Alias Floop

This is my little hound dog. His name is Flops.

 

Flops is the product of a backyard breeder, and sometimes I amuse myself by referring to him as a throwback, since he more resembles a Basset Artésien Normand than a classic basset hound. (I don’t think he is one, nor would it even matter.) He’s dealt me a great deal of misery, but he’s the canine love of my life.

His previous owners knew we were dog people, and they asked us about their puppy. They couldn’t manage him, they said; might we want him? They held him up by the scruff of his neck; 3 months old, all ears and feet, caked in mud and stuffed with worms. Of course we did. They’d called him Snoopy, but we rechristened him after his habit of collapsing halfway through all but the shortest walks.

That was five years ago, and he’s been through Hell. He had puppy strangles, entropion, red mange. At 2 years old, he suffered an injury that left his back legs paralyzed. He recovered after a nightmarish 6 weeks; the only lingering effects are a grouchy disposition and a fetching sway in his gait.

Healthy, well-kept basset hounds can be counted on for a good 10-12 years. We care for him as best we can, but given his setbacks, we expect 8 and will rejoice at 10. Whenever his time comes, I’ve prepared my husband and family. They’re gonna have to dig two holes.


Perspective

I got me some badly-needed perspective today in light of another blogger’s tragedy.   It’s her story and I won’t tell it, but suffice it to say that it made me look at my own circumstances with a new mind’s eye and be thankful, truly grateful, for everything I have.   How long has it been since I took stock of all the things I take for granted and realized how unbelievably blessed I am?

Peace to you, Tashi, and Godspeed to Wash.


Politics

I get my politics from my mother.  This is a great revelation to me, as I wasn’t really aware I had politics until recently.  Thinking back on it, though, I think I know when the seeds were planted.  Jimmy Carter was in office, so I wasn’t even 10 years old (Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the year I turned 11).  I turned on the TV and instead of the program I wanted to see, there was ol’ Jimmy, holding forth on some boring thing or other.  I was a smart-aleck youngster, so I popped off some uncharitable comment which brought an entirely unexpected reaction from my mother.  “You don’t talk about him that way!  He’s a good man.”  I remember this so clearly because it was shocking; my mother is very laid-back and she almost never speaks sharply.  I must have asked her why.  “He tries to help ordinary people,” she said.  It stuck with me.

In due time, Reagan took office.  My mother was unimpressed; she knew him as an actor, and his economic policies did not sit well with her Depression-raised sensibility.  I, in my teenaged-know-it-all stage, heartily agreed.  I was a nightowl then as now; I would sit up late watching the new cable TV with the volume turned low and soon developed a fondness for Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House in those days.  His Irish bluster and small tolerance for fools appealed to me, but my scatter-shot attention span prevented me from following the issues and ordinary teenage-girl concerns eventually took over.

Years passed, and I married.  He was a Republican.  This dismaying fact didn’t diminish his appeal; he talked to me about his political ideology, I talked to him about mine, and we decided that the way to ensure a peaceful household would be to never talk politics.  Since neither of us were terribly politically-minded, it worked out well.  My mother had told me though the years about how her parents would drive to the polls together and knowingly cancel each other’s votes, so I reckoned we were carrying on a family tradition.   He shook his head bemusedly when I pulled the lever for Bill Clinton, and I probably said something snarky when he voted for George W. Bush, but we carried on amicably.  At some point, we realized that his actual values were much more akin to mine than those of the party he associated with.  He now enjoys debating politics from a leftward viewpoint on social media, whereas I largely keep my politics to myself and vote my conscience.  This policy has served me well, though I grow increasingly distressed with each major election.  I still see the Democratic party as the party of Jimmy Carter, that good man who tried to help the ordinary people, and it saddens me to see those ordinary people voting against their own interests.


Deficient

Everybody has those few moments of shining brilliance that stand out like beacons in their memory; even I do.  What I also have, though, are equally clear memories of epic derpitude.

