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Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014



Yesterday, I had one of those days.  I was thankful.  Now I know I should be thankful all the time, but usually I don't think about it as I go about my activities.  Yesterday was an exception.  I had my plan for the day, a strategic use of my time to accomplish several things that I thought needed to be done.  It turned out, they weren't that crucial and didn't really need to be completed according to my timeline.

I was headed out to do a couple errands.  My van started up just fine and I was a few blocks from home, stopped at a red light, when my van just conked out.  I tried restarting it, but it just made noises and refused to start. The light turned green and there were cars behind me waiting to turn right as I had intended to.  I lowered the window to thrust my arm out and waved them around me.  I tried again to start my van, with the same failing response from my vehicle.

 I put on my hazard lights, which I hoped would be bright enough for oncoming drivers to see since it was beginning to rain a little bit.  Then I groped around under the steering wheel until I found the hood release button and gave it a good yank.  I went around to the front of my van, heaved the hood upwards until it stayed fully open, and got up on my tiptoes to look inside.  Sure enough, there were car parts.  Lots of them.  Gooey, dirty, and as mysterious to me as a calculus problem.  The solution to my problem was no doubt in there someplace, and someone would have the knowledge to find and solve it. I was not that someone, but I proceeded to stick my hand down inside and wiggled a few things around enough to get a very filthy hand.  It might have looked like I knew what I was looking for or how to connect a loose wire.  But I didn't.

I was kind of hoping that by sticking my head under the hood of my disabled vehicle, my fellow drivers might take pity on me and not honk at me for blocking traffic.  An employee from the business on the corner came over and said I could call from inside their office and wait in there for help.  She said she had been outside when I pulled up to the light and observed that the van had just suddenly stopped running.  She heard my attempts to restart it and came over to let me know I could come into their building and they would help in any way they could.

Then I heard a man call to me from his truck, asking if I needed help.  I think it was a rhetorical question, because it seemed pretty obvious that I needed assistance and quickly, before I made things even worse by wiggling the wrong wire or something.  This helpful senior citizen pulled in behind me (now he was blocking traffic, too) and had me try to start the van again.  He watched under the hood while the van made its "I can't start" sounds and we repeated that routine a few times.  My good Samaritan asked if I had possibly run out of gas, and when I replied in the negative he apologized and said he didn't know what else to do. He wished me luck and was on his way.   I'd say he was still more advanced in his vehicle knowledge than I was, plus he actually was quite nice and willing to help if he could.

 At that point, I pulled out my cell phone and called AAA for roadside assistance.  I was immediately put on hold.  My van had basically put me on hold already and I wasn't going anywhere.  This was to be a day of waiting for one thing and another.  After a fairly short wait, a woman came on the line and I began explaining that my van broke down and I couldn't get it started.  I described my location, and even though I was at an intersection the representative wanted more details.  I was able to tell her I was on the east side of the intersection, facing west.  If you know me, then you know that I am not good with directions other than up, down, right, and left.  But I squinched my eyes shut and figured out the east/west part.  As the AAA representative was giving me a reference number and telling me that a tow truck should arrive in the next 5-90 minutes, a police cruiser pulled up behind me with lights flashing.

I felt resigned.  If I was going to be cited for blocking traffic, there was nothing I could do.  As I hung up with the AAA call, the police officer was waiting outside my open window.  I preemptively informed him that I had already called AAA and they were sending a tow truck.  (See officer?  I'm a good citizen.  I'm not blocking traffic by choice.  I'm a victim of circumstance!  Owner of an old vehicle circumstance.  You don't have to ticket me.)  The police officer politely informed me that he had some kind of push bumper on his vehicle and would push my van across the street and to a legal parking spot at the side of the road where I could wait safely for the tow truck.  Following his instructions, I guided my van into the parking spot.  The officer said he would check back in a while and waved goodbye.

