Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017's Best Books

This year I read 66 books or 19,813 pages.  Yay!  I was also part of 3 book clubs, so that led me to read a few things I wouldn't have normally but mostly it was nice just to have more local people to hang out with.  Sometimes we even talked about the books ;-D  There were a few clunkers (aren't there always?) but most of them were enjoyable.  Here are the ones I loved best this year and that have earned a place on my "always recommend" list.

  • The Complete Works of Jane Austen.  I was pretty sure I'd read them all over the years, but it was possible that I'd just gotten tangled up in movie adaptations (hello, Colin Firth!).  So this year I decided to revisit all of her work.  I found a great audio book of Mansfield Park read by Juliet Stevenson (herself having acted in some of those movie adaptations) and to my delight she had read all the others as well.  Having the right reader makes all the difference to a good audio book!  Feeling the need to take a break from the constant news this year, I turned to audio books to save my sanity and that made life so much more enjoyable.  As I have found when I read all of a series again in one go, reading all of Austen's work in succession allowed me to pick up on little subtleties and similarities I missed the first time (all those men with "W" names for instance).  It also allowed me to see the growth of Austen as a writer.  I still can't pick a favorite, but Persuasion has moved up the list and Emma has moved down.  I know a lot of people didn't love Lady Susan (the film version is called Love and Friendship), finding it too mean-spirited, but I thought it was hilarious.  I'd like to think this was a more accurate depiction of Jane's inner monologues as she observed the world around her.  
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I found this book when there was a lot of press about it being one of the books that entire communities were reading together.  It's the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team and how they won gold against all odds.  But it goes into the history of rowing, the very difficult lives of the boys who grew up in the Depression and fought for everything they got and how rowing helped shape them.  Honestly, this is not the kind of book I normally read, preferring fiction.  But I ADORED this book.  It kept me on the edge of my seat and I'll admit I read the last chapters more than twice.  I also found the old newsreel footage on Youtube to see how it really happened.  It gave me some insight, too, to the era that my parents grew up in.  While they would always tell us stories about making do and hardships, for some reason this book really brought all that home and showed how their generation got their resiliency and their can-do attitude that as time passed served the world well in WWII.  I also got D. to read it and he loved it as well.
  • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.   The story opens with Julia, arriving in Burma to search for her missing father.  The only clue she has is a love letter he wrote many years ago to a woman neither she nor her mother have ever heard of.  What she finds is yes, a love story and a mystery solved, but also a story of resilience, dedication and miracles.  The language in this book is so lyrical, so unbearably beautiful, I dare you not to be drawn in
  • Beartown by Frederik Backman.  I've been a big fan of Backman's work ever since A Man Called Ove made the list last year.  This book isn't as quirky as his others, though there are some quirky characters.  It takes on much more serious themes that ended up being very timely for what is going on in the world right now.  It's about communities, how they're formed or not formed, how they stand together or not, and how they heal or not when tragedy strikes.  It's about the dangers of putting all your hopes and dreams into one thing and one thing only.  Faced with choices, both big and small, each character in this book slowly reveals who they are and what they stand for.  It's also just as much about place as it is people, the location is just as important a character as the others.  I also think he's quite good in depicting relationships, all those little nuances and actions that started out as nothing but added up over the years become important to a couple, a group of friends, a mentor and protegee.  In typical Backman style, the direction you think the book is going in isn't necessarily where you end up, which is one of the reasons why I love his work.  
Happy reading!  If you read any of these, let me know what you think and, as always, I'd love to hear what made your list of favorites this year.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fifteen Things About You at Age 15

