distance. There are paseos that wind around the neighborhood that are jam-packed with kids learning to ride their bikes, elderly people walking their dogs, and young people jogging. So when I pick him up from school and I see him stare out the window and mutter, “I want a big house,” I know what he means. But I’m not sure where the house-envy comes from, really. And it’s hard to explain to him, “Well, Mommy and Daddy are trying to live simply and happily so we can have a decent home but also travel and live life besides trying to pay off the mortgage.”

Then it was my car. “I hate this car!” he’d slam the door while I’d holler after him: “This car is dependable! It gets amazing gas mileage! The sound system is bumpin’! I love this car!” He was not convinced. “I want a big car!” he’d yell.

Once I saw him peering inside a neighbor’s mini-van when they left the side door open.

“What are you doing?”

“I want this car.”

“This is a mini-van! I am NOT driving a mini-van!”

“PLEASE!!!!”
“No! Besides, there are 3 of us! We don’t even need a mini-van!”

“PLEASE?!!!!”

“No!”

“Fine!” Stomping into the house, slamming the door shut.

I figured there’d be size issues (my husband and I are both short), political issues (at least while you’re trying to figure it all out for yourself) and of course, sports. A child like mine with hypotactile sensory cravings is obviously going to be into sports. But I was hoping that he’d be on board for the socio-economic lifestyle decisions. Hey, kid, smaller house & older car= more toys!

I think Thanksgiving is going to be the perfect opportunity to have this dialogue– now that he seems to be looking at things beyond his immediate environment. It’s time to perhaps donate some toys to charity, or do some volunteer work, or have a discussion about how for some kids, their small, old car is their home.

When I first saw this commercial, I laughed because I knew this was our reality, but I always envisioned our boy singing along with us, only it’d be “The Rainbow Connection” or “Generals and Majors” by XTC. But now I’m dreading that he really is going to be mouthing, “Help me.” God help us all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6od7l7WXi0

 

 

I have made major, drastic changes in the way I live my life in the past two years. One of the biggest, and most influential, is that I look to find the moment behind something that is irritating or wrong. I believe that there is a reason behind everything that happens, or a lesson to be learned. Maybe that makes me a sadist or a masochist, but now every time I get angry, hurt, or frustrated, I stop and think about what the universe is trying to tell me.

Take today…

I scheduled a dog grooming for our elderly dog, but my husband’s car wouldn’t start and then he couldn’t even find the collar and leash to walk the dog to the groomer’s. I was helping edit some college application essays when I got his text. I just finished reading an essay about this girl’s emotional connection to her dog, when I called the groomer’s to reschedule. When I hung up the phone, she was amazed– she’s a dog groomer and is actually the kind of person I want looking after my dog– someone who adores animals and will give my old guy the gentle care he needs to get through a traumatic event like grooming. Even so, I told her I want to try out the groomer’s across the street. She might be a sweet girl, and I want to give her my business but nothing beats doing your errands in the convenience of your own neighborhood.

A student stole a unit exam today. I know exactly who it was, and now I’m waiting to see if he’ll give it to me tomorrow, sheepishly confessing he “accidentally” put it in his backpack, or if he’ll maintain this ruse that he turned it in– somehow– and I happen to be the one to misplace it. But instead of raging like I did when someone stole my All Quiet on the Western Front test six years ago (and rewriting the entire exam, so no one could benefit from him posting it online or selling it), it makes me think, well, I’m kind of “over” Fahrenheit 451 anyway. I’ve taught it probably 10-15 times. Maybe it’s time for something new like Brave New World (which I semi-successfully taught once but gave up because the kids wouldn’t read it on their own) or The Left Hand of Darkness. It served its purpose, and really, ever since Bradbury died, it hasn’t had quite the same spark it once did for me.

And finally, a confession– I am addicted to this magic substance called Symptex F. It’s a natural remedy for imbalance (thyroid, adrenal) and I want to say that it’s my magic elixir which has helped me go without an anxiety attack for months now. So I ran out and ordered online, but the order was delayed by Amazon, so I called my chiropractor in a panic, knowing he carries Standard Process products. We booked an adjustment for me and my husband tonight, but as I checked the mail today, what do you think was sitting in the mailbox but the package from Amazon?

I am in no way suggesting these are amazing coincidences. Just the opposite. That these roadblocks and minor annoyances are a time to give one pause & to reassess the situation. Maybe I can find a caring dog groomer, maybe I shouldn’t rely on multiple choice tests as major assessments, maybe I shouldn’t teach the same old book every semester when I have the opportunity to switch it up, maybe I need to remember that between MMA and yoga and supplements and acupuncture and meditation, a good back cracking is sometimes all you need.

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The hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its buzzing half-sleep, dozing quietly on the couch that had been abandoned because of its magnetism for dog hair. The dim light of three in the morning, the moonlight from the open sky framed through the great window, touched here and there on the papers stacked on the dining room table, the untouched designer food in the dog bowl, the stack of battered photos from the 80s waiting to be scanned. Light flickered on splattered paint on the sliding glass door and on the four legs constantly twitching.

