Tuesday, August 1, 2017

You're Kidding Me...Right?!

Here's the latest example of how a poorly-worded policy can create real-life headaches and an obscene level of inequity. This letter was sent out earlier this week. I'll be sure to share any response I get.

Dear Senator Murray,

I am writing to ask you to please look into changing a policy in the Veteran's Administration. I realize you are a very busy woman and I recognize the fact that the current climate in the senate has likely greatly increased your workload. I am hopeful, however, the language I am asking you to review/revise would be a quick and easy fix.

My daughter, Hannah, will turn 22 in a few days. She was born with a rare genetic disorder, Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome. She is, therefore, non-verbal, non-ambulatory, incontinent, and exclusively G-tube fed. She weighs 50 pounds, has a seizure disorder, and has the cognitive ability of a 6 to 9-month-old. When she turned 18 she was quickly approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and I was quickly awarded full guardianship.

A month or two after Hannah's first SSI payment, I received a letter from Social Security stating $94 would be taken both retroactively from her first checks and from forthcoming checks because of the money Hannah was getting from the Veteran's Administration.

After having a good, hearty laugh, as we pictured Hannah having a secret life in the military and earning veteran status, I called the local Social Security office to alert them to their [obvious] mistake.

They said, "Hmmm...prove to us she's not getting money from the VA."

I called the VA and suffered through a conversation with a gentleman who clearly didn't want to speak to me (a lowly civilian). He did eventually agree, however, to send me a letter stating that Hannah does not receive any funds from the VA.

I sent that letter on to Social Security, and they paid back, retroactively, what they had taken out of Hannah's SSI checks. But the next month I received another letter telling me $94 would be deducted from Hannah's checks due to what she was getting from the VA.

About every two months I would have to call Social Security, referring them to the letter from the VA that was in Hannah's file. But after a year they said, "Hmmm...this letter is a year old. She could have potentially become a veteran within the past year and started getting money from them. You'll have to prove to us [again] that Hannah is getting no money from the VA."

Another borderline hostile conversation with another gentleman at the VA later, I had another letter of proof. I was sure - this time around - to provide my ex-husband's Social Security number. He's Hannah's biological father, he is a veteran, and he was my number one suspect for what I was convinced was some sort of fraud. Another two years of hassles with Social Security told me that the fraud was never investigated.

Last month I made my annual call to the VA for a letter of proof. A woman answered the phone...and listened to me. What she told me, though, had my chin hitting the floor. She said that a veteran with a "helpless child" (apparently that's a technical term in the military) gets an extra monthly stipend (my guess is that it's in the amount of $94), and that the stipend continues for as long as the helpless child is alive.

I said, "But he lives 3000 miles away in New Hampshire. He has never had custody of Hannah. He hasn't even laid eyes on her since she was four months old! He paid child support until she was 18, but it was $155/month [total] for both Hannah and her sister. I can't imagine that included $94 from the VA. Now that Hannah is an adult, I'm her legal guardian and she has absolutely zero ties to him. How is it that he gets money in her name?"

She said, "He simply gets the stipend for having a helpless child. There is no requirement for custody, cohabitation, or guardianship, and there is no requirement for the veteran to relinquish that stipend to the helpless child."

So...my ex gets an extra $94/month for being little more than a sperm donor more than 20 years ago, and I get a monthly headache with Social Security as a bonus to the responsibility of being a full-time caregiver for the rest of Hannah's life or mine - whichever ends first.

Life isn't fair. That is a lesson I've learned very well over the years. That being said, this policy feels like the government kicking me when I'm down. I ask that language be added to the rules about this "extra stipend for helpless children" that would require the funds to actually go to the helpless child in question. Either that or the stipend should be discontinued altogether, since the needs of "helpless children" are already covered by SSI and Medicaid.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Take care and continue fighting the good fight for us in "the other Washington"!

Your Supportive Constituent,                      
Stephanie Collins                               

Saturday, July 1, 2017

School's Out

The end of the school year is here. We have successfully survived yet another grade.

