Sometimes, you just need to drive

Last night, I received some heavy news: the Valley Fire, which broke out in Northern California on Saturday, has destroyed a huge swath of land — 61,000 acres so far — including a beautiful retreat called Harbin Hot Springs that brought solace to so many people, including my husband and me.

The news coverage is awful. An entire town burned to the ground within hours. Homes, cars, memories; all of it gone. Just … wow.

My first reaction was to mourn these losses. And not just the losses from this wildfire, but all losses, everywhere. It’s all awful. My god.

But in the midst of my sorrow,  I read a quote from a former Harbin resident in the newspaper:

“We’re really blessed,” Hamilton said. “There’s no damage to the springs and pools. That’s the essence of what Harbin is.”

We’re really blessed, he said.

The place is burned to the ground and this guy — this Hamilton — feels really blessed.


At first, I didn’t like Hamilton very much. I didn’t understand him. But then I thought … you know what? Actually, Hamilton makes a good point. We are blessed. We are blessed not because of what we’ve lost, but because of what we have left. We’re blessed because with that terrible destruction comes the gift of renewal.

The more I think about Hamilton’s words, the more I realize how the theme of destruction and renewal applies to my own life. This summer when Bunz lost seizure control, it seemed like our lives were burning out of control. It felt like there was no way to escape, no evacuation route. But that period of declining health — painful and frightening as it was — brought forth new strategies and tests and options. We never expected that a few months later we would dare to fall asleep on the couch one night, Bunz’ video monitor left unattended on the floor.

Ironically, when my husband and I have felt utterly burned out and torn down over the past few years, we’ve occasionally given each other permission to evacuate the everyday wildfire.  To get in the car and drive. Which means, of course, that one partner stays home with the kids all weekend while the other partner luxuriates in Harbin’s hot springs. But believe me, sometimes you just need to drive.

So in honor of Hamilton and renewal and the cleansing power of fire, I’d like to share the story of my  first visit to Harbin. Here’s to rising from the ashes!

(Caution: This essay may not be appropriate to read with your kids or at work.)

Out-Hippied at Harbin Hot Springs

January 15, 2013 at 10:55am

It was a Christmas gift from my husband: two nights and three days at a spiritual retreat center in Northern California. No kids, no family. Just me. I’d never heard of Harbin Hot Springs and hadn’t the first clue what it was, but the idea of running very, very far away sounded great to me. Besides, my husband had been there a couple of months ago and couldn’t stop raving about it. “I camped on a stream! My tent was literally right next to the stream. It was so relaxing,” he kept saying. He mentioned nothing about the hot, naked women. He did mention the nice library. Oh, and the meditation room. And the food in the restaurant was pretty good, he thought. “Also, you can sit in the pools at night and gaze up at the stars.” It doesn’t get better than that.

So off I went, on a Friday afternoon. I pulled through the front gates as the last rays of sunlight warmed the valley walls. The office lady seemed like she could use a weekend away, too. She asked a ton of questions without waiting for my replies. Maybe I was the millionth person she’d checked in that day, or maybe she just didn’t like people. The rules were simple, she barked: No phones, no cameras, no candles, no glass, no sexual activity, no alcohol, and no drugs.

Places that ban cameras always inspire me to write. I need some way to record the moments—photos, stories, whatever—so I can look back and remember. That’s what I’m doing now.

“And just so you know,” she said, pointing up the hill, “there’s a co-ed changing room, and about 99.9 percent of the people up there will be naked. If that’s a problem for you…” Her voice trailed off and she had an expectant look. Probably she’d noticed my driver’s license. Those East Coast people are so uptight. Something shifted in my chest, but I stared back like ‘What, lady. What.’ Because I was a Spa World veteran. Nothing could shock me. I took the keys and left.

Clearly, I was unprepared for what happened next. I mixed up the location of the parking lot and drove the wrong way on the road, pulling to a stop outside the outdoor pool area. It was breathtaking. A large square warm pool sat under the stars. Next to it, a candle-lit cabin with stained glass windows housed the hottest pool of all. A sign at the door read, “Silence is Sacred.” That’s when I noticed the penises.

Never in my life have I seen so many penises in one place. These weren’t the guys that hang out at nudie beaches. No horny old men with leathery tans here. Every last one of them looked like they could be in the next issue of Runner’s World.  Oh my.

After checking into my room in the Domes, a series of ball-shaped buildings on the top of a mountain, I ventured back to the pools. In all honesty, I love being naked. Spa World is my favorite place in the entire world. But I must have been too busy thinking about what a meanie that office lady was to understand what she meant by “coed.”

Just so you know, a co-ed changing room is a room where all types of people—men, women; young, old; fit, fat; gay, straight; executives, deadheads—are in various states of nakedness. It means you will sit down on a bench next to a lady with breasts that belong on the cover of Maxim and realize that you’re staring directly into the pelvis of a frat boy with gelled up hair standing at the next bench. It means you will undress and then—and then—you will STAND UP and you will WALK TO THE DOOR. That is what it means. Just so you know.

But wait, you ask, what does it mean to enter a pool where 99.9 percent of the people are naked? Well, I’ll tell you. It means that after a quick rinse under the outdoor shower, you will hang your towel on the rail and strut confidentially down the pool steps into the warm water, hugging your breasts because that Northern California air is COLD. It means you will weave between silent spooning couples to the center of the pool while trying to look somewhere, anywhere, to avoid sexually harassing someone. Everywhere you turn, there will be floating breasts and bobbing penises. And once in a blue moon you will see a lady wearing a one-piece black swimsuit, wondering how the hell she got mixed up in this crazy shit (I saw her; she looked stressed).

Then a woman smiled at me and I figured it was okay to just BE. And it was. Various people made eye contact but not once did I feel ogled or slime-balled. There certainly were a lot of penises floating around, though. I’ll give you that. But they were well behaved.

Later that night, I went to the massage building for an aromatherapy body scrub and Shiatsu massage, included in my Christmas gift.  My masseuse was a lady—tall, blonde, and German—and she was clothed. “Good thing you come to us in the winter,” she said.“We are so much friendlier now. In the summer, it’s a real meat market.” With that, she went to work. The coffee buzz I’d been carrying around since morning dissipated within minutes and I felt incredibly at peace. At some point it occurred to me that even with the naked people straddling each other in the pool and all the penises bobbing around, this spa seemed pretty modest compared with the few Korean spas I’ve visited. When you get a body scrub at Spa World, for example, you’re splayed like a wet fish on a tabletop and dunked with a bucket of water. On either side of your table there are five or six other tables with women-fish sliding around on top. There are no sheets or towels to cover your private parts—the spa workers spread your legs like they don’t care and scrub every last part.But here at Harbin, there was a nice little towel to cover my lower body while she worked. How very American!