  1. You still love animation and are doing some yourself.  Way cool.
  2. When you're not doing that, you're working out - calesthenics, weights, working a heavy bag, jumping rope.
  3. When you're not doing that, you're batch cooking healthy meals for yourself.  Chicken, veggies, quinoa, lots of good stuff.  I may delegate the cooking to you from now on!
  4. All that healthy food and exercise has had an effect on your overall health.  Normally by this time in the winter you have missed about 10 days of school.  This year?  Not a sniffle. (knocking on wood though just in case)
  5. You are still a voracious reader, but dislike the dystopian stuff that is everywhere these days.
  6. High school was a bit of a shaky start - all that freedom!  You had a few "not working to potential" issues, but got that under control and still made the Honor Roll.
  7. Global history is your favorite subject at the moment, followed by Digital Media.
  8. Most of the time you pitch in on chores without having to be asked, which we appreciate.
  9. You sing a lot.  
  10. You have the best laugh.  
  11. Because of the early high school schedule, you have turned your natural night owl tendencies around and most nights you are in bed and out cold by 8:30 p.m.
  12. You had a great travelling summer - Iceland, back to Hoonah to see old friends, and visiting family.  
  13. You still like hooded shirts, the colors black, grey & burgundy, and any clothing that is soft.
  14. You are now taller than Mom and Dad.  We find that very disconcerting. 
  15. Pokemon Go!

  1. You still love anything and everything Disney.
  2. You swim at least twice a week and are adding another stroke to your repetoire - the crawl.
  3. In bowling you can throw the ball down the lane most of the time.
  4. You love to go out to a restaurant.  You would eat out every day if you could!
  5. You really enjoyed Technology this year and built a portable speaker. 
  6. You have grown a lot this year too.  You can look Mom in the eye now.
  7. You recently got a winter coat with fur trim on the hood, which you think is hilarious for some reason.  You like to put up the hood and peer out and say "meow."  LOL
  8. You love to help grocery shop.  At BJ's you scan the items at the self-checkout and load up the items into the cart.  At Wegman's you know exactly what we need in each aisle and are starting to order at the deli.  The smoothie at the end is the best part!
  9. You are running lots of errands at school without supervision.
  10. You have developed a fondness for 80's disco music and like to sing and dance along.  
  11. If you could go to Cradle Beach every week, you would.  And go to NJ on the way back.  On a plane.
  12. You are still an incorrigible flirt.
  13. You love art of all kinds - painting, coloring, clay.  
  14. Lollipops!
  15. You like solid color long-sleeve shirts like the Wiggles wear, anything brightly colored and of course many hats.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Books of 2016

I read 32 books this year.  Not quite the 52 I always set for a goal, but I'm ok with it.  I added needlework back into my goal list last year and while I didn't complete a lot of those items this year, I'm happy with what I was able to accomplish.  My work hours increased in September so that was a bit of an adjustment.   I also added a more regular schedule of self-care into my life year and that has been far more important to keeping me on track and helping me maintain balance.   

Not too many books got a five-star rating and inclusion onto The List this year, but these did:

  1. Homegoing by 
  2. A Man Called Ove by I really cannot say enough about this book.  It was so wonderful that I immediately went out and bought everything else Fredrik Backman has ever written.  I don't do that too often.  Ove is a curmudgeon in every sense of the world.  A grumpy old man, he has Rules and gets annoyed at the world when they don't follow them.  When a young family moves in next door, his world is turned upside down.  There are a few surprises here, but you will find yourself laughing and crying and cheering as you read.  And then you'll go want to find the curmudgeon in your life and give them a hug.  
  3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman. I told you I went and bought everything Fredrik Backman ever wrote :-D  This one was wonderful as well, and there were enough twists and turns and "oh! that's what really happeneds!" to keep you turning pages and glued to the story until the last page.  This one is about Elsa, who is aged 7 and a little different from everyone else.  Her grandmother has always told her fabulous about a mythical land where everyone is different and no one needs to be normal.  When her grandmother dies, she leaves Elsa a Quest in the form of letters that must be delivered to various people she feels the need to apologize to.  And as Elsa meets them all she begins to wonder - .could the Kingdom of Miamas and the people who lived in her grandmother's fairy tales be real? 
  4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Anybody who has ever visited the town of Mitford will fall in love with it all over again in this new book in the series.  Dooley Kavanagh and Lace Harper are all grown up and planning their wedding.  And in true Mitford style, the whole town gets involved whether Dooley and Lace want them to or not, mishaps happen and grace overcomes all.  
  5. My Mrs. Brown by This book was so sweet!  Emilia Brown is a woman of a certain age.  She has lived her life in the background, always quiet and no frills and probably overlooked by most.  But in her heart she has dreams.  Dreams which suddenly seem to be embodied by an Oscar de la Renta sheath and jacket and somehow she must make them her own.  And braving the trip to New York all alone to get it becomes necessary as well.  Sometimes a dress isn’t just a dress.

