hip hip hippo.

As you know, I am totally pumped about doing some new designs for Greetings by Grant, among other goals for this year. I have had folks ask me how I take Grant’s drawings and turn them into art on a tee or notecard. Well, you guys are going to get a peek at how the magic happens.

Grant begins with a sketch on paper, usually done in his all-time favorite tool, the Sharpie. He’s not particular on the color. I am proud to say this son of mine is a lover of all Sharpies, and would never discriminate.

Grant uses around 250 to 300 sheets of paper a week (yes, we recycle). I try to keep favorites before he throws it into the recycle bin. He does not like it at all if he sees me rooting around the bin, as those drawings are not up to his standards. The funny thing is, those are often my favorites because they have a tiny mistake that makes the drawing even more lovable.

Then, I use the sketch to create an image that can be colorized. More on that to come. The most important part of my job is to keep the integrity of his drawing.

So, here are two drawings that I am starting to work on for my April order. I will show you the process in more detail as I move forward.

This little guy was dubbed by Grant to be a “hip hip hippo.”

And I am thinking these guys are going to be “dino-mite!”

Stay tuned and you will see how I bring these cuties to life.

Greetings by Grant

It’s a new year, and I’ve been thinking about my little business, Greetings by Grant. Those of you who don’t know about Greetings by Grant, let me get you up to speed. It is my effort to showcase Grant’s art on tees, baby items and notecards. I started several years ago, although took last year off. I was feeling overwhelmed and needed the break.

I told myself that I was going to get back to Greetings by Grant this year. Because I love it. And it is important to me. So I am just need to find the time, find the energy, and do it. Because it matters.

I love to talk to people about Grant. I love to see people wearing his designs. People dig his art, plain and simple. And I am convinced it makes them think differently about what a handicap is, and way more importantly, what it isn’t. And that is the whole thing. That’s why I do it, this labor of love that is Greetings by Grant. His purpose on Earth is to share his gift, and I am pretty sure God picked me to be his mom so I could help him.

So I guess I better get off my ass.

So here is what I am putting in writing for you, my blog readers. And you have to hold me to it. I am starting work on new tee designs, and I am doing a new order in April. And I will do a few shows this summer, although I am going to be choosy because, after all, I’m not superwoman. And Grant, who is really the brains behind this operation, seems cool with that.

So first off for the spring is a parade of whimsical dinosaurs with silly, toothy grins and a baby hippo. Much more to come. But  I will need to talk to Grant about the warthogs he has been drawing all week. They just don’t have the marketable quality we’re looking for here at Greetings by Grant.

But what the hell do I know, I just work here.

And now, some of his old designs, but still some of my faves:

Sweet thing.

All right y’all, I won’t always be blogging about special needs parenting. I also love to talk about family fun on the cheap. Frugal is cool, after all.

So now is a good time to tell you about my addiction. Its name is cupcake. Lily and I had a Girls’ Day Sunday that included baking 4 dozen cupcakes. We used a red and pink theme in honor of American Heart Month coming up around the corner, and also, because we love pink. As I may have mentioned.

I only spent about $6 on this project. I needed two boxes of cake mix, one of which I had. (I used classic white and funfetti white). I needed two cans of icing, one in strawberry and one in classic vanilla (had a coupon). I already had pink and red sprinkles at home, but you can get a big container for about $1.29 at Wallie World. The wrapping paper I used came from the dollar spot at Target. For the trays, I re-used Christmas ones that we wrapped in the heart paper. We gave cupcakes to lots of friends!

Here are photos:

And here’s a picture of my other sweet thing:

The bingo bitch is my new BFF

There are a lot of things about myself that I wish I could change. I talk a lot, and loudly at that. I have weird germ-a-phobe quirks like I don’t like to touch my food with my hands, which means I eat things with a fork that other people don’t. Like cookies. Or cheeseburgers. I also have issues with directions, and have spent half my life somewhere lost. Seriously. Half.

