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By Shannon Penrod

Yesterday I found myself saying to someone, “I’m so far behind!  It’s mid- September and I don’t even have Jem’s Halloween costume!  It may seem like it’s far away, but Halloween is just around the corner and then seven seconds later it’s Thanksgiving and then it’s just a slow slide into Christmas and New Years!”  While I was ranting about the impending holiday treadmill my blood pressure climbed until I could see my pulse in my left eye.  How did I turn into someone who stresses about holidays months in advance?  I never used to be this way!  I loved the holidays!  Of course that was when I was single and childless.

Back in the old days I could shop on my own terms and didn’t have to have a babysitter or a shopping cart full of distractor toys to occupy a small child while I attempted to find just the right gift.  I remember showing up to holiday parties on time, with clean clothes on and my face fully made-up.  I was rested and full of joie de vivre!  I remember clearly the first holiday season after I became a mother.  I arrived at one party 40 minutes late with vomit in my hair and leaking breasts.  I ate a carrot stick and then fell asleep on a love seat while people reveled around me.  It wasn’t my finest moment.  That was the same holiday season that featured no batteries on Christmas morning, so none of the toys lit up or played music and there was no picture of my child on Santa’s lap that year.  I arrived at the mall too late on Christmas Eve and the line was already closed.  I felt like a total failure.

That’s when I stepped firmly onto the holiday treadmill.  This is the gerbil wheel that tells a mom if she hasn’t started her Christmas shopping by mid September, she’s never going to make it.  It is the anthem that screams “If you don’t get the Durkee Fried Onions now, they won’t have them at Thanksgiving! ”

I remember my mother baking and freezing Christmas cookies in September and October when I was a kid.  Every weekend she would make two kinds, so by the time December rolled around she could throw together a platter of homemade cookies that would make Martha Stewart cry with envy.  All those years that my mother baked the fall away, and I thought she was crazy!  Now I know the truth, she was on the treadmill!

Last year I attempted to get off the treadmill.  We scaled back.  I only opened two boxes of decorations and we didn’t even put all of those up.  I shopped less, gave fewer gifts.  I did almost no baking and we didn’t even get pictures taken.  We didn’t have a party and we scaled back on attending parties.  All in all… it sucked.  There wasn’t any hustle and bustle but there wasn’t much awe and wonder either. 

Now that I am a Mom and a wife I know that part of the joy of having pulled off a holiday extravaganza is the joy of seeing those surprised faces!  Sure, they never fully understand how much work went into getting 22 hot dishes on the table at the same time, or decorating a full house and buying presents for 50 people on a budget of $100!  But they still look happy and cared for and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.  So, I’m on the treadmill this year again.  I already have my teacher gifts and my Toys 4 Tots donations, at this rate, if I can keep it up, I may get to sleep in December.  To all those Moms who make it happen every holiday season ROCK ON!

By Shannon Penrod

My husband and I broke down and bought smart phones recently.  I know, I know, we were horribly behind in the technology trend to be able to communicate with the entire world at all times and in all locales.  At first the phone made me feel stupid, which made me question why they called them smart phones!  Then I started to get the hang of it and wondered why we held out so long…then last week a couple of things happened, which reminded me why I hesitated. 

My husband  let our son play with his phone.  This was not something new.  Our son loves technology – I had to have him show me how to take a picture with my phone!  Both my husband and I have allowed our son to play games on our phones.  We have a very important rule though, he isn’t allowed to download games.  We have to approve the games and approve the cost, then we download them for him.  My son completely understands this and has always been compliant, so I was shocked when my husband told me that our son had downloaded a game that cost $5. 

We grilled our son and he maintained that he had not downloaded any games.  We patiently explained to him that he did and if he couldn’t be honest about it he wouldn’t get to play with the phones anymore.  He still maintained his innocence even when my husband woke me up that night clutching his chest and telling me that he had actually bought something for $100!!  I told my husband to go to bed and we would look at it in the morning and try to figure out what was going on.

Charges continued to roll in during the night.  By morning there were over $350 in charges racked up and we didn’t know if there were more coming!  Now I was having chest pains. It’s funny how we all have our breaking point!  At $5, I wasn’t happy but I thought, “Oh, well!  We all make mistakes!”  At $100, I was taking the device away and taking the money out of his birthday account!  At $350 I was ready to fight it!  How on earth can an 8-year-old rack up $350 in charges without a password?