After the massage I drifted back to the Domes and got all cozy in my bed. I was just drifting off to sleep when my pillow started to move. There were moans, and rhythmic thuds against the wall behind my head. Earthquakes do not do this. But couples who just attended the Tantric massage workshop do. I was so tired that it didn’t matter and I slept until 3am, when I thought Little Bear was standing by my bed asking to get in. I opened my eyes, ready to tell Little Bear to go back to his own room. But I was all alone and the room was quiet. I’ll admit, I was a little homesick right then. But that morning when I slept in, everything was ok. 😉


When I walked down to the market area to have breakfast, a silver-haired guy was standing outside the door of the restaurant, waiting for it to open. “Hey, happy New Year!” he said, turning to greet me. “Thanks, same to you!” I replied. We looked at the bulletin board and made small talk about the day’s scheduled events while we waited. “I’m going to check out that Kirtan later today,” I said. “Yeah, I’ve heard it’s pretty good,” he said. “Hey! Happy New Year!”

My new friend hailed from Northern CA. “The pot capital of the world,” he said with pride. I was fortunate enough to meet someone who owns a 20-acre farm that provides a lot of the medicinal marijuana for the state of California. When I mentioned Bunz, and cerebral palsy, and epilepsy, and how we’re staying on top of cannabis research in case that ever becomes an option, he started going on about cellular crosstalk and signaling cascades and apoptosis and how all these things are affected  by the various concentrations of THC, CBN, CBD, CBG, etc. You don’t often meet people at naked retreat centers who can speak intelligently about both marijuana and myelin sheaths, but this guy was the Real Deal. Then I found out he has a master’s degree from UC Berkeley. So there you have it: The billboards should have a photo of this guy holding his diploma against a backdrop of expansive pot fields.

We were sitting there having breakfast when he started to tell me about the aliens. His house is on a hill, he said, and when he sits outside at night to shoot off his gun and guard his crops, he sees all kinds of paranormal activity in the sky. The stars move, for one thing. “I had my buddies stay there last night,” he said. “I called them this morning and said, ‘Did you see it? Did you see the stars move?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, man. We totally saw it.’ They totally saw it, you know?” Sometimes strange orbs hover in the sky above his fields. One night he woke up and his room was filled with a red glow for no apparent reason. Another time, a triangular cloud slowly made its way across the sky on an otherwise clear day. That’s when he began to suspect the government. He saw a similar aircraft on the cover of Popular Mechanics. But the orbs he’s not so sure about. Those are probably from the mother ship.

After breakfast, I headed to a yoga class in the Temple. And after that, I headed to the private pool at the Domes for my second gift from my husband: an underwater shiatsu massage. According to the brochure, WATSU®, which was originally developed at Harbin,“combines stretches of Zen Shiatsu and the element of water to create an extraordinary experience. Being gently floated and stretched in a warm pool can be deeply moving and relaxing.” But what they don’t mention in the brochure is that the masseuse will be a man, and he will be naked.

Let me tell you: You have not lived until you’ve stood at the edge of a pool, completely naked,about to step into the water to be massaged by a naked man that you’ve never met. He was standing there in the pool, smiling up at me, his penis literally bobbing up and down below the surface. “I forgot my towel,” was what I said. I’m not sure why I said that. But it was true: I’d brought a bag containing everything but the one thing I needed most—a towel. And it was chilly out there.

“I’m not sure what to tell you,” he said. Those California people. So straightforward. He wasn’t being rude—he literally did not know what to tell me. There were no extra towels. Just the pool, a shower stall, and two naked people. That was it. So I got in and swam over, as gracefully as I could.

“So was there a reason you signed up for the off-the-body energy work instead of the hands-on water massage?” he asked.

“Um… ?” (Had I?)

“Is that what you signed up for?” (M? What did you sign me up for??)

“To be honest, I’m not sure. This was a gift from my husband. But whatever you usually do is fine.”

As it turns out, he usually prefers the hands-on option.

“Ok, I’m going to put my arm around your shoulders and lean you back to see how you float.” I leaned back and immediately felt the sliminess of my skin against his arm. “Yeah. I’m going to need you to go shower and rinse off all that lotion. Otherwise I’m going to drop you like a greased pig.” OMG. HOW EMBARRASSING.

After a quick rinse in the shower (so chilly! no towel!), I hopped back in the pool. I closed my eyes and found that it was surprisingly easy to relax. I tried not to think about the penis bobbing beneath me as he supported my head and swirled my body through the water, massaging tissues in my back that I didn’t even know existed. It was honestly the best massage I have ever received. Hands down. No question about it. WATSU® is some pretty powerful stuff.

He told me I’d know when the session was over because I’d feel the side of the pool against my back and the floor against my feet. “At that time, you should start to come back to the present so that you can support your own body,” he said.  That just made me want to stay in the present and keep peeking out to make sure we weren’t near the edge of the pool because it felt so incredibly good. Thank you, M!!!!

That evening, I checked out an event called ‘Quantum Light’ in the Temple. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after being at Harbin for a full day, I was pretty sure it would be interesting.

WAS IT. It was like a Kirtan (call-and-response chanting/singing) but the emphasis was on breathing. Deep inhales that fill your entire body, followed by quick exhales. And repeat, in a fluid cycle. The excess oxygen was supposed to feel exhilarating, but I felt a little lightheaded. Everyone else seemed to enter an ecstatic state. Imagine an evangelical tent revival held at an insane asylum, where they had double-booked a pagan ritual. There you have Quantum Light. A few people were rocking back and forth and moaning, another was giggling hysterically, a man was sitting cross-legged on the floor and whipping his upper body around in wide circles, and the entire room sounded like they were about to reach orgasm. Once again, I had been out-hippied.

The chanting was nice, though. And no one had sex against the wall that night. Bonus!


After the day I had yesterday, I wasn’t sure there would be anything left to write. I was wrong.

Before sunrise, when the trees were still black against the pale sky, I slipped into the Domes pool and looked out over the valley. For the next hour or so, I floated on my back and watched the world wake. When other people began to make their way down to the pool, I toweled off and headed to the market area for breakfast.

On my way through the valley, I passed a stone-lined labyrinth in a field. In the center, a pile of offerings from the natural world: pine cones, stones, shells, pieces of wood, a few tin bottle caps. I stepped in and started walking the path to the center. As the first rays of sun rose above the tree line, I felt someone watching me. Turning back, I noticed three deer standing about 10 feet away, bright-eyed and curious. The one in front looked at me with so much love in her eyes, like she had found her long-lost friend. I smiled back, overflowing with joy and awe. She ran toward me, stopping almost an arm’s length away. I stood there, frozen in place, hoping I hadn’t gone off my rocker enough to get mauled by a deer. But with one last look, she stepped around me and continued on her path. Her friends followed. Later, randomly, I learned that the deer symbolizes the heart chakra. Coincidence? You decide.

I kept walking through the labyrinth, thinking about how it resembles the journey of life. Isn’t it something that you can approach the center of the labyrinth—the goal—without quite reaching it, and then get swept farther away. You can get so close that it’s tempting to step off the path and touch the center. But just as you consider doing this, the path takes you in another direction. It’s not the right time. As I continued walking, I noticed that some areas of the path were cold and dark, not yet warmed by the sun. A few paces forward and the ground was once again blessed with an abundance of light and heat.