He woke. His eyes milky white fastened on no one and nothing save a can of wet dog food he’d hope to find in the metal bowl. Slinking through the dog door, he yelped at the moon–not a bark– more of a plaintive cry of pain and confusion. She’d run downstairs, reminding her husband that even a feeble half- functioning dog was better than no dog to warn them of burglars, earthquakes, or ghosts.

She’d crouch over to release the bolt, fling open the door and he’d look at her, embarrassed.

“Get inside!” she’d bark.

He looked away, caught in the act.

“What’s wrong?” she’d huff, scanning the patio for a raccoon or a hoodlum.

He wouldn’t budge.

“GET.”

He’d turn away and offer her his shaggy butt to consider.

“Come ON!” she’d use her foot to nudge him to the door because he’d taken to nipping at her hands when she tried to touch him– to pet him or to maneuver him out of the way.

Finally after an awkward dance of her nudging him through the small opening, they’d return to sleep. He twitching, she dreaming of getting a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

She was quite obviously waiting for him to die.

He was old and cranky. He pooped where and when he felt like it, leaving behind golden nuggets amid the couch cushions, some droppings on the kitchen floor. She even once caught him pooping outside, then as he made his way into the house, a poop eeked its way out his butt as he was halfway in, halfway out. The brown bullet, halfway in, halfway out its chamber.

“Seriously?” she yelped.

He ignored her, scrambling his feet over the sliding glass door grooves, finally allowing the poop to slide out onto the rug.

“You were just outside!”

He ignored her, shifted his stance, and let another one drop to the floor.

She loved him– this was true. When they first met, they had an immediate bond. They slept in the same bed. His blond hair was soft and tickling back then, not wiry and coated with grease from the Jeep’s undercarriage.

People were amazed at their bond. He had been chosen because he looked old and lonely. The boy who brought him home after paperwork and $50 for neutering thought he was surely going to be put to death because no one wanted the old man. Then they took him to the doctor for a check-up, where the family learned he wasn’t an old man, he was just a pup.

Fifteen years later now, she seeks out rumors and gossip about local dog groomers. This one couldn’t handle the pit bull puppy, put him on a leash on the back patio where the baby leapt off a separation between the concrete and a ditch, hanging himself to death. Another dipped a cat for flea, asphyxiating water into Kitty’s lungs. The cat drowned on dry land hours after being taken home.

So weekly she loaded the now legitimately old man in the car, dropped him off at some house of horrors, only to get the dreaded phone call,” He’s ready!” And she’s walk in the door, bell tinkling, and he’d run to her, wagging his tail, tufts of shaved hair flying off him, a bandana around his neck.

Each time, reborn as a pup– a kind of Chihuahua on doggie growth hormone. He’d roll on the rug, feeling his new skin, the clearness of his non-gunk-filled eyes, and she knew that she was in for another 15 years.

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The first time, I stood in line with him, making sure he understood the rules. Stand in a single-file line until it’s your turn at the zip line. Make sure you stand close enough to the person in front of you that other people know you’re in line, but far enough away that you don’t crowd their space or make them think you’re trying to cut.

Other parents were on the sidelines, with one dad helping the littlest one climb on the zip line. When it was Saki’s turn, he got on the rope without problem & zipped down to the end. He bounced on the rope at the end, laughing, and I noticed the other kids getting concerned that he wasn’t going to return the rope.

I jumped off the concrete slab and ran across the sand. “Bring it back! Bring it back!” I warned, but he just laughed and vibrated on the line. I grabbed the rope and swung it back to the start.

The second time, I watched him get in line by himself. About ten feet away, I was close enough to offer advice, “Move up now!” but far enough away that I wouldn’t be as much of a “helicopter mom” as I was the last time– literally standing in line, literally with my hands on his shoulders when he got too wiggly and I could tell he was thinking of jumping off the ledge to go dance around in the sand, losing his spot in line.

As the kids edged forward, I noticed a boy about Saki’s age trying to make a connection with him. Shirtless and obviously a veteran of the zip line, the boy tried to get Saki to spot a sailboat on the horizon. He pointed; Saki looked the other way. I clasped my hands, praying under my breath. “Look at him, look at him, give him eyes, give him eyes.” Saki turned to the boy and shook his head in the negative. The boy pointed more urgently. Saki shook and turned his head to the girl behind him. “Come on, come on,” I prayed, “just give him a little something.” The head shake was awesome– an attempt at non-verbal communication, but what I really wanted to see was something more. Neurotypical kids rarely engage Saki, and when Saki makes the first attempt, he is more often than not rejected by them, so to see this kid, this obviously well-adjusted, friendly little boy attempt to make conversation, this moment loomed as a symbol of an important milestone.

