Friday, July 29, 2011

"Normal Is So Overrated"

It was the end of the school year and I was in the check-out lane at the store.
A customer commented, “Wow, you got a lot of cute things!”
I said, “Thanks, they’re for my kids’ teachers.”
Another lady said, “Really?”
I said with a smile, “I don’t exactly have the most well-behaved children in the country. So, I need to kiss up to the teachers a little.”
Both women laughed and agreed, “Well, at least you’re honest.”

This is the story about my oldest son, Wyatt, who is now nine years old. It’s very personal. Maybe a little more than I had initially intended, but I am hoping that when you get near the bottom of this blog that you will see there is a lesson to be learned from this long journey Wyatt has been on. I am really putting my heart out there for this one, but for good reason.

Wyatt seemed to be a typical toddler. He was developing physically just how the experts say they should. Walking on time. Running. Loved to be outside. Knowing his number and his alphabet.

But, on the other hand, there was no attention focus...not even on me for hardly any amount of time. His eyes just seemed to wonder a lot. Unless, that is, he was playing with trains. He would put them in a rows and more rows and more rows. Literally, for hours.

And there were tantrums. Lots of them. I realized later that he was having them, because he couldn’t verbally communicate the way other kids did. Age 2 went by...and then age 3....and age 4...and while he could say words (maybe two or three in a row), there weren’t really sentences and definitely no back and for conversation.

One day I set up water toys in the back yard and he kept screaming “No water play! No water play!” Over and over and over. Finally, his cousin Allie (who was 8 at the time and obviously the most intelligent individual among a group of adults) figured out that he wanted to go to the pond. Wyatt couldn’t just say, “I want to go to the pond.” Think about is my 5 year old son who can’t just simply say, “I want to go to the pond.” Think about times when you get frustrated as an adult because you're unable to find the words to say something and how much more frustrating it must be for a little kid.

However, I kept denying that anything could be “wrong.” That’s what you do when you’re a mom. Especially for a first time mom, it’s just easier to deny that your child is anything but “normal.” After being asked to leave a daycare and a private pre-K due to his behavior, I took Wyatt to AI Dupont Children's Hospital in Wilmington. He was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum.

Well, that's when I began researching like a maniac. I went support groups, an Autism conference in New Jersey, sent out and read tons of emails, called doctors and...I did a lot of crying...a lot. I have spent thousands of dollars working to get him better. I wasn’t settling for just the traditional therapies like speech and occupations that insurance covers, so I paid out of pocket on anything that I thought would be worth a try. Biomedical treatments, Methyl B-12 shots (creeping in his room and sticking him quickly in his bum while he was sleeping), chiropractor, Epsom salt baths, supplements, rubbing glutathione lotion on his feet before bed, changes in diet....there's more, but you get the point. (Just for the record, I have done my share of screaming and being completely overwhelmed. I just don’t want to make myself out to be some kind of Supermom. I don't want to take too much credit, because I did what any parent would do and really all the credit goes to Wyatt for putting up with everything we tried.)

Ok, so let’s get to the reason why I am writing something so personal....I used to be you.
I was the one who judged parents and their kids in the supermarket.
When I saw a little boy or girl screaming, I thought, “Those parents need to get that kid under control” or “That child is spoiled.”
You know what I mean, because you’ve thought it too.

Then, it happened to me. I was the one getting stares from parents.
I was the one who was getting those vibes from the person shopping in the same aisle - judging me and my parenting skills.

There were days I had to take Wyatt in the bathroom of a store just to let him get out a tantrum, just to get him into an environment where I could calm him down with out having people give me dirty looks. This was not my fault and it was not Wyatt’s fault. I know it’s easy to judge, because a child with Autism (among many other psychological conditions) can look like a “normal” kid. Just because they look typical on the outside, doesn’t mean they are just like any other kid on the inside. Please, think twice before judging that parent or the child, there could be something going on in their life that you don’t know about. They are going through enough in their homes, they don’t need you staring them down at a restaurant.

That's my lecture...short and to the point...and I hope it hit home with you. 

So how is Wyatt doing now? Three words...I am blessed.
Wyatt has become this delightful, wonderful kid!
I remember when his behavior was suddenly so out-of-control that I never thought the day would come that he would be able to have a play date without me on pins and needles. Now, he could stay over a friend's house and I have no worries.

It used to be that shopping was an errand I would dread. Sometimes, I would have to leave a grocery cart full in the middle of a store and just leave. Now, there’s no hesitation when it comes to going shopping with him.