There were intense highs and lows this year. Maddie earned honor roll report cards...the first I have ever experienced from the standpoint of a parent. I was surprised how much it affected me. When you have special needs kids you try to convince yourself that all kids shine in their own ways, that academics don't always adequately portray an accurate accounting of ability, that the kids' grades don't necessarily measure your level of parenting proficiency. Over the years I've religiously repeated all of those politically correct phrases of encouragement and enlightenment that special needs parents are supposed to remember [and believe].

Regardless, I've still come to associate those little 1/2-sized, mustard-yellow envelopes that come home with the kids every few months with feelings of failure. ...But when it registered last fall that - for the first time - I was actually seeing a beautiful row of  A's and B's...I was overcome with delight! Elation! Vindication! I had dreamed of having honor roll kids from the time I first discovered I was soon to become a parent (that was a full quarter century ago, by the way), and I was finally living the dream. "See?," the report card seemed to whisper in my ear, "You're not so bad a parent! You have successfully prepared a child for academic achievement!" The high lasted for weeks, and just when doubt nearly had me convinced it was just a fluke - just a outlying report card anomaly - I was lifted, yet again, with another honor roll report card. Joy! Bliss! Euphoria! I unabashedly basked in the glow of it's glory.

As I mentioned in the "Homework,Insanity & Revenge ~ Oh My!" post, James struggled this year. While his grades have never been great, and nothing school-related has ever come easily for him, he has never failed a class for the year...until this year. Eighth Grade Science was a train wreck for him from day one. I scrambled throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters, trying to help him bring that "F" back up, but it was obvious by his 3rd report card that he was doomed to fail.

I ended up accepting that defeat with relative ease. It wasn't one of those classes that was "mandatory" to pass for the year (like history was this year). I was assured by the teachers that it didn't necessarily represent the beginning of the end of his scholastic career. Obviously it won't do him any favors for future science classes, but maybe with new teachers and new material he'll find inspiration in high school where he found none this year. We had lost the battle, but we could still win the war.

What ended up crushing my parental soul was - in the big scheme of things - relatively insignificant. Once I put the science loss behind me, I threw my energies into ensuring a strong finish in his history and math classes. He had big end-of-the-year projects due in both, and I wanted him to feel a great sense of success so he could enter high school with confidence. I grabbed my cheerleading pom poms and coach's whistle, took a deep breath and got to work. Last week we were in the homestretch and I was feeling pretty good about our progress. He had just gotten a B+ on his history project and later he gave me the following note:

Unfortunately, it ended up being a rather hollow victory. The B+ he got on the project wasn't quite enough to bring up the "F" he had in history for the final grading period. He passed for the year, but he didn't have the strong finish we had set out for.

We had one hope left - math. I had been pushing him to keep up with his math project at a nice, steady pace so he'd be sure to have it turned in on time. That was a challenge; his end-of-the-year fatigue was a formidable foe. We trudged on, though; we persevered. The day before it was due, we actually high-five'ed when everything was done - both the "fun" portion - the map - and the "work" portion - the packet. Never had "complete" felt so phenomenal. I indulged in a sweet daydream of the "C" James currently had in math transforming to a "B". All he had to do was turn it all in the next day. That's allllllll he had to do. Just Turn. It. In.

Murphy's Law of Parenting #8462 ~ Don't celebrate scholastic success until the grade has been logged in the grade book.

I got a panicked call the next morning. "Mom, I left my map at home! Would you please bring it to school? I think it's in the folder with the picture of the pug. It should be on the kitchen table." I was at the doctor's office with his sister, but I assured him I could get home and get it to him in time. I got home to find the pug folder...with nothing but blank paper in it. No map. I called the school and told him to retrace his steps, to pull his backpack apart, go through his locker with a fine-toothed comb...to call out the hounds! We needed to find that map so he could turn it in!

A few hours later I nervously chewed my fingernails as I paced in front of the living room window, anxiously awaiting his return home and word on the location of the map. Finally I caught sight of him...feet shuffling slowly up the driveway, head bowed, shoulders drooped. I had my answer. And I. Was. Devastated.