Monday, February 15, 2016

14 Things About You at Age 14

  1. Suddenly your hair got all wavy!
  2. You like steampunk fashion and asked for a waistcoat for Christmas.
  3. You joined the Debate Club at school.  So far, though, every position you've gotten is one you don't agree with.  Which I guess is the whole point of debate....  You grudgingly let Dad come see the last competition.
  4. You make a fruit & veggie smoothie almost every night.
  5. You will now eat salad.  
  6. And you discovered coffee!  (decaf for the moment)
  7. You took up painting this summer and really enjoyed it.  Especially painting in the open air in the park.
  8. Your sneakers are size 13!
  9. You would like to do medieval re-enactment.
  10. You are finally old enough to do blacksmithing. You have been wanting to do this for about 5 years.
  11. I hear you singing when you think no one is nearby.
  12. You grew an incredible 10 inches this year!  You are taller than me now and not too much longer before you catch up to Dad
  13. Deciding on which high school to go to was tough but you made a good choice. 
  14. Your last report card had three 100% marks.

  1. You do not like your sideburns at all.  Dad has to trim them a few times a week.
  2. The mustache and little whiskers don't bother you as yet.
  3. You regularly call us into the other room to watch something with you.  And then after about 1 minute you tell us to go away. 
  4. You are swimming backstroke now and getting the hang of it.
  5. I put a "favorite characters" folder on your speech app and now that is all you want to talk about.  We had to hide it at school so you would concentrate on your work.
  6. You are sleeping later in the morning.  Not as late as your brother, but late for you.  8:00! whoo!
  7. Now you are on a bowling team with Special Olympics.  
  8. You grew about 5 inches this year.
  9. Your shoes are size 7.5, finally in a men's size. You like to step on the back of them and wear them that way.  Maybe I should just buy you clogs.
  10. You are still a flirt.
  11. You really like vegetables now.  Especially asparagus.
  12. Your teacher reports that when you hang up your things in your locker, you put your hat on the shelf, your coat on one hook, your scarf on the 2nd hook and a glove each on hooks 3 & 4.  LOL!  I am going to ask her to take a photo before winter is over.
  13. You are warming up a bit more to the idea of a pet.  A rabbit is the only animal that doesn't get an outright no.  
  14.  Your last report card had two 100% marks.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Best books of 2015

I read 37 books this year.  That's the lowest number since I started keeping track in 2011, but that's ok.  I added needlework back into my goal list and was dividing my time between those two things. If a book doesn't really grab me within the first 100 or so pages, I don't force myself to finish it.  Reading is my stress relief and if I'm not enjoying it, then out it goes.  