Suddenly I was there, in the center of the labyrinth, facing the pile of offerings. A piece of bark reminded me of the face of that deer. I looked down at the ground, wishing I had something to offer, but nothing seemed right. Suddenly I heard a crash on the hill behind me. I jumped, expecting to see a falling tree limb. Instead, the biggest, roundest pine cone I have ever seen bounced down the hill and landed a couple feet away from me on the path. A squirrel snickered at me from high up in the tree. I walked over to pick it up; it was so large that three of my size hands could have wrapped around it. Fresh sap pooled like hot wax at its stem. Such a magnificent smell. I called in my soul to come and see.

I sat in the pools again later that day, not worrying about where my eyes wandered because I was lost in my own thoughts, marveling at the abundance of life.  Whatever challenges I face, whatever stressful things happen, I choose to be here.

I choose this life.


harbin2The deer looked at me from this spot.

harbin3The offering. My husband later pointed out to me that the pine cone is an ancient symbol for the third eye, the gateway to the higher self or soul.

Footage of this weekend’s fire damage can be viewed at:

1984 vs. 2015: Evolution in action

In 1984, I was 5 years old. I wore cowboy boots, had red curly hair and hated riding the school bus because the big kids taunted me with songs from the movie “Annie”. My favorite things to do included shooting my pop gun, smoking candy cigarettes and chasing imaginary bad guys through the fields with my best friend, Josh. I knew how to ride a bike and steer our old 1970 Ford truck, but I couldn’t say the alphabet without singing it and I could not, for the life of me, tell my left from my right. That was me at age 5.

Things have changed since then.

I’m not talking about how I grew up to be a nonsmoking, peace-loving, dress-wearing city girl who would die a little inside if her sons went around shooting off pop guns and smoking candy cigarettes.

I’m talking about what it means to be a kid these days. It’s been on my mind because our typically developing son, Little Bear, is 5 years old and just started kindergarten. I’ve been casually observing him and his friends, and let me tell you — these kids seem SO much smarter and more mature than I remember being at that age.  I feel like we might actually be witnessing evolution in action. Could that be possible?

Looking back on my 1984 self, it’s clear that I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. One morning I found a dollar at the bus stop and instead of saving it or spending it on something useful, I ran to the closest place that sold things – our school’s pencil shop – and used it to buy 100 pencils. WTF. I didn’t even want pencils. I couldn’t even fit them all into my pencil case. Even my mom was like, “Hon … ????”

Despite feeling confused most of the time at that age (who exactly was The King, I wondered. Was it Jesus? Elvis? BB King?) I somehow made it into my school’s academically gifted program and emerged from the other end of the education pipeline with a PhD. How this happened, I’m not sure. But it suggests that if I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, the other kids in my generation weren’t doing much better.

Today, in 2015, Little Bear and his friends wear lace-up sneakers, talk about things like atoms and walk themselves into small neighborhood markets with $20 bills and simple lists, emerging a few minutes later with bags of groceries.  Little Bear’s favorite activities include anything related to nature and animals, reciting facts from “The Magic Schoolbus” and helping me figure out which way to go when Siri directs me to turn left. (If Siri were real, she’d shout, “Left! LEFT, I SAID! DAMN it, woman. Rerouting.”)

So I guess I’m just wondering what all of this means. If kids are really smarter today than they were in 1984 … well, what happens next? Will there be different benchmarks for academic achievement? Will they figure out how to teleport instead of fly? What other magic lies in store for us? I don’t know whether to feel nervous or excited or both.

According to Little Bear’s description of how evolution has played out so far, we might expect future generations to have new and exciting appendages, for example:

In any case, let me know if you figure it out.

I’ll leave you with one little story before I go: The other day I took Little Bear to get a special snack after swim class. He pointed to the chocolate milk and asked, “Mama, do you know how they make that?”

Now, here I thought he was actually asking me for information. My chest puffed up. I felt proud! I didn’t go to school all those years for nothing! I smugly turned the question around and asked him what HE thought, sure he would mention something about brown cows.

Here’s what Little Bear thinks: They melt chocolate and add it to regular milk.


Now that’s what I’m saying, people.

What the heck.



(At age 5, Little Bear’s proposed list of chores include: “Kleinn d’ flor” and “Mece sure d’ Kat doesn’t poop on d’ bed.” That sounds about right. At least some things never change.)

Big news! We’re expanding our family!

Years ago, back when my husband and I thought we were in charge of our destiny, we planned to have one child. Total. When the baby turned one, we’d adopt a dog.

That was our plan.

What actually happened is that Bunz was born under the October full moon and all hell broke loose. No longer did we have each others’ full attention. No longer was our house clean and organized. No longer did we sleep. Or eat. Or think. Everything was new and different and complicated. Breakfast was served at lunch, lunch was served at dinner, and showers were scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when my husband’s aunt came to help.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around, my mom took pity on us and offered to babysit. She wasn’t exactly a baby person, so this was a really big deal. We happily accepted.

A few weeks later, I felt like something was off. I felt unusually happy … and normal … all of a sudden. Which sounds kind of funny but, actually, if you laughed just now you’re about to feel really bad because I was in a dark, dark place after Bunz was born. I’m the kind of person who can laugh at a funeral, but not even I can laugh off that darkness.

When you’re a girl in your early 30s and you get that ‘something’s off’ feeling, there’s only one thing to do: I packed up Bunz and headed to the store for a pregnancy test. They were behind a locked cabinet. The store clerk who came to unlock them took one look at me with the crazy hair and the screaming infant, and shook her head. (Later, my mom stood with me at Bunz’ crib and shook her head, too, saying, “Oh, hon. What would you do with another baby?”)

Have you ever taken a pregnancy test and waited way longer than it says to wait just because you’re so terrified/hopeful that the second line will appear? This wasn’t like that. As soon as I peed on that stick, two of the deepest, darkest possible lines appeared. There was no question about it – Little Bear was in the HOUSE.

I looked at 4-month-old Baby Bunz laying on an activity mat in the hallway. I looked at the stick. I tried to picture my husband’s panicked face; decided I’d rather not. I knew it would be a very long time before we got that dog.

Well, fast-forward 6 years and here we are. Meet our newest family member, Crazy Jake.

We’ve been promising Little Bear a dog ever since he could talk. The deal has always been that he could have a dog when he turned 5. We used to think of age 5 as some ambiguous point in the distant future, but somehow he’s already 5 and we’re screwed. “Now remember – you’re going to be 5 for a whole year,” we’ve been saying.

Lately, though, we’ve been feeling like we might finally be ready. So last weekend we went to a large adoption event hosted by several local animal shelters. We weren’t sure if we’d find our dog, but we were at least willing to entertain the possibility.

We walked around and saw all kinds of dogs, large and small, friendly and shy, playful and reserved. One dog, a medium-sized Border Collie/Australian Shepherd/German Shorthair Pointer mix, looked kind of goofy as he perked his ears, tilted his head and stared at an invisible spot on the asphalt, like he was deciphering a secret message. Suddenly he bounced straight into the air on all fours.

That’s one crazy dog, I thought to myself. He’s perfect.

Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like you’re reconnecting with an old friend? My friend Sara and I met that way. The first time we laid eyes on each other, we were both like, “Oh hi. It’s you. What are you doing here?”

That’s how it felt with this dog. I swear I recognized him from a distant time or place. A fairy tale. A memory. A dream.


