Monday, April 30, 2012

Does Passion Equals Happiness?


I love reading biographies of inspirational people, people we look up to and learn from, and people who achieved heights in their careers. Through my readings I’ve found that they all have one thing in common – they are all very passionate about what they do. They take a gamble, they suffer, they persist, and they achieve. But the question I ask now is if they were happy in their struggles? Would they be happier if they found steady jobs and could provide for their families? What would I say if my boys would choose tough routes in their careers?

I started thinking about how my parents solved this important parenting question. They chose to put education on the top of the list of their upbringing elements. To them it was almost as important as the health of their children. At a very early age both my sister and I knew our responsibilities. Having shown a great talent in science, my sister was bound to become a doctor. And I, who had shown talent in music, was supposed to become a musician.

So, when I turned fourteen, I got accepted into a music college to study piano. The job of a piano teacher was in demand back then and was considered perfect for a woman. But, this was not what I had in mind for my future, and, about a year later, I told my parents that I love to write. I am sure that my parents thought something in line of “what kind of job is that!” They wanted much more security than that for their daughter’s future. They knew well that if passion does not transform into money, then passion may turn into misery. So after long consideration, we settled that I would continue onto Conservatory and study piano and music history. Mom said that, if I still would want to write, I could become a music journalist after I graduate but, if that does not work out, I could be a music teacher.

As much as I loved music, I did not like playing or teaching piano. And, after we moved to the US and got an opportunity to start a new life, I could not even think about continuing my studies and career as a musician. I threw myself into learning English and, two years later, I declared that I want to write. “But why don’t you go to law school, instead?” mom said. “And if you still want to write after you graduate, you can do that. But if that won’t work out, you can have your law degree to fall back on.” I could not beat that logic and went to law school, got my degree and started practicing law. Somehow, I was so busy expanding my legal career that I forgot that I wanted to write… until only few years later when I realized that I could not live without writing and somehow had to find my way back to it. I felt upset thinking that my parents misguided me and made me forget my desire to write.

But now, I am a parent, and to me, the education of my kids is also on the top of my list. I did promise myself that I would never tell my kids what they should become. After all, we spend most of our life working and we should love what we do! But last Friday Alex came to me and said that he loves the “writer’s workshop” class he has at school.  “We learned how to write a research paper, and my paper was about sharks!” he exclaimed.

“Do you like writing papers?” I asked.

“Yes, I do. But I really like writing my own stories where I don’t have to stick to facts.” He looked very excited.

Oh my, I thought, what if Alex comes to me one day and tells me that he wants to become a writer or anything in that unstable and tough to break through line of work! Finally I understood what my parents felt and thought when I announced my desires. I didn’t have to think about this much when Robert decided he wanted to become an astrophysicist – he could do so much with this degree in his life and be happy doing what he loves. But what do I tell Alex? Even if he wants to become a writer, shouldn’t he have an alternative profession to fall back on? Should he follow his dreams? Should I suggest him to be practical? Were my parents right? While my road to find myself was long and twisted, I don’t regret it, really. It is mine, and I learned and experienced so much on the way!

… luckily, Alex is only seven, and I don’t have to decide my motherly suggestion now…

Any thoughts?

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Back to basics...


As years go by, I become more and more like my … mother. What happened to me? I never cared for any domestic stuff, ever! I used to dread my chores as a kid: I always tried to pretend I was sleeping on Saturday mornings when my mom was getting ready to go to the farmer’s market, and I always tried to trick my sister so that I could skip my turn to water mom’s violets and lilies. But now something changed in me, and I started craving the smell of fresh fruits from farmers market, I started wishing to have my own farm or, at the very least, a garden. I wish I could have it already fully grown in my backyard!

Last Saturday, as I was still lying in bed planning my journey of learning the ABCs of gardening, and, of course, becoming a pro, I could almost picture my ideal little garden. It would be a mixture of fruit trees, berries, flowers, and veggies, all mixed together in an orderly disorderly fashion. It would have a bench in the middle of wild flowers that would exhale a sweet summer smell reminding us of our lazy childhoods.