But one thing about myself that I am most proud of is I don’t judge other people. Ever. Ever. I credit my mom with having ingrained this quality into me. She is the most open-minded and open-hearted person I know.

So what does all this have to do with anything, and who in the world is the Bingo Bitch? I am getting to that.

I found myself at the laundromat this afternoon after days of cooties had swept through the house, concluding with a stomach thing that was terrible. Yep, all manner of symptoms and illnesses were present and accounted for. And this meant that it was high time to wash all of the bedding including the comforters. So off to the laundromat I went.

Not to digress, but I have to say that I really dig the Laundromat. It’s really warm and cozy in there, and it smells super good with all its Downy April Fresh fabulousness. Plus there are lots of good magazines, and the hum of the dryers is quite relaxing. That and nobody in there asks me to get them a sippy of juice or wipe their bottom when I am in the middle of eating. (And I may very well grab myself a snack because did I mention they have candy machines in there too?)

So anyway, what kind of goes along with being non-judgmental is I tend to think everyone is my next undiscovered BFF, and thus they must be dying for me to strike up a conversation with them.( Actually, maybe this isn’t something to be proud of. When I say it like that it just sounds annoying.)

So there were two gals doing laundry when I arrived. And man, were they doing some laundry. They had almost every machine full. And they were obviously good friends, and seemed to be having a pretty good time, considering (although hell, who knows, maybe they also love the Laundromat). I did wonder if they might think I was a little strange if I were to just strike up a conversation with them, not that it stopped me or anything. But I will admit it crossed my mind. I mean, I was wearing my favorite fluffy pink scarf and flower clip in my hair with leggings and Uggs, and they, well, weren’t wearing that.  If I recall, one of the gals was wearing winter coveralls, kind of like a mechanic would wear, and the other gal had on house shoes and a tee shirt with “Bingo Bitch” on the back of it.

But they were super fabulous. I mean, they did seem a little surprised when I started chatting them up, but well, I am kind of loud and scary tall and all that pink can take some getting used to.

But if I was someone who judged others, and worse, didn’t want to be friends with people who weren’t just like me, I might not have talked to them. That would have been my loss.

Because you know what those two ladies were doing in there on a Saturday afternoon they had off work? They were doing laundry (34 loads) for an elderly couple that lived near them. The wife is overwhelmed caring for her husband who unfortunately is suffering from Alzheimer’s. And this poor wife had purchased a new washer and dryer set, but it was not working. (Which made us wonder if this poor woman wasn’t being taken advantage of because it was still under warranty and she had called the repair service line several times. Totally uncool to take advantage of sweet little old people, and it’s a good thing I had my fabulous new phone with internet because I jumped right on there and got another place she could call. Take that you grouchy meanie who wouldn’t help, you are no match for my new droid. And I got it for just such an occasion.)

So there you have it. A perfect example of why you should look at others not with a critical eye, but as a friend you haven’t made yet. And why you shouldn’t judge others because they don’t look like you do (and if you are almost six feet tall and love to wear pink glasses, scarves and flower pins, that would really narrow it down).

So the next time I need to wash our rugs or bedspreads, I hope I see my new friends at the Laundromat. Because I forgot to ask where she got that cool Bingo Bitch tee. I gotta get me one of those.

In pink, of course.

Message from Holland

Like most moms of a special needs child, I love the poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley. Her words perfectly describe the journey of raising a child with a disability. It likens this experience to getting on a plane destined for your dream vacation in Italy only to find out you ended up in Holland. A little less flashy perhaps, but a place filled with windmills and tulips and wonderful people you may never have met in Italy.

Last I checked, Grant had nine “ologists.” So I figure I am kinda like the mayor of Holland. And I have a lot of neighbors. The CDC estimates that the number of children affected by an autism spectrum disorder alone is 1 in 110.

And as a proud resident of Holland, there is one thing I always focus on when I have a day where it is hard to stay positive. And that is to concentrate on the can and not the can’t.