I started doing my research.  My son had not downloaded a game at all.  He made an in-game-purchase.  Several of them!  He was playing a FREE game, that we downloaded for him and within the game he was asked if he would like more stuff?  Would he like a zoo?  Within the game there was a monetary system and I guess like Farmville there were two monetary systems, one that was real money and one that was pretend money.  Unlike Farmville, if you went to purchase something with “real money”, which was named something cute, like, “city money”, you only had to click okay and real money would be deducted from your credit card!  There was no warning, no password, no security check, just a lovely little debit of real cold cash!  My son was asked if he wanted a zoo, he did, so he said okay – $100 – Bing!  Gone!

We asked for our money back and got it – along with a little lecture about how children under the age of 14 should not be playing the game.  Apparently there is a way to set up devices and games to disable the in-purchase ability of all users.  I encourage you to google how to do this for your smart device now.  I told a friend what happened to us and 3 days later her son rang up $500 on her husband’s iPad playing a “free” Smurf game.  He bought a virtual wagon for $100.  As his mother said, this is clearly a scam.  You can go to Wal-Mart and buy a real wagon for less than $100!

Smart phone??  Jury is still out on that.  You have to be smart to use it safely, that’s for sure.

 

By Shannon Penrod

Dear Jim,

Nine years ago today we stood in front of friends and family and took vows that have more meaning to me now than they every could have meant then.  I remember part of our vow was an Irish prayer that said, “You are the last person I want to see before I sleep and the first person I want to see upon waking.”  Honey, it was true then, but it’s so much truer now.  When you asked me to marry you I said, “Yes!” without hesitation, because I knew I loved you and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.  I’d already tried to live without you and I didn’t like that.  What I didn’t know was how truly marvelous you are.  I didn’t know it because time had yet to reveal it.

How could I have known that you were going to be such an amazing father?  I believed it, but the reality is so much better. I couldn’t have known that you were going to love our little boy with a fierceness that takes my breath away.  I couldn’t dream that you were going to be the type of Dad who calls me up from work and says, very seriously, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and… we just aren’t videotaping enough.  I just know that some day we’re going to look back and wish we had a camera running 24/7.”  It just takes my breath away how wonderful you are.

The things you do to make that little boy laugh!  Oh my!  Yeah, other people may have Emmys and Oscars for their comedic performances but baby they’ve got nothing on you.  The best laughs I have ever had have been of your crafting.  I can not count the number of times you have made me laugh until I have fallen off the couch, been doubled over clutching my stomach and begging for air.  You funny.  It’s kind of my little secret and I LOVE to watch people who don’t know you realize it.  For years my friends and family thought that because I’m funny you must be the straight man to my humor.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth. I love your sense of humor and I treasure all of laughs we share.  Thank God we have laughed, because we have been through some @#!$!

When I think of what we have been through in the last five years I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or wet my pants.  I’d rather just hold on to you and tell you over and over, “Thank you!”  Thank you for sticking by me, through Autism, through a nervous breakdown, a reality show, three moves, being sued by the school district twice, 2 summers in Southern California with NO AIR CONDITIONING, total financial devastation, IRS hell, a dead landlord with a crazy ex-wife and ever so much more.  Thank you, because looking back on it, it all seems like a really funny adventure now.  That’s because we were in it together.  There was never ever a moment when I thought for even a second you weren’t going to stick it out with me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I can go anywhere and do anything because I know at the end of the night I get to go home with you.  That’s my ace in the hole, right there.

I think back to all of the promises we made nine years ago.  We’ve been able to keep almost all of them.  Yes, a few of our dreams got differed because of a little thing called Autism.  We haven’t been able to do all of the “couple” things we would have loved to.  Even this morning, you’re off to take Jem to Harry Potter Camp, while I’m staying home to tackle the garage in preparation for yet another move next week.  It’s not the big romantic anniversary we would have planned nine years ago.  It may not be what others would choose, but I don’t care.  I want you to know that I still choose you, I still choose us.  I love our life, our love our little family and I love being on this adventure with you.  I love you and I love the way you love me.  I never, ever thought I would have that.  Thank you for making our story a love story.