So without further ado, these are the books that got 5 stars from me this year (in no particular order):
  1. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon.  This is available as an eBook only and it took me quite some time to find it.  This little novella tells the story of what really happened to Roger MacKenzie Wakefield's parents and how he was orphaned during the Blitz.   
  2. The Space Between: An Outlander Novella by Diana Gabaldon.  Also an eBook only edition, this novella tells the story of Joan MacKimmie, one of Jamie's adopted daughters, who makes her way to Paris to enter a convent.  She is helped on her journey by Michael Murray, Jamie's nephew.  One of Claire's old enemies learns of the connection and things get complicated.  With both of these ebooks, I love how Diana Gabaldon fills in little bits and pieces of all the characters in the Outlander universe.  Michael, Joan, Dolly & Roger Sr. are very minor characters in the other books but now here they are full-fledged and we come to care about them just as much as all the others.  It also makes it easier to wait the 3 or 4 years it takes her to write the next big book.
  3. A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor.  Mr. Shaw's Home for Watercress and Flower Girls is a home and refuge for London's flower girls, many of them orphaned and crippled.  (think Eliza Doolittle in much poorer circumstances)   In 1912, Tilly Harper leaves her home in the Lake District to become an assistant housemother.   Soon after she arrives she finds a diary in her room written by an orphan named Florrie, who dies searching for her lost sister Rosie.  Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie, while getting to know and caring for her new charges.  Through her journey she finds a new life for herself.  I loved this book.  There was a lot of historical research done and it led me to learn more about the flower girls.   For instance, when the fashion for fresh flowers waned, many of the girls got training to make flowers from silk and feathers for the millinery trade.  Queen Alexandra arranged a "rose day" where people made charitable contributions through the purchase of silk roses to help fund rehabilitation programs for the flower girls and ensure they had a place to live.
  4. The Secret Place by Tana French.  French's novels are the only detective/crime/suspense ones I read.  I'm normally very susceptible to scary stuff and don't read or watch anything that will give me nightmares.  But French's writing is so good and her characters so multi-dimensional that I'm willing to risk it.  A popular boy was murdered on the grounds of a girls' boarding school a year ago and the case remains unsolved.  The school has an anonymous gossip bulletin board (the headmistress's answer to social media) and 16-year-old Holly Mackey arrives at the Dublin murder squad with a postcard of the dead boy's picture with the caption "I know who killed him" that she had found on the board earlier in the week.  Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to join Dublin’s Murder Squad and gets his chance, if his new partner Antoinette Conway doesn't throw him out on his ass first.  They delve into the confusing and tangled world of teenaged girls and their relationships, the use of social media and how nothing is how it looks at first glance or even second and third.  I didn't love this one as much as some of the earlier novels, it felt like it was trying too hard to come up with that final twist that leaves you gasping with surprise (I feel the same with Jodi Piccoullt's latest efforts), but it was still a good read and just scary enough that I was on the edge of my seat.
  5.  Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.  I'll get it out of the way right now.  This is now on my top books of all time list.  If you read nothing else this year, go get this book.  Like M. L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans, also on my top list), Hooper is able to convey entire histories in only one or two sentences.  Eighty-three year old Etta wakes up one morning realizing she has never seen the ocean.  So she leaves a note on the table for her husband Otto and sets off on foot from their Saskatchewan farm, heading east.  Otto understands Etta's need and doesn't follow.  Russell grew up with Otto and he has loved Etta from afar for most of their lives.  So in his one and  only act of defiance in his whole life, he follows and tries to find Etta. As for James, I'll let you find out for yourself who he is.  This book blurs the lines between memory, illusion and reality as well as youth and old age.  Is our reality our physical body or our memory and does anyone else have a say in it?  It explores our human need for reinvention and connection in ways that stayed with me long after I finished reading.  
  6. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes.  Moyes is one of those authors where you read one of her books and instantly go to the library or the bookstore and get every single thing they have written.  Jess is a single mom with problems.  Beyond the obvious financial ones, her teenage son is getting bullied.  Her math-whiz daughter has a chance to compete in an olympiad event that they can't afford to go to.  Ed is a tech millionaire with problems of his own.  But helping Jess is the one unselfish thing he has done in maybe ever.  And he's not really sure why he's doing it!  But try as he might (and boy does he try) he can't really make himself stop.  I love how Moyes pairs these unlikely people together and suddenly you can't imagine them with anyone else.  This book had me laughing out loud, crying, cheering.  Definitely a fun read. 
  7. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I had only read Gilberts memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love, etc.) and didn't really know she wrote novels as well.  This book follows Alma Whittaker's life.  Born in 1800 to a botanical explorer, she grows up in a wealthy family where intellectual pursuits are prized above all else.  Her intense study of mosses bring her closer to the realities of evolution, but as a woman scientists are unlikely to take her work seriously.  Late in life she falls in love with Ambrose, a Utopian artist, whose ideas are in direct opposite of her own.  The novel ranges across the world - Peru, Amsterdam, Tahiti - and across ideas and the evolution of what we know about the world.  Definitely a page turner.
  8. Neverwhere (Author's Preferred Text) by Neil Gaiman.  I've tried to read a few of Gaiman's books before but never finished one because frankly, they were too weird.  Alternate realities are cool but sometimes they were just so way out there I couldn't find anything to grasp onto in order to make sense of the story.  This book is a bit hard to describe, but it's the story of ordinary Londoner Richard Mayhew and his unlikely journey into the world of London Below to help the Lady Door save it from destruction.  Maybe I just liked it because it was set in London.  
  9. Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon.  Any visit to Mitford is a good one and I loved this Christmas tale of Father Tim's gift and all the residents of Mitford and their holiday doings  I have a tradition of reading at least one Christmas book during the season and I'm glad I found this one.  I mistakenly reserved the audio version rather than the book.  I don't normally listen to audio books because I find myself getting distracted and having to rewind constantly.  But for some reason I didn't have that issue with this and I really enjoyed it.  I drove around town, grinning like a fool the entire time I listened.  
  10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  There seem to be a lot of WWII-era books on the shelves these days.  Whether that is because of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the current political climate or perhaps just the perspective that time brings, I don't know.  Usually when there seems to be a "theme" like this I tend to steer clear, they all seem to repeat themselves and it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of whatever seems to be making money in the moment (see: teenage distopian novels).  This book, however, got such great reviews I decided to check it out.  It combines two things I love, well-researched historical fiction and the perspectives of two different people living in the same time but worlds apart.  Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of 6.  Her father, who is Master of the Locks at the Museum of Natural History, builds her a scale model of their Paris neighborhood so she can memorize it and therefore find her way around by herself.  Then comes the German occupation and they are forced to flee to a relative in Saint-Malo, on the coast of Brittany.  Werner grows up an orphan in a mine-town in Northern Germany, where he discovers an old radio scavenging with his sister Jutta.  His interest in radios and ability to fix them wins him a place at an elite military academy just as the Third Reich is coming to power.  As they grow up and their paths grow inexorably closer, the anticipation of their meeting keeps you turning the pages.  At its heart this novel is about the good in the world and all the ways people can be and are good to each other.  Something we all need to remember no matter the times we live in.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Decorating Realities