Because I have noticed that too often when a child is referred to as “special needs,” the focus is almost always on what he can’t do. He can’t speak at an age-appropriate level, he can’t walk as early as other children, or he can’t make eye contact with others. My take is we should instead focus on what they can do. And I am not alone in that feeling. The teachers, therapists and other caregivers that love these amazing kiddos agree.

Because if you open your eyes and your hearts, these kids can change your life. They can make you appreciate the little things like finding an acorn at the playground. In short, they can make you a better person just by knowing them. And when they do, finally, on their own timetable, take that first step or make eye contact, they can make your heart grow three sizes in a second.

Yeah, they can do all that and more. Because here in Holland, that’s just how we roll.

WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by
Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go.

Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills … and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy … and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But … if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

Meet Mr. B

Somewhere in a little town in Indiana, an elementary special education teacher gets paid way too little for what he does. That same teacher has 15 extraordinary children that probably will never fully know how lucky they are to have him. And that teacher has a note propped on his desk that says “When you have a bad day, read this so you know how blessed these kids are to have you.”

I know all this because I live in that little town, and my kid is one of those 15. And I wrote that note.

That teacher’s name is Mr. B. He’s been Grant’s teacher for four years in the Explorer’s Program, the program for children in our schools that are mildly to moderately mentally handicapped. And if he ever needs an organ, he can totally have mine.

Why do I love this man? Because he took it upon himself to find funding to take a Greyhound bus full of special needs children to Chicago. To see the aquarium and Navy Pier of course. And as a treat for doing well on an assignment, he once let Grant sit in his “wheely” desk chair and raced him down the hallway like it was the Indy500.

If you could see Grant and Mr. B together, it would truly warm your heart. Grant gravitates to him like he is the sun. And Mr. B loves him back. But don’t think that means he goes easy on Grant, because he doesn’t. He knows what Grant is capable of, and doesn’t accept less. He is the exact right combination of encourager and hard ass. Not an easy recipe, as any parent can agree.

So how did this fabulous person come into our lives? Well, we were lucky, that’s how. School systems across the U.S. report shortages in special education teachers. And statistics show that most of them only stay in the field for five years.

And since these folks clearly go into the field for the money and glamour – NOT – what does that tell you? It tells me they need more support to do the nearly impossible jobs they are given. Because of the 15 children under Mr. B’s tutelage, none have the same diagnosis/challenges. I can’t fathom the difficulty of his task.

The only thing I know to do is tell him how much we appreciate him. And hope he stays. Because he is one of the good ones. And there are lots more kids he hasn’t even met yet that need him.

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove,
what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank … but the world
may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” — Forest Witchcraft

Garage sale fun

So, this mom in a crap sandwich is doing a totally crappy job of keeping up her blog. Which totally sucks, because I actually really love to blog. Sadly, the crap that comes along in everyday life sometimes gets in the way of the crap that we love. Which is, well, crappy.

So my pledge to you is to write more crap. Even if it’s short crap. Or meaningless crap. Or not even good enough to be crap. So stop emailing me and facebook messaging me. I hear you. Someone will be with you shortly.

In light of this new pledge, here is a little fun to share. I found a headboard for Lily’s room at a garage sale for cheap. I fixed it up with a little sandpaper and spray paint and … check it out! And be warned, I am obssed with spray paint, so there will be a lot more crappy posts about this topic.

The real story

I am totally obsessed with the library. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. Mostly. But books are my crack.

On my night stand right now is Sense and Sensibility (I am into classics for the summer); Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series (Team Edward all the way, baby); one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original nine stories (yes, I got that from the young reader section, what’s your point?); and the final Harry Potter, quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read. Did I mention I have already read all of these books (um, multiple times)? I love new books, but an old favorite is bliss.

That said, I never get to just hang out at the library. You know, enjoy the smell. Because books smell awesome. Anyway, today I just had Avery with me, so I got to browse. And I found an entire section with books dedicated to parenting special needs/medically fragile children. How had I not seen this before?

