Posted in books, parenting, special needs parenting

Just a mom + CRM review: “All Our Wrong Todays” by Elan Mastai

I’m a mother. Many people would call me a special needs mom. But I don’t think of myself that way. I’m a swim mom, a dance mom, a music mom, a girl’s mom. But not a special needs mom.
When my younger daughter was born with Down syndrome, it was difficult to wrap my head around initially, but it didn’t take me long to figure out what that meant to me as a mother. There were many aha moments that happened in first six months, but one that really defined how I was going to approach this whole, unplanned journey.
When she was born, I was a teacher. I was familiar with IEPS and 504 plans. I had also worked with Special Olympics and other programs and knew children with all sorts of disabilities. But it was the teacher part (and the fact that I had worked with children most of my life) that really helped me figure it all out. It was when I went back to teaching, and I looked at everyone of these kids in my classes. That moment when I realized that each of these kids had special needs, needs that were different and special to each of them!  The difference was that I had an idea of what my daughter was going to need from birth.
It’s still my belief. EVERY kid has their own needs. That kid can’t stay organized, that kid has trouble with handwriting. Another kid might need to go to the bathroom more than others because he needs time by himself. And another kid might just need to go to the bathroom a lot.
One kid may have trouble studying for a variety of reasons. One may have trouble sitting still. Still another may rarely get enough sleep. Another may NEVER have a pencil. Still another is too shy to speak in class.
See–each student has at least one special need. Any need you or I or anyone has, a real need, is special to you. Almost every individual need is special.
I’m the mother of two girls. That’s it. They’re my two girls. They’re difficult and funny, each in their own way.  I’m trying to meet all of their varied and different needs, as a mother. Their both have special and specific needs, and I don’t hold one of their needs higher than the other (although I’m pretty sure they would each argue with that statement).
The older of my daughters is nearly 14, nearly a freshman, nearly in high school. She’s steady and silly and quiet and loud. She’s reliable and gets her homework done without ANY prodding from me, loves swimming and singing and hanging with her various and assorted friends. She’s a teen and she’s difficult to read. She’s pulling away a bit (although she still seems to need her mom quite a bit as well), she’s snarky and pissy and then sweet as sugar. She makes my head spin and sometimes makes me question EVERYTHING about my life and my parenting skills
.She wants her privacy and she want to be noticed. She wants attention, but she doesn’t want to be the center of attention. She wants her mom, but she doesn’t want to tell me she wants me. She needs me, and she needs specific things from me. I try to come through for her.
My younger daughter  is 12. The two girls are 15 months apart, although they’re three years apart in school. Thank goodness.
Because of her can’t-stop-won’t-stop personality, my 12 year-old is the complete opposite of her sister. She believes she is the cherry on top of the sundae, the bow on the present, the star on the Christmas tree. She has the kind of confidence we all wish we had. But, as the mother of such a child, I can tell you it’s tough to reign in that kind of confidence.  And it’s also very tough for your other, older daughter.
She’s completely honest, holding nothing back in her search for spreading the truth. She loves unconditionally and largely, and she loves EVERYone. The hardest thing is that she thinks she knows everyone, and that everyone knows her (she seriously believes she is famous). She’s an emotional roller-coaster, crying at the drop of a hat. She sticks up for those she loves with a fierceness that’s sometimes scary. And she will work her hardest to get you to love her, if she thinks you’re worth it.
She’s easily bored, but just as easily amused. She’s a slightly picky eater, but eats the things she loves with gusto. She doesn’t make a fuss when I serve food she doesn’t like; she doesn’t throw a fit and whine about me making something else (maybe she’s learned that’s not happening). She just won’t eat it (but may asks for ice cream later).
She’s exhausting and endearing, unyielding in her desire for the things she loves, including her family. She doesn’t stop talking until she gets what she wants. Usually I don’t know whether to pull my hair out or laugh. Most often I split the difference, I smile and shake my head.
It doesn’t really matter to me that one of my daughters has Down syndrome. I’m their mom and have to fulfill both of their many, many needs in so many areas of their lives. My two girls are completely different, as they should be. I’m sure every mom can say this about their children. And they both need me, and their father, in different ways. They both have their special needs.
Many would qualify me as a ‘special needs’ mom. I don’t see my self that way. I’m the mother of a teenager and a tween. I’m the mother of a swimmer, and of a dancer, and of a singer. I’m the mother of a child who wants to tell me nothing, and the mother of a daughter who wants to tell me everything. I’m the mother of a daughter with a lot of self-motivation, and also the mother of a daughter with a lot of self-confidence.
I’m the mother of daughters.
I’m a mother trying to figure out what each of my daughters needs.
I’m just a mother.


