How to Lie With Statistics

Last week Milo said this, or something almost exactly like it, (you need to hear it in your head as spoken quickly, almost in a single breath, with random emphasis on random syllables, meant to both impress and confuse):

“What I don’t get mommy is why people say girls aren’t treated as well as boys, I mean I know feminism is important because women don’t always have the same rights and the same opportunities as men, but at school the girls get more attention from teachers and on our field trip their cabin was cleaner and nicer and if you didn’t know 78% of girls are happier than 52% of boys which is a big discrepancy even though it might not sound like one to you but I think that 9 out of 10 boys would agree and only 2 out of 10 girls and that’s because it’s harder to be a boy than a girl even if it’s harder to be a woman than a man.”

My first thought was, he’s right, sort of. And my second thought was, what the fuck with those made up numbers? And my third thought was, oh no, he’s gonna be a men’s rights activist.

Then, a few days later, after one of his endless, obsessive radio and youtube listening sessions, he held forth on current popular music:

“I don’t understand Pitbull’s popularity, he says the same thing in every song . . .Mr. Worldwide. . what does that even mean and who even cares. . .. And why does everyone have to make their music with machines, what happened to instruments? I think that’s why everyone is losing their originality and just ripping off old songs and getting sued because they don’t even play instruments anymore, I read that 99% of musicians can’t even tell a guitar from a ukelele and that 90 % of drummers under the age of 50 don’t use sticks but 100% of drummers over the age of 50 do use sticks. And lyrics. . .they are all so. . .inappropriate, B-word better have my money and This summer is gonna hurt like a mother f-word, I mean come on, there isn’t a single kid in the world who wants to hear that and their parents, 75 out of 100 moms surveyed said they won’t even let their kids listen to the radio anymore because of the swearing. I guess Pitbull doesn’t swear, there’s that.”

My first thought was, he’s right, sort of. And my second thought was, what the fuck with those made up numbers? And my third thought was, oh no, he’s gonna be a critic.

Last night, after stalling the nighttime ritual and finally being forced to brush his teeth, he gave me another earful:

“You know it’s not illegal not to brush your teeth, you can’t be arrested, even though, in the past 50 years in America, 25 parents have tried to have their kids arrested for not brushing their teeth, they never succeeded because the police don’t care. And anyway, only one person has ever gone to jail for not brushing his teeth and he had also murdered someone. It’s not good parenting to force your kids to do anything even if you think that it is something that matters to their health because 100% of kids hate to be forced and 50% of them that are forced, grow up to hate their parents, and maybe even commit crimes, so it’s 100% in your best interest mommy to never, ever force me to do anything, it just makes the most sense, given the statistics.”

Right then, my only thought was, Oh crap, he’s a BLOW HARD.

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The Delusions of Capitalism

This winter we had a 2 week stretch of ice/snow/cold/who-knows-what-the-school-officials-are-thinking days, that is to say, TWO WEEKS OFF FROM SCHOOL. Unexpectedly. In late February.  We made the best of it: sledding, hot chocolate, a marathon igloo building session with neighborhood kids. Well, Milo did all of that, I tried to work, and stay ahead of the slushy filth mucking up the path from the front door to the pantry where the goldfish crackers are kept.

On the days when there was only ice and it was too inhospitably cold to play outside, and his screen time had been exhausted and his friends were occupied, Milo inventoried his My Little Ponies, his books, his money and the family store of board games. And suckered  me and my husband into Monopoly. Milo was the car, my husband was the hat and I was the dog. Milo bought Park Place and Boardwalk early, then gobbled up the far corner of the board, built a bunch of houses and hotels and kicked our asses. He waved a wad of that fake cash in our faces as he did his victory dance.

The next night he wanted to play again, so we did. And, of course, everything that could go wrong for Milo, went wrong for Milo. He bought too much too early, built too much too early, ran afoul of community chest and chance cards, had to buy his way out of jail. Because I’m conflict averse and a sucker for my crazy, long lashed, doughy boy, I made ridiculous trades with him, taking losses, practically forcing my assets on him. And still, my husband, a person whose politics guarantee a deep and abiding loathing of the game (and a sure fire lack of interest which meant a lifetime of losing at Monopoly) managed to own 3/4 of the board. As this catastrophe unfolded, Milo’s paranoia ramped up. First, the dice were out to get him.

