Recent Work By Sarah Maizes

Recently, The New York Times published an article by Julie Bosman titled, “Picture Books: No Longer a Staple for Children” which kicked up a lot of dust – and not from the picture books on the shelves.

Scientists are baffled by the recent discovery of a disturbing and potentially fatal childhood disorder known as “Suicidal Tikes Under-Utilizing Protective Indicators Dysfunction”, or S.T.U.U.P.I.D.

Diagnosis of S.T.U.U.P.I.D. children is on the rise no one can figure out why. Some experts say it is the result of environmental toxins. Others argue it has been around for years.

Karen Lahey’s daughter was diagnosed as STUUPID last December. “It all happened so fast. At first we noticed she liked to climb up on the kitchen counters then we caught her hanging out the second story window waving at the neighbor’s kitty. She could have killed herself! It was devastating.

” What makes a child STUUPID? We asked Dr. Emily Nolan a prominent pediatrician from Beverly Hills to explain. “Children’s brains work like a game of marbles. Each marble has the ability to tell another marble where to go. What to do. Each marble reacts naturally to another. When a child is STUUPID, they don’t make connections. They don’t see the indicators of danger all around them and their brains don’t trigger the crucial instinct to protect themselves. Essentially, for STUUPID children, some marbles are missing.“

How can you tell if your child is STUUPID? Despite the fact that their parents tell them “no”, STUUPID children feel the need to hurl their bodies through space, across slippery floors and into wall units containing crystal, limoge and other breakable objects. They’re unable to control their impulses and are oblivious to potential risk.

“My grandson, Kyle, could see a wall right in front of him and just keep running. It’s heartbreaking really.” Said a grandmother of a STUUPID child who asked not to be identified.

We interviewed one child who was born STUUPID and asked him “What is it that compels you to jump off the sofa over a glass coffee table and onto a slick hardwood floor right in front of a lit fireplace. The child simply answered, “I want to.” Apparently, total disregard for safety is the most common theme among children who are STUUPID.

“There is still so little we know about this disorder and we’re learning more every day. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between race or religion and children who are STUUPID. In fact, studies show that children of all races are susceptible to being STUUPID.

As of now, there is no known cure. Experts recommend that if you see signs your child is STUUPID, the best way to proceed is find a STUUPID support group in your area, hide sharp objects, and put your local fire department on speed dial.

My kids are frolicking! Really!! MY children!

They’re outside, they’re running around, they’re having fun — without colorful plastic toys, without a play structure, without an adult overseeing, supervising, or facilitating…without ME! Just a big backyard, rolling grass, a random hill or two and my kids. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were used to it. But I’m not.

We don’t live in the country. This is just our summer vacation.  At home, my kids almost never play outside, and they certainly don’t play outside without me standing there beside them suggesting what to play and showing them exactly how to play it.

When did kids stop knowing how to play?  When I was a kid the rule was: come home from school, disappear until dinner, show up for food and go to sleep.  My parents never watched us.   And they didn’t provide us with any “props” to facilitate our entertainment.  Okay, I had one of those geo-domes and a zip line.  But I barely used them.   What was the point?  The neighborhood was my oyster!   All of the kids would get together after school and climb trees, play Red Rover, and ride bikes around and around (and around and around and around…) in the wide circular driveway behind my house until my dad, irritated by our repetitive cycling came outside yelling “ENOUGH ALREADY!”  That’s the way frolicking was done in the olden days.

This is my fault.

My kids have just never really frolicked.   We live in a big city and they play inside where it’s safe.  They have video games, a playroom filled with toys, and a jacuzzi in the courtyard that I let them splash around in occasionally.   But the big outdoors scares them.  The most freedom my kids have enjoyed is riding their bikes in the street.  It sounds dangerous, but bike riding in my neighborhood consists of a grown-up, (i.e. “me”) standing in the middle of the street or sitting on the curb watching vigilantly in both directions for any car movement.  If I see any car along any road nearby I yell “CAR!” and the kids know to scatter immediately to the side of the road.   When the car is gone, I yell “CLEAR!” and they resume their riding.  That’s it.   And I sit right there the whole time…yelling…”CAR!” “CLEAR!” “CAR!…NO WAIT!…CLEAR!’

