Kids Kove: An exhortation

Of the many missteps in the fiasco that has been Kids Kove, the greatest shame is that there are now no firm plans for a successor playground. With this post and this petition, I call on Grand Traverse County to make that plan. Don’t talk vaguely about the “potential” for another playgroundCommit to it, in the same location. According to the county’s own website, “children can play endlessly at Kids Kove.” That promise hasn’t been true in almost a year, but it can be renewed. That’s step one.

Second, find the money. The county press release on the closure puts it this way: “If funding were to become available, it is possible that a new play structure will be part of the Civic Center’s future.” Why if? Make it available. I know you want another group of volunteers to do the work for you, but after the treatment the Kids Kove founders and funders got from the county — first failing to keep the playground in good repair, then denied the right even to take their commemorative fence posts, for heaven’s sake — who can claim with a straight face that another batch of donors will step up?Swallow hard, dig deep and find the money in your budget. It’s there, it’s just a question of priorities.

Third, fast-track it. Kids Kove would have marked its twentieth anniversary next May. The press release also talks vaguely about “healing.” Time does help heal wounds, and timing a groundbreaking on a playground to serve the next generation for one year hence would be meaningful, far more so than a study on business development.

To review: Commit. Earmark the funds. Set a groundbreaking date. And build it.

You know they will come.

Agree? Click to sign the petition on Change.org.

I will present signatures to the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Commission at their May 21 meeting.

Kids Kove: An elegy

Kids Kove was the first public place we took our son after our axis-altering initial week of parenthood. I still remember how unseasonably hot that first week of October 2005 was, the sweltering temperature incongruent with the changing fall light and ever-earlier dusks. And how relieved I was to have Kids Kove as a destination, just two blocks from home. After a 27-hour labor and our full-term baby’s unexpected NICU stay, I wasn’t feeling anything like the bliss and contentment that other new moms projected and I’d imagined. But if I wasn’t feeling the right things (which must mean I wasn’t doing the right things) at least I knew the right place to go. The park. All good parents take their kids to the park, right? Healthy. Fresh air. Exercise. And so we went, pushing our brand-new stroller.  

We would go often. Multiple times a day in that first year of infancy, sometimes as early as 7 a.m. I didn’t know how to fill the days at home. I needed a place to go, a destination to structure the endless, crying-punctuated hours between naps. At Kids Kove I could watch the other parents, engage in small talk about age and weight and teeth status and feel, at least for a while, like I belonged among them.

The first time I heard Mama it was on the way to Kids Kove. My son looked up at me, through the plastic peephole in the stroller canopy, and said it. Things were better by then. Colic was past. Sleep was improving. Daycare had begun. He could hold his head up and so I could put him in a baby swing. We spent hours in that blue swing on the tot lot section of Kids Kove.

We held his second birthday party at Kids Kove. We beam in the pictures. It’s a typical fall day, warm enough to shed jackets in the afternoon. Things were much better, so much so we were considering having a second child. A year later, I brought our daughter to the third birthday party in the same stroller in which her brother spoke the magic Mama word. I made play dates here. For other children, Kids Kove is a treat, a destination park. For us, it’s our neighborhood park. Until last year, we came regularly into November. We would brave the snow drifts in January thaws. My daughter made her first independent monkey bar crossing during the epic winter of 2013-14, boosted to sufficient height by the mountainous drifts. When the first 50-degree day of spring brought back the crowds, followed by the field trip buses in May and early June, we were happy but a little sad, too, to have to share again.

Our transportation changed. The stroller was retired for a tricycle. Then a bike with training wheels, then just two wheels. At the park, our kids moved from baby swing to big kid swing to tire swing. From pushing, endless pushing, to pumping. From the short toddler slide to the long slide to running up the slide. From drinking at the low water fountain to the high water fountain. New neighbors accompanied us. Visiting cousins, too. We celebrated another birthday there, for our daughter this time, with a piñata.