I felt like a runner who discovers he is not, in fact, racing in a marathon — it’s a triathlon, and not only did he forget to bring his bicycle but he never learned to swim.

Elan Mastai, All Our Wrong Todays

The Premise

stolen from the book blurb, because they explain it really well!

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed…because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

My Thoughts

Can I just say OMG! This book enthralled me immediately, pulling me in so deeply that I finished it in two days (and it would have been a day, but I had to do some of that parenting that’s required when you have daughters, like taking one of them to see “Beauty and the Beast”)!

All Our Wrong Todays  is classified science fiction, but it’s also classified literary fiction. And it’s tough to say where I would classify in my imaginary bookstore. There is a lot of alternate reality and futuristic life (although, in the book, it’s present time in a different reality), but, at it’s heart, this is just a book about a man-boy trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs.

I did not let myself get bogged down in the science — when I did it gave me a headache. I concentrated on the literary side of the story more, because it’s more of who I am as a reader. I enjoyed the basic science, the possibility, of it all, but, when I found myself getting lost, I began to skim more (I still read it, but I just didn’t let myself think too deeply on it all).

Tom (and his counterpart, John) was very likable, or he came to be likable. He was a whiny baby of a man in the beginning of the book, but grows as a character and grew on me as a the reader.

All Our Wrong Todays is very much a nature vs. nurture argument, or maybe a study. The nature of your environment determines how you are nurtured and how you develop. It’s also a study of chaos theory, and how one small act can change the world.

It made me wonder what small acts change our lives and our realities every minute. And what small decisions in our pasts have changed our lives in small and large ways.

All Our Wrong Todays hit all my sweet spots. Characters who grow and change, realities that beg to be questioned, a little romance, some conflict, all done well. It is both character-driven and plot-driven, balancing both with perfection.

I loved All Our Wrong Todays. It’s beautiful and thoughtful, but interspersed with science and action and suspense. It’s science fiction, but also a thriller with a little bit of romance thrown it.  It doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of humans, and the selfishness of people, but it balances that with the wonderful things of which humans are capable.

And BOOKS! The two worlds in All Our Wrong Todays have many differences, but the loss of books and fiction are pivotal to the differences in emotions and art. The emptiness that both Tom and his mother feel in the more ‘advanced’ world can be partly attributed to their lack of fiction, or at least in the way we think of fiction.

I cannot recommend All Our Wrong Todays enough. I LOVED it. Smart, funny, sad, romantic (without being a ‘romance’). Seriously, get your hands on this one and give it a go. You won’t regret it!

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Posted in books, parenting

Repost & a new review: On not becoming my dad + Lisa Gardner’s “Find Her”

As my daughter rolls into the ending part of her swim season, with a lot of championships and time cuts on the line, this seemed like a good time to re-post this writing from my heart. 

My dad was not the best of role models. He worked too much. He thought he’d gone to enough church before he had kids. He had little patience. He was a bit of a bully. And he thought his charm would get him through everything.

And he put way too much emphasis on our athletics. Especially swimming.

Now, I’m not a bully, and I really (usually) enjoy church. I work a bit too much, but I work from home, so I can put my stuff down easily and interact with my kids, and pick it back up with minimal (usually) effort. I do sometimes rely on my charm too much, and my smile, but I try to use that for good, not evil.

But I have trouble with the swimming thing. I know to tamp it down, and I don’t let it get the best of me very often, but it happened a bit last year, at this time.

Now, it hasn’t been a problem up to this point because my eldest daughter hasn’t been a great swimmer. She’s been okay, but couldn’t quite make time cuts for the bigger meets. And that was okay. Because she loves the sport, and works really hard at it.