The more I learned about the dog and his background, the more I felt like this situation had my dead mother-in-law written all over it. (See? That’s funny. We can laugh at that.) Check this out: The dog’s previous owner was a kindergarten teacher (like my MIL) who had been training Jake to be a therapy dog (which we need). He’s deaf and is trained to respond to hand signals and some ASL signs (possibly allowing him to be more intuitive and attentive than other dogs). Also, he has brown ears (see “…but what does it MEAN?!?”). And his name is Jake – the name my husband’s grandfather called every one of his grandsons, regardless of their actual names. When Little Bear was born, we gave him the middle name Jacob just so that Pop Pop would be right when he drawled, “Hey Jake!

After some discussion and consideration (in which I purposely didn’t mention the MIL theory), we decided to take Jake home and see how it went.


Oh God. Can you even imagine what a stressful day that was? My husband and I kept having flashbacks to the day we brought Baby Bunz home from the hospital. Chaos. Anxiety. Clusterfucks.

Our first walk with Jake reminded me of that book, The Diggingest Dog, about a little boy who adopts a dog that doesn’t know how to dig. When the dog finally learns how to dig, he digs up the whole town, including the highway, the barber shop, and multiple vegetable gardens. That’s Jake.

11424665_10106989656194771_8264358147848065838_o“Back up! Back up! Here he goes!” we shouted multiple times that day, as Jake dug holes the size of watermelons in 15 seconds flat, spraying Bunz with fresh soil. Clearly we have some issues to iron out, I thought. On the other hand, he was incredibly attentive and responded immediately to the two hand signals we knew: lay down and potty. It was clear that someone had trained him well.

11206795_10106979630421501_3903009021660262195_oOver the years,  I’ve gotten semi-used to a chaotic house – when you live with three boys, there’s only so much you can control. But adding a dog to the mix has been mind-boggling. Right now, Little Bear is dragging the dog around atop a long carpet runner from the hallway. Bunz is playing the piano, loudly. Drops of dog slobber and water bowl spillage mingle with discarded dry food and dog treats on the kitchen floor. I haven’t played my guitar or worked out in days. Kitty Little is hiding under the bed.

Even worse, my emergency bag of chocolate chips is missing from its hiding place at the back of the kitchen cabinet. Someone found it and ate it.

What I need to do now is clean. Cleaning always helps.

But I’m exhausted.

I’m being over-dramatic, of course. The beautiful moments far outweigh the chaotic ones. Noticing Jake wait patiently for Bunz as we navigate down the front stairs. Listening to Little Bear teach Jake tricks and new signs. Seeing Jake jump into the shower with my husband, uninvited, and then refuse to get out. Finally meeting the older man who lives in the hippie house down our street. I’ve always wanted to meet that guy and now I know his name: Norm. I feel like Norm and I should have a lot to talk about. What I didn’t tell Norm is that Jake is the one who dug that huge hole in his front lawn. Norm still thinks it’s the gophers. Heh.

Every day it’s getting easier, and it’s only Day 4. Here’s hoping that the next time we meet, the newest member of Team Bunz is so seamlessly integrated into our household that we can’t remember life before he was here.

Happy Mother’s Day, from the Other Woman and Me!

I’m seeing a lot of Mother’s Day tributes floating around the blogosphere, and I love all of your stories! For a few seconds, I thought I’d write something about how my life as a mom is all rainbows and glitter and unicorns. But then I laughed and said, “Psych!” Because let’s be real: My life as a mom is confusing.

Not confusing as in I mix up my kids’ names and call Bunz by my husband’s name, or Little Bear by Bunz’ name. That happens on a regular basis, and we’re ok with that.

Not confusing as in I feel conflicted about the best parenting strategy, or working versus staying at home, or buying organic versus GMO bananas. Those are all good questions, but in all honesty I have a shit ton of other things to worry about. So I just do what works best for us and let the other moms debate the rest.

No, I mean confusing as in identity crisis confusing. As in, I can’t figure out which woman I am in the very first post on Team Bunz: The Other Woman. I look like one mother with two sons but I feel like two mothers, each with one son. And one of those mother-son relationships is not like the other.

Some of you already know what I’m getting at. When you have one child who’s WAY different from the other, your life as a mother gets complicated. You forget who you’re supposed to be for each child, their friends, and their world. You accidentally send your healthy kid on a playdate armed with emergency seizure medication, and your kid with a physical disability to the playground with roller blades and a helmet.

No? This doesn’t sound familiar? Hmm, ok. Let me back up and try to explain.

You know how we all exist in multiple worlds? In our Professional world, we are insightful and polite and well dressed. In our Private world, we wander around the house in our underpants with crazy hair and no makeup, shouting things like, “WTF is this! GET IN HERE, ALL THREE OF YOU! Who dissected fox poop on my office carpet and didn’t clean it up?”

Well, in addition to my Professional and Private worlds, I have Special Needs Mom world and Mainstream Mom world. I’ve had years of practice compartmentalizing these very opposite worlds, especially since Bunz and Little Bear have always gone to different daycares/preschools. But I’m starting to enter the stage of motherhood where I wonder who I really am. Special Needs Mom versus Mainstream Mom. Anxious Mom versus Confident Mom. Amazing Mom versus Regular Mom. Outsider Mom versus Insider Mom. Me versus the Other Woman. Or is it the Other Woman versus Me? Crap. This is so confusing.

Let me show you how this plays out in the real world.

The best example I can think of is last week, when I went to Little Bear’s school for a parent-teacher conference. I parked my car, walked up a steep hill, entered his school, sat down at a kid-sized table, and thought:

Thank you, God, for allowing my butt to fit in this tiny chair. This is excellent. But – gulp – how embarrassing would it have been if I didn’t fit? There must be an adult chair in here somewhere for when that happens. Maybe it’s in the closet. But the teacher is sitting in a tiny chair too, so maybe not? Ugh. No, wait, hold on … I see what’s going on here. The chair is a test! A healthy lifestyle test. And my butt fits, so I’m pretty sure I’ve passed. Whew.

When I finally looked up, the teacher was explaining the results of a Montessori assessment they’d done. I looked at the paper. Every item was checked off. At age 5, Little Bear can: tie his shoes, hold a pencil, manipulate objects of all kinds, clean stuff, count to 129 (not a zillion and thirty, like he told me. I knew that was a lie), write uppercase and lowercase letters and say their sounds, identify the shapes, be helpful and kind, recite various songs. I should buy the BOB books, she was saying, and work with him on … crap. I can’t remember. In my head, I was thinking we need to work with him on not being a Know-it-All. But then I saw his teacher’s write-up and realized that was going to be a hard row to hoe in the foreseeable future: IMG_5190-crop

Let’s compare this with my first parent-teacher conference at Bunz’ school. Ha! Or let’s not. But for the sake of comparison, let’s revisit that day. I parked my car, walked up a (different) steep hill, entered his classroom, sat down in one of those little chairs, and thought:

My God. I seriously think I need medical attention. You can literally SEE my heart thumping through my shirt. Is this safe? This can’t be safe. And my hands are like ice. OMG, did she just say there’s a video. THERE WILL BE A VIDEO OF BUNZ AT THE END OF OUR TALK. It’s not enough to just TELL me how disruptive he is. She actually videotaped it. Fuck. No, no, calm down. This must be a test to see if I’ll voluntarily pull him from the school before I even see the video. No, I will not fail this test. But OMG. My heart.