And now, after 19 years of serving this community, Kids Kove is coming down May 4. I confirmed the date at the county parks office the other day, knowing I needed to prepare my kids after we rode past the empty playground, forlornly fenced off since last fall. “When can we play there? When are they going to take out the woodchips?” my son asked, contaminated woodchips being the rationale cited for the original closure.

I swallowed hard and didn’t answer. I had none, which was why I visited the parks office. But hearing my own voice quaver on the question made me realize I am no more prepared than they are to lose this precious place. I can only be grateful that Kids Kove, the place where more than anywhere else I found my footing as a mother, this place that, bolt by bolt, will soon be dismantled, was there for me. Thank you to those who built it then. Generations of future families deserve no less.

Coming Monday: Kids Kove: An exhortation.

– The letter K brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.

 

 

 

Dorothy was right

Twelve years ago today, I felt poor.

On April 15, 2003, my then-fiance and I closed on our home. Like today, of course, it was also tax day. Self-employed at the time, my first-quarter estimated tax was due that day, too. As we climbed into sleeping bags in our empty new living room that night, I fell asleep fearful our checkbook couldn’t withstand the triple whammy, worried about this major new step into adulthood, and uncertain whether the new place would ever feel like home.

A dozen years later, I count home ownership among the most satisfying accomplishments of my adult

They have to take me in here.

They have to take me in here.

life. We’ve put our stamp on the place, which is satisfying. All but one room of our 1,500 square foot, 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath abode has been touched by at least a coat of paint, a carpet knife or a sledgehammer.

It’s more than home improvements, though. Most of those renovations were to accommodate new occupants: our two kids and my mom, who moved in with us temporarily during a rough period of illness. Offering her refuge under our roof was a privilege.

Home is also a standing sanctuary for our son, as an autistic person stuck in a neurotypical world. That we are able to provide that sanctuary is a point of pride. More recently, I’ve been wondering whether we’ll wind up providing home for him for longer than we originally expected. Though I don’t relish the reason that would be the case, I don’t worry about the physical implications. Though we are now double the original occupancy, our home has never felt crowded. As a foursome, the house feels like it embraces us, too. From home offices to a swing set to the perfect corner for a fish tank, we are exactly suited to each other.

For me, home ownership came after ten years of moving around in four states. I was ready to nest. We started with hosting dessert for our own rehearsal dinner. My book club. Then an annual Christmas gathering for my husband’s family. As other family members downsize or move, multiple other holiday gatherings have since gravitated our way, from Fourth of July cookouts to Thanksgiving dinner. Five years ago we hosted a summer picnic for the block in our backyard. The party gave some neighbors their first opportunity to meet each other. It’s since moved out to the street, an afternoon-long event that allows us to gather, eat, converse, create chalk art, and cruise on bikes and skateboards. We’ll spearhead the fifth annual event this Father’s Day weekend.

A home, I’ve learned, means community. Community leads to connections. And connections are a far better yardstick of richness than a checkbook.

 

What Dewey Decimal number would YOU be?

That’s one of the most original questions I answer this week on Fine Print, the blog of the

At TC's Filling Station April 28, 7 p.m.

At TC’s Filling Station April 28, 7 p.m.

Traverse Area District Library. Thanks for inviting me to your space, TADL! I’m looking forward to joining you on April 28 at the Filling Station for Books & Brewskis. (Anyone else interested, TADL just happens to have some copies available.) And happy National Library Week (April 12-18) in the meantime. Libraries rock!

 

New cover reveal

Sparrow Migrations has a new cover and pub date for the re-release by Lake Union Publishing. Get the new edition, in paperback or Kindle version, on June 23!

NewCover_Final

A beach read night on the cross-country trail

Beach readn. “a book you can take on holiday, which is good enough to keep you engaged but not so serious it will spoil your holiday.” (See list)

Nirvana, right? Well, even in the depths of January, I discovered that beach read state can be achieved. On cross-country skis, of all things.