Suddenly, though, this year she’s qualified in one event and is close in a bunch more. And I found myself bribing and promising and cajoling. And, a couple of days ago, when she didn’t swim like we all thought she would, I got a little mad and a lot disappointed. At her.

And I took a deep breath, looked at her disappointed 11 year-old face, and I got mad and disappointed at myself.

Not my daughter, but a good representation of her disappointment.
Not my daughter, but a good representation of her disappointment.

After she talked to her coach she came over to me, tears in her eyes. I hugged her and sat down with her. She told me she was afraid she let me down, and that I put too much pressure on her. Even though I tried not to let her see my hope and my disappointment, she found it.

I sighed and talked to her, a little bit like an adult. I told her those were my problems, not hers, and I would love her no matter what. She was my daughter, and she worked hard and loves the sport, and she should be having fun, not worrying about what I thought. Because, no matter what she did in life, I would love her.

And I said yes, I was disappointed. For her, not for me. I want the moon for her, I want all her wishes to come true, I want her to shine. But I want her to know that I will be there for her, no matter what. I will hug and love her, and try my hardest to cheer her up.

I will work my hardest to keep my inner demons quiet. All my swim parent friends know my issues, and know to tell me to cool it, or to slap me, or even look at me in ‘that way’ (I did get one of those, and I really appreciated itt brought me back to my senses) if I start to channel my dad.

I am not my dad, my daughter was not put on this earth to fulfill some leftover dreams of mine. I’m here to lift her up, to make her a better person, to help her find out who she is and what she wants from life. And that’s what swimming is supposed to do for her, also. I’ve got to stand back and let it, and her coaches, do their jobs. And this is YMCA age group swimming; not elite level, college scholarship, make it to the Olympics swimming. It’s supposed to be fun.

My job is to cheer for her, to celebrate when her dreams come true, and to pick up the pieces when she falls. And to love her with all my might.

Okay, onto Find Her by Lisa Gardner.


What’s the difference between a victim and a survivor?

The Premise

Flora Dane was a carefree girl, in Florida for spring break when she was abducted. 472 days later, she’s rescued.

But the girl who returns to her family isn’t the same girl. She looks the same, but she can’t let it go, and she can’t talk about her ordeal.

Instead, Flora vows never to be a victim again. After studying self-defense and survival skills, Flora begins learning all she can about other abducted girls, vowing to stop the abductors, and then taking particular notice of one case.

But when she stops one abduction, she shines the spotlight on herself. When she herself is abducted, she’s forced to face her demons, and to use her new found skills to get away.

At the other end, detective D.D. Warren is learning to survive her own hell–she’s on restricted duty and must learn to rely on her team, and others, in order to save Flora and to solve the mystery that ties a string of seemingly unrelated abductions together.

My Thoughts

This book was fascinating. I had no idea what was going on: unsure as to whether if Flora had gone crazy, whether her original kidnapper was really dead, whether one of the abducted girls was actually the abductor. I had a lot of theories, and a lot of questions.

It did the two things a mystery should do: it kept me guessing without losing my attention, it made me interested in the lives of the characters. I was invested in the story and its characters.

Find Her is a great read, if you’re in the mood for an engrossing mystery.

I give it 4.5 stars.

 

Posted in books, family, parenting, reading, teens, tweens

Getting ready to stutter through the teen years + “The Queen of the Tearling” & “The Invasion of the Tearling” by Erika Johansen

11358832_10206719288002214_733074956_nMy older daughter turned 12 on Sunday. 12. The big 1-2. That means just a year until the teen years. I’m not really ready for that.

I remember back a long, long time ago, when she was just a wee babe (actually, it was 12 years ago) and I knew these days would come. But I was sure it would be fine, because I was going to be a parent who taught her children that disrespect wasn’t okay. And I would be that mom that she could come to with anything.

I would have really great answers to all those uncomfortable questions, because I would be cool like that. And I would have had 12 years to come up with those awesome, pithy answers. And there would never be a question that my daughter would come to me with those questions. Because I was cool.

But I wouldn’t be her friend! I would be that cool adult with all the answers, but also the one that put structure in her life and said no sometimes.

