I Survived the Birthday Party!

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Just a few of the leftover treats!

A few of you seemed like you wanted an update about how my husband’s birthday party went yesterday (if you didn’t read my post yesterday, you can find it here). Most of the really bad nerves happened before the party and on the way there, which is pretty normal for me. I had an IBS attack about a half hour before leaving the house (nausea, diarrhea, cramps – the whole shebang). On the drive to the party, I noticed my right leg was shaking pretty bad (a sure sign of anxiety), which made driving even more uncomfortable.

However, once I arrived at the school, it didn’t go too bad. Checking in at the front office wasn’t nearly as scary as I had imagined, although the receptionist was kind of grumpy. They had me stay in the office until the party was ready, as they wanted to surprise my husband. When they were ready, I joined the kids in my husband’s class and his assistants on their way back to the classroom from music class. We all got to my husband’s classroom and sang Happy Birthday to him and had some cupcakes. There was a ton of other food there as well – a huge assortment of candy, an amazing cream cheese peanut butter cake, chocolate covered pretzels, chips and salsa, and more.

Meeting my husband’s assistants (and a few other school employees) went ok. They were nice and friendly, although I did feel pretty shy. I had to ask my husband a few times if they were kidding or not when they said certain things, because I genuinely have a hard time deciphering whether people I don’t know well are being sarcastic or for real when they talk. One of the highlights of the party was meeting one student’s therapy dog. Meeting people fills me with anxiety, but meeting animals is always pure joy! I also got a couple hugs from my husband’s students, which was sweet.

After the party I was definitely relieved to get back home, but proud that I went. I know it meant a lot to my husband, so it was worth it.

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Kavanaugh & Ford: Thoughts on Attempted Assault, Trauma, and PTSD

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The last few days, I have come across a lot of stupid, ignorant comments about attempted rape and its potential aftermath on social media. In case you have been living under a rock, people have gotten very passionate about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court candidate and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, who both recently testified in front of the senate about sexual assault charges.

I have seen many memes and comments about both the accuser and the accused, and while some of them are respectful in expressing their personal opinion, many have taken to maligning the accuser, calling her a liar, a political schemer, and even saying the assault wasn’t a big deal and couldn’t have been that traumatizing. I want to take a minute to say that just because an assault is not completed, does not mean it isn’t extremely traumatizing! I will use a couple personal experiences to illustrate why I feel this way:

When I was in middle school, almost every day I was chased by big, mean bullies who threatened to “kick my ass” or even “kill me”…they never did actually beat me up, but they TERRIFIED me. I was truly afraid for my personal safety. They made me dread going to school and I became hypervigilant about trying to avoid them. In fact, I remember having to time my afternoon trek to the school bus just right so that hopefully I wouldn’t cross their path, while also making it to the bus on time.

When I was 17, I was robbed at gun point while working at Burger King. It was the end of the night shift and the manager and I were leaving out the front door, when two males in black outfits and masks jumped out of the shadows, one of them pointing his gun straight at me. No, I wasn’t actually shot during the ordeal, but I had terrifying dreams and flashbacks long after. I could never work night shift there again. To this day, I am still afraid of home invasions and double or triple check the locks at night.

If I had been a victim of attempted rape, I’m sure that would have been another terrifying memory to live with. I wish people understood PTSD and how even attempted assaults can cause immense levels of trauma, depending upon the person and how they process events and react to them. Some of the events that I find most traumatizing, others might not understand, while other events I went through that didn’t phase me much (like my mother’s many divorces) would have rocked the world of other kids. I wish we didn’t feel the need to judge others for what hurts or scars them.

I Have Autism, and I Yearn to Feel I Belong

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This may be a post that is hard for neurotypicals to relate to – I’m honestly not sure. But, as someone who has high-functioning autism (Aspergers), I find that I have always had a deep internal yearning for something that I don’t know how to get or how to keep – and that is a true sense of belonging. I have had fleeting moments of feeling like I belong in a group. Lunches with friends at school, days at work where I laughed along with the others and felt like part of the gang, or even last year, when I was hospitalized and briefly came to feel at home among the other patients.

But none of these lasted. The very next day, or even the next hour, I could easily be feeling like an outsider again, like someone with their nose pressed to the window, watching the motion and activity inside with longing. Even among friends, it was often clear that I was “the weird one”, the one that was sometimes liked, but never completely understood. I often felt like I was an alien being in a foreign world, and sometimes I still feel that way.