Second grade:  Miss Martin crawling my ass because of the way I put the rick-rack on my pantyhose-egg Easter project.  I liked my egg; I hadn’t realized there was a right or a wrong way to put rick-rack on a pantyhose container; guess I was mistaken.  The term “absent-minded” was used.

Fifth grade:   Gazing out the window on a balmy spring afternoon, only to be record-scratched back to the present by the dread sound of my name being called.  For what?  To answer a question?  Was it a fire drill?  Perhaps my hair was on fire?  My panic was equal to any of the three.

Eleventh grade English:  I trudged to Mrs. Little’s desk for a book report.  The look of brow-raising contempt on her face as I held the book out to her was my first indication that I’d done something wrong.  She took the book gingerly, like a foul thing, and for the first time I was introduced to the concept of class reading lists.  My classmates had evidently been aware of this since the beginning of the year.  Suffice it to say, my book wasn’t on the list.

Eleventh grade English, part II:  We’d been studying haiku, a lesson which terminated with each of us standing and reciting one of our own composition.  I was chosen to follow Rusty, a rough country boy who’d just delivered an unexpectedly delicate and lovely haiku.  I don’t remember mine, but the subject was dawn and the feeling when one witnesses the birth of a new day.  As I finished, Mrs. Little, evidently still annoyed by the book report, said, “You’re never up at dawn, are you?”  Honesty compelled me to admit I never had been, and I was allowed to retake my seat.

Eleventh grade English, part III:  We were called upon to grade each others’ assignments by passing them back one seat.  Billy got mine.  Now, Billy was a smart guy and, I thought, a stand-up guy as well.  Therefore I couldn’t understand why he felt the need to clarify with Mrs. Little that it was unacceptable for me to have responded to the short essay question with dialogue from the previous night’s episode of Miami Vice.   (I still have no idea how that happened.)

My mother had long since resigned herself to my average and below-average grades (though a memorable reaction from her when I brought home my first failing report card stays in my memory) and bewildered reports from teachers mentioning my potential if I would only apply myself.  Apply myself.  I had no idea how.  I wasn’t even sure what that meant.  As early as seventh grade, some of my classmates already knew where they were going to go to college and what they wanted to study.  I could barely keep track of assignments due the next day.  I tried to pay attention in class, but very little held my interest.  My mind drifted and I would savagely yank it back, only to find it drifting again.  I floated through school, very much on a day-to-day basis.  I doodled.  I’m sure I daydreamed.  One teacher told my mother that I hid a paperback inside my textbook, but I can state that that never happened.  I’d have been far too afraid to try something like that.  That was too … premeditated, and none of what I did was premeditated.  I didn’t act, I reacted.

The teachers eventually gave up.  I’d been in a gifted and talented program in elementary school, due, I guess, to a small talent with drawing, but it ended and was never mentioned again.  Within a couple of years, my difficulty with mathematic concepts landed me in what I now realize was a special ed class with two boys.  We didn’t do anything (literally, we did nothing.  The teacher was an elderly woman and rarely showed up.  We drew on the board, mostly).  I transferred the next year and found myself…floating.  Even if I’d realized I needed help, I wouldn’t have known where to turn.  I thought my experience was normal, and that my difficulties were because I was stupid.  Hell, that’s what my teachers thought, and I had no better explanation.   I had no choice but to go with it.  I muddled through my classes, sporadically turning in assignments (one teacher showed my poor mother columns and columns of assignments I’d apparently just ignored.  I probably tuned out the class instructions).

Despite these lowlights, I managed to graduate from high school and on time, though I was nobody’s idea of a scholar.  College never crossed my mind, though I attempted trade school for a semester.  I left to go work and then got married.  My husband, a born educator, helped me to realize that the problem was not low intelligence (that’s another post!) but that assurance was empty.  I remembered the helpless feeling of my mind drifting away, and the problem had hounded me through my work life.  I’d lost jobs because of it, and had never been able to even hang onto a hobby.  The thought of having children and all that goes along with it was quite out of the question.