I have to confess, I am not a very patient person when it comes to the waiting game. Last year Alex and I, with Varuzh’s help of course, made an attempt to grow a garden. We planted tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, and lilies. I was very excited to eventually harvest some crops, like six tomatoes, two bell peppers, four strawberries and nine lilies. But our garden did not look anything like I pictured in my mind. It was bare with two bushes, strawberries that were mainly eaten by the birds, and lilies that were too few and too far apart. Maybe I just don’t have a green thumb, I thought in disappointment.

Now it’s another year! Spring is here, and I have to try again. But I will have to be smarter this time, and that is why I am willing to start with basics… like going to a garden store with someone who knows this stuff!

I grabbed Alex and my friend Mary Ann who is also known in my world as a gardening pro, and we went straight to the source – the beautiful Rogers Gardens in Newport Beach. And what a pleasure it was for our senses! The beauty of plants in full bloom, cleverly coordinated by type and colors, mixed with flowing fountains, antique looking pots and cute little sculptures. The garden was designed in orderly disorderly fashion, just as I like it!

As we walked on the gravel, Mary Ann showed me and Alex different kinds of plants that could work in our garden and that would not require much work – I’m sure she knows the color of my thumb.

Even though I wanted to buy half of the garden plants, I kept reminding myself that I have to be patient and take it one step at a time. So I settled for a Camellia for its beauty, deep color and easy care. Hopefully, it will eventually grow into a beautiful tree under which I will build a bench and next to which I will plant lots of wild flowers.

We dug a deep hole today and planted our new Camellia tree. It is a little small and a little bare, but I think it is very pretty. And as we were planting it, I noticed a lily that peeked through the ground.
“Oh my, our last year’s lily bulb grew again,” I exclaimed.  The lily was lonely, but very pretty…

… and I thought that maybe I should go back to the garden store tomorrow and get my lily another flower friend…

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Money Week (Part III)


The Upgrade

From my earlier posts, you probably noticed that I get to travel quite a lot for work and finally, last year, I earned my Platinum membership with Delta.  This means that I’ll be able to upgrade to first class quite often now.

Nice, isn’t it? I remember when I was upgraded to the first class for the first time. I was already about to go into the plane to sit at my usual exit row isle seat, as I heard my name being called, and I was given a newly assigned seat 2B. It was supposed to be a four-hour flight from Memphis to Los Angeles. Nice, I would even get dinner! I got to sit by the men in suits, was offered a drink on a tray and was called by my last name, Mrs. Ayriyan. I watched all the rest of folks passing through our cabin to find their seats in coach, fight for overhead space, and hope that a middle seat would be occupied by a tiny person. I felt special.

But as time went on, and as I started getting upgraded often, I suddenly realized that I stopped getting excited about this. As the boarding call would be announced for the first class passengers, I would casually go through the carpeted section, be greeted by a flight attendant who would attentively take my coat, get settled, order the usual sparkling water with lime, chat with a fellow passenger. 

So what happened? Did flying first class become… average? Was it not special any more? I got to sit and talk to many people from different parts of the world working on different well paid jobs, but I never heard that money makes a difference in the level of happiness they experience. Everyone has his or her share of happy days and tough days. No one complains about being wealthy, but no one brings up wealth as a component of happiness.

True. Having money does not necessarily lead to happiness. Money may bring some extra comfort, but it does not protect us from getting stressed, sick or broken hearted.

