Reilly’s life, an animated show for children with autism

Today is Autism Awareness Day and April is Autism Awareness Month. My friend Sinéad Clancy has been working hard to put together a project close to her heart. Reilly’s life is an animated show for children who have autism. As the show’s script writer, I believe this project can help create awareness and acceptance for children on the spectrum. Please check out www.reillyslife.com and please share.

Thank you!

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The Sounds of Laundry (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

I wrote this four years ago, but as piles of laundry await, here is its debut on The Writable Life.

Sung to the tune of “The Sound of Silence” and with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel:

Hello laundry, my old friend.
I’ve come to wash you once again
because a hamper quickly filling
left its stink while I was sleeping.
And the loads that multiplied in my hamper still remain
despite the sounds of laundry.

LaundryFor many hours I toiled alone,
GE machines of steel atop stone.
‘Neath the glare of florescent light,
I put collars in “hot” and “whites.”
When my eyes were caught by the flash of a Dreft sign
that poured inside,
and made the sounds of laundry.

And in the florescent light I saw ten thousand parents, maybe more.
Parents sorting without blinking.
Parents washing while multi-tasking.
Parents folding clothes that children always tear,
and no one dares disturb the sounds of laundry.

“Parents” said I, “You already know
laundry like disease grows.
Hear my curses that I might teach you.
Take my detergent that I might reach you.”
But my words like empty bottles fell,
and echoed in the hampers of laundry.

And the parents slaved and slaved
before the piles of laundry their kids made.
And the Dreft flashed out its warning,
in the bubbles that it was forming.
And the bubbles said, “The cries of the parents
are written on their bedroom walls
and in tears that fall.”
And was lost in the sounds of laundry.

My Couch, as Enchanting as a Spell

If you’re like most people, you think of your couch as a comfy, restful place on which you can wile away a few hours and then get on with your life.

That’s what I used to think. That is, until I realized my new couch is an anathema, a trap to suck me into a sense of oblivion and wastefulness.

Let me back up. When my husband and I first got married, we removed my lumpy college futon, complete with its forest green cover, and replaced it with a hip blue couch from a fashionable Berkeley furniture store. Sure, it cost a lot, but we were starting our married life, and what’s $700 when you’re in love?

Old Blue

Not Old Blue, but close

Old Blue served us well. It was narrow enough to fit through our Victorian building’s narrow staircase and doors. This was no small feat in an era of over-sized couch ends and wide berths. Its sleekness looked great in our cozy living room, and we hosted many parties where two people could sit on its hip, yet practical, cushions. Its arm rests were flat and not ideal for resting a tired head, but were perfect for balancing drinks. Who cared that it was difficult to clean and its back was too short for my husband’s 6′ 6″ build? It looked good, and bonus!, it had a pull-out bed where our frequent out-of-town friends would crash.

Old Blue served us faithfully, and weathered two moves, two kids, two cats, and lots of couch time. But 12 years on, Old Blue’s cushions were pilled, stained, and scratched. Its once-full middle sagged and made a disconcerting “boing” when someone sat on it. Our kids complained that it wasn’t comfy or fun. Even the cat had stopped curling on it. It was time to bid Old Blue adieu. 

In looking for our replacement, I, in my naïveté, dreamed of a couch where I could, at the end of a busy day, lay down my weary head on a full, cushiony arm rest and luxuriate in its welcoming presence.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

Here’s our current couch, New Brown.

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New Brown. Look away!!!

It looks unassuming, doesn’t it? Neutral color. Sensible IKEA price. Easy-clean fabric. Fits three adults comfortably. Wide enough to support long legs. Back rest that can manage my husband’s tall frame. Arm rests that are wide, but not obnoxiously so. The kids like it. The cat has given her seal of approval. Practical, affordable, manageable.

Don’t trust it! Look away, look away now!!!!

New Brown is not your ordinary, run of the store, couch. It is bewitching. From the moment the delivery/assembly guys left, New Brown has been casting an irresistible spell of “come hither” that beckons me, even though I know I have a list of 15 errands that I need to finish. Like a Disney witch disguised as a harmless peasant, this couch hides its evil power to lure the innocent (namely, me) and send them into a vortex of relaxation from which they will not emerge.

Once seated, I’m trapped. I cannot remove my buttocks because New Brown has charmed me. It has drawn me in and captured me. I can lie my entire length comfortably on the couch, sink into its pillowed bosom, and drift in to a peaceful sleep. I delight in its body contouring, and its spacious width, enough for me to turn. Like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, I am in an enchanted slumber.

But this enchantment is transforming me. Kids want to share the couch? No, they are relegated to the sturdy red chairs. “Go sit there. There’s no room here. Mommy needs her space.” Work to do? New Brown sings its siren song and entices me to stay enraptured in its cushiony warmth. Nothing gets done. It’s time to retire to the bedroom? I can’t escape the well-padded arm rests that prop up my head at just-the-right angle. Resistance is useless. 

New Brown has transformed me into a couch potato, and, Disney help me, it’s a spell that I can’t break.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a wonderfully comfortable IKEA couch. However, I paid for the couch and IKEA hasn’t solicited any endorsement or given any compensation for this post. Just so you know.