I was again surprised by just how much an academic success or failure for one of my kids affected me. It physically hurt. I was overwhelmed with an utter sense of helplessness. I mean...he had DONE the work! He had DONE it! He just...tripped at the finish line.

With tears threatening to leak from my eyes, I quickly left the house. I thought a brisk walk might help to calm my nerves and put things into perspective. I think at some point my Fit Bit stopped counting steps and just said, "Hey...wanna talk about it? It can't be all that bad."


And the Fit Bit was right. It wasn't like James had lost the entire assignment; he at least had something to show for the work he had put into it. Just the fact that he did the work means he very well may have learned something. It wasn't much to allay my frustration and disappointment, but the sun continued to shine, we continued to breathe - it wasn't the end of the world.

Of course, later I learned that - to add insult to injury - James told his teacher, "I'm looking for the map. If I can't find it by the end of class I'll turn the packet in tomorrow." That made the entire project late, on top of being incomplete, so he failed the project. The "C" he had for the class - that I had been so anxious to see change - dropped down to a "D".

You win some, you learn some. My goal had been to help James gain a sense of success that would carry him through the summer and boost his confidence for high school. That didn't end up happening, but as a consolation prize we got valuable lessons about the importance of organization and critical decision making skills. Now I will do my best to shake it all off and allow summer to rejuvenate me...so I'll be ready to jump back into the trenches in September. Hugs and high-fives to all you other parents who survived yet another grade this year, too.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Vegas "Vacation"

Maddie attended the Trampoline and Tumbling Regional Championships over Mother's Day weekend. It's as if the Gymnastics Association Powers That Be decided to have a little "fun" with parents. Hmmm...where can we hold a western regional event that will make parents work their hardest and put them on the spot more often than anywhere else...?

Here's a conversation that took place just before we boarded the plane headed for Vegas. The kids were playing 20 questions.

[14-year-old] James: Does the item start with an "S"?

[10-year-old] Maddie: Yes.

James: Does the second letter start with an "I"?


James: What? What's so funny?

My silent reflection: Ahhh...this is going to be fun little family get-away; I'm so glad we have the opportunity to do this!

Here's a conversation that took place moments after we got off the plane:

Maddie: [looking at a larger-than-life, live action screen display] Why is that lady twerking that guitar?

James: Oh, that's not a lady. That's Britney Spears.

My silent reflection: Oh yeah...this is VEGAS. Well...I'm sure our hotel will be a little more "family friendly", since they booked the meet to take place right there at our resort.

The moment we walked into our hotel:

Maddie: Mommy, why is "sexy" spelled with TWO x's in all of these signs?

Me: Ah...it would appear gymnastics isn't the only entertainment here this weekend. Of course.

Me: I guess the extra "x" means it's extra sexy.

James: Mom, I'll try to distract Maddie. Just hurry up and get the key so we can get her to the room.

Me: Huh...who would have guessed James would jump right into the role of Protective Big Brother?

Two hours later, when Daniel and James returned to the room after taking a walk around the resort so Maddie could get right to sleep:

Daniel: So we looked around for the convention center, like you asked, so we'll know where to take Maddie in the morning. We found it, but we also found ourselves in a hallway where a bunch of girls were gathered, apparently waiting to go on stage for the show. Suddenly we were surrounded by a sea of tassels, pasties, and g-strings. James will dream well tonight!

The next day we had to walk through a casino in order to get to the gymnastics meet from our room. About the 8th time we walked through:

Maddie: [sounding disgusted] Why do so many people smoke here? And gamble? I don't even understand gambling. Why would you want to just waste all your money?!

Me: I don't know, kiddo. Smoking, drinking, and gambling are all things you have to be at least 21-years-old to do. I think they made that rule because if you're that old and you STILL want to do those things, then go for it...but they're stupid things to do, and we don't want our kids doing stupid stuff.