Buddy, IT’S A GAME OF CHANCE. You’re rolling dice, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

No, the dice want me to lose. The game doesn’t think I should win. The board hates me.

My husband encouragingly reminds Milo of the many famous rich Americans who lost everything and still came back to be rich again. Milo takes offense, mostly because he knows that my husband finds these people silly (cough, Donald Trump, cough, cough.) There is yelling, fake money and property cards are slammed against the table and there is foot stomping worthy of that crazy Irish dancing.

Let’s take a break. It’s just a game.

IT’S NOT JUST A GAME. IT’S NOT JUST A GAME. It’s me, it’s my life. Nothing good ever happens to me. EVER. Ever. ever.

When the game ended, my husband, regretfully, had won.

The next day Milo refused to speak to my husband, or to be near him. He argued that my husband had sabotaged Milo’s chances, had “made” Milo “lose.”  The day after that, Milo’s opposition to my husband’s existence was even more entrenched. It was hard to navigate the house. It was hard to negotiate Milo’s wrath. Everything reminded him of his loss, of Monopoly.

Buddy, do you want a peanut butter sandwich for lunch?

Not if daddy bought the peanut butter.

Milo, what do you think would help you feel better about Daddy?

If he would apologize for ruining everything.

Everything?

Well, the monopoly game at least.

My husband was incredulous:

Why? I didn’t ruin anything. It’s a game, a game of chance.

Please for me.

No, I won’ be bullied into apologizing for something I didn’t do.

He’s not bullying you. He believes you have done this too him. He’s not manipulating you. He is crazy. You know you can’t reason with him in this state.

My husband stood firm. It was 5:30 pm. There was no plan for dinner in which everyone would participate. I put on my pajamas and went to bed.

And hour later my husband gently pulled back the covers and found me curled up with my phone watching Scandal on Hulu. God damn Olivia Pope would handle this shit.

My husband whispered, “I apologized to Milo and he forgave me. I’m taking him out for wings.  He wants to know if you’ll play monopoly with us when we get back.”

 

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The Autodidact

Milo doesn’t take instruction. I was going to say that Milo doesn’t take instruction happily, but that’s not true. He doesn’t actually take it at all. Nearly everything Milo does well he taught himself. And nearly everything he does not so well, he also taught himself. And there’s a long list of things he hasn’t taught himself and therefore he simply doesn’t do:

tie his shoes
tie anything
zip zippers
button buttons
make his bed
strip his bed
to name a few. . . .

Some of these skills are difficult for Milo because of the sensory issues involved. And some of them are hard for him because he doesn’t have well developed fine motor skills (largely because they have not been practiced.) But some of these skills are beyond Milo because he just doesn’t give a fuck. (He gets that from his mother.)

Milo does well in school. He’s smart, yes, but more importantly, he’s curious. He wants to “be good at” math. So, he pays attention. He watches. And, using his most impressive gift — he processes information as it comes to him — he mimics, and mimics and mimics the doing of math problems until he gets them right and understands them.

Milo has taken drum lessons over a course of a year and 1/2 from two different teachers. He loves these lessons, and he can keep time, and make some rhythmic music, but this has come from watching his teachers and doing what they do, not from listening to their lessons.

Dancing is Milo’s true liberation. He LOVES to bust a move. You can’t stop that kid from shaking his moneymaker whenever he hears Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars’s latest, Uptown Funk. His dance moves are uniquely Milo, as in, adaptations of what he sees other people do. He’s a joy to watch because of his enthusiasm, and his innovation. But too often his dance moves beg for a quick snap of the fingers, something he couldn’t do intuitively and couldn’t teach himself by watching me, or his father, or his sister snap our fingers.

Enter you tube. Specifically, a video called “how to snap your fingers.” (If you’re on your way to Youtube now, there are several to choose from.) Milo studied this video. He broke the action down into its component parts. He practiced and practiced and practiced.

And now, he’s all OH SNAP, all of the time. And when he snaps his fingers inappropriately at me as in, “hurry up Mommy and get me that ice water,” I don’t back him off the rudeness, I stifle my tears. HE CAN SNAP! And he learned how to do it.

Next up? The laundry. . .