There were days when Varuzh and I were very poor. We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment that was in walking distance from a freeway, caring for little Robert. We could not afford rewarding Robert with money for good behavior all the time, but we had a little jar where managed to collect a few dollars every month and treat him for a breakfast in McDonalds.  We would get a thirty-cent hot chocolate from a vending machine in a school nearby and loved it. To be honest, we did not need or care for a three-dollar cappuccino. We were so young, so happy, so hopeful. I could not imagine then that one day I would be traveling first class…

I will be flying out of town again tomorrow. If I get upgraded to first class, I will take it with humbleness and enjoy more leg room. And if I don’t, that won’t redefine me, and I will go to my seat and hope I get enough overhead space for my luggage.

Signing off till Monday.

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Money Week (Part II)


Money 101

While I firmly believe in equality between women and men, it seems that I established yesterday that women and men view the world a little differently sometimes. While Varuzh loves hanging out at the electronics department, I would much rather spend my time checking out the new Mark Jacobs spring collection. Meanwhile, Varuzh is always gets dumbfolded as to how I can spend so much time in a shoe department and not get bored. Okay, so while we may want to spend our money on different things, we still need to learn how to budget, how to divide money between necessities, entertainment and saving for the future.

I have to post a disclaimer though: I am somewhat lousy with my finances. I do not have much money saved for a bad day, but I do have my Channel pumps which I love dearly… and hope that I won’t have a bad day. This, however, does not necessarily mean that I don’t know what’s right or wrong.

Well, when I was growing up, the word money was not a part of conversation between adults and kids. It was not customary. Apparently, we were supposed to figure it out on our own, and, sooner or later, we did. Life and reality taught us and, depending on our personalities, we would have an easier time or more difficult time with it since some of us have personalities of savers, some of investors, some of bargain seekers, and some would rather be dead than seen near sales racks.

Trying to stay away from the old fashion traditions, I thought it is important to be open to teaching our kids, girls and boys, all about money. We , rich or poor, should take them to work with us to show what we do to earn money; we should take them to the bank, to the stores, to the movies’ box office. Then, once they learn how money works, they have to learn patiently collect the money for things they chose.

“I want to get a Fish Game,” Alex told me after he earned and saved his first dollar. Our deal is that he earns a quarter per day if he completes number of chores and keeps his body calm for at least two hours each day. 

“Sure you can! After you earn enough, of course,” I said knowing that the game costs $6.99.

After we calculated how many days he needed to work to earn the money for the game, Alex asked me if he could get the game now and if I could just not pay him until he paid off the amount.

“Nice try, Alex,” I said. “But you have been working for money for only four days so far. How do I know if you will keep working well?”

Alex knew I had a point. After thinking a little, he asked to purchase ringtones for his alarm for “only 99 cents”.

“Are you sure you want to spend your money on something like that? Don’t you want to save for the game?”

“No,” he said. “I really want the ringtones I think.”

Believe me, while I am willing to pay $500 for a pair of shoes, I had a very hard time to let Alex spend a dollar on such a silly purchase! But it was not my place to decide, and was not my money either. So when the purchase was complete through my credit card, Alex paid me his dollar and I gave him one penny back.

The next day I found him no longer interested in the ringtones and regretting that he spent four days worth of earnings on that. Lesson is learned! And better at seven than later.

I felt very proud of myself for letting Alex spend that dollar and for not giving in and not buying him the fish game he originally wanted, when later I saw his disappointed face.  I hope that one day he will truly benefit from this, because, just like me, it looks like he has a personality of a… spender...

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Money week (Part I)


Where Is My Money Tree?

It’s tax week in the US, and so all working Americans have to make sure their tax returns are complete and filed by tomorrow.  So, I thought, that this week is the most appropriate time to talk about money. How we get money, how we spend money, and why we want money.

I started thinking about when and how I was first encountered with money, and I realized that the first type of money a lot of us get is from the tooth fairy.

Not a great lesson on how to earn money, I thought. By the time kids turn six or seven, do they still have their trusting nature or do they just play along to get a quarter? Is this why as they grow up, they still think that parents should pay for their tenth teddy bear or truck or jeans, for their fish or birds or turtles, the college tuition or first car? Is this why they think money grow on trees?