I called AAA back, just to let them know I was now a half block down from the intersection, on the west side and still facing west.  They promised to deliver this new information to the towing company.  Within minutes, my cell phone rang.  When I answered the tow truck driver informed me that he hadn't seen my vehicle when he drove past.  I gave him the updated information, complete with landmarks, and he assured me he would be there soon.  A few minutes later, I watched as a tow truck drove past me without even looking in my direction.  Sigh.

A few more minutes and he was back, this time noticing my "flagging you down" waving.  The driver had me try to start the van.  Usually I love consistency, and that's just what I got when I tried to start it up.  Same noises.  Same result.  A woman walked by just then with her two dogs, paused to say hello to me and then offered "Sorry about your circumstances" and really seemed to mean it before continuing on her way. Then the driver checked a few other things, even going so far as to look up something in my owner's manual.  He seemed to know what he was doing but the areas he checked did not solve the problem.  So he hooked up all the towing equipment, then hauled me and my van to a repair shop.

 I called my son and asked him to meet me at the garage and give me a ride home.  He came to my rescue, but informed me that his sister needed to use the car to get to her classes and then to work so we didn't have much time to spare.  Once my van was deposited in the parking lot, the tow truck driver escorted us inside the building and introduced me to one of the shop owners.  I handed over my AAA card and my van key, and the owner asked me a few questions about what was wrong with the van.  I guess I could have shown him my greasy black fingers and assured him that we could rule out any obviously disconnected wires as I had seen to those myself, but I just repeated my tale of woe and bafflement.  He jotted a few notes, told me what the diagnostic evaluation would cost and promised to call me once he got things checked out the next day.  My son and I left and made it back home in time for my daughter to use the car.

Throughout this misadventure, I felt oddly thankful.   The vehicle breakdown happened close to home.  I knew where I was.  I had my cell phone with me.  I was pretty safe.  An employee from a nearby business voluntarily came to offer help.  An old man stopped to see if he could be of assistance.  Only one person honked, and then looked apologetic when he saw I was stranded.  The black stuff washed off my hands and didn't get on my clothes.  The police officer did not give me a ticket or hassle me in any way, but instead was polite and helpful in getting my van to a safer spot and out of the flow of traffic.   The rain only lasted a couple minutes and I was barely wet at all.  The tow truck arrived in less than the maximum estimated time.  A kind stranger let me know she cared as she was out walking her dogs. The tow truck had a sturdy handle I could use to help vault myself up into the very high seat.  My son was available to give me a ride home.  No one was in close proximity to watch me clumsily slide out of the tow truck until I could get my feet on the ground.  I didn't have to wait long at the business office to start the repair process. My daughter made it to class on time.  I didn't get anything done on my to-do list, and the world did not come to an end.  My pets got some unplanned cuddle time with me, and I enjoyed it.  So many things to be thankful for even when things don't go according to my plans.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The "Look" You Get When You Are Being Judged as a Parent

I wonder if having your child misbehave and embarrass you in public is a universal experience for parents.  Are there actually people who have no idea what it is like to have your child make a scene and attract attention in negative ways?  If you are such a parent whose child never made you look or feel inadequate throughout his childhood, I will be happy for you and somewhat mystified by your existence.  Until I meet or hear from one of you, though, such a parent will remain a legend or mythical creature to me.  I can even imagine a book titled, “The Parent Who Never Erred” or perhaps “Consistently Compliant Children:  Fact or Fiction?”  I think people would buy the book either to learn everything they could from such success or to disprove and discredit a story that seems too incredible to believe.

            Overall I think I had great kids.  They generally wanted to please and were relatively compliant.  With that said and my motherly bias evident, there were times when my children exposed me to “The Look” as a direct result of their behavior.  And I’m not talking about the look that a parent gives to a misbehaving child.  I’m talking about “The Look” that a parent gets from an overtly critical onlooker.  Allow me to explain “The Look” in case some of you have never experienced it personally, either on the giving or receiving end.  It is not a pleasant thing to have directed your way, because “The Look” is given when people disapprove of your children or the way you are handling them.  Sometimes it seems to communicate revulsion with you and your child, passing judgment and finding you guilty with one sweeping glance.  Givers of “The Look” can communicate entire monologues just using the powers of eye gaze and facial expressions.  “The Look” asks you why you can’t control your child.  “The Look” may convey disgust at your perceived inadequacies or your child’s atrocious behavior.  Givers of “The Look” may want to know what is wrong with your child that he would behave in such unacceptable ways.  