After Maddie was done competing (she did GREAT; so proud!!!), we had tickets for the Cirque Du Soleil show, Mystére, but we stopped off at Señior Frog's for dinner, while we waited for the show to begin. It was a fun meal that included watching an entire wedding party pass our table (prompting a conversation about the prevalence of Vegas weddings and how they often "differ" from traditional weddings) and a guy getting alcohol poured down his gullet to the music of an ear-splitting whistle and the ruckus cheers of all of his buddies, in apparent celebration of his birthday (prompting the question from Maddie, of course, "Why are they doing that to that guy?!").

The festive meal also included elaborate balloon animal hats. I passed on getting a hat for myself (prompting the question from James, "Mom, why aren't you any fun?").

After the meal, James and I waited outside the restaurant while Daniel took Maddie back in to retrieve something she forgot. James noticed an advertisement sign.

James: Ugh...look at this, Mom. 'Ladies Night every Wednesday' and 'Bikini Contest every Thursday'. I mean...can you believe it?

I was skeptical about his disgusted tone.

Me: What...you wouldn't want to go to the bikini contest?

James: Pffff...well...I mean...I wouldn't say NO!

Minutes later we found our seats for the show. I took a deep breath, looking forward to at least an hour or two of entertainment that would be blissfully free of awkward questions.

First character on the stage: You will see smoke on the stage. That's okay - for US, here on the stage - not for YOU! For you, there is no smoking...no texting...NO SEXTING! Now, enjoy the show!!!

Maddie: What's sexting?

Me: [Groan]

The next day [Mother's Day] we took a bus tour to the western rim of the Grand Canyon, with a stop at the Hoover Dam.

Dam Dab

On the bus, on the way to the Grand Canyon:

James: You're the best, Mom!

Maddie: Yeah, the best mom, EVER!

Me: I don't know, guys. Just last night we established that I'm no fun.

James: Oh no...no, mom...you're.........fun.

Daniel: [laughing] Did you hurt yourself there, buddy, trying to choke that out?

The Grand Canyon was amazing. The skywalk was breathtaking. Learning about the Hualapai Tribe was fascinating. We had a wonderful time. It was an even more educational trip than I anticipated, too.

Me: Well, guys, is the Grand Canyon like you imagined it would be?

James: Pretty much, but it's still cool.

Maddie: No. It's COMPLETELY different. But, yeah; it's really cool.

Me: What did you think it would be like?

Maddie: Oh, I thought it was a water park.

The next morning we were in a cab on our way back to the airport. It was 5:30 AM.

Me: [to the driver] So is this the beginning of your shift or the end?

Driver: The beginning; I just started my day.

...Early morning, "pre-coffee" silence...

Maddie: [yelling from the back seat, with a standard-issue, complimentary entertainment brochure in her hand] So...what's so special about an ASIAN massage? I don't get it. What makes an ASIAN massage any better than a REGULAR massage? This one says, "...girls taking care of all your needs..." here it says, "happy experience, throughout"...



James: [grabbing a brochure for himself]


Monday, May 1, 2017

Surviving Science Fair Season

Remember when you were in high school and you longed for a day when you'd be through with intrusions on your life like book reports and science fairs? Remember how you hungered for a life that no longer included homework? Remember the incredible freedom you felt on graduation day as the weight of syllabuses, memorized locker combinations, and term papers rolled off your shoulders?

I now realize I was a BIT premature in feeling like I had walked away from all of that. It's especially clear when I'm stressing in the morning to help get forgotten homework completed or when I'm supervising a large school project. Days of doing homework aren't DONE; the difficulty level has just been increased. Books, notes, and/or instructions are often left at school, requiring guesswork on what the teacher intended and expects. There is a direct ratio between my understanding of the assignment and arguments from the child, who has misinterpreted said assignment, but is certain he/she DOES understand. Most of all, there is a distinct drop in control over time management (as, inevitably, any assignment or project I help with has been put off until the last possible second).