When I finally found the courage to look up, I remember seeing a checklist – and realizing that a few of the items were actually checked off. Yes! Awesome!!! When I started to breathe again, I realized she was sharing some things we needed to work on. Ok, flash cards. Yes. I can make flash cards. Taking his medicine at lunchtime without a fight. Yes. We can handle that. But the iPad kept taunting me, sitting there so presumptuously on its fancy little stand. Smugly waiting to show proof that Bunz is not the absent-minded genius I believe him to be.

When I finally saw the video, I almost cried. Not in a bad way. In a I’ve-Just-Been-Scared-Shitless-and-Now-What-A-Relief kind of way. Bunz goes to a language immersion school, and the video showed him answering questions (and sometimes not) in another language. It was really cute, actually. Now, months later, he loves to watch that video and say, “That boy doesn’t know the answers? He doesn’t, Mama? But I do.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully merge these two Mom worlds, but it’s interesting to imagine how that might play out. For example, if I went all Special Needs Mom on Little Bear’s world, I could seamlessly morph into a Helicopter Mom. If I went all Mainstream Mom on Bunz’ world, I could easily become an Apathetic Mom.

Crossing these new Moms with my Private and Professional worlds, I could imagine myself as an Apathetic Private Mom who shows up to school dropoff in a bathrobe. Or Helicopter Professional Mom who risks spontaneous combustion every time there’s a hint of failure.

I don’t know. None of these sound particularly right for me in this moment. But in the future, you never know … at least then I would have all my marbles in one place!

Hape Modrs Dey, from my loves to you!


How Bunz saved spring break and made the world a brighter place

1933775_640459726431_9851_nMy husband and I have enjoyed a number of truly fantastic spring breaks in our day. We married right out of college and ran away to grad school, where we studied for as many years as possible to [become well-rounded scientists and] delay our entry into the Real World. Our first year of grad school, we earned a total of $20,000 in teaching and research stipends. Back then, it was all we needed. We spent that spring break backpacking along the Oregon coast and filming cheesy home videos — that was us at age 23.

Before kids, spring break meant: 1) debauchery, 2) freedom, and 3) insanity.

Now that we have kids, the only thing left from that original list is: 3) insanity. And believe me, it’s not the same kind.

Leading up to Bunz’ spring break last week, we’d both kind of hoped it might ignite a flicker of the freedom and excitement from decades past. And why not? Even though my husband’s job is ending soon and we’re skimping as much as possible, we had enough credit card rewards points to pay for four flights to Arizona and several nice hotel rooms. (And importantly, enough points to pay our way back.) What better place than Arizona to live adventurously?

But things are different now than they were in our 20s, which somewhat hampers our ability to live on the edge. In my 20s, I worried about who would take care of our cat and my bacterial cultures while we were away. These days, I lose sleep worrying about the dangers of flying far from the safety net of doctors, therapists, and babysitters who help our world go round.

This year I lost more sleep than usual because our destination was Middle-of-Nowhere, Arizona, where one can drive for hundreds of miles without seeing a gas station, much less a neurologist. Suddenly, Arizona was not looking so good. How would we survive when the only dinner food Bunz eats is macaroni and cheese? What if they don’t serve macaroni and cheese in the desert? Could we invite Bunz’ food therapist to come along? Does anyone have her number? Sigh. 3 am is probably too early to bother her anyhow. I’m sure she has other plans.

Since we can’t afford to bring our safety net with us – and because we don’t normally have an opportunity to enjoy each others’ company quite so continuously – the first few days of vacation were rocky. You could call it a Period of Adjustment. I would call it Insanity.

That first day, Little Bear asked a zillion questions as my husband and I navigated kids and suitcases through the crowded airport.

“Mama? What’s that red thing?”

Which one, Little Bear? That one?


That one?





“Mama? What did that man just say to Daddy?”

Which man? OMG. No. Just stop.

“Mama? Is that a picture of a bat? Do they have bats in Arizona? Don’t you know that bats don’t see wif  der eyes? They use echo-location. Echo-location, Mama. I’m-a tell you what dat is. Stop walking so I can tell you what dat is.”

Before we boarded the plane, I asked Bunz multiple times if he had to go to the bathroom. No, he insisted. No, no, and no. Fifteen minutes before boarding, he looked at me with panic in his eyes. I picked him up and we dashed to the nearest restroom. Thank God for special needs restrooms with showers. It was that bad. As I washed him off, he sang merrily and talked about our trip to Utah.


What, Mama?

“Arizona, my love. We’re going to Arizona.”


Meanwhile, my husband and I bickered constantly about everything we could think of. When we ran out of ideas, we bickered about why we couldn’t just enjoy being on vacation without bickering. Someone should have arranged to bring along our freaking therapist, I said. Seriously. WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THAT.

Traveling without your safety net is hard. But if you’ve ever traveled with a child, special needs or not, you know that impatience and stress only make things worse. I know this, too. My brain knows that no amount of rushing or nagging will help Bunz walk faster through the airport or eat foods that are not macaroni and cheese, even when he’s famished and the airport shops are closed for the night. No amount of answers will quench Little Bear’s curiosity about the world (nor should they … and I hope they never do). Few things will help a man forget that his job is ending soon, and none of those things are appropriate for the airport. Or a family vacation. I know this. But knowing isn’t always enough.

Bunz has an interesting way of coping in times like these. Maybe just to escape our stress, he takes these opportunities to befriend as many beautiful and kind people as possible. Whether he has some secret formula for attracting extra-friendly people or whether he naturally brings out the kindness in regular people, I’m not sure. But one minute he’s holding my hand, walking with me through the airport. The next minute he’s gone. I turn around and see him several feet back, smiling into the adoring eyes of a huggable woman with grey hair. By the time I backtrack and grab his hand, he’s already learned that her name is Evelyn, she’s 68 years old, and her birthday is April 2.

Come!” Bunz appeals to Evelyn as I pry his fingers from her arm. Evelyn looks conflicted, like maybe she’d like to come depending on where we’re headed. But there’s no time for this, my ruthless inner introvert insists. I wave goodbye to Evelyn, grab Bunz and our stuff, and dash to the gate.

Though I don’t always appreciate it right away (or at all), these meetings are a beautiful reminder of the love and patience and gentleness that surround us. So often, we special needs parents commiserate over the stares that follow us through public places. We imagine judgments passed in silence as we walk by. We wonder what people think as they behold the children we love so dearly, whose differences are beautiful to us.

Thanks to Bunz, I now have the inside scoop on this and I’m happy to share it with you. Before some of these people even know what they’re saying, their stories come spilling out and everything begins to make sense. Many of the stares aren’t judgmental at all, it turns out. Some of them are thinking about nieces or nephews or grandchildren with similar issues. Others are thinking that Bunz is cute. Or weird. Many want to understand, but there’s no way to do that without being intrusive. And the teenager I thought was so rude when he came up and asked, “Is he deaf or something?” actually volunteers in a special needs classroom and loves to make the kids laugh. He’s just awkward, that’s all.