I have to admit that I participated in this deception of lying to my kids that they could get money from fairies, since I traded quarters for every single baby tooth my boys lost. And I hope that I did not give them wrong idea! So, I decided to talk to them both and set everything straight.

“Alex,” I called my youngest. “Tell me, do you believe in a Tooth Fairy?”
“No,” he said, “I don’t believe in any of that stuff.”

Wait, what?! I really did not anticipate such brutal honesty from a seven-year-old. He did not even try to play along!

“What do you mean you don’t believe in a tooth fairy? Who do you think gave you this quarter?”

Alex stopped for a moment to think. “Well, I don’t know,” he said, “I sleep at night. And why would a fairy need so many teeth for?”

Great, he answered my question with a question to which I had no answer. For a moment I imagined a room filled with baby teeth; the scene was pretty disgusting. So I dropped the subject. But apparently, I did not influence his views with deception.

So I called Robert next, since he would not pick up, I sent him a text message. And, even though he is twenty and studying astrophysics, I delicately asked:  “Do you ever believe in the Tooth Fairy?”

My phone was silent for quite a long time until I got a message back. Apparently, he never did either. 


After getting Robert’s response, I got a little sad that my boys did not believe in “that stuff”.  Did I do it wrong? Did they lose their teeth when they were too old already? If memory serves me well, when I was a kid, I always believed in “that stuff”!

“It’s because you are a girl, mom.” Alex took my hand to comfort me. “And that’s OK.”

…Sorry for being so silly today. Will try to be a little more substantive tomorrow…

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Girls Night: "Sex And The City" Party


A couple of weeks ago my friend Mary Ann told me that someone gave her the entire series of "Sex and The City" as a gift and that we should have a girl night party and watch the show.

“Love it, love it, love it!” I exclaimed. I haven’t had a pure 100% girl night in ages and was very excited.  So we decided on Friday night – a girl-get-together, Cosmos,  Chinese takeout, "Sex And The City" marathon. I did not even have to drive, since Mary Ann very conveniently lives across the street. Could it get any better than that? I talked to Varuzh about the plan, and he told me not to worry and promised to watch Alex for the night. He is awesome!

…As I was dressing up for the party, I thought of the ladies from the show. So which one of them am I like? Am I Carrie? Well, considering that I am a hopeless romantic, pretty lousy with my finances, and crazy in love with couture, I feel like I could be a Carrie. I opened my closet and pulled out my flirty little black dress and paired it with my pink Manolos.

Then Alex walked into the room to grab a toy he left on the dresser. So I thought of Miranda –that selfish independent Miranda who, after having a baby, getting married, and volunteering to take care of her husband’s ill mother, became a responsible, kind, selfless, and no-fun kind of person who was always rushing home to take care of the family. “Did I also change once I got married and had kids? Did I become a responsible, kind, selfless and no-fun kind of person? Do I rush home at every opportunity?” I thought in horror. “Maybe I am no longer Carrie and I’ve become Miranda?”

Nah, impossible! I am more like Charlotte! I am poised, marriage and family oriented, trying hard to work through different situations. But wait, I don’t really live the life style of a girl from Park Avenue in New York City, and that was very important for Charlotte.

So am I left with Samantha’s character? Well, I really hope there is a little of Samantha in me, and I will just leave it at that.

The girl night turned out really fun. Cosmos were as good as they could be, and the girl cast was fabulous!  The night was young and I did not have to think and worry about anyone – Varuzh and Alex were probably asleep. So I belonged to myself for the night.  How great was that!

But then the night was over, and I ran across the street back home, and the first thing I did was typpietoe to Alex’s room, tuck in his blanket, and give him a kiss. And, for giving me an opportunity to go out with my girlfriends, I decided to make a delicious breakfast for Varuzh in the morning.  My heart filled with love.

Darn it, I thought, I did become Miranda! But so what? This is my family and it’s my gift and my purpose…

As I walked into my bedroom, I tripped over something and made quite a noise.