Right now the school year is about 65 to 75% done. The kids are 90 to 100% done. The gap ends up requiring 110% effort from me (don't worry; it all adds up when you apply Common Core math). For some reason (likely some sick sense of humor) the schools choose THIS time of year to assign the largest, most time-consuming homework, like science fair projects.

In years past I prided myself on obtaining that perfect mixture of allowing the child to "help" just enough to honestly say he/she "did" the project, while ensuring I created a scientific work of art.

This year I attempted a new strategy. It was actually out of necessity. I was distracted with trying to minimize the damage of the train wreck that was my son's grades, so I allowed my 5th grade daughter to take on her science fair project all by herself.

I recently quit doing the kids' laundry. I was tired of putting clean, folded clothes on their beds to be put away, only for them to be kicked around until they fell to the floor, get kicked around some more, then get thrown right back into the dirty laundry. As a new member of the laundering community, Maddie decided to test which stain removers work best.

It is hard to put into words just how painful it was for me (a self-admitted control freak with a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder) to watch said project leave the house the day it was due.

Here was her hypothesis:

Here; let me offer a bit of punctuation for that last one, since complete sentence structure didn't seem to be a priority for this project in any way, shape or form.
Stain remover, organic or not: I think it will work. Well, not as well as bleach, but...well...because, like I said, bleach takes out all the color and stain remover doesn't.

Here were her conclusions:

Again, I'll offer a bit of punctuation clarification.
Soap: It was...well...I don't know how it was, but it just was.
Bleach looked like it was from the start - plain white. I was right; yay!!!!
Organic was way worse than non-organic. Weird, right?

And...drum roll...here's our [beautiful?] finished product.

I don't drink. I think if I did, this would have been a good time to grab the bottle. Instead, it is times like these when I am extremely thankful for friends who take the sting out of some of these parenting challenges (whether they realize what they're doing or not). A few weeks ago my friend, Vickie, stopped by the house unexpectedly. She had recently made a quilt; the colors of which were inspired by a recent trip she took to Sprague Lake.

She decided - for whatever reason - to gift me the [breathtakingly beautiful] quilt. Now, on mornings like that one, when my nerves are particularly fried, I curl up under said quilt and escape into one of my books, allowing my energy reserves replenish in time to face whatever challenge the end of the school day may throw my way next. At night I keep it folded up at the end of my bed, and when I climb in at bedtime, exhausted and drained, the weight of it on my feet feels like a daily hug from my thoughtful, talented, and very generous friend. Thank you, Vickie, for helping me survive this year's edition of Science Fair Season!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Homework, Insanity & Revenge ~ Oh my!

In July of 2015 I shared some of my discoveries about the realities of being a parent to kid(s) with ADHD/dyslexia in my post "Expectations, Misconceptions, and Blindsides". A few things have changed since then. Just months after that post Maddie was also diagnosed with ADHD/dyslexia. That has improved things in our home to some extent; her meds and therapy are clearly helping her, and she's doing pretty well (especially at school). For James, some challenges remain, some problems have been resolved, and some new issues have presented themselves.

One major ongoing challenge for James is that of school. It's tricky - and exhausting - to try to motivate him toward the academic success I know he is capable of. Frankly, I struggle to even effectively communicate with him; it's like we speak different languages. How do you "reach" someone if you can in no way relate to his line of thinking? A few example conversations of late:

Me: But, James...you haven't really put much time into this. This is a big, important project, and you really need to bring your grade up. Don't you want to make a nice neat presentation to impress your teacher and show her the great work you're capable of?

James: Uh...NO! [with "Should I be worried about your mental health status?" written all over his face]

James: Oh, I took that math quiz today. I did pretty good. I got a "C".

Me: That's good, buddy! ...That's a quiz that she'll let you re-take for a chance at a better grade, right?

James: Uh...yeah, but why would I do that? I got a "C".

Me: Right...and that was a good effort...but you have a "D-" in the class. If you re-take the quiz and get an "A" or a "B" your overall grade will bounce up a little, too.