So there you have it. More than anything, these random interactions remind me that we’re all immersed in different stages of learning. You see? Learning. It always comes back to that. It’s hard to be in a foul mood when you’re learning about new friends, hearing their stories, and discovering surprising things that we have in common. Believe me, I’ve tried.

teambunz1For example?

When we board the plane, I usually seat Bunz on the aisle and take the center seat so that 1) we can access the bathroom easily and often, and 2) the person who climbs over us to take the window seat really, definitely, for sure, absolutely-without-a-doubt understands what they’re getting into. You’d be surprised at how many people will go to all this trouble to sit in a cramped seat with a frazzled lady and her special needs kid. Even when the flight is only half full and there are no seat assignments. This aggravates me to no end.

But more often than not, these people turn out to be amazing. Not that I think they are angels sent by divine intervention or anything crazy like that. But maybe sometimes I do, just a little. Once, we sat next to a psychologist who counsels parents of special needs kids. I mean, what are the chances? He even offered to play his clarinet, which was stowed under the seat. Who are these people? Lol.

Another time we sat next to an attractive older woman wearing a green one-piece jumpsuit that showed off her toned legs. Her son has autism and is nonverbal, she told us, and she immediately fell in love with Bunz. During that short flight, I could tell something was bothering Bunz. Usually he overwhelms his new friends with repetitive questions but this time he sat quietly with a concerned look on his face. As we were landing, he leaned across me and addressed her for the first time:

“Where are your payunts?” he demanded.

“I ate them!” she said, with a bright smile.

“You … ate them?”

“Yup! Sure did! And they were YUMMMM-Y!”

“Your green pants. You ate them?” he asked, worried.

“I did! Did you eat your peanuts?”

Bunz paused for a second. A slow smile spread across his face. He shook his head,  then leaned over and buried his face in my chest.

“GHEEEEHEEHEE!” he squealed, barely able to contain himself. “Dat lady ate her pants, Mama! Her pants! AH! GHEEHEEHEE!!!!!!”

My body shook with suppressed laughter. Tears streamed from my eyes. I looked at the lady, sure that she understood and worried I would embarrass her by laughing out loud. But before I could say anything, she gave me the sweetest hug and said, “I know. Sometimes I cry, too. Some days are just hard, aren’t they?”

Oh man. I felt so bad. I should have told her. But by that point it was too late.

This spring break, Bunz met a number of interesting people, all of whom wore pants. Bunz and his new friends really helped us out of that first-day funk. By day 2, my husband and I remembered that we’re best friends and we stopped bickering over every little thing. We used all that extra energy to answer Little Bear’s incessant questions and bribe Bunz to eat one microscopic bite at a time with Scrabble Cheez-Its as rewards. This is what it means to live on the edge these days.

Here are some of my favorite spring break moments that wouldn’t have happened without Bunz:

Meeting the real-life “boss of the airport”:


Saying “Yá’át’ééh!” to Carl, a Navajo silversmith whose high school track and field team competed against mine, though we didn’t know each other at the time:


Befriending a German family at the Grand Canyon in hopes of grabbing the middle man’s awesome handlebar mustache (check it out!):


Meeting a donkey named Pedro who shares Bunz’ obsession with bells:


Getting an amazing 90-minute craniosacral and massage session that helped Bunz feel better, sleep through the night (yay), and walk more confidently on the rocky desert trails:


Looking at these photos, I’m struck by the irony of it all. My husband and I are definitely not talkers. It’s not easy for us to chat up random people. But my husband’s mother would talk to anyone and everyone. Talk, talk, talk. Man, that woman could talk. We always chalked it up to her being a schoolteacher, but I think her mother was a talker too. My parents lived by the mantra that the humble will inherit the earth and when I was young, they chatted up as many humble people as possible. All the humble people were then invited to our house on Friday nights to play cards. From those experiences, I learned the true meaning of poverty. I learned never to assume that wealth equals superiority. But unfortunately, I didn’t learn the art of casual conversation. And from the looks of things, neither did my husband.

That’s one of the reasons we love traveling with Bunz. I’m not going to pretend that traveling with special needs is easy. It’s not; we all know that. But I’m also not going to pretend that traveling with Bunz is hard, because I know what some of you go through and I love you for it.

All I’m saying is that when we travel with Bunz, we discover that the world is a kinder, friendlier, more compassionate place. It’s a smaller world. A gentler world. A world where we are connected by just a few degrees of separation. Far from the intimidating, judgmental world I fear it will be when I venture out with my special needs son.

In Bunz’ 6 years, there has only been one exception. Last year on a cross-country flight, he befriended a man whose intentions seemed shady. To make a long story short, the stewardess reseated us in the first row of the plane next to an 80-year-old woman named Ms. Barbara, with whom I still keep in touch. Ms. Barbara loves Bunz because he’s cute (clearly), but also because she has a 50-year-old son with epilepsy. When a flight attendant mentioned the “incident,” Ms. Barbara and the others around us got all riled up. They demanded to know what this man looked like so they could watch for him and mutter disapproving things under their breath.

It was starting to get a little outrageous when a 20-something girl sitting behind us announced, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. If he tries anything, I’ll take him DOWN.” I glanced back at her, amused. Well, look at that. My 23-year-old self lives on. Ha! Even as I sit here, years later, relying on an 80-year-old woman to protect us. How times change. When I was her age, I used my Krav Maga skills to attack a flasher who, day after day, would reveal himself to my friend and I on our early-morning runs through campus. If I could go back in time, I might not repeat such a risky, reckless thing. But back then I had no regrets, and he never bothered us again.

It made me happy to see my younger self still out there, enjoying the three magical elements of every successful spring break. Whenever I start to miss #1 and #2, I will think of her pretty face and remember that the spirit of spring break lives on.

Until then, we’ve got plenty to keep us going.


In which Bunz wreaks havoc on Ms. C’s kindergarten class

Exciting news, everyone! We recently started working with a behaviorist to address some of the negative attention-seeking behaviors that Bunz loves so much. We’re learning to out-trick the trickster, so to speak.

Our lives are about to be magically transformed:


My husband and I got the idea for a behaviorist from the show Parenthood. If you’ve never watched it, one of the lead characters is a boy with Asperger syndrome. At first we were like: “Why is Minka Kelly following that boy around?” And then: “How do we get a Minka Kelly?”

As we started to investigate, we realized behaviorists are all around. You just have to know where to look. Our babysitter, as it turns out, is a behaviorist. (This whole time, right under our noses. How did we not know that about her?)

But these days she has her hands full teaching energetic first graders. So she recommended we work with her close friend, Jane, who—go figure—is also a behaviorist. For 6 years we knew nothing of these people, and now they’re everywhere.

“Jane has worked wonders in my classroom!” our babysitter said. “I love my life now! Teaching is so easy! I’m never even tired anymore!”

Ok, so she didn’t actually say those last two things. But she did mention something about her life being much easier, which is something I sincerely want to bottle up and present to Bunz’ kindergarten teacher, Ms. C.