“How was your night?” Varuzh asked.
“Oh, sorry baby for waking you, it was very fun,” I whispered.
“So how many shows did you end up watching?”
I quietly giggled, “We didn’t watch any. By the time we moved to the couch, it was already late.”

And as I was falling asleep, I thought that we should have girl night in or out parties regularly, like every month… and I hope that there is still a little Carrie, Charlotte and Samantha left in me!

Signing off until Monday.

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Broken Promise


I’ve been craving carrot cake cupcakes since last Wednesday and, knowing that Alex loves baking with me, we looked at our calendars (yes, I am not kidding) and decided that, while the weekend was going to be very busy, we could squeeze in baking time on Saturday morning. Thus, we wrote the ingredients on a piece of paper and posted it on our refrigerator.

Well, scheduling an activity is one thing... but our plans did not work out because, when Saturday was finally here, I kept doing everything but baking, and we had to postpone the baking fun to Sunday… and then to Monday...

Alex felt disappointed, and I felt guilty for breaking my promise and for disappointing my kid. So today, whether I had time or not, whether I was tired or not, I had to bake these cupcakes. …But I really did not feel like baking! The work-week had started, I overate during the holiday weekend festivities, and I had a million things to do! So why, when I came home this afternoon, did I go straight to the kitchen and put my apron on to protect my pink chiffon shirt, and start sifting one and a half cups of flour?  Why did I not kick my heels off and plump myself on the sofa? What kept me going?..

I called Alex into the kitchen and was rewarded with excited exclamations and a helpful pair of hands. We would alternate pouring the ingredients into the bowl and mixing them. We laughed that the batter did not look very appetizing as soon as we put the carrots in. We watched the cupcakes rise in the oven. I forgot that I was tired and still had million things to do. We were living in a moment and it was very fun. After all, the million things I had to do can wait, but kids cannot – they grow up fast and somehow forget that hanging out with mom is fun. So I better seize the moment! And maybe that is why I did not plump myself on the sofa.


Once the cupcakes were ready, we crowned them with cream cheese frosting and the candied carrots we made.  The cupcakes were ready to be eaten!
Alex ate one… and I ate two… and a half… I wish I could share these yummy treats with you all!

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Encounter



Mondays are usually the hardest days to get up and start the work-week. It takes effort to drag yourself out of bed, then drag kids out of their beds. It takes time to adjust to the speed of getting the kids ready for school and yourself for work. No Monday is an exception! But what do we do over the weekend that makes us all so tired?

Well… during the week, every week, I find myself planning the coming weekend and packing it with all the fun activities we could not do during the work-days.  And, knowing that the past weekend was going to be filled with Passover Dinner, an Easter Egg Hunt and family gatherings, Varuzh and I decided to take Friday morning off and take Alex to the Natural History Museum in downtown LA.  All of us were excited to see the famous Dinosaur Display – it is said to be one of the biggest in the world – and, I have to say, we were not disappointed.

As we strolled down the museum halls, we saw a giant T-Rex and other dino skeletons, a forty million year old fly discovered somewhere in Europe, and full size displays of many animals that had lived on this Earth. We saw live and deadly Giant Whip Scorpions and Brazilian Tarantulas.

But why are we so fascinated? I would never want to encounter any of these creatures in my life! And why, when the visitors see the Tarantula, do they get facial expressions of disgust mixed with fear, and yet, instantly pull out their cameras?  Is it exoticism of two hundred million year old bones? Or is it thrill of imagining the encounter as if it were real? Or do we simply crave to be closer to nature? 

