It’s All About Communication

This post is sponsored by Cochlear, who provide families around the world with hearing-loss solutions. All opinions expressed here are mine.

Today I sat in the pediatrician’s office with Graham and saw, for the first time in a long time, his baby self. I saw that skeptical expression he always wore in those days, the distinct silhouette of his overbite, the deep focus in his eyes. I am not the type to weep over my children getting older or look back fondly on their babyhood, but for a moment I was transported to what it was like to being Graham’s mom back then. And I thought of how glad I am that I’m Graham’s mom now instead.

Babies are hard for me. Baby life is all action and reaction. There is all kinds of problem solving where you don’t actually know what the problem is. There is this little mystery of a person running your life and you’re so aware of their complete inability to exist without you.

 

There’s also the pride that comes from seeing the beauty in your child, their weight, their shape, their smile, their softness. And there’s the huge expectation, the certainty that your child is truly singular and amazing.

We all get those expectations dashed eventually, maybe not until a child goes to college, but for me it came early. And it started with a hearing test.

IMG 1133.v2 Its All About Communication
Me and Graham, shortly before his 9 month checkup

At Graham’s 9-month check-up, his babbling had decreased, he didn’t always look at people when they spoke, he didn’t respond to his name. It was time to check Graham’s hearing. We went to another doctor. I sat Graham on my lap in one small room, then another. There were several tests involving sounds and screens. I couldn’t tell what any of it meant or how Graham did. Graham’s hearing was fine. It would be several more months before we got the Autism diagnosis. When he was diagnosed at 18 months, he had the receptive language/listening skills of a newborn. That, more than anything else I learned, shocked me. All the words I’d said to him for all those months, all the comfort and tenderness and songs, it hadn’t registered to him in a way he could understand.

Those months were the hardest. The months when I knew he could hear me, but he never showed any signs of understanding me. I learned what communication really means when I had no way to do it. Graham got older, he developed more specific wants and desires, but without the ability to communicate them we were both constantly frustrated. There was a lot of shrieking (him) and crying (both of us) and it seemed like nothing would ever change.

It did change, though. The boy that I see now hardly ever gets that look on his face anymore, the one where he’s all lost in his own head. Instead he talks to me and looks at me. He knows when I’m happy or angry or sad. He tells me what he thinks about, what he learned in school, what he doesn’t know yet. And, the thing he says to me the most (besides just “Mom?”) is “I love you, Mom.” He says it all the time, out of the blue, a few times a day. There was a time when I never thought we’d get here. But here we are.

We were lucky that we found a diagnosis and found treatment. So when I talked to Cochlear, I immediately understood how important their work is. Helping infants and children (and adults!) with hearing loss is providing a way for families to communicate. You’ve probably heard of cochlear implants, like I have, and seen them help kids. This story from Natalie’s mom sounded a lot like how life changed for me when Graham started therapy.

There are still things I worry about with Graham, still so many questions about how he copes with the world. But I don’t have any doubt about his ability to hear me and understand me and there is so much comfort in that. When I talk to parents of an infant or toddler who are worried about milestones and development, I always tell them that you shouldn’t be afraid. Talk to your doctor, ask for that referral, get that test. Even if it scares you, the truth doesn’t change. What does change is what you can do about it and the help you can now find for your child.

Children as young as 12 months old can qualify for a cochlear implant. If you’re worried about hearing loss in your infant or child, talk to your pediatrician. If your child does have hearing loss, a doctor or audiologist can determine whether they’re a candidate for a cochlear implant.

Now that he’s 6, I don’t have that same experience I had when Graham was a baby where I was sure he must be better than every other baby in the world. Now he is Graham. He is himself. He tells me about Star Wars and the book he’s reading and what he learned in Science. I learn more about him every day. I am learning about his strengths and his weaknesses, his passions and his problems, and I try to remember that there was a time when none of this was a sure thing. I remember staring down a future where my son wouldn’t be able to listen to me or talk to me. It seems like another life now, with this beautiful kid in front of me. I listen to what he says, and I try to tell him what he needs to know. I try every day.