It’s unproductive.   And quite frankly, it’s boring.   Once I invited my neighbors to join me for a little curbside cocktail hour as we watched our kids riding up and down the street and took turns yelling “CAR!” and “CLEAR!” and “PASS THE WINE.”   It made it more entertaining.  But you can’t really do that everyday, can you?

So you can see why, when I look out my window of our summer house in the mountains and see my kids rolling down the hill in the front yard, chasing each other and “frolicking” outside I am so pleased.

It wasn’t easy to get here.  Our first day in the house I opened the back door to the yard and said “Go.”  They stood there and looked out at the wide expanse of foreign territory blinking.

“GO!” I tried to shoo them out the door.

“Are you coming with us?”

“Nope. I’m going to be right here in the kitchen cleaning up. I can see you through the window. Go play! Have fun!”

“Are there bears?”

“No there aren’t any bears. Well, there might be, but they’re not interested in coming into our yard while you’re running around.”

“Really?”

“Really.” I hoped I was right. But I wasn’t going to give them the bear excuse to bow out of playing in the yard.

“We’re scared.”

“Scared?   Of what?   Grass?  Leaves?  Fresh air??  You’re totally safe.  Look how beautiful it is!  Go play!”  I pointed to the lovely vista of rolling hills behind our house.   They were unconvinced.

“What are we supposed to do out there?”   I couldn’t believe they would look at this gorgeous yard and not know what to do with it.  “You can play catch!  You can play tag!  You can roll around on it.”

“How do you do that?”

“Roll?”   I was beside myself.   I had had enough of this.   I took them both outside by the hand to the top of a small hill and literally showed them how to roll down a hill.

“WEEEEEEEEE!!!!  I added enthusiastic sound effects to emphasize how much fun I was having.  “Come on!  Try it.”

Livi got down on the grass and rolled.  She rolled a little sideways, and partially under a bush but she was laughing like it was the funniest thing she had ever done.  Ben, convinced by Livi’s laughter, followed her down.  Somehow between all of us rolling, picking buttercups, playing tag, and me throwing a raw hot dog out into the field to convince the kids there was something more interesting to the bears than they are, they started to relax and have fun.

And like a parent watching their child balance on a bicycle for the first time, I let go and slowly backed toward the house.   I closed the screen door behind me, came into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of lemonade.   I could see through the back window they were having fun.  They were happy.  They were safe.  They were frolicking!

I sat down, took a leisurely swig of my lemonade, and yelled “CLEAR!”

“You HATE me!”

These were the words shouted at me last night as I closed the door on my daughter.

And she was right.

At that moment, I hated her.

I know I’m not supposed to say that. I am breaking the #1 commandment of motherhood: “Thou Shalt Not Say ‘I hate my child,’ even when thouest feeleth it from the very depths of thine soul.”  And I hate myself for saying it.   I really do.  I imagine all of the awful things that could happen to me, or her, once I say this horrible thing and how very, very sorry I will be for thinking something like this.  Surely fate will come down and show me something really worth hating.  But if I don’t say it, I am going to burst.

I HATE my daughter!!  Aaaaaaaaahhhhh…that feels so good.

I didn’t say this to her, of course.   I just thought it.  Hard.   I knew it was a momentary reaction to her behavior and I’m savvy enough about this whole “mom thing” to know I’m supposed to use phrases like “I can’t stand how you’re acting,” “I don’t like how you’re behaving right now,” or some other politically correct statement that won’t scar her for life.   Something that specifies that it’s her actions I despise, and not the person performing them.  But I can’t imagine a scenario wherein a hostage would tell her gun-wielding captor, “I really hate how you’re acting right now.”   The momentary truth is just so evident.   I was hating her.

My littlest girl is no walk in the park.  She’s not even a walk on a dirty, rocky beach.  Quite frankly, she’s more like a tough climb up a steep mountain…like Kilamanjaro or Mt. Everest.  She’s REALLY hard to parent.  She doesn’t listen, she never does what I ask — and she whines.  A lot.   To make matters worse, when she whines she uses a scratchy shriek that makes you want to peel the corneas from your eyes.  She cries, she complains, she rebuffs, she criticizes, and she is showing early signs of an obsessive compulsive disorder I am definitely not qualified to handle.  I’m tired.