#1: Start in one room, realize that as long as you're moving furniture, etc. you should deep clean. Tell yourself (again) that you will do this on a more regular basis. (sorry Mom!)

#2: Move all the crap from each room as you decorate. Pretty soon I will get to the other end of the house and all of this will have to be dealt with!

#3: It is a Universal Law that you will marry a person of the opposite Tree Light Color Persuasion.

#4: It is also a Universal Law that you will marry someone of the opposite Tree Light Application Method persuasion. See also: To Tinsel or Not?  Also: Angel or Star?

 #5: You (again) remember that you should have gotten the amaryllis bulbs and planted them in your decorative holiday pots around Halloween. As it stands now (and forever it seems) when Christmas comes around you will have ratty looking bulbs sitting in a pot of bare dirt instead of glorious blooms of red and white and pink and candy striped.

#6: Where are all the $*(*@ green extension cords?

#7: It's just not Christmas until the Advent Wreath catches fire.

#8: It is probable, but not possible, that in an alternate universe there are, actually, enough Christmas mugs. But here in this house, no, no there can not, and never will there be, enough Christmas mugs.

#9: The emergence of the Santa Cookie Plate brings great joy. But you cannot eat off it (no, not even cookies, all you weisenheimers. You know who you are.). Because it is, you know, reserved.