Now, since I don’t have to attend work or school outside of my home, I am not forced into regular contact with others and the chances of feeling a part of a group are even less likely to occur. I can go out and seek groups, and sometimes do, but I never really end up feeling a part of them. I am not a cog in the gears of a greater machine, I am a spare part left on the table.

The best way I know to describe the yearning inside is to share the first few lines from the theme song to the old tv show, Cheers:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where where everybody knows your name

That is what I want, but realistically, I could hang out at a bar EVERY SINGLE DAY and I’d be lucky if anyone learned my name…and I can’t help but feel that is my own fault. I’ve seen others who can walk into a place and in a few minutes, they are no longer a stranger to anyone. It is almost like a magical ability, and is clearly one I’ll never have.

I Could Have Been Labeled a Terrorist

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Sometimes I feel like I live in an entirely different world than the one I grew up in. One thing I am greatly thankful for is that there wasn’t the sensitivity to threats of violence or stupid immature outbursts when I was a kid and teen. I think about how common it was when I was a kid to joke about “blowing up the school” when you were mad, or how easily we threw around the “I’m going to kill you!” threat. Of course, we didn’t really mean it, to us, it was just a way to express frustration…but if kid me were to make those comments today in school, I would likely be taken away in handcuffs.

I also think about a stupid reaction I had as a teenager to a betrayal by someone I had a huge crush on. This person I had a crush on had been sort of leading me on and making me think that we might have a future together. We worked together at Burger King, and he was a few years older than me, but probably not much more grown up. When I found out that he had been lying to me and was secretly in a romantic relationship with someone else we worked with, I was SUPER PISSED. Both of these people I worked with had pretty much lied right to my face about their relationship numerous times and one day at work I simply went off.

Everyone else was gossiping about their affair and I was pulled into the conversation. Several knew how I had felt about him and asked if I planned to do anything. Being someone who was viciously angry and has always had a dark sense of humor, I said maybe I should go set their house on fire with them inside. Then I remembered that the girl had a daughter and I corrected myself by saying I would make sure I got the little girl out first. It was a dark joke. Clearly not something I intended to do, just a way to let off steam. I have often thought though that if that were to happen in our world’s current climate, I seriously could have been arrested for making terrorism threats.

It is these memories I revisit when I see stories about kids getting expelled or investigated for making pretend guns out of Pop-Tarts, shouting something in anger, or making pretend shooting motions with their fingers. I think of how stupid and immature I used to be and how I lacked the wisdom to see the potential consequences of a rash, snide comment or playful dark humor. I certainly understand our world’s over-sensitivity to these things today, but I can’t help but think of how naively innocent I once was when I would foolishly spout off without thinking it through.

Writing Prompt: Favorite Childhood Memories

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So I’ve decided to try to post a writing prompt every Saturday. Hopefully I won’t fall off the wagon too many times trying to do so!

Today’s Prompt: What memories from your own childhood would you most like to relive?

My response: I know it sounds corny, but the memories I would most like to relive are just ordinary days filled with happy ordinary moments. Eating cinnamon toast made by my mom while I sit and watch My Little Pony and play with my own pony toy collection (how I wish I had kept those toys!). Playing on the trampoline in our screened in front porch. Watching Nickelodeon back when it was the bomb. Coming home on the last day of school with my backpack full of goodies from the teacher and an entire summer spread out in front of me like a magical adventure. Camping out in my Smurf sleeping bag with my sister, telling scary stories and then being unable to sleep. Family picnics and midnight fishing trips with my dad. Those are the things I miss the most and would love the chance to revisit.

Encourage young artists, don’t criticize them

One of my favorite recent art works I created...fitting for how I felt about art back in elementary school.
One of my favorite recent art works I created…fitting for how I felt about art back in elementary school.

I almost never became an artist. When I was in elementary school I hated art. I was convinced I was the worst artist in the world and in a report card of all A’s, art was often my only B and once I even got a C. So why was elementary art so awful? Simple, because of my teacher.

I won’t say that my art teacher was a horrible person, she was just not encouraging, at least to me. She often yelled at me because I wanted to “copy” things rather than come up with my own ideas. She thought that we should all just dream up a picture and put it on paper. I couldn’t do that very well. Perhaps because of my Asperger’s Syndrome (which I didn’t know I had at the time). In fact, I still can’t normally create art just from the imagination (with the exception of some abstract work). The way I work is to see something that grabs my eye – a picture, a person, a scene – and then I take that idea and I draw it the way I see it. It always turns out far different than the original idea, but I do need that original seed of an idea to start with.