I used to wonder, “How will I care for him when he gets older and I’m just plain old?” Now, I don’t worry about that. He even talks about going to college. But not like Andy on Toy Story. Wyatt insists that he is not going “away to college,” but will attend a school like Del-Tech where he can come home each night. Too Cute!!!

However, it’s not all perfect. He still needs therapy for speech and occupational. He had to go to summer school this year, because his focus and comprehension in reading is well-below average. There were a lot of notes sent home this year...being defiant in class, getting under a desk or just dazing into another land while lessons were being taught.

BUT he is a great speller. He got a 95 this year for his grade! Plus, he’s good in math and his imagination is beyond my wildest dreams. YAY! He loves the Presidents and can name EVERY ONE OF THEM. He talks non-stop and I love it. To me, there is no such thing as him talking too much. He's also become a little sarcastic and since that's very "typical" for his age, then I relish in it a little with out letting it get out of hand. And most of all, he is sooooo loving. He is constantly hugging me and saying, “I love you.” There is still a lot to work on, and, honestly, our journey with this may never end. But, goodness, that light at the end of the tunnel just seems to be getting brighter and brighter everyday!

I remember the phone call I made to an Autism organization when Wyatt was first diagnosed.
I asked the lady on the other end of the line, “Will my son ever be normal?”
Her reply was one that I now use often about life in general...
She said, “Honey, normal is so overrated.”

Wyatt with Allie (who is a cousin, but is really way more like a big sister - having the unique ability to understand him when others don't and to love him unconditionally no matter how much he teases her) and with his little brother Trey (who always asks Wyatt to draw Wizard Of Oz characters, because Wyatt is so good at it)- oh yes and with the Lake Forest School District Spartan mascot. :-)

Friday, May 6, 2011

I'm A Little Bit Country, I'm A Little Bit Rock N Roll

I would love to meet Dolly Parton. I wouldn’t say I am a big Country music fan, but I am a big Dolly fan. She’s a  talented singer, musician, songwriter and actress. Her smile is contagious. She's got her very own amusement park. I’m in love with her generosity and the fact that her humble beginnings (being one of 12 kids living in Tennessee) didn’t stand in the way of her dreams. On top of everything else, she’s super funny and can make fun of herself. In fact, when people make reference to me being a “dumb blond” I often borrow one of Parton’s comebacks...“You’re wrong, because I’m not dumb and I’m not blond!”

I remember when cassettes where moving out of the music land and CDs were unpacking their bags. My grandfather (Elmer Looney) had just bought a car and it had a CD player in it. We picked out a couple discs at the store together. One was a George Strait CD and the other was Dolly Parton. His favorite song by her was “Coat of Many Colors.” My grandfather, or as I called him ‘Daddy Lonnie’ said it reminded him of when he grew up. He lived in the backwoods of Virginia (one of nine children) in a one room house. “Coat Of Many Colors” was written by Parton and about her own very similar childhood.

(Dolly Parton and Melissa Etheridge singing "Coat of Many Colors")

We must have listened to“Coat of Many Colors” a gazillion times as we drove to East Rutherford each night to race horses at The Meadowlands Racetrack. And it's at that track where Dolly's main competition is giving her a run for her money...excuse the pun.

Enter Jeff Gural. Jeff is my new “I would love to meet...”

Jeff is this dude who is saving the entire harness racing industry in New Jersey. At least that’s the way My Universe sees it. The story with The Meadowlands and Jeff Gural has been going on for months now, but I am going to try to put it in a Heathershell for you.

Ok, here goes....

The Meadowlands Racetrack is owned by the state of New Jersey, but the track had been losing money in recent years and the state was like, “Blah, blah, blah, we are closing the joint. It’s been real. Nice knowin’ ya'.”

So Jeff Gural is like, “What? The Meadowlands can’t close just like that! Maybe I can help a brotha out.”

(Please, keep in mind these are not actual quotes..this is just dialogue I plan on using when I make my major Hollywood production about this. I can see Gural exiting the tellers union meeting and before he leaves saying, “I’ll be back.”)

So, why do I care? I live in Delaware and if The Meadowlands goes belly-up, I’ve  still got a job. Yes, that’s true, but, to me, The Meadowlands is not just another track. In fact, it’s not just the premier track in harness racing. It’s part of my history.