As I watched Alex running from display to display, touching the bones, the horns, and observing the moves of Tarantula, I thought that maybe we, the humans, simply feel the need to identify and communicate with other beasts and, in the process, discover our shared identity… And, as we got to the display of archeological tools, we imagined with Alex the great thrill the archeologists felt when they were first to discover a forty million year old fly or two hundred million year old dinosaur skeleton…

…Before we left the museum, we had to stop by the Butterfly Pavilion filled with beautiful colorful creatures. They were so friendly and inviting that all the visitors, children and adults, felt the need to carefully and patiently interact with these tiny beauties, sharing the experience with each other, none of the people felt like a stranger. I found Alex patiently waiting for a butterfly to fly from dad’s palm to his and then to someone else’s…  

Then someone said that in September the butterfly season should be over and the place will be transformed into a Spider Pavilion… “Ew, spiders,” I thought, “Got to come back and check them out…”

On a less creepy crawly note, I will be baking carrot cake cupcakes tomorrow for the first time!

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Autism Awareness Month (Part III)


Happily Ever After...

When I was a little girl, I used to read fairytales about Cinderella and Snow White, and I misinterpreted these stories thinking that, as long as I am nice and kind and kissed by a prince, I will live happily ever after… 

Ah, I think, why wasn’t I born a princess?..  Was I not nice enough?.. Was my husband not a prince?..

Well, life is no fairytale … or is it? Did I completely ignore that Cinderella and Snow White suffered through the difficulties and overcame all the obstacles created by evil stepmother, or sisters, or the queen? Or maybe I just always knew that they had fairies, animals and dwarfs to help them and, in the end everything would turn out to be fine, and that the happiness forever after was waiting for Cinderella and Snow White… But don’t things in life always work out somehow? Don’t we find the way and the will to overcome whatever challenge we encounter? And don’t we come out stronger and better?

But who were my fairies and dwarfs?

In the past four years I discovered how powerful the unconditional love is, and how powerful humanity is.

For some reason, many of us feel ashamed to ask for help, thinking that somehow it makes us look and feel weak. I was not an exception to this perception, but was faced with no choice. I was powerless. And when I asked for help,  to my big surprise, it came from so many people. Some trained me, some advised me, some shared their experience with me, and some shared frustrations or celebrated achievements with me. They were all there for me simply because we are the same species and need to support each other in the moment of need! I no longer felt weak; I felt empowered!

Now it is my turn to give back, and my mission is to spread the word about early intervention. It is my mission to tell parents, if in doubt, to take their kids to be checked. It is my mission to tell parents that, if in doubt, not to feel shame and hide until it is too late. Instead, be brave, face the challenge, adjust your lifestyle, learn to speak your child’s language, share your love, and you will find your strength and you will find your hidden powers!

Everything Varuzh and I did with Robert when he was little, we did with Alex – we read and played together, cooked and baked together, went to the zoo and farms together, watched movies and explored the world together…

During one of the meeting at Alex’s school, his teacher told Varuzh and me that Alex is a lucky kid for having such parents. I know that we truly did everything we could for him, but, most of all, I do believe that we are the ones who are lucky – this boy taught us so much about life, about love, about ourselves!

When Alex turned seven, Varuzh and I told him that he has autism, so he would finally understand who he is and why he thinks differently from other kids in his school.

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Is that a bad thing?”
“No, it is just different,” I replied.
“Does that mean I can still become a teacher?” he asked.
“Yes, you can become anything you want!” I said, and I meant it.

And whether my life is like a fairytale or not, I did get a happy ending. No matter how tough life is sometimes, I feel so empowered and so lucky, that I would never ask for any other...

Signing off until Monday.

With love always,
xo Zuma A.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Autism Awareness Month (Part II)

Walking The Walk...

I am no different from other people, and my life had always had its perks and challenges. But I truly enjoyed the perks I actually earned and never asked for a magic wand to overcome the challenges… until four years ago. But the magic wand is a creation of fairytales, and I had no choice but to turn to recources within…

I was broken hearted and powerless. The wellbeing of my three-year-old boy depended on me, but I had no tools. I could not comprehend what autism really was, this disease made no sense. There was no pill that could make everything go back to normal again. I read books and articles until I could not process their words any more. I googled the topic until the same pages would come up over and over again. I sought people who walked the walk that was ahead of me asking them for advice. I lived and breathed the world of autism.