I love Ms. C. I love that she is efficient and nice-but-not-too-nice and extremely good at her job. I love that she is creative and smart and communicative and has a sense of humor. And most importantly, I love that she seems to love my Bunz. Or at least tolerates him on bad days.

She is definitely aware of this because I’ve written her at least two (three?) cards saying so. It’s not that I’m a brownnoser. I just really want her to know that as a person, I feel some remorse for wreaking havoc on her perfectly organized classroom. But as a mother, I can’t let remorse get in the way of the best path for Bunz.

And that’s where Jane comes in.

The first time I met Jane for coffee, I could tell she was a perfect match. A lot of skilled therapists work with Bunz, but few really get him. Some view his cleverness, his love of mayhem, his modus operandi as flaws to be corrected. I got the feeling Jane thought they might boost his future star potential if we could make a few little tweaks here and there. It felt good to be on the same page.

Jane explained that she wouldn’t work directly with Bunz – rather, she would work through my husband and I, and Bunz’ teachers. She’ll empower us to implement a strategy and stick with it long after she has moved on to other little tricksters.

It sounded good. So I said, “Okay!”

After our meeting, I called Bunz’ school to ask permission for Jane to observe him in class.

“Hi Principal S, it’s Bunz’ mom. I wanted to — ”

“Oh hi, thanks for calling. Did Ms. C tell you what happened?”

Umm. No? But no matter. I had called at just the right moment to hear about it.

Incidentally, my darling child had grabbed another student’s art project – a paper panda – and torn the ears off. Then he grabbed someone’s jacket and refused to let go as Ms. C tried to wrench it from his aggressive little hands. Then he stomped around a bit and latched on to the classroom emergency backpack. Or maybe that happened another day. In any case, Ms. C marched Bunz straight up to the principal’s office, where she and Principal S explained in their rapid-fire foreign language that his behavior was not acceptable and he’s not to do it ever again.

“Wow, did he understand any of that?” I asked. Usually we have to speak slowly and repeat instructions to give Bunz time to process what we’re saying. In English.

“You know, it’s amazing how much he understands. When I said he didn’t let go, he responded in English, ‘But I did let go!’  Then I explained that he let go later, not when Ms. C asked him to.”

I’ve never felt more victorious and defeated all at the same time. Elated that he understood; terrified that he might eventually be considered too disruptive to stay at the school.

“So … how soon can Jane start?” I asked.

That was a couple of months ago. I think she started observing Bunz in class the next week.

I like it when Jane observes Bunz because it provides tangible evidence to support the existence of Santa Claus, which I’ll explain later. And also because she’s going to magically transform our lives, which is of course the reason we’re paying her. Of course.

Here’s an excerpt from her very first set of notes:

“Transition after table activity time: Bunz attempted to sit with the wrong group (Ms. C’s group) when he was asked to sit on the carpet and read with Ms. K [his paraprofessional]. Ms. C attempted to redirect twice: Once, by showing him that his name is not listed as part of that table group, and second: by pointing to the smile chart at the front of the room. She counted: 1, 2, 3 … Bunz waited until she was almost finished counting then said, “No!” as he knew that the smile face would be erased. When he continued to attempt to sit down, Ms. C stood up and erased the smile face. He later tried to ring the bell before Ms. C blocked it. This particular scene is reported to occur frequently.”

I immediately typed a long and remorseful note to Ms. C. I’m sure she saw my name pop up in her inbox on a Saturday night and thought, “Dear God. This woman is INSANE.” In my note, I proposed that we aren’t the monster parents that we appear to be. I swore up and down that we didn’t teach Bunz to grab the teacher’s bell and ring it like a maniac. I’m not sure where he gets this stuff, I wrote. I felt so bad.

(Later, my husband said, “You’re really not sure where he gets it? Really? When do you ever follow the rules? There is a clear family history.” After he said that, I thought long and hard about various family members’ life choices. Pop Pop’s tattoo of the exotic dancer; the way he’d wink at me before instigating a major family drama. Being 8 years old and frantically buckling my seatbelt as a family friend/ex-con came running out of a grocery store carrying what appeared to be a swordfish. I realized my husband had a point.)

Fortunately, Ms. C sent a very kind reply that same night, putting my heart at ease. So now you tell me: Is there anyone better than Ms. C?

No. The answer is No.

But back to Santa. While driving in the car the next day, I asked Bunz about ringing the teacher’s bell. Little Bear interrupted and said, “But Mama? How do you know?”

“How do I know what, Little Bear?”

“How do you know that Bunz rings the bell? Who told you?”

Suddenly, the car was quiet. Four little eyes stared at the back of my head.

Now, the thing about riding in my car is that any audio file from my phone could potentially start playing on the stereo at any time. We transition seamlessly from Uptown Funk to The World Is a Rainbow to a phone interview with an expert on fecal transplants. You just never know.

At that very moment, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne decided to start singing, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” There was an audible gasp from Little Bear.

I didn’t even need to say it.

Santa. He’s been watching. He KNOWS.

I looked at Bunz in the rearview mirror and saw his cunning grin and sparkling eyes. For a moment I thought I was looking at Pop Pop’s ghost. Bunz didn’t believe for one second that Santa had reported him. But Little Bear did, and it was hilarious.

So we left it at that.

From Jane’s notes so far, I have learned many things. Mostly that teaching Bunz requires agility and stamina; and that Bunz is even more of a handful than I previously suspected, if that’s even possible:

“English class with Ms. N: Bunz was observed to participate in whole group instructions (e.g., repeating phrases). When he was chosen to come up to the board and fill in a simple sentence with the correct word (He ___ she like to hop), he was observed to pick the wrong word. When Ms. N asked him if it sounded correct, he laughed and said yes. After Ms. N called on the class for another student to come try to pick the correct word, Bunz was observed to grab at Ms. N’s marker and the incorrect word saying, “But I want it!” He was easily redirected to sit down, as Ms. N ignored this behavior. When it was time to break up into table groups, it was observed that Bunz needed redirection to go sit down (he was interested in watching a peer put on a Band-Aid).”

Fortunately, Jane is excited about the prospects of implementing The Plan. Several things are working in our favor, she says. First of all, the school is very supportive. And Bunz has a 1-on-1 paraprofessional for most of the day, which will ensure consistency and follow-through, and give his young para a few tricks for her ever-expanding toolbox. Good times all around.

In a couple of weeks, we hope to roll out The Plan.

I’ll keep you posted!



(aka “Pop Pop”)

Meet Bunz!

I’m excited to introduce you to Bunz, the star of this blog! Having no idea where to begin, I’ve created this handy Top 10 list. Hopefully this will explain everything you need to know to follow this blog.

Top 10 Things to Know About Bunz

10. First, the hard stuff: Bunz was born in 2008, the year my mother-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer. Having a baby and losing a parent is a lot for one year. But there was more: Baby Bunz had major medical problems at birth. Eventually he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. All these things made for an intense year. Sometimes I wonder what our life would be like if he didn’t have these issues. As it turns out, it would be pretty boring.

team bunz photos

9. Fast-forward 6 years and Bunz is in love with the singer from Icona Pop because she’s such a badass that she crashed her car into the bridge AND DOESN’T CARE. My darling baby boy turned to me the other day and said, with a gleam in his eye:

“Mama, I love her.”