 

Spring Books

This is long overdue, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the intro. Spring is almost over, and I should really get to work on my Summer books post since that starts in a matter of days. But if you’re wondering what came out over the last few months that’s worth your while, here are my picks. In alphabetical order, and all links are Amazon affiliate links, so purchasing through them helps support the blog.

 Spring Books Spring BooksDeath at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon is that rare mystery that hits the Agatha Christie sweet spot. If you don’t like mysteries that are full of horrific violence, but you don’t like the cute of a cozy mystery, you probably know just what I mean. The best of these have strong characters and just enough of a puzzle to be real brain candy and a satisfying read. This is the start of a new series featuring a pair of unlikely detectives, Maggie and Hope. Maggie has just retired from her position as the headmistress of a private school and she has brought her friend Hope along for a week in New England to enjoy a cooking class and see if they are a good fit to travel together for more adventures. They stay at a cozy B&B, but there is–of course–a murder that disrupts their trip. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.

 Spring Books Spring BooksThe Fireman by Joe Hill is another big, fat, epic story of a kickass heroine facing unspeakable horrors, kind of like his last book NOS4A2. If you like books where society falls apart, this is definitely up your alley. Harper is a school nurse whose idol is Mary Poppins and who’s pretty happy with her life. But everything turns to chaos in a matter of weeks when the Dragonscale virus hits. It tags its victims with black marks, almost like tattoos, all over their body, and the outcome is always the same: the victim spontaneously combusts and burns to death. Harper’s struggle to survive charts the course of the novel. But the threat here isn’t just the disease, but the Cremation Squads who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone they suspect may be infected. 

 Spring Books Spring BooksGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman is squarely in my wheelhouse and it’s one of my favorites of the year. It’s similar in darkness and subject matter to Heathers, and the relationship between three girls is at its center. Hannah is the quiet one who usually stays in the background. Lacey is the hard, rebellious one with a tough home life who pulls Hannah out of her shell and takes her on as a partner in crime. Nikki is the heartless queen bee of the popular crowd with the football player boyfriend and a secret connection to Lacey. But if you come into this expecting a book that plays by the rules, you’ll be disappointed in the best way. The stakes are high, the friendships can be intense one moment and destructive the next, and no one is quite what they seem. 

 Spring Books Spring BooksIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of the big Young Adult books of the year, but there’s no reason this shouldn’t be on an adult reading list. With all the controversy these days, most people have never met a trans person, not to mention read a book about one. This book is about Amanda, a trans girl who is worried that her secret will get out at her new school after she’s finally started her new life. It’s written by a trans woman and even the cover model is a trans girl, so this is clearly a book that’s doing it right. There are flashbacks to Amanda’s earlier life and her transition, and while this can be a weakness of stories about trans characters focusing too much on transition, it’s somewhat inevitable when you’re telling the story of a teenager and it’s treated with care. In most of this book, Amanda is a real person, a normal person, and is able to live a pretty normal life. There’s a lovely romance in here, too.

 Spring Books Spring BooksJoin by Steve Toutonghi is a fantastically innovative science-fiction novel set in a future where people can join consciousness to form a single being with multiple bodies. This is pretty high concept, but Toutonghi really makes you understand why someone would want it. Not just companionship and the ability to be in many places at once, but a way to avoid death as you bring in new bodies. The book follows Chance, a “join” of five “drives” that’s just brought on its fifth member only to find that this newest body is dying of cancer. Chance’s friend Leap seems to be suffering from some kind of problem and there’s also Rope who seems to break all the rules of what joins are able to do. The book shifts gears into a noir-style story as Chance tries to find out what’s happening to joins and what Rope and Leap are hiding. While this sounds like pretty hard sci-fi, the writing isn’t like that at all. It reads much more like a lyrical piece of literary fiction than your typical genre novel. This is a book that breaks a lot of rules and it’s pretty interesting to watch it happen.