So what is it and where it comes from, you ask? No one knows, really.  I read that autism affects the development of a person’s communication and social interaction skills. Some researchers say that people with autism have a delayed mirror neuron system. This is a brain circuit that enables us to better understand, anticipate and copy the actions of others.

Wait… as I read this, I suddenly realized why everyone says that early intervention is so important. Maybe it is because young age is the time when a human actually learns how to live and operate in life by mirroring it. And, if a person’s ability to mirror life is delayed, then we have to start artificially teaching this little human everything about our life, so they can gain tools to know how to live in this world. We all hear that people with autism have this incredible memory ability. And how could they not, they have to memorize everything that others simply mirror!

But how can we teach someone everything about life?
 
…People say it takes a village to raise a child, and they could not be more right… Varuzh and I could never do it on our own! And we are eternally grateful to everyone we met as we walked the walk! 

Day in and day out, Alex’s therapists and behavioral specialists would work with him and us, explaining how his mind works and equipping us with tools of parenting a child who thinks… differently. Most of the therapists were in their mid twenties if not younger, and Varuzh and I were admiring them and listening to their advice diligently, learning how to teach Alex all the necessary skills of independence - how to dress, or brush teeth, or wash hands, or how to stop his body from wiggling due to sensitivity, or how to respond to his name, or how to look people in the eye, or how to react in different life situations… But, the most valuable lesson Varuzh and I got from Alex’s therapists was to learn to be patient and compassionate. We learned to work for months on a simple little skill such as swallowing a spoonful of blended soup, and learning to celebrate every achievement. No achievement was little!

“Sun is off,” Alex said as we were gazing at stars during an August summer night.
I smiled. Alex’s ability to speak has returned within about a half a year after we started working with him, and since then, he has been treating us with his funny statements that probably are results of thinking in pictures...

“Look at me, Alex.” I said hoping that he would turn in response to his name and keep eye contact with me for few seconds. And when he turned to me, I gave him a big kiss, and I was so happy that hours, days, weeks, months and years of hard work were paying off.

We certainly walked the tough walk. But Alex was on his way to recovery and I felt so lucky, lucky that he had the ability and strength within him to fight this battle against autism. I could never ask for anything more. I did not need the magic wand any longer…

“I love you, baby.” I said that summer night, but I met silence in return. I had to wait for two more years until I heard I love you back. And when I did, it rocked my world… 

With love always,
xo Zuma A.
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Monday, April 2, 2012

Autism Awareness Month (Part I)

Life Unedited

It was about eight years ago when I told Varuzh that we were having a baby. And, after I got over the morning sickness months, I fell into the amazing world of pregnancy. For me, as a woman, nothing could top those moments when I heard the heartbeat of my baby for the first time, or when I felt my baby move, or when I heard doctor telling me that we are having a boy. He was due in November, and I could not wait to meet him. But until then, my baby and I were inseparable, literally, and did everything together – we woke up together, ran to work together, read, ate and went to sleep together… And when the little baby boy was born into our family, our threesome finally became a foursome!

I think I may have gone a little overboard in getting my little baby boy the best of everything I could afford – he was eating organic food and wearing organic clothes. His pediatrician looked very pleased at every visit - taking first foods, growing inches, adding ounces, walking, uttering first words…

…until he turned about eighteen months… that was in April five years ago when I was holding Alex in my arms and my sister noticed that he was rolling his eyes. “Is he having a seizure?” the horror was written on my sister’s face. I looked at Alex, he stopped rolling his eyes and… looked fine. Then this incident was repeated at Alex’s pediatrician’s office, then at a neurologist’s office, then during the CT scan… No abnormalities and no seizures were detected. Phew!

“Did you ever see signs of autism in your son?” the neurologist asked.