            Two of my three children were diagnosed with AD/HD and Sensory Processing Disorder and inadvertently provided me with plenty of opportunities to receive “The Look”.   Before I was a parent, I didn’t even know such a look existed.  To find myself on the receiving end was highly uncomfortable and I was already overwhelmed and insecure about my ability to parent in such a way that my children’s special needs were met.  I was still learning about their challenges and although I worked very hard to teach my children good manners and appropriate behaviors in various settings sooner or later one of them would do something that resulted in “The Look”. 
            It is an especially devastating feeling to be judged and found wanting when it involves your children.  I invested my life in raising my children and yet complete strangers could zap me with a look and I’d feel crushed and rejected.  It was even harder to respond when “The Look” came from family and people who knew us, because it was often accompanied by unsolicited advice.  When an incident occurs in a public place, the odds are that you will get “The Look” from multiple people at once.  Have you experienced this?  If not, can you imagine how discouraging it would be?

            I know people who have children with autism spectrum disorders.  They have shared with me some of their frustrations and experiences when they got “The Look”.  One mom I know was in the grocery store when her son had an extreme meltdown and was engaged in a full-out tantrum.  This mom understood that when her son was that upset he had little self control and often flailed about in such a way that he could harm himself, others, or property.  As matter-of-factly as she could, this mom restrained her son using techniques that helped him calm down and kept him from hurting himself.  While she was endeavoring to help her son, she had store customers and employees giving her the look and making hurtful remarks loudly enough for her and all who were in close proximity to hear.  This mom knew that people thought her son was just a brat and she was an ineffective parent.  Her son’s autism didn’t show in his physical appearance, and she was faced with the decision of whether to explain that her son was autistic or try to ignore the people surrounding them. What would you do?
            One woman I know was at a store when her daughter with autism became loud and agitated.  This mom knew her daughter was reacting because she was over stimulated by her surroundings. She knew how to deal with her, but there wasn’t an immediate fix to help her daughter wind down from her distraught condition.  The mom didn’t like it, but she was used to getting “The Look”.  This was not unusual behavior for her daughter and during this particular episode she overheard a spectator say that perhaps Child Protective Services should be called since the child was obviously out of control and the mother was clearly incompetent to subdue her into compliance.  After that, she began to carry little cards that said “My child is not just misbehaving.  She has autism” and proceeded to explain some of the challenges faced by many individuals on the autism spectrum.   Handing someone the card was easier than trying to verbally explain all the nuances of autism in the midst of a crisis when her daughter needed her full attention.
            Another friend of mine adopted a child with special needs.  He had some neurological damage due to prenatal drug exposure and he was hyperactive and impulsive.  He did not seem to learn from experience and consequences had little effect on his behavior.  This little boy had no fear and needed constant supervision to keep him out of harm’s way.  In order to keep him safe when they were away from home, his mother quickly realized that a wrist strap would prevent him from darting into the street and would keep him in close proximity to her.  She was horrified and bewildered when people would give her “The Look” and make critical remarks about “people who keep their kids on a leash”.  This loving mother was only trying to keep her son safe yet people made assumptions and jumped to conclusions without truly understanding the situation.
            As far as I can tell “The Look” exists in every community, but it does not seem to help anyone.  Can making a person feel inadequate or condemned ever encourage them to keep trying in spite of the challenges they face?  I hope that this article has encouraged some of you if you have been the recipient of “The Look”.  You are not alone.  For the rest, I hope that you will be aware that your kind words and supportive looks can be as powerful and impactful as “The Look.”