Every night is a battle.  A battle to get her to sit at the dinner table, a battle to get her to leave the table to take a bath, a battle to get her out of the bath and into pajamas, and then — our “Waterloo” — the battle to go to sleep.  I submit my demands, she balks, I fight back, some possible “French” is exchanged, and her poor brother, who sleeps on the bottom of their bunk bed and has to listen to the whole thing, loses.

This girl even has a routine.   Every night she pees three separate times, each time thoroughly washing her hands as if she’ll be performing surgery.  She asks my opinion on what pajamas she should wear. She puts on the ones I don’t pick, and I am then commanded to “fill them with love.”   This consists of a two-minute ritual where I hug the pajamas, kiss them and hold them to my head and body while thinking pleasant thoughts.  If it looks like I’m not happy while I do it — I must start over.  And smile.  Then she needs to “stretch” before she gets into bed.  If I’m lucky, she climbs the ladder to her bed without coming down to pee again and stays there to organize her stuffed animals.  She lays her “chilky” (silk blankie) down on her pillow just so, then as I say “Okay, honey…it’s time for kisses and hugs” she comes up with a million questions that have absolutely no bearing on the task at hand.  “Mommy? Can I have a playdate tomorrow?” “Mommy, what was that big word you used this afternoon?” “Mommy, I think I want bangs.   What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think you should go to sleep.”

“But I want to know if you think I should get bangs.”

“No.   I don’t think you should get bangs.  They’re hard to keep and you are beautiful the way you are.”

“But I want bangs!”

“Then get bangs.”

“But I want to know what you think!”

“Livi.  I don’t want to talk about bangs right now.   It’s bedtime.   I’m going to sing ‘Snuggle Puppy’ now.  Are you ready?”

“You’re not getting it!!!!!!!  What if I want bangs and you don’t think I should get them!”

Are you kidding me???!!  These sorts of philosophical debates that can’t be solved with a simple “yes” or “no” are the hallmark of our nighttime discussions.   Needless to say, she persists in trying to get a satisfactory answer to her quandary (for which there is none…) while I try and get her to forget about her Extreme Makeover and go to sleep.

I’m seriously at the end of my rope.

I want to go back to that time when she was a little baby and we would stare into each other’s eyes with mutual love and affection.  Our “conversations” consisted of smiles, blinks, and the occasional burst of gas.   She was so sweet.  She was so loving.  She was sooooooo good.  I called her “my party favor” because she was such a treat.   I miss that girl so much.

I love her.   Of course, I love her.  She’s my baby.   She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s loving… (see how I keep telling myself all the good stuff?)  But I want to love her all of the time.   I want to be able to hug her and kiss her juicy cheeks without her screaming at me for some infraction I never intended: “OW! You pulled my hair!”; “You’re squishing me!”; “Your breath smells!”   I want to fill her up with my love and spoil her.   But I can’t.  She forbids it.  She lays down the gauntlet by finding a way to hold my attention using a negative scenario.  And we both lose.

I don’t know how to win.   I don’t even want to “win.”  I just want peace.  And to get some kind of recognition that I am in charge — or at the very least, that I pay the rent.

I’ll do anything — therapy, counseling, smudging (an ancient ritual where you burn sage to get rid of the evil spirits).  You name it.  I’ll try it all.  Because I love this girl fiercely.  Not the actions.  But the whole girl.

Always.  Usually…



My child wants to stab somebody and I’m a little concerned.

Out of respect for that child – and fear of losing future playdates – let’s call the child, “Sylvia.”

The other day my boyfriend, Scott, was in the playroom with the kids and “Sylvia” said very matter-of-factly, “I feel like stabbing someone.”

Scott shot “Sylvia” a look of horror.

Sylvia saw the look and said “Uh-oh.  Am I in trouble?”

Scott, that hippie man of mine, didn’t want to get “Sylvia” in trouble for sharing her “feelings” – even if they were about maiming someone – and calmly said “No.  You’re not in trouble.  I am curious though…are you angry about something?”

“No.  I just really feel like stabbing someone.”

He sat “Sylvia” down and explained to her why stabbing is bad.  It’s not right.  It could really hurt someone.  And saying you want to “stab someone” means you want to cause someone a lot of pain.  “Do you see why stabbing is wrong?  You don’t really want to stab someone, do you?”