A couple weeks ago I attended an event called She Skis. It’s designed to get women outdoors and active in winter by offering a supportive, non-competitive environment for cross-country skiing. I’ve wanted to try it for the last few winters, but couldn’t fit it in the schedule until this month.

It was a glorious evening. Good skiing conditions, friendly folks, and refreshments afterward. But the best part was that the night was 100 percent expectation-free. My heart was as light on that trail as the snowflakes that blanketed it, as light as it is immersed in a good book with my toes dug in the sand.

That’s a rare state for me, a fact I only became aware of while watching the other women in my class. We’d ski a ways down the trail while the instructor watched, then regroup for his feedback. At every single stop, this one woman would ask questions. A lot of questions. What was the right angle for her pole? What was the etiquette when an oncoming skier approached? Nitty-gritty questions that frankly pretty much monopolized the instructor’s time and attention.

As I listened, it hit me: Most of the time, I am that woman. In any kind of class or audience setting, I’m nearly always the first to raise my hand. And raise it and raise it and raise it again.

That’s partly due to my reporter training. Asking questions reinforces new information. It’s how I learn, how I discern the important from the extraneous. But it’s also because I’m so invested in not only discovering the answer, but the right answer. Often I’m asking these questions in meetings with therapists and/or school officials involving my son. The stakes feel extraordinarily high. Others in the meeting have more experience at this than I do, with other kids. By asking questions I’m trying to get myself up to their speed. After all, I can’t do this over. He’s only going to be seven, eight, nine once. I feel like I’ve got to get it/fix it/make it right, right away.

Or else it’s a writing situation. I’m a first-time novelist. I want to do this author thing right, somehow secure my future. Once again, I’m tremendously invested in a particular outcome. But I have no agent, the standard guiding figure for an author, plus the publishing industry is in major turmoil. So at workshops, on blogs, at parties I ask questions, searching for anchors in the answers.

She Skis was an antidote. I was engaged, enjoying the evening, but I had no investment in the outcome. I didn’t care if I skied faster or better, what I looked like or what anyone else thought. I wasn’t worried that what happened that night would send consequences reverberating through my life years down the road. If the rest of my life is a deep, dense, literary novel, She Skis was a beach read, albeit in 20-degree weather. It was delightful. I’ll be going back for a sequel.

 – The letter B brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.

 

#toread

My local library has started a new category on its blog, #toread. Here’s mine:

Can't wait to dig in.

Can’t wait to dig in.

From the bottom up, here’s why these titles wound up with me:

Both The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan and A Land We Can Share (subtitled Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism) were chosen so I can help my son’s reading improve. Rules is also autism-related, an award-winning middle grade book written from the POV of a sister of a boy with autism. It might help with my daughter someday.

On Immunity is actually already read (my review here.) My community experienced an outbreak of pertussis last year, and more isolated cases of measles. As a staunchly pro-vaccination parent yet personally disinclined to invite conflict, I’ve been struggling with how vocal to be on this matter of public health. Reading Biss’ book (and recommending it) is a first step.

The Second Chance Key is part of my effort to read more self-pubbed authors. Jacque Burke is the wonderful ML (municipal liaison) of my NaNoWriMo area and this is her debut novel. The next two are also by authors with northern Michigan connections. Nuts to You is the latest by Newbery Medal winner Lynne Rae Perkins (President Obama also picked it up recently) and Field Notes for the Earthbound is a much-acclaimed, first full-length work by John Mauk, a former colleague at Northwestern Michigan College. I’m lucky to have all three of these signed by their authors.

Topping it all off is a coming-of-age classic that I’ve stopped and started a few times, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Maybe this will be the year.

What’s on your #toread list?

Squinting for signals

Jeans and shirts with collars.

A silent ceiling fan.

An orange swim suit.