I remember clearly one time when we were supposed to be freely drawing from our imagination in class. I sat there stumped as usual, with no idea what to draw. Then I looked at a friend next to me who was drawing a picture of two girls on top of the world. I liked the idea, so with my friend’s permission I did my own version of it. When class was over and we turned in our pictures, the girl and I both had to stay after class because the teacher wanted to know who “cheated” off whom. I remember thinking, “Cheated?! Who cheated?”. She scolded us both and told us to never do it again.

This teacher also often commented how I was “not the great artist your older sister is!” One time she even told me that and made me stand in the corner because I wasn’t “trying hard enough”. Craft time was hell too because I didn’t have the best coordination and my crafts often looked a mess. Again, I would either get yelled at or just get a big disappointed sigh. I got the message loud and clear, again and again. I was no good. I had no talent.

So how did I finally rediscover my artistic side? Well, that I owe to another teacher, someone entirely different. When I got to middle school, my art teacher encouraged me. She showed me how to draw certain things if I didn’t know how. She helped me come up with ideas if I was stumped. She told me how good things looked and encouraged me to try new things without yelling at me if they turned out poorly. In her class I never got a B or a C – all A’s. And I’ve enjoyed art ever since.

My first elementary school author visit!!!

Today was my first official elementary school author visit.  I must admit I was sweating this one big time.  I kept worrying that I would get in front of everyone and just bomb it.  I am a nervous public speaker anyway, so I was terrified by the thought of getting up in front of people I don’t even know and talking about my new picture book, “Ode to Icky”.  Certain thoughts kept whirling around in my head:  What if no one likes my book?  What if I got up in front of them all and couldn’t think of anything else to say besides “um”?  And worst of all, what if I made such a bad impression that they never invited me back?

Now I can say with a big sigh of relief that I was honestly worried for NOTHING!!!  The author visit went great today!  I spoke to three different classrooms, and all three seemed absolutely enthralled by me and the book.  Both teachers and students told me they “loved my book”, and I even overheard one kid going around telling all his friends what an “awesome, funny book” I had written.  By the time I left I had kids asking me to autograph their homework, their arms and just about any other surface they could provide!  It made me feel like royalty!

By the time it was over I had learned a few things.

1.  I underestimated how much kids really love to talk to authors.  I thought most kids thought books were kind of boring and would think the same about the authors who write them.  Boy was I wrong!

2.  Kids ask really funny, amusing questions, but they also occasionally come up with an insight that I didn’t even have about my book.  The things they notice are amazing.  For instance, I really had never noticed that the illustrator had drawn the characters without tongues, but one kid sure did and wanted to know why they didn’t have tongues.

3.  I worry way too much about the small stuff, like making sure I have the perfect pen to sign my books with or wearing just the right outfit.  But my audience doesn’t really care too much about those things, they just want some attention from someone that they feel they can look up to.  It makes me so proud to know that I am someone they consider worth emulating!

 

Unusual obsession or typical writer and bibliophile?

I know many of my fellow authors are also bibliophiles.  We not only like to write books, but we love to sift through book bins at thrift stores and garage sales, and you may occasionally even catch us sniffing a book just to get that book lover’s high.  When you are an author, it seems you just naturally accumulate books.  Not only are books pleasurable and full of fond memories, but they also have helped shape us into the writers that we have become.

As a children’s writer, I think it is no surprise that I collect children’s books.  I do collect some new books, especially those written by my favorite authors or those who star beloved characters, but my real treasures are the the antique children’s books that I have rescued and sometimes nursed back to health.  My absolute favorites are the ones from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  Their innocent prose combined with the old-fashioned illustrations make me feel like I have entered a Norman Rockwell painting.

I do have one literary obsession though that I do wonder about.  I am a sucker for literature textbooks, particularly those from the early elementary grades.  I have one large bookshelf full of pretty much nothing but textbooks.  Luckily, this obsession only applies to literature.  I’m not sure where I would find the room if I felt that I had to collect Science, Social Studies, Music, Art and Mathematics textbooks as well.

The only reason I can come up with for why I love these school guides so much is that they make me feel like I’m a little schoolgirl again and that makes me deliriously happy for some strange reason.  Am I the only one with this odd fetish?  Just curious.