Happy Anniversary Love!

by Shannon Penrod

I’m not terribly good and beginnings and endings.  I like middles.  Beginnings are bumpy and fraught with unexpected muck.  Endings are messy and emotional.  Today is an ending and I am definitely feeling messy and emotional.  While I am writing this my son is in the next room having his last session with one of his ABA therapists.  5 1/2 years ago I remember hearing the word Autism in connection with my son and feeling like I was stepping off a cliff into a hole that had no bottom.  It was a messy beginning to say the least. But, that was then and this is now.  I’m sitting on the sofa crying because I can’t believe we actually did it. Somehow we managed to rearrange our lives to accommodate an army of trained therapists parading  through our home, coaxing our child out inch by inch, hour by hour, year by year until we  finally arrived here.  Here is unbelievably good.

I remember the first time I ever drove to California. I couldn’t help but wonder at the tenacity of the first settlers who reached the Rocky Mountains and decided to scale them to get to the other side.  For the first time I understood why places like Denver became cities.  A whole lot of people looked at those mountains and decided it just wasn’t worth it.  I always thought I would have been one of those people.  Now, on the other side of the mountain I can’t help but look back and think, “Holy CRAP!!! Did we really just scale that?”  We did.  We really did.

For the last few weeks I’ve been watching this really amazing docu-series on the web, called “The A-Word”.  It follows a family through their early days of diagnosis and getting ABA therapy.  It’s amazing.  I can’t stop talking about it.  For me it’s like getting to relieve those early days without all the fear, without all the uncertainty.  I’m watching the family adjust to the fact that their entire life has been picked up and shaken like a box of Legos, and I find myself crying – because I know how lucky they are.  I don’t know if they know it yet, but I do.  But they are at the beginning and we are at the end.  The Alpha and the Omega of ABA therapy for Autism. Everyone should be so lucky.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that this journey has been life defining for me and my family.  Can’t isn’t in our vocabulary anymore.  Hope is something that has legs.  Fear is just false evidence appearing real.  Courage is a small child who doesn’t give up.  Love is never giving up.  Hard is meaningless and everything is possible.

So, what do you do to mark such a moment occasion?  We already had the party, we already went to Disneyland so today we’re just going to be normal and go see the premiere of CARS 2.  That’s what 8-year-old boys want to do on a Friday night; and starting today that’s who my son is, an 8-year-old boy, just like everyone else.  It is our new Alpha.

The Food Thing

By Shannon Penrod

Just when I think I have the food thing figured out I hear God laughing again.  He laughs at me a lot.  I eat really healthy, my child eats really healthy, I can’t speak for my husband but let’s just say he eats healthier now than he ever has and leave it at that.  My child willing eats vegetables, even requests them, so I must be doing something right.  Still….I read and wonder.  I am religious about having my son on a GFCF diet (Gluten Free/casein Free for those of you outside the Autism community), he is also free of sugar and artificial sweeteners.  This is not a some time thing, it’s an all the time thing.  I’m the crazy woman at the birthday party with the weird-looking cupcake and the sliced beets on my kid’s pizza.  So you would think that I am crazy organic too and great friends with a group of sustainable farmers.  Yeah…not so much.

I don’t know if the rest of you have noticed, but organic stuff is expensive.  I’m talking EXPENSIVE!  I used to care more about organic before the whole Autism thing came to live at my house.  But Autism is even more expensive than organic vegetables so it won the fist fight.  Now I’m thinking that may have been a bad choice.  A new study has come out that suggests that ADHD may be linked to pesticides.  Apparently pesticides are designed to disrupt something in the bug’s neurotransmitter system.  I didn’t know that, I thought it just killed them.  That probably sounds stupid, but I never thought about it before.  I just figured it choked the bugs somehow that wasn’t great but wasn’t all that harmful to humans.  You’re talking to the woman who used to run into the fog made by the DDT truck when she was a child.  Those pesticides probably killed the neurotransmitters in my brain that allow for higher thinking about pesticides.  I digress.