8. Last fall, Bunz informed us that when he grows up, he wants to be a punk rocker:

“Let me show you. I wanna eyebrow ring and a nose ring. And an earring (gesturing for a small hoop at the top of his right ear, and studs on both ears). And my name gonna be Ms. Lee. And I’m gonna be 25. And Mama? My hair gotta be pink. With a candy cane in back.”


7. Bunz would also like to be In Charge. Preferably right now, but also when he grows up. This could entail being a police officer, for example. Or possibly a school principal. His very first conversation with the principal of his elementary school is telling. Things were already tense that day because I was trying to make a case that her rigorous, high-achieving language immersion school was the best placement for my child with multiple disabilities.

Principal, sternly: “Hello Bunz. My name is Principal S. I’m the boss of this school.”

Bunz, casually picking at the bindings of books on her bookshelf: “Uh, NO … I’m the boss of this school.”

Principal: “No Bunz, you’re the boss of yourself. I’m the boss of this school.”

Bunz, pretty sure he’s right: “No … I’m the boss of this school.”

A few months later, in the car:  

“Bunz, randomly: “Principal S wears little circles in her ears.”

Little Bear: “Haha, why do you say that? Do you want to wear little circle earrings?”

Bunz: Shakes his head, smiling. “When I’m boss I’ma wear big circles in my ears.”

6. More than anything in the world, Bunz loves music. He says he loves me a million times, but I bet he loves music a hundred million and fifty. Before he was born, I mumbled along to hymns and singalongs and mostly just tried to blend in. Then, before I knew it, Bunz and I were belting out songs from the Sound of Music in the YMCA locker room; jamming to Music Together on the street; singing loudly and proudly (to my husband’s complete and utter embarrassment). Fortunately, he is always on pitch. Me, not so much. (“No, it’s a C, Mama. C. Like this. C-C-C-C-C!”)

Here’s a video of him at age 3, sitting down for the first time at a free piano we found on Craigslist:

5. He loves to memorize the most random things. He will tell you the name of that guy he sat next to on the train last week and the license plate number of our neighbor’s car. At age 1 and a half he could say the alphabet backwards and forwards. At age 3, he knew the capitol cities and nicknames of all 50 states. That same year, he memorized the ASL alphabet from a poster on his daycare wall and memorized the multiplication table up to the 10s from a placemat. (He has since forgotten most of the multiplication table, but not the states.)

We would always bring this up in response to #4, and we were always told that memorizing random information is not a Good Sign unless you actually know how to use the information. Around that time, Bunz was using his new-found love of geography to make snarky jokes: “Do Juneau the capital of Alaska?” he’d ask his teacher, then squeal in delight before she could answer. Apparently that wasn’t what the cognitive test people had in mind. When he turned 5, I heard him sound out ‘pedestrian’ — and in that moment, I knew #4 was partly a load of crap.

 4. According to standardized tests, Bunz’ cognitive abilities are profoundly low. Or very superior. One or the other. If you ask the teachers at Little Bear’s preschool, they’d probably put him in the profoundly low range because the only word he ever says to them is “triangle.” When we get there, he beams and exclaims, “Triangle!” and they shower him with love and graham crackers. They had no idea he could speak full sentences until a few weeks ago, when I told them. They probably still don’t believe me.

Similarly, a local regional center for people with disabilities placed his cognitive abilities in the 1st percentile and told us he qualifies for intellectual disability services. You can’t beat free shadow aides for the after-school program and summer camp. But also – gosh. Just… gosh.

A more recent test administered by a school psychologist put his abilities in the Superior and Very Superior range for multiple areas, which is consistent with his report cards so far:


But honestly. What would you do with conflicting information like this? Where would you even start to think about your son, his potential, his future? What would you hope for? How hard would you push? We don’t know, so we just assume the best. In our eyes, Bunz is an exuberant, strong-willed, absent-minded genius. He continues to make steady progress in all areas, which is encouraging.

In one of my favorite blog posts ever, a mom writes:

“Wake up! Your kid is off the charts? Burn the charts.”

I love her like Bunz loves Icona Pop.

3. Bunz is a trickster, which goes a long way toward explaining the “Very Low” score for “Understanding Directions” in #4. He’s happiest when pushing buttons, and I don’t mean electronic ones (though he loves those, too). While he’s doing that exuberant, spastic dance in front of you, basking in your attention, he’s actually sizing you up to see what buttons are available for him to push at a later date. Preferably when you present him with a set of directions to follow.

Consider Little Bear, for example. What does Little Bear love more than anything in the world? Knowing the right answer! Little Bear raises his hand in class and talks over the other kids like nobody’s business (I know, we’re working on it). So what did Bunz do? He taught Little Bear all the wrong color names and letter sounds. On purpose. With a devilish grin. For the longest time we thought Little Bear was color blind and dyslexic.

2. Bunz won’t eat anything but cheese and yogurt. At least right now. Hopefully that will change after a few months of feeding therapy (aka “Food School”). A year ago, back when he loved “SAUSAGE-EGGS!” and ate almost everything except green veggies, I didn’t understand picky eaters. I thought maybe the parents just weren’t trying hard enough. Or maybe they were Vegan. Or maybe they kept too much junk food in the house, so naturally the kids weren’t going to want real food.

Now look at my shopping cart:

FullSizeRender(8)See this? This is my punishment for being so judgmental before. For attending Vegan Potlucks and cringing when my charming little carnivore shouted, “SAUSAGE-EGGS! SAUSAGE-EGGS, MAMA!”

Now Bunz refuses water and won’t even drink juice (juiceFullSizeRender(9)!) unless it’s topped off with the head of a pretty blonde lady. He has a collection of “ladies” that he brings to school and keeps with him during carpet time. I can only imagine what the other kids think about that.

Incidentally, the clinic psychologist said that some kids will actually starve themselves rather than eat. (She said nothing about his fascination with blonde ladies.) Kids like Bunz tend to have sensory issues or gastrointestinal irregularities, she said. But just for the record, it’s actually a Thing. It’s not that we messed up as parents. Some kids just won’t eat anything. Even the oh-so-tempting junk food in my shopping cart.

I should put this stuff back.

1. Bunz charms everyone he meets. Without exception. Twenty-something drama queens who can’t stand kids find themselves catering to his every need before they even know what hit them. Watch out or you could be next. You’ll see a random kid running toward you on the street and his rapid approach will activate your fight-or-flight response, but the exuberance in his face will keep you rooted to the ground. If only out of curiosity. “Come!” he will exclaim, grabbing your hand. You’ll look at me, hesitantly, wondering whether it’s ok to say no. Or yes. Shit. What should you say. You’ll be totally confused. “Oh! Uh, haha, I can’t come! I have to go to work/meet my friend/feed my guinea pig!” you’ll say, and feel really badly for saying it (promise me you’ll feel bad. You will, right?). Then, after allowing him to give you a hug and a smile, I will pry his little hands from yours and drag him down the street, on toward his next best friend. Welcome to Team Bunz. 😉