Throwing a Great Birthday Party for Young Kids

As the mother of two young children, I’ve read articles about kids parties gone wild–fancy settings, extravagant party favors, culinary fare worthy of weddings–all of which create a price tag of hundreds of dollars. Parents seem to think that a succesful party means lavishing the young guests and their parents with expensive items and non-stop entertainment. Here comes the clown! Wait, let’s go to the jump house! Sshh, listen to the princess tell the story! Quick, let’s ride the ponies! Ready to have your face painted? And on and on. Such extravagance (and its accompanying bills) isn’t a necessary component for a good time. Here are five tips that help keep you sane, your pockets filled, and the party fun.

1. Timing is everything. If your child still naps, make sure you schedule the party with plenty of buffer time. A tired, cranky kid or one who just woke up a half hour before the party is bound to melt down, leading to a very unpleasant display of birthday tantrums. Also, you know if your child is an early riser, a late starter or an all-day player. Work with a time frame that’s best suited to your child’s schedule and habits.

2. Keep it short. For the 2-5 year old crowd, one-and-a-half to two hours is plenty of party time. While it’s tempting to keep the party going, especially if the parents are friends, remember that there can be too much of a good thing. A child enjoying him/herself gets over-stimulated and tired a lot faster than an adult does. A too-long time frame is bound to run into someone’s nap time, cause tiredness, inspire irritation and overall just wear out the kid, and that spells trouble.

3. Keep it simple. Fun doesn’t equate lavish, not at this age. Simple games and activities that young children can understand and play with a little parental assistance are fun and thrifty ways to entertain the children. Think Pass the Parcel*, Fish Pond and a pinata. These games have easy- to-understand concepts, are non-competitive, and cost very little. (Consider shopping at a dollar or discount store for prizes and favors.) They also guarantee that all the young guests receive small gifts, and this is very useful in avoiding the “it’s not fair, I didn’t win” meltdown that often occurs with competive games. Even a variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey can be non-competitive. We played Pin the Nose on Snoopy and Pin a Paw on Blue. While the person who pinned the nose or paw closest won a “grand prize,” the other young guests were all given a simple prize, such as a theme pencil, for playing.

Food should also be simple. Healthy snacks mixed in with treats allow the parents and the guests choices and help avoid sugar crashes. For example, one year we held a party fairly early at 10am, so we provided plain yogurt, a mix of berries and mini-bagels with cream cheese, and brought out the chips, cookies and birthday cake later. Afternoon parties when lunch is being served can consist of pizza or sandwiches, along with fruit and cookies. (On the invitation ask the parents to notify you of any allergies or intolerances so that you avoid upset stomachs or worse.)

4. Keep it structured.  Transition times can be problematic, so be sure to have activities ready. For example, as guests arrive have them decorate their favor bag/bucket, color pictures of the party theme (ex., Thomas the Tank Engine, Disney Princesses and so on), or stick foamies to a crown or door hanger. This will keep them entertained until all the guests have arrived, and also will provide an item for them to take home later. Plan on an opening activity when guests arrive, three structured and simple games, time for the food/beverages and cake, and a little free play time at the end. (Opening gifts with the guests in attendance is optional, of course.)

5. Know when to call it. Too often, parents feel that they are being rude by sticking to the stated time frame. They may feel that asking the guests to leave is unfriendly, but this isn’t the case. It’s merely a matter of respecting time–your child’s, your guests’ and your own time.  As a first step, be sure to mention the time frame on the invitation (ex., Saturday, October 6, 10:30am-12:30pm). At the party give the parents of the guests a 15 minutes heads up. That will indicate to the parents that you’re serious about following the time frame, and will allow them to prep their children for the imminent departure. When it’s time to go, be sure to end things on a good note by having the young guests pick up their personalized party bags/buckets full of the small gifts from the games/activities.

Birthday parties should be memorable and fun, not bank-breaking and nerve-wracking. I hope following these five tips helps you have a successful party.

*Pass the Parcel is a game I played as a young child in England. There are variations, but here is the way we’ve played it at my daughters’ birthday parties. It has been a great success each time.

First, gather different types and colors of paper. These can be newspaper, wrapping paper, butcher paper and so on. Second, have a variety of small gifts ready, such as pencils, small board books, fun-size chocolates, hairbands and so on. (If the children are young, be sure none of the items is a choking hazard.) One gift is the grand prize at the center of the parcel, so this should be something slightly more fancy than the other gifts. Third, create a layered parcel. Begin with the innermost layer that has the grand prize, and then create as many layers as there are players. Place one small gift in each layer. Use a different color paper for each layer so that the kids can tell the difference and don’t open two layers by accident. (It is a good idea to create a few extra layers that you can add on the day of the party in case unexpected guests arrive.)

Arrange the children in a circle. Instruct them that they are to pass the parcel to their neighbor while the music is playing. (You may have to show them in which direction to pass.) When the music stops, whoever is holding the parcel tears off one layer. When the music starts, the parcel is passed. This continues until everyone has had a chance to open a layer. This way, no matter who wins the grand prize, at least everyone has won something.