Twenty years went by, and a chance conversation on an internet forum flipped a switch in my mind.  I’d heard of attention-deficit disorder, but I’d only applied it to little kids.  When I read a list of symptoms and tendencies, though, I realized that nearly every one of them described me, for as far back as I could remember.  I read more about it, and it explained everything.  To say it was a revelation is a hilarious understatement.  It was as though someone had written an article with the express purpose of explaining me to myself.

That was five or so years ago.  I’d love to report that everything has changed, that I immediately began to apply myself and got a better job and a better house and a better car and an education.  None of those things has happened.  I struggle every day.  I take Adderall when I can afford it, and it helps.  I use the coping mechanisms that I spent my life unwittingly developing.  I ask for understanding and sometimes I get it.  The main change is that I go easier on myself now.  I’m not stupid; I never was.  I know my limitations and how to work around them, and I’m a lot more comfortable asking for help.  ADD explains me, but it doesn’t define me.


Damn ADD

I had an idea for a blog post.  I composed it in my head while I was in the shower.

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen, trying to re-trace through all that to get to the original point.  FML


Hopeless

I gave up hope the other week.  I accepted that life was never going to improve, and as a result I feel better than I have in a long time.

It sounds counterintuitive, so let me explain.  My husband has Asperger’s syndrome.  We only realized this a few months ago, after another lost job.   Our two decades of marriage are littered with lost jobs, short friendships, and aborted projects.  I’ve long known there was something about Kelsey that didn’t fit the expected mold, something that keeps him from living according to the life script that most people happily and mindlessly adhere to.  I’ve never minded that; in fact, I celebrate it.  His oddness is what makes him who he is, and I love who he is.  I joke that he’s dragged me kicking and screaming into some of the best experiences of my life.  Not all of those experiences have been so positive, though, and we find ourselves in our 40s still living a lifestyle more common among people who are just starting out.

I’ve had countless conversations that revolve around trying to solve the mystery.  “There’s got to be something I’m missing,” I’d say after he would come home, having quit or, more frequently, been fired from a job that he’d been good at and even having earned glowing reviews.  I knew he was good at most types of work.  I knew he wasn’t lazy or afraid of work.  He’s highly intelligent and his coworkers typically like him.  The only thing I could think of was his awkwardness in social situations, but I never considered it seriously because work =/= socializing.

On hearing of Asperger’s, I’d researched it a bit, wondered if he might not have some of the tendencies, and promptly forgot about it.  After he lost his last job  over an utter triviality, I remembered some of the hallmarks of the syndrome and blurted out a diagnosis, “You know what you’ve got?   You’ve got Asperger’s!”  I was kind of mad and immediately ashamed of myself for phrasing it as an accusation.   To his credit, he wanted answers as badly as I did, and he threw himself into research.  Within a short time he’d found a therapist and got an appointment set up for testing, and weeks later had a diagnosis in hand.

There’s no cure for Asperger’s, and no medical treatment.  It’s on the autism spectrum, though there’s some debate as to whether it really belongs there.  It’s neurodevelopmental in nature and is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.  Like autism, it presents differently in different patients and is present to varying degrees.  As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one person with Asperger’s, you’ve met … one person with Asperger’s.”  High intelligence is typical, as is stilted, formal behavior and speech and a narrow focus of intense interest (to the layperson:  Monologues about weird obsessions).

In addition to this, Kelsey has what we call “trouble switching gears.”  He has the ability to multitask but has tremendous difficulty switching between tasks.  Asking him to stop doing something he’s engaged in and do something else is akin to shifting your car into sideways.  The gear doesn’t exist.  This peculiarity has been the cause of more trouble than any other thing that most couples argue about – maybe any two.  One would think that, now that I understand this quirk of his nature and have accepted it, that it wouldn’t frustrate me anymore.  One would be wrong.  If I’m in the wrong mood, it can still very much send me into orbit.  I was in the wrong mood the other day.