“I still want to stab someone.”

Scott was out of his league so he brought “Sylvia” to me.  I was in my room folding laundry and he said  “Sylvia has something to tell you.”  Standing at the foot of my bed covered in folded laundry, I could only see the top of Sylvia’s head as she said “I really want to stab someone.”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I really want to stab someone.”

Was my kid some kind of psychopath?   Maybe she was just expressing emotions of anger.  In a world where our children are bombarded daily with easily remedied violence in the media, this was normal, right?

We’re told we shouldn’t engage our children if they say “I hate you” or “I wish you were dead” or “I want to kill you.” Did Sylvia’s laissez-faire attitude toward “stabbing someone” fall under that category?  Do I punish her for her feelings?  Squelch her freedom of speech?  I mean, wasn’t she entitled to “feel” like she “wanted” to stab someone just as long as she knew she wasn’t supposed to actually stab someone?  Hey, I’m divorced, I have an ex, I’ve been there.

So I said to her “Why do you want to stab someone?”

“See Scott????  I told you if we told her she’d want to know “why”?”  Sylvia was pissed.

I looked at Scott.  Yes.  Sylvia was a psychopath.

Scott, standing arms length away from Sylvia, said “Sarah…Sylvia didn’t want to tell you she wanted to stab someone because she knew you’d ask her “why” and she has no idea “why”.

“Oh.  Well, Sylvia, do you know what “stabbing” means?”

Sylvia made an “I told you so” face to Scott and was silently tilting and jabbing the head in my direction.  Like I was the problem.

Scott explained to me that in their previous discussion in the playroom, “Sylvia” and he discussed what “stabbing” meant, why it was wrong, and that she didn’t know “why” she felt this way.  She only knew she wanted to stab someone.  I could see she was frustrated.

Not really knowing what to do, and trying really hard not to freak out, especially since…well, she hadn’t actually stabbed anybody – and because letting your children express their emotions is supposed to be a “good” thing, or so they say – I said the only reasonable thing I could think of.

I asked “Are you going to stab someone?”

“No.”

“You know you shouldn’t.”

 

“Yes.  I know.  But I still want to.”

“Do you want to talk about anything?

She was totally exasperated with me. “Noooooooo!”

“Alright.  But you’re not going to…uh..stab someone?”

“NO!.”

“Okay then.” I shrugged.  “You can go.”  As she walked out of the room I added “You can talk to me if you figure out why you want to stab someone!”

“Yeah.  I know!”  She shouted from down the hall.

I’m not sure if I handled the situation the right way or if I should take her in for psychiatric evaluation, but I think I did okay.  After all…no one’s bleeding.

But maybe I’ll only give her plastic knives just in case.

 

My office smells like old snacks.

Apparently, this is what happens when you trade your corner office for a minivan.  I really miss the old digs: the custom-ordered swivel chair; the view down 56th Street from 40 floors up; space to “think.”  And all of this guarded by an assistant who sat outside my door ready to intercept anyone who might try to enter the inner sanctum uninvited.  It was luxurious, organized…peaceful.

I have skinny jeans and I’m not happy.

I’ve never had skinny jeans before.  Of course I’ve put on weight since my college days – probably around 20 pounds (I was 5’8″ and 125 when I graduated.  Hate me?  That’s okay.  I hate me too now).  But I never noticed a dramatic change.  It just sort of snuck up on me – this morning.

Sure over the past 10 years I’ve given birth twice – once to twins – and I noticed that I am rounder, softer…a bit more “zaftig”.  And it’s not like 143 pounds is even so bad.  I actually feel pretty good about myself naked.  My butt is still kind of yummy, when I suck in from the side I can achieve a lovely silhouette, and my boobs have magically maintained a firmness and defiance of gravity despite the shifting landscape upon which they are perched.  It’s just that there’s more “stuffing”as my daughter referred to it recently, and I never really noticed.

I had always been thin.  Naturally thin.  I spent my life eating exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, and it burned right off.  When my 10 year old was a toddler, I could eat the macaroni and cheese off her plate and still look fabulous.  It wasn’t till I hit 40 that I noticed the hint of Spaghettios on my butt.  But I chalked it up to just not having a lot of time to exercise.  I could get rid of it whenever I wanted to.  Or so I thought.