#10: Be Honest.  Those little foil wrapped Santas and ornaments, marshmallow snowmen, ribbon candy, etc. are not going to make it until tomorrow.

#11: Who knew fake trees shed just as much as real ones? Especially when you store them shoved in a closet that is too small for it.

#12: The dream of Christmas quilts got as far as buying fabric. Which if I could find again I probably wouldn't like now. Oh wait, I did manage to make pillowcases for two of the four beds. Where are those?

#13: The snowman teapot holds a mouthful of tea and the cookies go stale if you put them in the snowy cottage cookie jar, but they are just so DANG cute!

#14: Our gingerbread houses will never look like the magazine ones. Instead of feeling bad about it, we make up silly scenarios about why it looks like it does: "starving reindeer herd" "avalanche!" "abominable snowman tripped"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What Defines Us

I once had someone ask me if we didn't, perhaps, identify too much as the family of a child with special needs?  I remember feeling bewildered. I didn't answer.   How could I answer?   How was I supposed to answer?  I wondered what our life looked like from the outside.  However that was, it probably didn't accurately reflect our reality anyway.   There's a reason parents of kids with special needs tend to hang out together.  Nobody needs to explain anything.  How could we not identify ourselves as the family of a child with special needs?  How on earth would it be possible to do less of it?

We try very, very hard to do things with M. on his own and encourage his own interests.  Sometimes our efforts are more successful than others.  We don't expect him to be responsible for his brother too much in the short term, and while we hope he will want to in the long term, that's not something we dictate to him. (Though I will freely admit that any significant other he brings home will be scrutinized, especially how they interact with P.)  But doesn't his brother's existence, his very twin-hood, define M. to a certain extent?  In the same way that my having nine siblings defines me and my husband's strong Italian heritage defines him, the way we grow up shapes the people we are. To what extent do we define ourselves and to what extent is that definition thrust upon us, either by circumstance or accident or luck?

P. has spent the last 10 days at a local camp that serves children with special needs and those who are economically disadvantaged.  Amazingly, this is his 5th year attending.  That's hard to believe when I think of how we chickened out and decided not to send him at the eleventh hour the first year he was eligible to go. We only agreed to let him go the following year because our amazing friend K. volunteered for the week and was able to send us daily reports.  I remember being amazed at the "veteran" parents who threw a sheet on the bed, kissed their kid on the cheek and left.  They just... left.  We stayed far longer than we should have that first drop-off and M. begged to stay because "who will take care of P?"  For that entire week we didn't dare move very far from the phone in case he was miserable and needed to be picked up right away.  We talked about him constantly.  The second, third and fourth years he attended, P. jumped out of the car when we got to camp.  We felt more comfortable leaving him, though we still cried on the way home.  Still, we ventured farther afield with M. and were able to stop worrying for longer and longer periods of time.

This year P. was excited to go, he started bouncing in his seat when he recognized the road.  But he didn't leap out of the car.  He treated it more like home.  He waved hello to everyone, strolled into his cabin and picked out his bed (top bunk, of course).  After we put the sheet on his mattress, he shooed us away.  He climbed up and set it all up himself -- pillows and blanket and Barney and Blue and Woody and Buzz and water cup just the way and where he wanted them.  When it was time for us to go, he didn't cling even a little bit.  I was happy about it in the moment.  "Look how mature he's getting!" We were different as well. We knew he was in good hands and that he would have a lot of fun. We chatted to the counselors we knew.  But instead of instructions about P. we asked how their year had gone and what were they doing now?  The walk to the car was easier and we didn't cry.  M. had a camp the same day and we had to get him where he needed to be on time. We couldn't dally. It seemed we had matured as well. We had become the parents I marveled at the first year.  We just... left.