Boy, those 12 years went fast. I’m not ready for the uncomfortable questions, and I don’t necessarily have cool answers. But, then again, she doesn’t come to me easily with questions, so there’s that. I do put a lot of structure in her life, and I feel like I say no a lot (apparently, though, I’m one of only a couple moms in my group who let my daughter have Snapchat, for reasons I’m not going to go into now).

The answers aren’t easy or cool. There are no pithy, smart comebacks to her uncomfortable questions. In fact, I have to drag the uncomfortable questions out of her by starting awkward conversations.

I find I’ve become a stutterer, unsure of where the conversation should go, hesitant in my questions and answers. And the worst part of it all? She’s not even technically a teen yet. She’s still that stupid made-up thing called a tween.

I figure these years are practice. I’m practicing my stutter. Because it’s only going to worse. I’m going to start realizing there are answers to questions I didn’t even consider when she was a baby. I mean, think about bath salts and that whole crazy drug thing. Who would have ever thought I would have to warn her about bath salts?! (I don’t even really know what to warn her about–I don’t really understand what they were or are, other than something my Grandma had under her bathroom sink). Things like this makes me STUTTER.

My stutter is getting pretty good. I can pretend I know what I’m talking about, pretend I know what’s going on. I can put her off for a half an hour, pretending to be really busy while I run to the Google machine in order to get a handle on what she’s asking about, when she actually asks.

I know she’s going to catch on. I know the stutter is only going to work for so long. Just give me a few years. Please, Lord, just give a me few years.

Because the last 12 weren’t enough.

And now, onto the beginnings of a great fantasy series by Erika Johansen-The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling.


Fantasy, adventure, and a bit of mystery join forces in the first two books about a young girl who must learn the ins and outs of royal life all the while trying to defend her kingdom and find herself.

Note: These are listed on some sites as YA, but they are not really YA, unless it’s for older young adults. 16 and up, at least.

The Premise

At the onset of The Queen of the Tearling, Kelsea is a 19 year old girl in the forests of Tear, getting ready to be whisked off to the throne. Because she, of course, is the heir of the throne, the Queen, and 19 is the age of ascension.

She’s been raised in isolation by an older couple in order to protect her. They did the best the could to prepare her for the throne, but she arrives inexperienced and threatened. Luckily, Kelsea has inner strength and brains, and she does many of the right things in order to make her kingdom a better, if not safer, place.

Through the first book, all we know is this is a future world, one that has reverted to medieval, feudal ways. And there is magic, magic that is Kelsea’s by birthright (but she doesn’t know about it until she is queen, and until the end of the first book).

There is also an enemy kingdom, Mortmesne ruled by the evil, dark Red Queen. The Tearling people have survived with this threat by appeasing her with shipments of people to be used as slaves, but Kelsea’s not having any of that. Thus, war and invasion ensues.

The Invasion of the Tearling, Kelsea is a wiser queen, facing the imminent threat of invasion from Mortmesne. She’s learning there is a dark side to magic. And, through this magic and Kelsea’s visions, we also begin to learn about the world before ‘The Crossing’ to Tearling, a time we recognize as a dystopian future in America, seen through the eyes of people hoping for a paradise once they crossed.

My Thoughts

The Queen of the Tearling was highly touted as original, a mixture of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. The first book did not deliver this, although it was entertaining and fun. But it was not original–it was too much like most fantasy novels to be original. And there wasn’t enough explanation, enough ‘world building’ to make the world real. I did really like Kelsea, so I kept reading. And the ending paid off. I give it 3 stars, but that may be because I really liked the second book.

The Invasion of the Tearling picks up almost immediately, and immediately it is a better book. If the ‘touters’ of the book world read this one with the first one, this may be where they got the ‘Hunger Game of Thrones’ thing. Because the flashbacks to pre-crossing were fabulous, explaining how it is the future while leaving the mystery of what happened after the crossing in tact.

In The Invasion of the Tearling, we also get a better glimpse of the Red Queen and her history. And we get a bit of the history of the Tear crown. I really liked the second book, and I’m very glad I stuck with it. It is original and interesting.

I’m guessing with this series that the world building comes throughout the books, that we don’t understand the history because the history is part of the story, and part of the future? I know that makes little sense, but I can’t wait for the third book at this point, because I want to know!!! I give this one four stars. Here the originality is starting to come through!