If this pesticide disrupts the bugs neurotransmitters and we eat vegetables that are sprayed with it doesn’t it stand to reason that we would see a BUNCH of people having neurotransmitter issues?  Oh, yeah, we have. Hmmmm.  How about that skyrocketing rate of Autism, ADD, ADHD,  Depression, BiPolar disorders and the list goes on.  So I am arranging to have an organic farm co-op bring us a box of food every week.  I don’t see how I can’t.  It’s not even that expensive, maybe $10 more a week than I would have spent, but I would have spent that in gas driving to 3 different stores.  It’s an adventure.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

by Shannon Penrod

I am an admitted control freak.  The worst part of being a control freak for me is my unshakeable belief that I can solve all of your problems if you would just let me.  I have no desire to work on my problems.  Why would I?  My problems are old, boring and insurmountable, not to mention complicated and convoluted.  On the other hand, your problems are crystal clear – to me, and infinitely solvable if you would just do what I say.  Of course it’s exhausting knowing how to fix your life and watching you resist my plan for you.  Not to mention that quite honestly there are a few things that I need to take care of in my own life that I can’t seem to get to because I’m so entrenched in what you should be doing.  There’s the rub.  You know what they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears….I must be ready, because my teacher has appeared.

I am reading Bryon Katie’s book, Loving What Is, and I am seeing myself in a way that I haven’t ever before.  Even in the first few pages of the book she has challenged me to consider that there are only 3 types of business – My business, everybody else’s business, and God’s business.  Katie simply asks her reader to examine when ever they are sad, lonely, angry, uncomfortable, cranky or just our of sorts, whose business they are in when feeling that way.  Her supposition is that when you are out of whack it is because you are in business that is not your own.  Ugghhh.  This is a little too close to home.  I live in other people’s business!  Still, I thought I would give it a try.  Oh my!  In the past 24 hours I have discovered that, oddly enough, I am rarely in my own business  AND when I make a conscious choice to let go of other’s business and be in my own business…I am really happy and peaceful.  Who knew?

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and see what else can happen if I stay in my own business.  Is it really possible that I could turn into one of those really happy, present people who oozes peace like a Buddha on a Benadryl.  I think I would like that.  So here’s the really exciting news, I’m not only reading Byron Katie’s book, I’m interviewing her on my radio show this Monday at 4 pm PST – 7pm EST.  You can tune in and listen to my chat with Katie by visiting www.toginet.com.  Better yet if you want to work on getting your inner Buddha on give us a call during the live show and you can chat with Katie too!  Simply call 877.864.4869 during the live show.  For more information on Bryon Katie and “The Work” that she does visit  www.thework.com. You can find her book, Loving What Is, by visiting here.

by Shannon Penrod

“Welcome to Disneyland for Geeks!”  That’s what the tour guide said as he opened the door to the “Dark Room” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab today.  Once a year they hold an open house and this year for the first time guests were allowed to enter the mission control room.   My son and I were part of the 30,000 people who stood in line for hours this weekend to see the magic up close and personal.  It was cool.

It was amazing to see the slice of humanity that showed up to see this unique spectacle.  There were new-born babies and seniors with walkers.  There were teenagers in Goth gear and young couples, race, nationality and ethnicity was represented.  There we all were, sharing a similar passion – SPACE.  So we all stood in line, and stood in line some more.  Oye!  There was a lot of standing in line!  But I have to say, the wait was worth it.

I stood with my son and looked down into the clean room where the Mars Laboratory Rover “Curiosity” sat waiting to be shipped to Cape Canaveral for a lift off in September and an August 2010 arrival on Mars.  We saw it, the actual rover, not a model, not a fabrication….the real deal.  When that rocket takes off later this year my son and I will feel a connection; that’s something that money can’t buy.

Since he could speak in sentences my son has said that when he grows up he wants to be a rocket engineer.  As we walked through the halls of JPL I asked him is he thought he might work here one day.  He not only told me that he would, he told me where he thought his office would be.  I took a picture of it. Someday I plan to visit him in that office.  Hopefully Moms of rocket engineers don’t have to stand in line to see their kid’s offices!

We ended the day by watching a beautiful film that was narrated by Harrison Ford.  He closed the film by reminding us that we are all made of star-dust.  That alone was worth standing in line.