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Archive for January, 2010

By Shannon Penrod

Oh, Oprah, Oprah, Oprah….What are you doing to me now?  This has become my new mantra.  I love Oprah…I just don’t like her very much right now.  This is not at all fair because the reason I am so fetutzed with her is that she opened my eyes to something I really didn’t want to see, and now it has upended my whole life.

You may have heard that last week Oprah did a show about cell phone use when driving and she asked everyone to take a pledge to stop using their phones will trying to navigate thousands of pounds of metal around a world of obstacles.  I did not want to watch the show; I did not want to hear the message.  I like my phone.  I drive sensibly while talking on speaker phone.  I stood in my living room and said, “Don’t go there Oprah.”  She did go there.

I found myself watching the first few minutes of the show through clenched teeth, was she really going to try to talk me out of my phone?  I was so relieved when she started talking about the dangers of texting.  WoooooHoooooo! I was saying to myself,  I don’t text, don’t get it, don’t know how to do it, can’t read it and I’m just not interested in learning.  No problem, where’s the pledge, I’ll sign.  Then… Uh-oh!

Just when I’m feeling all smug and comfortable Oprah starts trotting out parent after parent with soul wrenching stories of how their children died because someone thought there phone was more important than keeping everyone safe. Ugggggghhhhhh!  Direct hit! Sound the alarms!  Then she said it.  “Everyone thinks they can handle it, the truth is none of us can.”  What!!!!  That sounded suspiciously like she was talking to me! “If you are driving and talking on the phone, even hands free, you are four times more likely to be in an accident.  If you are a parent, why would you risk that?”  Full bowel impalement.  Oh, Oprah!

So that was it.  How could I use my cell phone after that?  I couldn’t.  My husband came home from work and was greeted with “We have to talk….I was watching Oprah…”  We all know how thrilled men are to hear that!  We talked and agreed that not only would we stop using our phones while driving (even hands free) we would also stop talking to anyone who was driving while on the phone as well.  All week I have been calling people and starting my conversations with, “Are you driving?”  When I get a “Yes” I then say “Okay, I love you, so I’m not going to talk to you while you are driving. Call me when you aren’t driving.”  You can imagine how well that has gone over; like a three tiered cheesecake at a meeting for the lactose intolerant!  But I have stuck to my guns.

The worst has been realizing how addicted I had become to my phone.  I am like a junky freshly booted out of a methadone clinic.  I’ve been jumpy, a little itchy and definitely crabby.  I actually found myself shopping for gum because my jaw needed something to do while I’m driving now that it’s not flapping on the phone.  I’ve dug out CDs I haven’t listened to in years.  Is this what we used to do before we had cell phones stapled to our ears? 
Last night I drove home and literally broke out into a sweat when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to talk on the phone and then something amazing happened.  My right brain took over and I spent a lovely half hour in a creative space I like to call the “blue place”; it is the place where all good ideas seem to come from.  I realized it had been a while since I had been in the “blue place”.  I used to always come up with my best ideas in the car, when had that stopped?  Oh yeah, right about the same time a cell phone started growing out of my ear.  Hmmm.  Something to think about.

I took the pledge, because it was the right thing to do.  If you look at the statistics there is no way that a sane, responsible person could do otherwise. (Yes, I’m talking to you.) I took the pledge because I am a parent and there is no phone call that I have to make that is more important than any child’s life. I took the pledge because the world has already lost too many wonderful souls because someone thought they could talk on the phone and they turned out to be wrong. I took the pledge and I hope you will too.  And then we can both be mad at Oprah.

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by Shannon Penrod

The other day I had to do something I had been dreading for two years.  I had to deliberately walk away from my child in a crowded store and hope that he could find his way to the front of the store to have me paged. Now before you start calling me a horrible parent he was in the care of a responsible therapist the entire time.  This was a program that we have been working on for a while, and he was even told before we went into the store that I would disappear at some point.  Still, it was terrible.  Horrible.  I believe in rehearsing things, it’s a good thing.  Still, I felt like a criminal walking away from him.  I walked to the front of the store and waited in a concealed place and the entire way I thought of all the Moms all over the world who try every day to keep their children safe in this dangerous world.  I especially thought of the Moms in Haiti.  We were performing a safety drill, play acting and it was soul wrenching.  What must it be like for the Mothers in Haiti?  I can’t begin to imagine.  But it sure put things in perspective for me.