I noticed evidence that a task I’d been asking him to do for days was still undone, despite numerous assurances that it would be taken care of.  I, if I may be indelicate, flipped my shit.  I stormed; he defended.  I raged; he raged back.  I escalated and he began to retreat, and that’s when realization broke over me.  My anger drained away, replaced by weariness and a tentative light of hope.  I asked him, “is this as good as it’s ever going to get?”

He was mistrustful.  “No,” he replied.  “I’m trying.  Can’t you see that I’m trying?”

I told him that I knew he was trying, but that it wasn’t going to get any better.  I could see that it hurt him, but I had to keep going.  I asked him again and said that he needed to admit that the current state of affairs was the best I could expect.  He didn’t understand.

“Can you honestly say that I haven’t improved at all?  If you can, then I’ll tell you anything you want.”

I thought about backing down.  I did – I could see that he was confused and hurt, and I didn’t want to prolong it or cause any more, because, in fact, he has improved.  He truly is trying, very hard, to improve himself and his habits all the time.  I have always been careful not to squelch this.  I had to, though.  Something had to give, and unfortunately, it was this.  I said yes.

He mumbled, “Then things are never going to improve.   This is as good as it gets.”

I explained what was happening and he nodded.  The next morning, I could report to him that it had worked.  The symptoms of the terrible stress I’ve been under for months had already started to lift.  I had slept better.  My jaw wasn’t sore from clenching it all night.  I had no headache, either that morning or in the evening, and I didn’t feel sore all over.  Within the week, I had stopped clenching my jaw during the daytime too, and other nagging little issues that had been plaguing me resolved.  My mood was much lighter and I stopped feeling persecuted by life (back to my usual level, anyway).

It sounds like I gave up on my husband, but all I did was manage my expectations.  I had to stop expecting him to perform at an unreasonable (for him) level, and in doing so, I’ve gained the ability to really see and appreciate the great strides he’s making.  Losing hope was one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.


Alpha and Omega

Did you know I’ve got a twin brother?  Yeah, he’s the older, by about 15 years.  Other than that, and the four siblings born between him and me – yeah boy, we’re fraternals.

Altogether I have five siblings; all older; Len, Sharon, Tommy, Cathy and Gail.  We love each other but we don’t have very much in common, except, I guess, for Len and me.  He was born in early 1955, a baby boomer by any standard, and I was born in the fall of 1969, the last gasp of the decade that defined his generation.  I don’t remember ever sharing a house with him; by the time I was old enough to remember, he was grown and gone.  My earliest memory of him is a small framed picture in the living room, a newspaper clipping announcing his entry into the armed services.  The Air Force sent him overseas and we got back hilarious letters telling of Turkish customs that seemed so exotic to our country sensibilities.

Elton John had a song out about that time, Daniel, which tells of a traveling older brother.  There’s the hint of a backstory, a mystery; the singer is torn between missing his brother and wanting his happiness.   I associated that song with my own absent brother so strongly that even now, over 30 years later, I still can’t extricate the two.  I don’t think I’ve ever told him.

My brother is back now – back from Turkey, back from his travels, back in my life.  We talk sometimes, and it’s always a joy.  For two people raised in different eras, in different households, with utterly divergent paths in life, we have an extraordinary amount in common.  We have a similar sense of humor and sense of the absurd.  We each have unrealized artistic ability, though he has more natural talent than I do.  We hold similar (unpopular) religious and political beliefs.  Our minds run along the same paths.  We like the same music, the same comedians.  We’re thinkers in a family of doers (that sounds insulting – both ways – but it isn’t meant to).   We get each other.   Our mother jokingly refers to us as Alpha and Omega, which bemuses him and tickles me.

So, okay, he’s not really my twin.  That’s all right; he’s a swell brother and a great friend, and he doesn’t know what he means to me.