So I sat down criss-cross-applesauce style on the floor and eagerly started poring over them. What gem might I find in all of these? But I was soon disappointed. I didn’t check out a single one. Even skimming them, I couldn’t relate to much of what I was reading.

So here a few of my own gems for parents of exceptional children (I totally love that word, by the way). Five lessons learned that I thought I would share:

Different keeps things interesting. Most kids with an autism spectrum disorder have some sort of sensory dysfunction. But what this really means is things like wet clothing will send them over the edge. Because it feels weird. And that means that you may be taking a shower, like I was this morning, and find that your autistic child accidentally spilled his apple juice all over his clothes. And then you might come downstairs to find him, like I did this morning, sitting naked, except for his Crocs, at the table, drawing a camel. With his clothes on the front porch.

A spoonful of sugar doesn’t compare to a good chaser. Books also don’t say much about disguising the taste of yucky stuff like liquid seizure medication or oral chemo. But if you think back to college, you already know the answer. Get a chaser. Root beer or a milkshake are solid choices. And pudding disguises most meds in pill form, but the best thing to do is to teach your child to swallow them whole. Grant learned at four, but I’ve known lots of two-year-olds that could do it. The secret to success: practice with M&Ms.

Sticks and stones are so much easier than words. Books don’t prepare you for the words that are going to hurt. Sticks and stones are a million times better than “moderately mentally retarded,” “delayed,” or our latest, “borderline functional intelligence.” I mean, what does that shit even mean? How could those words apply to my beautiful child that draws like a 10-year-old Picasso? Hearing them is pain that takes your breath away. But give it a minute. I promise you’ll breathe again. Because sometimes you also get to hear words like “remarkable improvement,” and the best one ever, “remission.”

Lean on Your Peeps. Speaking of these horrible words, sometimes you may find yourself really pissed at the people that use them when talking about your child. But I promise you, they don’t like them any better than you do. You will be hard pressed to find a special ed teacher or pediatric therapist that doesn’t consider their job a calling. God knows that whatever insane amount of money a pediatric oncologist makes, it isn’t nearly enough. Not even in the hemisphere of enough. So let these folks have your back. Realize they love your kid just like you do. Because, hello, how could they not?

Realize a New Normal: Books won’t prepare you for that day when you’re at a wedding, and you realize that your oldest child, your first baby, won’t ever get married. Or have his own family. And then you’ll cry. Not because the wedding is beautiful. But because life is sometimes ridiculously, tragically, unbelievably unfair.

But out of the blue this happens: You realize that the normal you never thought you would have is really okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. All the hard and horrible makes the good and joyful even more so. And that changes you for the better. So when you’re cleaning under the couch like I was this morning, and find a melted green popsicle, you won’t be as quick to yell. Because you will have the hard-won understanding that it is, after all, just a fucking popsicle.

And you will look at that stinking cute kid of yours, and you will be completely, 100 percent okay. Because, hello, how could you not?

(On a serious note, I have read some wonderful books over the years about autism, and several really good books on childhood cancer. I would be happy to recommend a few.)

Got art?

Have you met Grant? He’s sorta famous. It’s true. I mean, not like Jonas Brothers famous, but he does have his own little group of fans. You can’t quite put your finger on his star quality when you meet him, but you know it’s there. And you can’t help but love his art.

But what I think is so special about him is the passion he has for his drawing. At the age of four, he figured out that art was his thing. It makes him happy. He does it every single day, no matter what. It doesn’t matter that he rocks at it. Whatever. He could care less what we all think of it. All that he knows is he simply must draw, just like he must breathe, and just like he must eat goldfish crackers everyday for lunch.

And you can’t help admire how he owns this passion of his. If he wants to draw a lion, that is what he is going to draw. The first child psychologist to evaluate him found this out firsthand. Grant was almost 6, and the psychologist was attempting to find out his IQ so that they could determine what special services he would need in kindergarten. The test was a bit of challenge, as Grant was not really in the mood to be evaluated that day. If I recall, he was much more in the mood for pudding. That said, Jim did the best he could. I believe he ended up assigning an IQ of about 70 to Grant. Which makes him mildly to moderately mentally handicapped.