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He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Milo

Milo has a giant melon head. He’s the missing Peanuts cartoon character, a caramel apple, a strung bead. He’s tall for his age, and dense as teeth. He weighs in at 106 pounds. If you’ve seen him, that number likely surprises you. He doesn’t look that heavy,  but he is, indeed, that heavy. He’s solid, what used to be called, “big boned.” Naked he is round, fleshy around the middle, soft in the upper arms and upper legs. He is, in his own words, “plump.” And, as he enthusiastically told me,”so are you Mommy.”

Ouch.

My zero-body-fat-works-out-for-7-hours-at-a-time athlete of a daughter took it upon herself to address our shared plumpness. “Why don’t you two work out together.”

Simple. Brilliant. Milo and I headed to Target and found a decently priced dance workout for our dormant Wii. And for a solid week he and I found an hour every afternoon to alternate between Latin dance and cardio boxing. We stumbled into each other, we missed a good deal of the choreography, we tripped and fell. We sweated. And sweated.

We banished my daughter from watching us, even if she kept her mocking to herself. This was for the plump ones, this as for me and Milo. It was fun and it was working.

Then I had to go out of town for a week for work. I managed to not find the time to exercise past walking as much as possible. But Milo carried on. My husband reported that Milo had to be convinced to STOP latin dancing and cardio boxing. The program came with a scale, a calorie counter and a calculator that tells you, not only how many calories you just burned but what the calories equal in terms of food — 4 saltine crackers, or a bar of dark chocolate. This appealed to Milo’s love of math, and to his literal mind. Work out for an hour at the medium level — kill a bowl of pretzels. Work out harder, for longer, and there goes your favorite burger. While I was out of town, Milo went on a manic exercise binge. When I came home he sat me down and talked me through his progress. He lifted his shirt and slapped his stomach. “My belly even sounds less plump!”

Since we started Wii dancing, Milo has taken exercise to heart, and mind. He is serious. Crazy serious. He now regularly interrupts his screen time to walk around the block, or to ask me to walk around the block with him, or to run around the block. He runs home from school, uphill.  He asks for celery and carrots in his lunch. He admires himself in the mirror, flexing his biceps.

My relationship to Milo’s body has been fraught. Ever since he could walk he found most touches unbearable. I taught myself to sniff rather than kiss him. Only while he slept could I  hold his foot in my palm, or press my cheek to his. He’s still sensitive, and I’m still cautious. But Milo’s relationship to his own body amazes me. He is less afraid of it on all levels — that it will feel pain, that it will cause pain — and that it is out of his control. Since he discovered exercise Milo is thrilled to have a body. He’s happy to bust a move, climb a boulder, carry a bag of groceries, race you up a hill.  This morning, when he danced his way down the front steps and to the car, his messy, snarly hair in his eyes, his head thrown back, his crooked teeth flashing, he looked less than plump and more than happy, he looked healthy and fully embodied.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

So, um, well. . . how to put this. . . we had an excellent family vacation.

There were issues, but they HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH MILO. And frankly, whose family vacation doesn’t have issues? The flight there was bumpy and I freaked out and cried, and Milo puked but he took it in stride. He even agreed to wear a sweatshirt of mine on the walk to baggage claim even though it looked ridiculous. We left my husband’s briefcase (he was going on from vacation to a conference) at the airport and had a mad dash back to (luckily) find it fully vetted and sniffed in the security office. My teenage daughter pouted and stomped her way through a world class art museum, and Milo took a dim view of nearly every burger he tried.

And yet, it was glorious. We swam in a fresh, cold, northern lake, we swam in a Great Lake, we kayaked, we climbed and ran down massive sand dunes, we took a wild dune buggy ride, we ate too much ice cream, Milo built a lego robot, we saw a major league baseball game (Milo’s first), visited a massive outdoor market, toured America’s first fully post industrial city, picked out a fragrance called “Michelle Obama” from a street vendor, made s’mores, surveyed the pizza offerings in 3 counties and played some serious Uno.

That kid was open hearted, adventurous, thoughtful and patient. It’s like he was possessed, or repossessed.

The best part? the two of us sitting in the cold by the little lake, surveying the stars.

Let’s make up our own constellations.

Okay, what do you see?