 Spring Books Spring BooksThe Mother by Yvvette Edwards is about Marcia, a woman whose only child, a teenage son, has been murdered by another teenage boy. The novel follows Marcia through the killer’s trial, challenging her assumptions about her own son and about the other boy and his family. The newspaper prints pictures of her son, Ryan, and the killer, Tyson, side by side, without saying which is which, and since both are black boys Marcia feels shaken after years of work to raise her child in the right way with the right kind of family. While this isn’t a mystery or a legal thriller, there are plenty of twists and a lot of courtroom scenes (lawyer approved!). But it’s rare you get a book that tackles a character’s prejudices so effectively and has a great plot.

 Spring Books Spring BooksMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is his sophomore effort after the success of his debut Horrorstör, a horror novel set in a store an awful lot like an Ikea. This book is not the first to tap into a new appreciation of 80’s nostaglia, it’s set in 1988 and big hair is everywhere, but this was the first time I’ve read one of those books and really enjoyed the way it established a sense of time and place. It is, as you probably guessed, another horror novel, but honestly the horror takes a backseat to the story of the friendship of Abby and Gretchen. They’ve been best friends since 4th grade, even though Gretchen’s family is rich and Abby’s definitely isn’t. When Gretchen starts acting strangely, at first it seems like just your average teenage mood swings and the growing pains of friendship. But Abby is sure something else is going on and she’s determined to save Gretchen from her fate. There are some gross scenes, but it’s not going to require you to sleep with the light on. Ultimately this is enough of a story about the power of female friendship that understands its teenage characters so well that I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to a teenager.

 Spring Books Spring BooksWe Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge is a book you should not judge by its title. It is not cute. It’s a very ambitious book about race and history even if it uses a premise that seems sweet at first glance. The Freeman family, two parents and two daughters, leave their Boston home to take up residence at the Toneybee Institute in the Berkshires to be the new family for a chimp, to teach him sign language, and to see how he interacts with them. They are also pretty much the only black people around. I hesitate to tell you much more because this is a book that was truly a joy to read. It is messy and original and I never ever knew what was going to happen next. It doesn’t feel like any other book, which is a huge compliment.

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading, you can find me on Goodreads

 

 

An Old School Blog Entry of Random Dating Thoughts. You’re Welcome.

When I was younger, in my teens and early 20’s, I used to have this picture in my mind of what my perfect person would be like. It wasn’t a visual image, just a feeling for who they would be and how it would feel to be with them. I made a list once or twice of what mattered to me in a partner. 

Later I would use this list to create a narrative around my dating life. This person was missing this trait and that’s why it didn’t work. This person had too much of that, which is why we broke up. It was all about lessons learned, refining my requirements, getting closer to that person as if I was hewing them out of stone.

Now I think that was ridiculous and pointless. An attempt to create order from chaos. These days the way I think about dating and love and romance is vastly different. I still believe you can learn things from relationships, but you can also have a relationship where you don’t learn anything and that’s just fine. It can be a thing you experience, a part of your life, a chapter in your story, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be more.

What I want from a relationship now is so much less than before it’s almost hard to believe. And yet, while my demands are down and my list of requirements is gone, I find myself completely unsatisfied.

I was in a book slump for a while this winter and I think maybe I still am. It’s not that I’m never happy with books, many of them make me very happy. But I quit so many. My patience for them is at an all time low. For every 10 that I start, I finish 1. Often my experience with a book lasts less than 5 pages. My pet peeves are more sensitive. No, I don’t want to read another book about rich people or the holocaust or a man’s midlife crisis or a prep school novel or a college novel or a story about friends who move to New York. (The list is much longer, but that’s a start.) I’m still reading just as much, it just takes me longer to find books I care about. And even when I look at the list of books I loved recently and feel that it is a truly stellar list, a little bit of me feels like there should be more there.