Without having to get up for summer school, we all indulged our night owl tendencies and slept in later.  It was very quiet. I felt more successful in my attempts to meditate.  We spent all day gardening or at museums or fossil hunting or visiting Toronto.  We even saw a movie that wasn't animated.  We ate out at restaurants without caring whether pasta was on the menu.  We shopped for furniture without worrying about whose patience was waning.  There were no complicated vitamin regimes to prepare (and consequently, none of us took our vitamins either).  My husband and I each went to events without in-depth discussions of schedules. We didn't think about therapies. I went to work and didn't panic about being home in time for the bus.. No one's bowels were the topic of conversation. No one needed their meat cut or help getting their teeth brushed. I didn't have to translate anyone's communications.  I almost never had to look at someone's clothes before they left the house to make sure everything was on right. We were able to take long showers without making sure someone else was watching to be sure P. didn't wander outside in his underwear or decide to sit in the hot car or eat the entire contents of the cold cut drawer or try to turn on the stove or drape the waiting laundry over the furnace and hot water heater.

That's not to say we didn't miss him.  Of course we did!  When it rained, we worried he wouldn't be able to swim.  And when it was sunny, we worried he was giving the counselors a hard time getting out of the pool.  We hadn't sent as much food with him this year, was he eating most of what they served?  In the past he has gone to the Christmas in July session -- was he wondering where the tree and the decorations were?  Perhaps there was a theme for this session that we should have known about and talked up.  I noticed that M. was sleeping in his brother's bed.  He didn't want to do some of the things we suggested because he wanted P. to do them too.  He invented a new game that he couldn't wait to show his brother how to play. The large hole in the day was more than just P.'s absence.  I found myself constantly analyzing thoughts and emotions. What exactly was different this time?  And why was it different?

And then as we were in the kitchen last night, making P.'s favorite pasta salad for his welcome home meal and talking about what time we had to leave this morning, my husband hit the nail on the head.  "This week has been too easy.  It feels wrong somehow."  With just M. to worry about, everything was easy.  Had we been experiencing life as a "typical" family?  Is this what family life feels like for most people?   That's not good or bad, just something we have never experienced. It felt like we were coasting through life. If we had this existence all the time, we might forget to be grateful. We might forget to strive for someone other than ourselves. We might forget to be cheerleaders. We might forget to be who we are.

As I am typing this, the television is blaring, and the rhythm of lots of little figures being dumped out of their bucket and put back in resounds through the house.  I've had to negotiate snacks and supervise wiping and cut up meat.  At least ten times, I have said "Leave your brother alone!"  I've packed the backpack for school tomorrow and made sure the speech device is charged and that we have lunch supplies ready.  I have washed all the bedding so that Barney and Blue and Buzz and Woody can go back to their normal places.  The vitamins are laid out.  Everyone is where they should be and everything is once again as it should be in our world.  And to my mixed feelings of gladness and regret, P. has signed "more" and said "more camp" and "go camp" several times since we arrived home.  He is trying to get used to the normal routine again too.

This year, camp gave us a taste of what life might be like when M. and P. don't need us on a daily basis. Children grow up and move on and parents learn to redefine themselves in the wake of those milestones. We expect our typical children to do that.  We're proud of them when they do.  But our children with special needs?  We set up trusts and we arrange for guardianship and we put them on a waiting list for an independent living situation when they're 11 because those lists are so very long.  We never talk about our fears that it might never happen. And maybe if we're totally honest, we're equally afraid that it will.  And yet our children mature and grow just as others do.  They become more independent in their own ways and eventually they begin to build a life away from us, even if only an internal one.  Even if it is inch by inch over a long period of time.  Sometimes it begins with the return to a place they feel at home in, with people they feel safe with.  And we have to let them do it.  Even when it's hard.  Especially when it's hardest on us.

I am the parent of a child with special needs.  That role does define me. I am the parent of a typical child. I am the parent of twins.  Those roles define me as well. But now, maybe, as time goes on... I see that other things, some long-forgotten, and some new, can define me as well.  And I will need to sit in the noise with these thoughts until I become used to them.