My grandfather at one-time had an 80-horse stable at The Meadowlands. My mom was the first woman to win a race at that track.
Many moons ago you had to be 12 to get into the racetrack. (Why 12? I have no idea. Seems like a weird age, right?) Anyway, I was not old enough to get in. I would lie every night and tell the attendants at the entrance that I was, in fact (without hesitation)12 years old and follow my grandmother up to the grandstand for a night of cheering on our horses.
If I had a nickle for every black-and-white- extra-thick shake I’ve drank at the Carvel stand in the grandstand, I would have more money than Oprah, or at least Gayle.
I used to take my little tape recorder with Madonna’s song “Borderline” and practice dancing and singing to it in the stairwells.
I befriended the tellers and they'd let me make $2 bets at the $100 windows. That is until my grandfather found out one night. That was a long ride home.
My first job was being an intern in The Meadowlands Publicity Department. I have had the opportunity to learn my trade from some of the most-talented people in the business because of that place. And made some of my best friends at The Big M..
When I was pregnant with my first child, I drove to The Meadowlands every weekend during the summer to shoot features. It was a dream. So much fun!!!
I’ve actually lived at The Meadowlands, too! Yep, in the dorms.

Anyway, you’ve got the point. Keeping The Meadowlands open is a pretty big deal to me.

Back to Gural...He has been a long-time fan and he owns horses and he owns two racetracks in New York - Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. He’s a very successful real estate investor in New York City, is a smart cookie and does a lot of nice things for a lot of people. When I say “nice things” I’m not just talking about giving his money, I’m also talking about giving his time (something most of us have to give, but many of us don’t, but my lecture on that subject will have to wait for an upcoming blog).

So, Gural gets some people together and talks them into investing into something that is a (let’s be honest) HUGE risk. If his plans go through AND a new grandstand is built AND he can turn this ship around then, yes, it’s got the potential to earn money.

But, wow, I just think how amazing this is. This guy, who already has plenty on his plate, steps in to this difficult situation, that happens to be extremely time-consuming, finds investors, works with the Governor’s Office, deals with union contracts and, from what I’ve read, it’s been very frustrating on several occasions. Is he really that cool of a dude, who loves racing that much? That seems to be the deal and I can’t wait to meet him!

The fact that this guy named Jeff Gural can have such an impact on so many people’s lives, including my own makes him a Rock Star in my eyes. And, I wouldn’t say I am a big Rock music fan, but I'm a big Jeff fan. 

My grandfather (far left) with his brothers & sisters in Virginia.

Dolly is simply fantastic!
Yay! Jeff Gural! My new BFF (he just doesn't know it yet.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Learning to Love Martians.

“I love u. Ur an amazing person. U do great things and I’m so proud to b part of ur life.”

That is a random, out-of-the-blue, for-no-particular-reason-at-all text that one of my closest besties, Susan Ehlers, recently sent me.

I am not planning on driving off a cliff and into the Grand Canyon with her anytime soon. However, in that famous friendship movie there’s a line where Thelma says, "Louise, no matter what happens, I'm glad I came with you." And that sounds like something Susan and I would say to each other.

There's a line from another movie (this time “Dumb And Dumber”) that also sounds like something taken verbatim from one of our conversations. It's when Harry says, "Yeah I called her up, she gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something, I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention."

Susan and I have had a nine-year friendship with plenty of drama, uncontrollable fits of laughter, secrets, hurt feelings, but mostly just good old-fashioned BFF love.

Now, onto the story, which will take us into the reason I am writing this particular blog in the first place.

Susan’s fiancĂ©, Jason Skinner, just happened to stop by my house that same night she sent the text so I read it out loud to Jason and my husband Billy.
Jason laughed and told Billy, “Don’t expect a text like that from me anytime soon.”
Needless to say, Billy’s feelings were not hurt by Jason’s statement.

Men and women are soooooooooooo different when it comes to relationships.
Duh?! As if you weren’t already aware of that!
So what’s my point? I’m getting to that.
Sometimes, I just like to take the scenic route.

I see a lot wedding invitations say something like, “Today is the day I marry my best friend.”
That’s great for some people. I’m not knocking it, but Billy is not best friend.
And, trust me, he is just tickled to death about that fact.

Does he want to wait in line at Kohls for two hours on Black Friday, shop for two hours and wait in line for another two hours to pay for stuff we didn’t really need in the first place?
Does he want to spend 21 and a half minutes helping me decide which is cuter...the blue sun dress or the pink one?
Does he want to discuss all the reasons why Kevin Federline was the jerk in the relationship and why Britney was the victim?
Most definitely not.

And that’s fine with me, because, I’ve got my Homegirls to be a total chick with.
On the other hand, I also have Billy. And he is so many things that my BFFs aren't.

Billy is my partner-in-life, who has helped me build a home that I love and made a promise to always live with me on a farm that I call, “My Tara.”
Billy is an amazing father. He’s an exceptional parent - whether it's loving the kids or laying down the law.
It’s true that Billy “doesn’t get” certain things about me, but I can’t blame him. I often question my own actions. However, even when he is unsure of “why” I am doing something, he always wants me to succeed and he’s always proud of me.
Billy loves me and, whether it's something on a Honey-Do List or a Daddy Duty, he does things each day to try to make my Universe less overwhelming.