Where I am with books and where I am with dating are similar in many ways. Which is why I’m now wondering if this is part of some larger internal crisis of dissatisfaction. (Also the other day I had a playlist on Spotify and kept hitting skip track over and over and over again. So that’s three strikes.)

Now I try to picture the kind of person I could start a serious relationship with and I get nothing. I can no longer think of what they would be like. I admit that part of me feels that there is no one who actually fits the bill. 

I go out with people and it’s not like I have dating disasters. I just stay in this same place of unexcited, uncommitted, meh-ness. 

It’s also not that I don’t want it. I do. And my wanting of it has varied, so I can’t say it’s because I want too much or too little. The wanting goes in waves, up and down and up and down, a pendulum of my own emotions moving around in my head and reacting to each other. Whether I want it desperately or not at all or somewhere in between, there still isn’t anything that happens. My dates don’t get better or worse. 

When I start thinking about this, my brain just goes to the same lyric over and over again: I will never be satisfied, satisfied, satisfied. And I know this may in fact be true. (I wept all the way through “Satisfied” when I saw Hamilton and maybe that was for a reason?)

This is why I have also spent a lot of time thinking about being alone. This is the default setting now, I’ve settled into it. I may stay here, I may not. I try to enjoy the parts of it I like and avoid the things I don’t. It’s hard, though.

I read All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister’s excellent book about the rise of single women and how society is (and isn’t) changing around them. When I see things like this I feel powerful and strong and want to just stay on my own forever. There are so many things about being on my own that make me feel like I’m more fully myself than I’ve ever been. But I can’t seem to make this last. Inevitably I reach a point where I do not want to be alone. Regardless of how I feel most of the time, there is a thus-far undeniable piece of me who feels that partnered should be my default. I don’t know if that portion of me is right, but it’s definitely a squeaky wheel.

I’m working on finding the new normal. I want it to be well established. If I don’t find another relationship, then I need to be good where I’m at. I’m trying to get a better support system. I’m trying to bring more people into my life that I enjoy and that I can count on and that I want to support in return. 

I also remember clearly just how much love messes with your head. I want my normal to actually feel normal. I want my priorities firmly in place. I want my sense of self to stay exactly the same next time I’m with someone. I know that I don’t want a new relationship to replace other things in my life. I don’t want to lose a lot of sleep or reading time or writing time, and those things always go by the wayside in the past. 

Maybe my problem is that I’ve never had a relationship that looks like what I want the next big one to look like. I can’t sketch out in my mind exactly how it will work. It will be something I (or we) have to build from scratch and create through trial and error. And maybe with all that uncertainty it’s just silly for my brain to spend time imagining what kind of person could fit that mold.

I know I’m guilty of trying to create a version of what I thought a relationship should be when I was younger. I tried to create the moments and meaning that were supposed to be there. But that doesn’t work. I know that quite well. 

There’s no resolution here. No tidy wrap up. Just more of this same inbetween. More of the waiting and seeing. More work to make myself comfortable with where I am. And more reminding myself that I like who I am right now, I like it more than I ever have before, and it’s worth doing everything I can to keep growing and not let anyone pull me back.

How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

If you’re going to scroll right by this because you’re not a book club person, stop for just a second. I used to think the same thing, but I’ve found a bunch of different book clubs that work for me in a bunch of different ways. 