Saki turned to the boy and burped in his face. The boy jerked and looked at Saki with surprise. Saki started laughing, and magic, the boy returned the laugh. Saki burped again, and the boy answered with a weaker burp. The friendship was formed.

After a couple of zips on the line, I noticed that the boy wanted to stand next to Saki in line and he offered Saki advice about how to hold the line and how to dismount. I still had to return the rope every time, but he learned that it’s important to jump off the rope as soon as you hit the end to be fair to the others.

Saki took off to the beach, so I veered him to the car to pick up our stuff. We spread out on the edge of the swimming area, as Saki jumped into the waves and started screaming in joy. I settled in, the water’s too cold this year, and watched him jump over each approaching wave. I looked down for a minute to find a nibble to eat, and then I noticed that Saki had a friend jumping over the waves with him. The boy looked at Saki, laughed, then encouraged the two of them to jump simultaneously. I looked closer, and it was the boy from the zip line.

The boy brought a friend, or a brother, and while the three of them were content to jump the waves together, the brother wasn’t having Saki’s attempt at being playful– picking up handfuls of sand and chucking it at his friends. I let it go a few times, then I ran up and called Saki over.

“These are your friends. If your friends don’t want you to throw sand at them, you can’t throw sand.” He seemed to understand, as I ran away quickly before the boys thought I was encroaching on their space. Saki grabbed a handful of sand, looked over at me, then dropped the sand by his feet. He decided to run diagonally, chasing a wave, while the other boys ran after him.

Hundreds of waves later, Saki ran up to me, shivering. I wrapped him in a blanket, as the boy ran up, grinning.

“Hi! What’s your name?” I asked.

“Luke.”

“Do you know his name?” I pointed to my brown boy giggling in the sand.

“No.”

“His name’s Saki.”

“Socky?” he laughed.

“Yeah, Saki,” I smiled. What would Ralph do if Piggy’s aunt was there on the island to introduce them?

“I was looking for you, Saki!” Luke said. “You ran away at the zip line, so I’m glad I found you!”

“You wanted to play with Saki?” I pressed him.

“Yeah! The water’s too cold. Let’s go back to the zip line!”

Luke took off running as I packed up our small camp and dragged everything back to the car. Saki veered to the playground, as I sat on the side. Within minutes, Luke and his brother appeared at Saki’s side.

“We were supposed to meet at the zip line!” Luke shouted.

Saki ignored him, spinning around on a tiny metal platform.

“Let’s play Pirates!” Saki shouted, running to the ship.

Luke followed as they delegated duties– Saki was the flag man, Luke was the captain.

“My mom is the captain!” Saki yelled.

“I don’t want to be the captain!” I shouted back.

“It’s okay! Be the captain!” Luke called.

“Come on, Mom!”

So I was the commander of the ship. We fought dolphins and other pirates in the form of toddlers in striped shirts who waddled as they walked.

“I’m the captain!” one little boy with brown bed-head called.

“Okay,” Luke said. “You’re the captain.”

I jumped down and found my place among the moms on the wall.

“You’re the captain. You’re the first mate,” Luke told the little ones, while Saki jumped ship and headed to another metal structure.

Luke ran after him, as they shared a strange contraption, whose only purpose seemed to make the kids feel unbalanced and afraid to fall into the “hot lava.”

I snapped some pictures, as the three boys laughed and tried to bounce each other off the surface. A man in a wheelchair rolled by. Saki called out, “What happened to his legs?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you should ask him.” I always wonder what’s the protocol when it comes to why we look and act the way we do. Should I tell kids playing with Saki that he thinks different than they do? That’s why he spits at them playfully and runs away mid-sentence.

“No thanks,” Saki said, rocking Luke.

“Maybe he got hurt, or maybe he was born without legs. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s still having fun.”

Saki was onto the next– spinning back on the platform again, trying to join in with already established groups of friends, as Luke tried to catch up. Every time, the new kids would vacate when Saki would arrive, and then the 2 boys would take over the structure.

“Let’s go to the zip line again!” Luke offered, but Saki refused.
I watched him try to connect with a couple of girls who were sipping soda from a giant fast food cup.

In the distance, I see Luke’s brother pulling Luke out of line and pointing to a group of adults carrying bags and chairs.

“Come back and say goodbye! Come back and say goodbye!” I pray, but Luke bounces out of line, runs up to a woman and takes a chair from her. The family forms a line out of the park as I try not to run after him.

I want a goodbye as poignant as Casablanca. The two of them standing amidst the other kids. “We’ll always have Ventura,” Luke will say as he touches Saki on the forearm, turning away to get in his minivan back to who-knows-where.

I look back to Saki. He’s bullying a bigger girl about the spinning platform. “My turn! My turn!” he asserts. She rolls her eyes and dismounts. She’s not even in beach gear– she’s wearing sneakers and jeans.

“Time to go,” I say and he jumps off after a few spins and follows me to the car.

And this is what I love & hate about summer: those fleeting friendships you make in some common place where kids from different cities find each other for a few hours and never see each other again.

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