Finally, my point...
Instead of complaining (and that goes for me too, by the way) about our significant others and what they are NOT, let’s celebrate what they ARE.
The inner wiring of men and women are definitely different.
And isn’t that a wonderful thing?
So is it true that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? Let’s hope not because I seriously would hate to think that I am sharing my bed with a Martian.
Not to mention, giving birth to two!
(Although, I have to be honest - as I look around the world - I realize that stranger things are happening.) 
And while I wouldn’t describe my husband as my best friend, I can also say (without any hesitation) that none of my best friends would want to be married to me!

Yes, there is so much we don’t understand about the opposite sex.
And, if we had the choice, would we have it any other way?
What fun would that be?

The Man from Mars         
who stole my Heart.

And my BFFL
(Best Friend For Life)
From Venus.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Always Remember Your First...Blog.

Hmmmm, ummmm, let me see...typing my very first blog is not as easy as I thought it would be.
Initially, I imagined coming up with something mind-blowing, amazing, and/or uncontrollably funny for my initiation into the world of blogging...but after endless googling and thinking waaaaaay too much into this, I decided to take the safe way out (yes, my first time ever doing something "safe") and answer the basics - WHO, WHAT & WHY before my Universe gets to really spinning in cyberspace.
I'd answer the WHERE and HOW, but I think that's obvious.
Ok, here goes...

I'm just a girl who has too much on her plate and wouldn't have it any other way.
Mom of two boys - No doubt they are snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, but they are sooooo cute!
Wife - Billy is 10 years my junior but please don't call me a 'Cougar.' I prefer 'Puma.'
And career-woman - Most people know me from the two harness racing shows that I host - POST TIME and PA HARNESS WEEK.
But I felt like I should tackle the personality part of me, because that seems like a pretty important part, right?
So, I went to the "experts" aka a few of my best friends (namely Janet Davis, Susan Ehlers and Jenn Pylman) to describe me.
The came up with words like "bubbly, self-made princess, hard working, funny, great mother, kind hearted, magnetic personality"
That's sweet, really...but they HAVE to say that stuff. It's like written in the BFF Code Handbook somewhere.
Here's the other side they didn't mention...I can't carry a tune (but I think everyone wants to hear me sing Spice Girls songs at Karaoke), I can't cook a lick (unless it's scrapple), I'm obsessed with my skin (I lather six different lotions on it a day), I am a shopaholic (I actually get tingles when I walk into Walmart) and one thing hardly anyone knows about me is that I have a super bad temper. No one ever sees it, because I very rarely get mad but it's there, trust me!
Will all those sides come out as I journey down the blogging path? I hope so!
Which leads me to the next question...

Anything I wanna blog about!!! Kids, charity, harness racing, pageants, love, family, friends, super-nice people, people who are mean but don't know any better, work, sushi...
The only thing I probably won't blog about is unicorns, since I don't know a whole lot about them.
But I wouldn't discount a post about Big Foot. :-)
Some people are passionate about a couple areas of their life. Me? Well, I feel passionate about so many things that it would be unfair for me to have a blog about just one area of my life.
Am I a Drama Queen? Are you asking me or my husband Billy? LOL!
Personally, I don't think I am, but I'll let you be the judge.
So, you may not like the subject one day...but, hopefully, you'll love the delivery. Hmmm, maybe there will even be a life learning message in some of my blogs. Hee hee! That's a BIG maybe. I'm not planning on being the next Aesop anytime soon.

First, let me begin the answer by saying that I am not blogging because I think people care about what I think. I am simply doing this because, honestly, I'm just not a private person and there is so much I want to talk about that I can't do on the shows I host or I feel like Facebook is not the right avenue.
I get really happy about something and I wanna share it, I get really upset about something and I wanna share it. I like interacting with people and I am excited about hearing what other people think.
I love advice - although I don't always take it.
I love giving advice - although I wouldn't always take my own. :-)
Perhaps this is a journal of sorts? Yeah, I'll go with that.

So this is it my blast off into bloggism (is that even a word?).
Welcome to Heather's Universe!
Blessings & Love,
PS. My first "official-non-introduction post" will be in the next couple of days. It's going to be about sex. No, no, no! Not the action! Who do you think I am? Dr. Ruth? It'll be about gender!!! Jeeezzzz, this blog already has me putting my foot in my mouth. :-)

The fam & the center of my universe!
To infinity & beyond :-)