“I’m so lucky, I have a fast metabolism,” I would say to friends who dared to eyeball the cup of chocolate pudding occasionally found in my hands.

And I believed this twist of fiction.

My jeans always went out of style, or I had long since lost track of them, before I ever outgrew them.   And if I did have a pair of jeans long enough to notice they were getting ‘snug’, I always had a great reason why they were no longer hugging my hips, but rather strangling the bajeezuses out of them; they were in the drier too long, I’m bloated…it’s Thursday.

Maybe if designers had kept the waistline of jeans up around my midsection, I would have had some sort of “control” group — some reality-smacking way to gauge the growth.  A “constant” against which I could judge the ever increasing, pudding-and-childbirth-induced wave of flesh.  Maybe then this wouldn’t have happened.  But no.  My fat responded positively to this fabulous new trend and like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed flat from the bottom, the “paste” came up and out the open flip-top cap.  Hey, if they closed, they fit.

But this morning, I went to put on my favorite jeans, which had disappeared for about a year and had  resurfaced after a good closet cleaning.  They didn’t close.  And it wasn’t pretty.

I couldn’t use any of my old excuses, and I had to face the music.  And put down the pudding.

So now I have “skinny jeans.”  And maybe – just maybe – one day they’ll fit again.  If I diet and exercise and don’t pick at my kids’ chicken nuggets.

Or maybe, even better, I’ll just wait for them to go out of style.

“As the mother of a child with autism…”

I don’t have anything else to add to that, but I got your attention didn’t I?  Don’t feel like a sucker.  You’re not the only one.

It has come to my attention that whenever I say, “As the mother of a child with autism…” people instantly pay attention.  They presume I’m wise and sagely, and they’ll take virtually anything I say as gospel.  It’s quite fabulous really.

The statement could be followed with something as simple as “…I like kids chewable vitamins” and people will take this into serious consideration.  “Hmmmm…maybe chewables ARE better for kids than gummies.  I mean, she would know; her child has autism.”

I didn’t ask for this.  I didn’t plan on having a child with autism.  I didn’t want to have a child with autism, but “lo and behold” I do.  And it sucks.  But when you have a child with special needs and you’ve put in the hours and years of dedication to the process of helping that child as I have, shouldn’t I enjoy a few of the perks?

Well, people thinking I am really smart is one of them.

When I say ,”As the mother of a child with autism, I buy mostly organic fruit,” it is met with a collective, “Oooooooooooooo.”

When I say, “As the mother of a child with autism, I have my kids ride their bikes at least twice a week,” I hear a united, “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Believe me, I don’t actually think I’m saying anything interesting or even noteworthy.  I’m usually not.  And God knows, whatever I’m yapping about is almost always unsubstantiated.  I’m a busy woman.  Sure my kid has autism, but that doesn’t mean I know any more than the average bear.

But people can’t help but think I have something valuable to say.  It appears to be a natural gut reaction to think, “Oh, she’s the mother of a child with autism.  She must know a lot about child development.”   Or, “Wow, her kid has autism.  That sucks.  Even if I don’t agree with her, I feel sorry for her and I’m going to give her whatever she wants.”

I’d love to say I’m above it, but I’m not.

It’s wonderful.  If I’m at school and I want my daughter to have a better seat in class, I just say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think my girl should sit in front.”  If I’m out with friends at a movie, I can say with accepted authority, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think the characters in that movie were well-drawn.”  Or, let’s say we’re driving to the valley and I just don’t want to be stuck on side streets.  I’ll say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I think we should take the highway.”

I suppose I shouldn’t expose myself to the world and tell people I’ve figured this out, and I certainly shouldn’t use my own family’s misfortune to take advantage of others when I can get away with it.

But I did, and I do.

And tonight, I’m going to go out to dinner with some friends.  I’d like to have a couple of cocktails, so I’m thinking I’ll casually ask, “Who wants to be the designated driver?”  We’ll all look at each other and then I’ll point to one of them and say, “As the mother of an autistic child, I really think you should be the one driving.”

And it will work.

At long last, I’ve found my silver lining.