James: But...I got a "C". A "C" isn't bad. WHY would I want to do a re-take?!

Me: Please go spend a few more minutes studying for your test.

James: I don't need to. I'm good. I'm all set.

Me: But that's what you said right before you failed your last test.

James: I know. But THIS time I've got it. Don't worry, Mom...TRUST me.


Me: Please go spend a few more minutes studying for your test.

James: I don't need to. I'm good. I'm all set.

Me: But that's what you said right before you failed your last test.

James: I know. But THIS time I've got it. Don't worry, Mom...TRUST me.

Me: [Bang my head against the wall]

Meanwhile, I continue with my weekly visits to our trusted family pediatric psychiatrist, Dr. Feldman. The goal we're working toward is for James to take initiative and put effort into his education for himself. Not because he'll be grounded if gets a bad grade. Not because he'll only earn time on the XBox if he gets a good grade, but because he sees the value of his success and reaches for it on his own.

Incidentally, "long term incentive"-type interventions (like the threat of grounding or the promise of future privilege that I mention above) have never worked for James. Remember the self control study where kids were offered a marshmallow? The kids were told they were welcome to eat the marshmallow, but were also told if they waited [15 minutes] they'd get 2 marshmallows. Yeah; James would have gone for the single marshmallow every time. We could offer him $1000 for a "B" on his report card or threaten to throw his XBox away and flush his phone down the toilet if he gets an "F"...it doesn't matter. His level of foresight just can't compete with his lack of impulse control. If he's going to do schoolwork now, it's going to have to be because he wants to do it now.

I cry on Dr. Feldman's shoulder about the difficulty of getting James to want academic success. I moan. I fret. I fume. I gripe. I grumble. He calmly encourages me to continue with positive reinforcement. He serenely reminds me of our progress [albeit frustratingly slow]. He peacefully assures me we're doing the right thing. Ugh...it's enough to make me want to slug the guy.

Who knows if we're on the right track. I was recently encouraged when James sent an email to all of his teachers that said, "I'm failing and I need some help to figure out how to get my grades up." That's gotta be like the alcoholic who has hit rock bottom, right? ...Right? 

He further demonstrated his resolve to dig himself out of the hole he's currently dug himself into by handing over his phone and telling me to keep it until all the "F's" he has are brought back up. He is half way to his goal. He's stressed, but he's making relatively steady progress. We'll see if he can maintain his level of resolve. His efforts remind me of someone on a weight loss program. Will he proudly finish with impressive before-and-after pictures, worthy of being plastered all over a magazine cover? Or will he crumble under the overwhelming pressure and find himself curled up in the corner of a dark room, crying, as he shovels Twinkies down his throat at a manic pace? 

Please excuse my while I go connect with my inner cheerleader and meditate in search of my increasingly elusive patience. James is due home from school soon. I'll keep you posted on our progress. Meanwhile, I send a cyber hug out to all of you who can relate to my plight...parents who struggle to find a way to get their kiddos to "see the light", parents who feel ashamed and defeated all too often. Don't lose hope! These kids are worth the fight! The promise of success can be hard to see from the trenches, but we'll get there. And if the promise of success isn't enough to keep your spirits up, there's the promise of a really good show when they grow up and have kids of their own...when we can kick back and smile as they pull their hair out in frustration!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Vacation From The Kids"? Hmmm...

Best Husband Ever recently arranged for us to fly to London for a week so I could attend an awards ceremony I never would have dreamed I'd be able to attend. It was an incredibly romantic gesture, I love him all the more for it, and I had a fantastic time. Since we've returned home, however, many people have said, "OH - you got some time away from the kids! Nobody is more deserving; GOOD FOR YOU!" I smile when people say that and nod my head, but internally I'm thinking about the trip from my phone's point of view. Vacation from the kids? Hmmm...you be the judge.

