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!

Posted in books, family, special needs parenting

Cool your judgy jets + “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

This one goes out to the two women who shook their heads at me  yesterday while I was shopping. Two different women. Two different places. 

I try not to judge. Because of the whole throwing rocks at glass houses thing.

Of course, sometimes I do judge a bit; every one does, I think. But I try not to let words come out of my mouth that might cast aspersions on another person.

Because I’ve been there. In fact, I feel like I’m there every day. Especially yesterday.

I took my younger daughter with me for a little shopping. For those that don’t know, my Katy has Down syndrome. It’s not a big deal for our family. But sometimes I need to remember that she’s 11 going on 5 or 6.

And she gets distracted. By shiny bobbles, colorful things, and babies. Especially babies.

So, yesterday she and I went shopping. First Target (eek!! So many shiny things for both of us!!!), and then to the grocery store.

Katy wandered away from about four times at Target. Yes, I should keep better track of her. But seriously, she’s RIGHT there. And then she’s not.

And she doesn’t answer when I call her name. Que the crazy lady, hollering (or yelling, maybe?) her name through Target. I look crazy–and she NEVER answers!!!! At one point, one of our neighbor/friends who happened to be at Target returned her. But every other time, I was that crazy lady.

I could feel the judge-y stares as I wandered the aisles looking for her (she never goes too far). Usually she’s by a baby, because she cannot resist babies.

If Katy’s near a baby when I find her,  I apologize to the mom. Most often the mother is fine with Katy, but every once and awhile I get ‘that look.’ You know, the one that says, “you need to keep better track of your kid.”Have-You-Judged-A-Mom-Today-

One mother shook her head as we walked away. She doesn’t know it, but I saw that shake of the head. The woman with a toddler in the cart and a baby on her back. The one with kids small enough to strap in to the cart. Stop throwing your rocks. You’ll be in the glass house soon enough.

I got out of Target with my bank account a little lighter but my child by my side. So win-win, in my books.

Onto the grocery store near our house. There is a problem with this, because we’re there A LOT. People who have worked there for awhile know Katy and always say hi. And there are always people shopping that know us, or know me, or just know Katy. And there are babies EVERY WHERE.

She wanders at our grocery store, like always. It’s a place she knows well, and she thinks everyone knows her. I tell her not to wander, but everything is forgotten when she sees a baby. It would be funny if it wasn’t so worrisome.

She talks to people she doesn’t know. We talked about talking to strangers, and she told me that “they know me, so they’re not strangers.”

This makes it tougher. Katy literally doesn’t know a stranger.

So, as we headed to the checkout, another woman, one without children (with her, at least), shook her head.

Now, I don’t know if either of these women were actually judging me. But it sure felt like it to me. I know I’m a bit thin skinned on this issue, so maybe they were just shaking their heads at the price of socks (Target) or milk (grocery store).

Or may be it was me. The crazy-yelling mom. Maybe they were judging me.

I guess my point is quit trying to be ‘better than.’ It doesn’t work. Realize that everyone goes through struggles, and someday you’re going to be judged as well. You never know what struggles a mother, or father, or anyone, is going through. You never know how they got to where they are at that moment. That moment when you’re judging them.

So stop shaking your head and tsking. Stop judging. Remember, that mother or grandmother or father or aunt could be you at any moment.

Instead of judging, lend a hand. Or lend a little understanding. Or even just say a silent prayer.

Get off your high horse before you fall flat into a pile of dung.

Okay, onto a wonderful book all about first impressions and judgment–Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.


This book will be released tomorrow, April 19th. Order it or get to the bookstore. You won’t be sorry!!!




The Premise

This is easy. Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Well, then you know the plot.

Except it’s set in modern day Cincinnati (with some stops in New York and Los Angeles).

Jane and Liz  Bennet are living great lives in New York. Jane is a 40 year-old single yoga instructor going IUI (intrauterine insemination) because she wants a baby. Liz is a 38 year -old magazine writer who has been sleeping with her married bestfriend-Jasper-for whom she’s been carrying a torch for YEARS.

When their father has a heart attack, the eldest Bennet girls head home to Cincinnati, where their parents live in the familial home, along with the three younger Bennet girls. This is when Liz gets a good look at their grand old home, a Tudor falling apart from neglect (her parents hid during she and Jane’s quick visits home). Kitty and Lydia are too busy with CrossFit to notice, and Mary is working on a string of degrees (online). And all the girls (except Liz) have relied on the Bennet’s dwindling funds to live lives of comfort.

While home, the Bennets are introduced to Chip Bingley, a handsome doctor fresh from the set of the reality dating show  Eligible (think The Bachelor). He takes a shine to Jane.

And Liz meets his icy neurosurgeon bestfriend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Chip and Jane start dating, but after he learns of Jane’s pregnancy (the IUI worked!), he backs away, heading to California for an Eligible reunion show. Jane takes off for New York, where she works as a private yoga instructor while taking care of her pregnancy. Liz stays in Cincinnati in an attempt to get her family’s finances (and the house) back in order. She and Darcy form a sort of friendship, although Liz doesn’t really like him.

But not all is as it seems. And you can’t always go by your first impressions.

My Thoughts

Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books. It’s a go-to on sick days. Romantic and sweet, but with such wonderful characters and a great deal of depth. It’s one of the most perfect stories of all times.

I’ve read many of the re-tellings, and seen the movies and those modern interpretations. Not many come close to the depth and breadth of Jane Austen’s classic.