The Any Book Book Club

This is the invention of one of my fellow contributors at Book Riot. The Any Book Book Club frees you from the usual Book Club model. If you don’t like having to read something by a deadline, or having other people choose the book, or discussion questions, then this is the perfect book club for you. There is no assigned book, instead you just show up with a bunch of your reader friends and talk about what you’ve been reading that you love. Not only is it fun to see your bookish buds, you also get a bunch of recommendations to add to your to-read list.

read harder How to Get More Book Club In Your LifeThis is the model we follow for the Read Harder Book Groups, too. You can find them in a whole bunch of cities now with more to come. We’ve been going in Boston since September and I’ve enjoyed every single one. Bookish people are a great bunch, and I’ve made several friends through our group. Plus it’s just so chill, everyone is accepting of different tastes, and there’s lots of note taking and comparing opinions and general goodness. If you’re that person who is always talking about books, this is a great place to get it all out. 

Or you could start your own!

The Book of the Month Club

I was invited to try out Book of the Month Club last year and I really enjoyed it. The model is super simple. Each month they give you 5 selections, you pick the one that sounds best to you, and they send it to you. There’s discussions online around the books, so if you’re not much for in-person book clubs, this is a great fit. And I’ve been very impressed with the picks. They tend to be very new releases, often very buzzy, and the selection usually includes nonfiction, crime novels, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. 

I am friends with a few people who work with and judge books for Book of the Month Club. My initial subscription was complimentary. I liked it so much that I took them on as an affiliate partner, so joining through me helps support DMTM at no extra cost to you.

FB AprSelectionsGroup How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

 

You can skip any month where you don’t like the titles. You can read at your own pace, since the discussions stay up even after the month passes. Plus, you pay less than you’d pay for the book in a store. (1 month is $16.99 for a new release hardcover, and it’s as low as $11.99 if you sign up for a year.) PLUS they’re running a ridiculous sale now so you can get 3 months for half off (that’s $7.50 per book!) using code APR50. So head to Book of the Month Club quick and if you make it by April 21st you can still get one of this month’s selections. 

Meetup.com

If you don’t know many people in your area or you don’t have a local bookish crew, then meetup.com is a great place to look for local book clubs. This is how I found my favorite book club of all time, where we read mostly classics, and we had actual MEN and people of all ages. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can start your own book club there. You do have to pay a fee to keep the listing up, but you also get to make it whatever book club you want. Cozy mysteries? Romances? Obscure fiction in translation? Go for it!

Facebook Book Clubs

Another great virtual option is to start your book club on Facebook. You can use polls to choose books so everyone gets a say, and put discussion questions in individual threads. Since most of your friends are there anyway, and you may have reader friends who aren’t local, you can all congregate there for discussions. I’ve had some great success with online book clubs, these can work on forums and message boards, too.

Office Book Clubs

Yes, I go to my book club at the office when I can. At first I was kind of skeptical, but ultimately the convenience won me over. I didn’t even have to go anywhere, I just stay a little late one evening a month. Plus our group brings snacks and treats that go with the book. And any book club with snacks is a book club I would like to be a part of. We are already all connected through office email and use the same calendars, so it makes planning really simple. 

This model works for any group you already see regularly: Church, school, neighborhood, etc. 

 

And a few tips to maximize your awesomeness once you’ve got your book club going:

  • Lean towards backlist titles (aka books that have already been released in paperback). That makes it a lot more accessible for people with a small budget or who get the book from the library and won’t have to wait in a long hold line.
  • Don’t forget to keep track of what you’re reading. Are you reading all male authors? All white authors? A diverse set of books is more appealing to a wide group and it makes for a more interesting mix. 
  • Connect with your book club on Goodreads. Once you have a feeling for who you mesh with, you can see what else they’re reading and get great book picks that way.
  • Reach out to authors! Remember when I got Lev Grossman to do a Q&A with my book club when we read The Magicians a few years ago? That was pretty cool and it really made for a more interesting discussion. Some authors will do Skype meetups with your book club, too, so check the author’s web page and Twitter.
  • Read a book with a movie or tv-show tie-in. That always generates a whole bunch of discussion about which was better. (Although you know it’s always the book.) And if there isn’t a show, maybe create your own dream cast as one of your book club questions?
  • If your club doesn’t have a dedicated genre focus, try different ones and don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Keep up with local author visits. If an author is visiting for a new release, have your book club read one of their older titles and go to the reading and Q&A together.