As the new year gets fully underway this week, I fixate on what I’m interpreting as this trio of signals from my son, sent as 2014 waned. Like many autistic children, he is rigid about his routines. Also like many of his peers, he has sensory issues, primarily auditory (in other words, he holds his hands over his ears a lot, and wears his hood up nearly always.)

Put the rigidity and the sensitivity together and what we’ve seen is 1) a wardrobe that consists almost entirely of sweatpants and T-shirts, 2) a habit of running his bedroom ceiling fan every single night, winter or summer, and 3) insistence on wearing the same blue bathing suit for at least the last three years.

So a few months ago, when he came out wearing jeans one morning, it was a jolt. They were a good inch short on him, since we haven’t bought any in so long. He’s not adept with snaps or buttons (a chicken-and-egg situation, no question) but he persevered and got them on. He’s since chosen jeans on at least two other days, as well as collared shirts, including one that had hung in his closet untouched for more than a year.

Then, on more than one night in the last two months, he’s elected to leave his fan off at bedtime. I don’t know whether he likes the white noise or the breeze, but deciding he could do without it was even more stunning than the jeans.

The topper is the swim suit. He’s worn the same blue suit from Target since around 2011. We swim twice a week. The elastic is entirely gone. Where it once hit below his knee, it’s now mid-thigh. Still, he rejected any suggestion he wear his other, orange suit until these last two months, when, like the jeans, he pulled it out of his drawer on his own.

A while back I read Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise, in which he discusses how hard it is to discern true signals in the noisy environment of 21st century Western society. Silver’s a sports-turned-political-turned-back-to sports prognosticator, but I found his ideas fit my parenting experience, too. With one typical child and one not, the development path of each amounts to noise for the other. And despite the statistics that show autism prevalence rising, my husband and I still feel like isolated blips, the first in both our families to face this diagnosis in particular and a developmental disorder in general. We’ve met fellow parents through a support group and our own forays, online and in person, but partly due to the spectrum nature of autism, there isn’t a specific set of signals to watch for. I remember a conversation with my brother a few years ago in which he raised this rhetorical question: How do you even know what’s important to pay attention to?

On the face of it, it sounds ridiculous to say that jeans, a ceiling fan and an orange bathing suit are worth paying attention to. But layering them, one on top of the other, in a relatively short time frame, shows definite deviation from pattern, aka routine. Since routine is so important to my son, deviation, especially self-selected, seems like it must signal something. Yet my own hopes and fears could be so much noise too, augmenting those isolated deviations into more than they’re worth, using the artificial device of the new year as an omen.

Signal or noise? I can only keep my antenna tuned. My new year’s resolution is to remain content and hopeful with either answer.

– The letter J brought to you by Daily Drop Cap. 

 

Lit fic and manga and self-pubbed, oh my!

If one aspires to be a writer, one must first be a reader. Plain and simple. Below are the books I read in 2014. Looking at the list, it’s easy to see where some choices came from, and interesting to ruminate on other trends that only surface in the aggregate, and how they might eventually inform my own writing:

So many books...

So many books. These are the ones I made time for in 2014.

First, I deliberately stepped outside my contemporary fiction comfort zone. Just as trying different cuisines diversifies one’s palate, different genres enrich an author. To that end I read:

  • Science fiction (Wool)
  • YA (The Fault in Our Stars, Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, plus a thick stripe in Orphan Train.)
  • My first-ever manga/graphic novel (Into the Light)
  • Memoir – while not exactly a genre, it’s is a category I don’t read often. (On Writing, The Reason I Jump, Glitter and Glue, and The Dirty Life)

Second, I read books with a strong sense of place. Plot, character and setting are the three pillars of story, and setting is by far my weakest. Among the places that stayed with me this year:

  • Loud, crowded New Jersey apartments and neighborhoods, home to displaced Dominicans in Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her
  • Refugee camps Across the Mekong River, where Elaine Russell’s Hmong characters first find dubious sanctuary, and then the American suburbs where they strive to recreate their culture
  • Barren, frigid Alaskan tundra speckled with isolated Native villages, setting of Don Rearden’s The Raven’s Gift
  • Howard Norman’s so-real-I-could-taste-the-saltwater scenes of coastal Newfoundland in The Bird Artist.