But Eligible does. Curtis Sittenfeld’s re-imagining is brilliant and funny, paying tribute to the original while Americanizing it and bringing it perfectly to the modern world.

Sittenfeld takes on modern issues while staying true to the original storyline. All the fun and romance is there, but with real issues for today: race, class, gender, and reality television. Sittenfeld takes them all on while also holding steady to Jane Austen’s original.

I loved this. Easily a one sitting read. I give it five stars: It earns every last one of them.

Bloody Brilliant!!!

Posted in books, family, special needs parenting

On raising the sister of a special needs child + “Everybody Rise” by Stephanie Clifford

If an alien was to come down from the outerworlds and ask me about myself, the first thing I would tell her would be that I’m a mom and a wife (although usually I try to put wife first, but mom gets in the way so often lately). I would probably then say I was a writer, a reader, a friend, a daughter, a sister.

If the list went on long enough, I would probably get to the other kind of mom I am-mother of a child with special needs. Or maybe advocate. But that would come way down on the list. Because first off I am a mother.

A mother of two daughters. And only one has special needs.

And frankly, at times, she is the easier of the two. Because 12-year old daughter, that’s why.

Not that she’s particularly moody or eye-roll-y. Both of those do come up, along with raging hormones and moods that swing faster than a major league bat.

But the hardest part about raising this particular girl is that her big sister experience is different from her friends. Her little sister Katy has Down syndrome.

They’re only 15 months apart, so there really isn’t a point that she remembers without her little sister. For years they were just buddies, and Libby did things that every big sister does.

But, as they have aged, the gap in their development and maturity widened, and Libby began to notice. We took the time, but, in about second or third grade, we had to take time to explain what this meant, and that the gap was probably going to get bigger and never get smaller.

Libby didn’t like that at all, but she learned.

Mostly my daughters are normal sisters; they argue, they play, they get in each other’s way. But being Katy’s sister means you’re going to have to play Barbies for longer, you’re going to have to deal with her inability to button her pants, you’re going to have to deal with the fact that she can’t do everything you can do. At least not right now.

But there is the point where I have to force her to be herself, to forget about being Katy’s big sister. Just like any other elder sibling, she needs to help out. But she needs to not enable her sister, she needs to force her to do things on her own (sometimes not so loudly, but she needs to stick by those decisions).  She needs to remember (as I do, too) that Katy’s tears spill easily, and they shouldn’t make her go back on her decision.

She needs to find the spaces where Katy is not. She needs time with her own friends, away from Katy. Most of her friends know that Katy needs to be shut down early, otherwise she will hug like crazy and try to be part of their ‘big girl fun,’ but Libby needs to know that she doesn’t have to take Katy along with her everywhere. And I need to remember that sometimes it may be easier for me to have her to take Katy along, but it might not be better for her.

She doesn’t have to include her sister in everything, just because she has Down syndrome. She can have her own friends separately from her sister (although I NEED to know who they are, because I’m the mom).

But she also needs to know that she will always be Katy’s angel.

She needs to remember that she has a sister with special needs, that Katy will never grow out of her Down syndrome. But she needs to not let it run her life, or her sisterhood.

Just like me, I need her to know that she is a sister WAY before she is the sister to a special needs child. That should not define their sisterhood, and she needs to not let it.

Just like the rest of our family, Down syndrome should not define her.

I hope I’m doing a good job of teaching her the balance. It’s tough–she didn’t sign up for this when she was born (granted, she didn’t sign up for any of this). But it’s what she got. As a family, we embrace it, and deal with it, and find the humor in it all.

I hope she does the same.

Okay, onto Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford.

What happens when you betray your core values in an attempt to raise your own social standing? Evelyn Beegan is about to find out.

The Premise

Evelyn Beegan grew up just on the outside of privileged life. Her social-climbing mother pushed her into a prep school, where she didn’t quite fit it. After college, Evelyn is now living on the Upper East Side (not quite the right building, but close), and is working for a social media site built for the upper crust of the world. As membership director, Evelyn’s job is to use her ‘connections’ to get the right people to register and use the site “People Like Us.”

With the help of two good friends from prep school, Evelyn finds herself using subterfuge and exaggeration to swim upward into the world of the ultra-wealthy, old money crowd, using all her powers (and her credit rating) to fit in among the privileged crowd in the Adirondacks, Newport, and the Hamptons.

But when her lawyer father is indicted for bribery in one of his many class-action lawsuits, Evelyn’s real world starts to crumble, even as the lies she’s living on continue to propel her up, up, up. But how long can fake last when you’ve betrayed yourself?

My Thoughts

Very Edith Warton-esque, Everybody Rise is a great look at class struggle and trying to fit into a life that has its own, hidden rules. Other lessons: real friendship is hard to find, and a friendship built on lies is tenuous and unsustainable.

In Everybody Rise, the reader cringes along with every poor decision Evelyn makes, and relieved finally when her world comes crashing down. The fun in the book is getting a glimpse at a different way of life that many look at as charmed, but is actually shallow and devoid of real emotion or connection (at least in this crowd).

12023189_10207503545288156_190345803_nThis one is a fun read, but filled with lessons. Evelyn’s mother is awful, but also lovable. Her father is real, making mistakes for the right reasons. Evelyn is caught not only between two worlds, but also her two parents. And her learned lessons in real friendships and love are painful but true, all wrapped up in a fun, seemingly frivolous read.

4 Stars. Love it!!