I’d love to hear your best book club experiences, your best practices, and your favorite book club reads.

BeYourBestBook Club 200x300 How to Get More Book Club In Your Life

The Mystery of Who You Are

When your child is an infant and a toddler, you don’t know a whole lot about who they are, but at least you can describe them. Sure, that description has little to do with their personality and a lot more to do with how they sleep, what they eat, their gross and fine motor capabilities, but you can at least pin those things down. And maybe for some kids they stay that way during the terrible 3’s, but some of what makes that age so tough for me isn’t just the constant frustration of a tyrannical preschooler, but the lack of consistency. 

Tessa just turned 4 and I cannot for the life of me pin her down. Fickleness may be her most distinctive trait, to be honest.

Sure, I can nail down a few likes and dislikes. She likes accessories and riding her bike and bunnies. But you could pick out something that’s absolutely perfect for her and she’ll hate it. She doesn’t have a consistent favorite toy, what she loves today she cares about not one whit tomorrow. 

 

A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

Some of this is garden variety developmental whatever. She asks for something, then when given it 5 seconds later is now furious that you’ve given her THIS and not THAT even though this is exactly the thing she begged and pleaded for. But there is no old reliable, no go-to, nothing that I always know will cheer her up. 

This adjustment is a little hard because Graham was such a child of habit and ritual and routine. He fit into a very specific box. It’s an unusual and eccentric box, but it’s a box nonetheless. He responds well to praise. He loves a certain kind of toy. He enjoys a certain kind of game. And while these things change over the years, there is a lot of consistency from day to day and week to week. It’s comforting to know how he’s going to respond, even if I don’t always like it.

But Tessa? You’ve got me. She doesn’t respond consistently to praise or discipline. I can say for sure that she is stubborn. 

Sometimes she is vocal and opinionated. Sometimes she is content to stay in the background. Sometimes she blends in with her friends and is totally mellow. Sometimes she is bossy. Sometimes she is the little sister who repeats everything her older brother says. 

I feel like I should know more about who she is by now. I’m her mother, right?

But I’m also the kind of parent who recognizes that my kids have their own very deep and very strong inner life that hardly involves me at all. I don’t want to put pressure on her to be a certain way. I want to give her the power to define herself at her own pace. I just get impatient about who this little one is.

I’m also acutely aware of how little I know of her because I know that autism presents in very unexpected ways with girls. Our family is a prime model of this. Graham who follows a very well-worn type, and Tessa who doesn’t fit any type at all. Her therapists don’t have any more of a clue than we do, but everyone agrees that she’s generally happy, fun to be around, and quite bright. 

It’s okay if I have to keep waiting to see what her challenges will be. There are certainly worse problems we could be having, I definitely know that. For now, I still won’t know when she’ll hop happily along beside me and when she’ll refuse to stand up even though we are going to do something fun and go somewhere she wants to go and why will she not just stand up already (while Graham starts losing it in the background). For now, she still doesn’t quite have the words and the awareness to tell me how she feels or what she wants all the time, even when she is upset. 

But I do give her full props for being a master of standing her ground. Like the other night when she wouldn’t stop making noise and kicking the wall in bed. She was keeping Graham awake and making him increasingly upset, so I pulled her out of the room and had her sit in the hall for a while. Despite very lenient bargaining, she refused to stop making noise and when I let her back in she went right back to kicking the wall. So she stayed in the hall. She planted her flag in the hall. And she wanted to make sure I knew it.

 

 

She fell asleep with that scowl still on her face rather than go lay nicely in her bed. I may not enjoy dealing with that kind of stubborn but I can’t help but admire it. 

I think of all the traits I want my daughter to have…

That level of commitment and willingness to flout authority? I feel like she’ll be okay.