My son Jem was a champ.  He did exactly what he was supposed to do and then some.  He walked to the front of the store and asked the man at the counter to page his mom Shannon because SHE was lost!  The workers at the store had been informed that we would be doing the drill and they all congratulated him on a job well done.  I came out from my hiding place and my son and I hugged for a long time.  I hugged him for his ongoing brave battle through Autism, I hugged him for passing the test, I hugged him for every mother who has ever lost a child in a store and wondered if she would ever see him again.  Then I hugged him for every mother in Haiti.  It was a long hug. He didn’t seem to mind.  

We went home and spent more than a moment being grateful for our health, the roof over our heads and each other. Before we went to bed we practiced what to do in case of an earthquake.  Rehearsing is important, gratitude is more important and perspective is everything.

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By Shannon Penrod

Today was the fourth anniversary of my child officially being diagnosed with Autism.  People frequently ask me why I compulsively capitalize the word “autism”; I don’t believe in underestimating the enemy, trust me – Autism deserves a capital A.  Four years,  it doesn’t seem possible.  In some ways it seems like yesterday, in other ways that grey day in January 2006 seems at least 100 years ago.  It was a watershed day, a day when things came into sharp focus and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had a new mission.  I would rather have a mission than be in limbo any day of the week.

I remember driving away from the Drs. office.  A lovely elderly developemental pediatrician had spent hours with my child, testing him and taking lenghty notes, then she abruptly stood up and announced she was done.  She started to leave the room, I stopped her and asked her if there was a diagnosis. ” Autism.” she said.  Trust me on the capital letter. Then in an effort to soften the blow she told me to be grateful, 50 years earlier she assured me that my beautiful baby boy would be institutionalized for life.  She assured me there was hope, but made me promise that I would not do ABA therapy with my son.  She promised me it would turn him into a robot.  I was horrified.  I promised (A promise I broke, thankfully) and I went out to the car with my husband and my happy little boy who no longer talked or answered when you called his name.  I told my husband it was time to go public and tell our freinds and family.  We had suspected Autism for a while, but we said nothing.  Now I needed to circle the wagons.  We were in for the fight of our lives and I knew it.

I called my mother first.  When I told her she burst into tears saying, “No, not our baby!  Not Jem!”  It was the perfect thing to say because it was exactly what I wanted to say and couldn’t.  Because she was saying it I was free to feel the real answer. I calmly told her that Jem was the exact same child he had been the day before, but now we knew what to do to help him.  I said it and then I realized it was the truth. 

In four years we have come a long way.  Thank GOD for ABA therapy!  Thank GOD that Peter and Crystal Sheppard came into our lives and showed us the miracle of ABA in their home. (By the way they are also FABULOUS Realtors here in Santa Clarita. If you need a Realtor I personally HIGHLY reccommend them!)  Thank GOD for CARD (The Center for Autism and Related Disorders) and for Peter Farag (our personal Autism Whisperer) and thank GOD for the never ending army of therapists who have helped to bring our child back to us.

Jem is excelling in a typical lst grade class.  He is a social butterfly and has more friends than I can keep track of.  He demonstrates empathy, asks meaningful questions and plans to be a rocket scientist!  He lies to keep out of trouble, thinks Spongebob is hilarious and asks me even a year later if Jett Travolta’s sister is okay after his untimely death.  Does that sound like a robot to you?  Not me!

In the last four years we have met a wide variety of Doctors, Teachers, Social Workers and friends whose expectations for our son didn’t jive with ours.  We politely ignored them and chose repeatedly to surround ourselves with people and professionals who were willing to see what was possible.  Four years later, I’m really grateful we did.

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