This number is sorta useless, however. That much was clear when we found him ordering DVDs from Amazon (after enabling one-click checkout). But back to poor Jim. At the case conference that year, he showed us the test results. Poor guy, he couldn’t even get Grant to copy a circle. Of course, then the speech therapist whipped out what could only be described as a landscape that he had done that morning. Jim had the good grace to snicker.

So what the hell is my point here? I do have one, I promise. And that is this. Grant’s lucky. Don’t get me wrong, the whole autism, seizure disorder, leukemia stuff undoubtedly blows. But despite all of those roadblocks, he loves his life. Everyday. And he does what he loves. Everyday. And he gets up in the morning happy. Everyday. And he finds art where the rest of can’t always see it.

In just one afternoon, he drew enough pictures to fill up our living room walls. They were covered with art. Just like his little 10-year-old soul.

So my question is this: where’s your art? I say you learn from the kid with the IQ of 70. Find what makes you happy and scotch tape it all over your soul.

And now, just for fun, a little photo collection.

Friends don’t let friends say stupid shit.

You know the saying, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” This post is along those lines. I have some experience in the “life just pulled the rug out from under me” department, and thus have some knowledge about grief and coping. I am kinda an expert on the stupid shit people say to the people in these situations. As your friend, I am going to let you in on the secrets. So you don’t find yourself saying the aforementioned stupid shit. Here are the highlights:

“God never gives you more on your plate than you can handle.”
I beg to fucking differ. God most certainly does give us more than we THINK we can handle, anyway. The person at the receiving end of this stupid statement likely feels like their plate was hijacked by some dude at discount night at the Golden Corral. And they think you, my friends, are carrying a tiny plastic Dora the Explorer plate with a grape on it. So keep this one to yourself. Lest they try and find the largest plate in their kitchen and bust your ass with it.

Speaking of God, be really careful about religious platitudes.
Faith is deeply personal, and at the best of times, people can struggle with it. For two years, I didn’t talk to God at all, except for the occasional one-sided conversation with lots of four-letter words (from me, not Him, just to clarify). Not two weeks into our family’s cancer journey I met four-year-old Betsy with an inoperable brain tumor. She had wasted away to nearly nothing, which is why her Strawberry Shortcake backpack that held her itty bitty oxygen tank nearly pulled her over. And that same day, some well-meaning moron told me just to pray for Grant because God works in mysterious ways. Really? I am pretty sure I mumbled “fuck off” under my breath and walked away. Even an army of the faithful couldn’t have helped me find Him in Betsy’s Strawberry Shortcake backpack that day.

Speaking of faith …
Struggling to know God in times of grief makes you human. He doesn’t judge, so you shouldn’t either. I found my way back. And I believe that faith isn’t supposed to be easy. If it was, wouldn’t everybody have it?

“I know what you are going through.”
Nope, it is doubtful you have a fucking clue. And that’s okay. If your friend lost their spouse, maybe you can’t relate exactly to this because you haven’t. But what you can do is love them and listen. That is what they need you to do.

Not saying anything at all.
This is way worse than saying stupid shit. People accept that when you say stupid shit, you mean well. And they love you for trying. But not acknowledging their grief is lame. It belittles their feelings. Makes them feel their grief isn’t important. And the people in this situation think that you, if you choose to take this approach, are the one uncomfortable with it. So try this instead, “This sucks and I am so sorry. I love you, and let me know when you need someone to talk to.” Just say that. And then hug them. And walk away before you start nervously spouting stupid shit. Which is exactly what I did at a funeral for a little boy named Gabe that lost his battle with leukemia. I tried so hard to say the right things to his mom, my friend Michelle, that I blabbed all kinds of nonsensical shit that wasn’t helpful at all. And then I cried so hard I dry-heaved in the church’s bathroom. Not one of my best moments. I could have used a “stupid shit” intervention myself, so be grateful I am giving you this one for free.