Third, books about autism: After creating my Autism Reads list in April, I read Someone Please Tell Me Who I Am, Into the Light, A Special Love and The Reason I Jump. I expect this tilt will continue throughout my reading life, and it’s wonderful to see the subject presented in ways that will appeal to so many diverse readers. (These four titles alone represent YA, graphic novel/manga, fiction and memoir.)

Fourth, books with southeast Asian settings: Five of the 22 (The Namesake, the Lowland, Crazy Rich Asians, Across the Mekong River, and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats) are set predominantly in southeast Asia. (Two more, The Reason I Jump and Into the Light, are set in Japan.) That wasn’t deliberate, but it makes me speculate how I might incorporate that influence someday.

Fifth, nearly equal numbers of male and female authors. The works themselves are even at 11 each, but since Jhumpa Lahiri is represented twice, it works out to 11 men and ten women. I’ll strive for that balance again in 2015. Once I heard Jeffrey Eugenides (who mastered a hermaphrodite character) say that authors needed to be equally versatile at writing male and female characters. Reading authors of both genders is the best way to learn how.

Finally, few self-pubbed…alas. Just three of the 22. Both Across the Mekong River and A Special Love are self-published, and Wool was originally.One of my 2015 reading resolutions is to seek out and discover more of these overlooked gems, like The Leaving of Things. It’s a debut novel by fellow Lake Union author Jay Antani, who first self-pubbed before getting picked up by the Amazon imprint, like me. I’ll finish by the end of the week, and my 2015 list will be off and running.

What was your favorite read of 2014? Any reading resolutions for the new year?

The letter I brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.

Tilting and musing at windmills

Driving through town the other day with the kids, I spotted a wind turbine spinning far faster than I would have expected. It hadn’t felt particularly breezy when I’d picked them up on the school playground a few minutes earlier. Nor did I see any tree branches swaying.

“That windmill’s spinning really fast,” I commented idly. “I didn’t think it was that windy out.”

“Maybe it’s windy to the windmill,” my daughter Audrey replied from the backseat.

Sounds silly. But upon reflection, it was downright profound. First, the conditions 100 feet atop the turbine tower were undoubtedly different from the ground on which I judged them. So was the material subject to the force of the wind– the sleek curved propeller blades vs. my distinctly unaerodynamic body.

If I walk it back even further, my own initial comment really wasn’t idle, either. I said it deliberately, hoping to engage my son Owen, who dwells so much in separate worlds – movies he’s seen, books he’s read, memories of former physical places like his old daycare – in the present moment.

It didn’t work. Audrey replied, not Owen. And as I reflected on the moment more, it struck me as a perfect metaphor for why so many contemporary problems feel hopeless and unsolveable. Exhibit A would be the national uproar over race provoked by the failures to indict in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings. Exhibit B, on my community level, is the bitterness surrounding a proposal to turn a warehouse near a residential neighborhood into a seasonal homeless shelter.

In both situations, just like I did with the windmill, we tend to speak first. What we say is often woefully underinformed with appreciation — not just consideration, but appreciation, which connotes value – for conditions as others might see them.

Even more potentially damning, we tend to speak with a particular goal in mind — mine was to elicit a response from Owen — rather than seeking to learn from or simply listen to the others in the conversation. As I discovered, that doesn’t work. Thus the “conversation” devolves into a non-conversation, dueling monologues instead of dialogues.

I don’t have an end to this blog post. That’s deliberate. If I’m to change my own habit of speaking with an end in mind, there’s no better place to start than here. So what do you think?

– The letter D brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.