Sunday 11:39 PM -
Pictures snapped and posted to Facebook:

Well, our London adventure began a bit earlier than we planned. Of COURSE Seattle would have a big snow event when we're trying to leave town. Rather than get stranded on our hill tomorrow morning, we booked a hotel room right next to the airport & caught a ride with a capable young man who drives for Uber part time when he's not out on his Coast Guard ship catching drug runners. Now I'm off to sleep in our cheap little hotel bed, with visions of zero flight delays dancing through my head.

Monday 12:02 AM 
Text exchange with Babysitter Extraordinaire 

Me: Made it.  :)  

B.E - I'm glad you guys are safe  <3  :)

12:20 AM

B.E. - Princess can't fall asleep.

Me - Tell her to just lay quietly and read so YOU can go to sleep!

6:58 AM
Email From Not-So-Studious Son's Science Teacher:

Here's the link to the page for the test corrections he needs to do. Not sure how he's missed it for two weeks?   :)   Have a great trip!

7:03 AM
Back to texting with Babysitter Extraordinaire

Me - I'm sure it comes as no surprise, but both schools are closed today.  :)

B.E. - Yeah I figured that LOL

7:58 AM
Texts with Trusty Driver (who I pre-paid for all transportation, as Babysitter Extrordinaire doesn't drive)

T.D. - Is school cancelled for today?

Me - Yes. I'll let you know ASAP about the status of gymnastics practice for tonight.

9:13 AM
Back to texting with Babysitter Extraordinaire

Me - Kids all still asleep?

Me - Or did Princess ever GET to sleep?

B.E. - She's up and so is Not-So-Studious Son. She didn't go to sleep until at least 1.

Me - Before Not-So-Studious Son can go to any friend's house, he needs to clean his room, eat breakfast, (or brunch...or lunch) and take his pills.

10:01 AM

B.E. - Princess still has gymnastics, right?

Me - Don't know; I don't think the gym is open yet. I'll call soon; we're going through security.

10:08 AM

Me - Will you plz take a pkg of ground beef out of the freezer to thaw & make tacos with tonight? I was going to do that this AM before we left - didn't think of it last night.

10:36 AM
Pictures snapped and posted to Facebook:

Phrase of the day is "On Time" ...which, SO FAR, we are...fingers crossed as I watch some de-icing.

11:32 AM
Alert from Doorbell Video Camera ("RING") that Not-So-Studious Son's best friend, Partner In Crime, has arrived.

12:01 PM
Call the Gym.

Text to Trusty Driver

Me - So the gym will NOT be opening today, so no gymnastics for Princess. I'll let you know the minute I hear about school for tomorrow.

12:12 PM
Back to texting with Babysitter Extraordinaire

Me - The gym will NOT be opening today, so no practice for Princess. I just let Trusty Driver know.

1:08 PM
Alert from RING that Partner In Crime has left.

2:35 PM
Facebook Message from Babysitter Extraordinaire

B.E. - Off-site Dependent Daughter lost power at her condo so she's coming here.
[Off-site Dependent Daughter lives in a condo 1 mile from our house with Best Husband Ever's father]

Me - Yeah, I just got an email about the outage from the power company. If it doesn't come back on before dark, she can stay in our room.

2:40 PM
Call to Babysitter Extraordinaire to further discuss power outage, preparations for possible power outage at the house, and to give instruction for Not-So-Studious Son to work on the science assignment.

3:13 PM
Alert from RING that Off-Site Dependent Daughter has arrived.

3:39 PM
Call to Off-Site Dependent Daughter to discuss her plan to return to the condo after the power is restored, and ensure she has her medication, etc., should she need to spend the night.

5:26 PM
Field a call from Not-So-Studious Son with complaints about a miscommunication with Babysitter Extraordinaire about the game plan for science assignment.

5:29 PM
Have phone discussion with Babysitter Extraordinaire to try to smooth over any homework-related frustrations and to clarify homework plan.

5:57 PM
Facebook Message from Not-So-Studious Son

N.S.S.S. - Ok so this never happens but I feel bad for Princess. She looks sad. Babysitter Extraordinaire played with her for a couple of minutes but then stopped. She has been asking her to do piano 4 times now.