Well that bright star with the 4 other stars that zig zag away from it, that’s the little M, and that for me, for Milo.

I see.

And those 9 stars that are all bright and go up and down and up and down, that’s the Big M and you know what that stands for?

Also for Milo?

No, that stands for Mommy, those are your stars.

And just then (I swear, I swear, I swear) a shooting star rocketed across the night sky. We gasped.

Can I kiss you?

Yes, but just because we saw that shooting star together. Because it’s ours.

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Capture the Flag

So far this summer I have been to rock climbing camp, robotics camp, iMovie camp, RPG design camp, and one day of nature camp. Matt, the mighty babysitter, finished the week of nature camp for me because I was needed out of town on a professional project.

Matt and Milo were tight for a long time, then Matt fell victim to Milo’s paranoia and went off to work with other kids and in a school.  But after a few months, and a change of medication, Milo was willing to welcome Matt back into his constellation of caregivers.

According to Matt, the rest of the week at camp went well. By well, he didn’t mean smoothly. There were bug bites followed by exaggerated expressions of discomfort. There was an encounter with another boy that involved the boy pushing Milo playfully, Milo asking him to not do that, the boy doing it again, Milo asking again, the boy doing it again, Milo asking politely again, the boy doing it again, Milo blowing up, screaming and pushing the boy. Matt talking Milo into calming down and apologizing. When Milo told me the story he said, “Matt said I had to be the bigger person. So I was.”

My one day at nature camp was a full-on Milo summer camp experience. We arrived coincident with Milo’s BFF. We checked in, I signed the barefoot waiver and we joined his age group whole they played a game called gaga ball. I asked Milo if he was sure he wanted to play. He did, and it went well enough. He got out, but he didn’t protest. Then we joined the morning gratitude circle. The counselors introduced themselves and said what they were grateful for. One of them was grateful for finding the remains of a bunny rabbit and some owl feathers behind the tree because this was part of the circle of life. Then the counselors went on to discuss predators and prey. Milo snuck behind me, the circle, the tree and saw the bodiless bunny legs. He came to my side, tugged on my hand and led me away from the circle. Then he shouted:

HOW COULD YOU BRING ME TO A PLACE WHERE CREATURES DIE? OTHER CREATURES KILL THEM!! HOW COULD YOU??

Well, Buddy, I didn’t know that there would be a dead bunny here. But this is outdoor science wildlife camp, so it seems appropriate.

What? Wildlife?? I thought this was outdoor science camp!!

It is.

But wildlife?

Well, animals are a big part of outdoor science.

And you just forgot to tell me about the nature part?

Well nature is part of outdoor science too.

Grrrr Mommy, I don’t want to do this camp.

I’m sorry camp doesn’t meet your expectations Buddy. Let’s think about how we can adjust your expectations.

It’s not about adjusting my expectations, it’s about changing the way I think.

Why? What do you mean?

I mean, I don’t think about animals killing other animals.  I don’t want to think about that. I thought we would look at bugs and stuff.

You will. You already like looking at bugs, right?

Right.

Okay, so it’s not such a big change.

Can you tell them not to make me look at or talk about dead animals?

Yes, I will tell them.

And we returned to the circle.  We played a name game, did a nature scavenger hunt, ate our lunch, listened to a story, set up a trail camera, built a bird feeder, and then Milo played capture the flag. I asked him if I could sit out. It was hot, and I’m old.

Also, I wanted to be able to see him in case the competitive nature of the game set him off. He still has a hell of a time being reasonable in the face of what he considers injustice. I sat with the kids choosing “calm and quiet,” under a massive southern oak with a far reaching canopy, watched them draw pictures of flowers and listened to the counselors gossip. Milo had been given the job of guarding his own side’s jail. He didn’t have to run, which he hates to do, but he had to be watchful and intimidating, which he enjoys. I heard him raise his voice, but it was in service to his vocation. He dodged some tags and doled out other tags. In the end his team won, and he  played the game like everyone else — with sweat and vigor and wartime enthusiasm.

Later in the week he puddle stomped and creek stomped, watched animals not he trail camera, caught and set free bugs, and played more and “better” group games. He judged the week “fun” so I judge fit successful. And with that, our summer of camp ends. There’s just togetherness left.

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