Me - Give Princess your phone and dial my #. I have time for 1 more call.

6:02 PM
Have firm-worded discussion with Princess about behaving for Babysitter Extraordinaire and remind her it won't kill her to practice piano for 5 minutes if that will allow her to go back to playing with Babysitter Extraordinaire.

6:10 PM
We board the plane and experience 12 blissful hours of no communication. Pictures snapped and posted to Facebook.

*  *  *

That was most of the communication during the first 18 hours of our 6-day trip. Trust me; things did not slow down for the rest of our "vacation". It was a constant stream of notifications, clarifications, base-touching, conflict resolution, reprimands, and cheerleading (for Babysitter Extraordinaire, of course, as the kids systematically wore her down). It was made all the more exciting by the 8-hour time difference, too. Not-So-Studious Son called me via Skype to chat about his day on Thursday. The first thing he said was, "Oh...I didn't realize it would be so dark there!" "Yeah," I said, "It's 1:53 AM here, buddy. What's up?" Not all exchanges were quite so civilized. There were some lovely little exchanges like this, as Best Husband Ever and I were "leisurely" enjoying an afternoon at a museum in Edinburgh:

Wednesday morning [Seattle time]/
Wednesday afternoon [Scotland time],
moments before school started

N.S.S.S. - Mom I left the science assignment at home  :(

Me - I ASKED you if you had it in your backpack!!! I'm so mad right now!

N.S.S.S. - I thought I did!

Me - You kept your phone at night, even though Babysitter Extraordinaire TOLD you to leave it in the living room like you're supposed to.

Me - You argued with her all morning.

N.S.S.S. - What? No. I told her I was sorry.

Me - You made her CRY!!!!!!

N.S.S.S. - Mom

Me - Then you forget the ONE thing I tell you to take to school and you CONVENIENTLY don't realize it until it's too late to go back and get it, even though you INSISTED on going to school over an hour early so you could hang out with your friends. I am PISSED!

N.S.S.S. - No I'm sorry
I'll scan it
When u get back
I don't know

Me - You had better make it up to Babysitter Extraordinaire, Science Teacher, and me somehow before I get home or the Xbox is out the window.

N.S.S.S. - He's not mad
He's happy I'm here

Me - This all has to be fixed BEFORE I get back. He may not be mad, but I am enough for both of us!!!

N.S.S.S. - I'm sorry I didn't look

Me - Babysitter Extraordinaire is ready to QUIT because of you two. WORK IT OUT and get your freakin' homework turned IN!!!!!!!!!!

N.S.S.S. - You're probably never going to go on vacation again because of me
I'm sorry
I should have been nicer
Please talk
I'm sorry
I will get it in
I'll try my hardest

Is this going to affect you ever going on vacation because I want you to have fun
I'm sorry
Please answer

Me (about a half hour later, now exploring St. Giles Cathedral) - Wasn't ignoring you. I lost my phone signal. Please, for the love of GOD, focus on getting everything turned in BY FRIDAY, and figure out a way to make Babysitter Extraordinaire happy. Love you and have a good day at school. xoxo

Meanwhile I was getting "messages" from Babysitter Extraordinaire...

I truly did have a wonderful time and - believe it or not - I view the trip as a total success. Yes, Not-So-Studious Son lived up to his name, Princess did anything BUT live up to hers, and Off-Site Dependent Daughter required more assistance than anticipated. None of that surprised me. What DID surprise me was that nary a word was said about Problem Child during the entire week. HER bag of tricks contains plenty of monkey wrenches that could have easily blown our trip off course. There were no out-of-control seizures, no respiratory distress...she didn't so much as yank her G-tube out! The kids are still alive, Babysitter Extraordinaire is still relatively sane (despite incredible and imaginative efforts to make her otherwise), and the house is still standing. Success. I posted a number of beautiful pictures from our trip to Facebook. Looking at them, one would think it was an absolutely magical respite from "real life". Only my phone and I know the REAL behind-the-scenes truth of a "vacation from the kids".