“What autism?” I dismissed silly talk… This baby grows according to the chart!

Just to be safe, the doctors suggested for Alex to start speech and occupational therapy… for twelve hours a week…. Poor baby, I thought, instead of hanging out in playground, or playing with toys or doing nothing, just like other two-year-olds do, he had to work with therapists. I did not think he needed it – kids grow at a different pace and if Alex slowed down in his speech development or food intake, I did not think he needed to work so hard at the age of two.

Soon after, though, Alex started refusing every food we put in front of him, stopped speaking, and forgot how to use a towel after I washed his little hands. Day in and day out we were struggling to feed him, so we took him back to therapy. No one seemed to be able to teach him to eat and kept telling us that we should consider taking Alex to a hospital and have a g-tube placed… Varuzh and I were devastated - the beautiful and healthy baby was melting in front of our eyes, constantly getting sick, refusing all food…

…at nights I was sitting next to my little baby watching him sleep and wondering if he was sleeping because he was tired or because he was weak and hungry, and if it is time to take him to the emergency room…

There was no name to this strange phenomena except for… autism… and I finally called the doctors that specialize in autism… and was told that their appointments were four months out… So I called them every day, five times a day, hoping that someone would cancel their appointment and we would get in... It was Monday afternoon, about an hour after I called their office I, finally, got the call back. The nurse, who already knew me by my voice and first name, said to come in the next day to see the doctor.

At 10AM sharp we got in, and the appointment lasted about two hours. As the doctor was talking to me and Varuzh, asking questions about Alex’s behavior, Alex was sitting with his back faced to us and spinning the wheel of a toy truck for the entire two hours… Many people came in and out of the office, but Alex never turned around.

“Your son has autism,” the doctor said. She picked him up to check all his reflexes and to look into his eyes. “He is smart, though.” She said; but I did not know what she meant by that. At that moment one word was echoing in my ears. Autism, autism, autism, autism...

That was not the day I accepted that my baby has autism, but as I look back, I am wondering why it took me so long. I certainly read about autism and, after all, even though Alex’s pediatrician never officially diagnosed him, she did suggest us to start therapy sessions. I also watched numerous segments in news about autism. They talked about loss of speech, loss of social skills, sensitivity to light and sound… But Alex lost his ability to eat, and that was not on any list!

And, honestly, that could not happen to my baby!

About two weeks later I managed to get an appointment with another neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis. But I did not give up and thought that maybe Alex was simply allergic to the foods we were giving him…So I took him to an allergist.

Dr. Berger had a good reputation, he even wrote the book “Allergies for Dummies” and shared the same last name as my grandmother. I hoped that maybe he would finally solve the mystery for me… and he did…

After the nurse performed the allergy test on Alex’s back, the doctor walked into the office where Alex and I were waiting. “Alex has no allergies,” he said…

My heart dropped at that very moment. “But why doesn’t he eat?” I asked with desperation! The doctor looked at me and, at that moment of silence, I knew that there was no way out for me and my boy but to face the reality… The silence was heavy and awkward. No word could come out of my mouth. But my thoughts were loud and the doctor heard them. He finally got up and asked me: “is there anything else I can do for you?”

I slowly started helping Alex put his jacket on. I could not utter a word. My hands were heavy from all the tears that filled my heart and body. There was nothing else the doctor could do for me.

I finally knew that my son has autism…

With love always,
xo Zuma A.
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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Autism Awareness month

You hear in news now more and more often about mystery of autism. Now, they say, every one out of 88 children gets diagnosed with autism. Is it an epidemic? How could it be? it is not a virus that can spread, or is it? I’ve heard that Autism is partially caused by a gene mutation, but the number of children affected is growing every year and gene mutation cannot happen so fast! So we guess that the environment is to blame. What exactly? We don’t know! Until we find out the reasons and find better treatment, it is proven that early intervention can make a key difference in child’s opportunity to live an independent and fully productive life.

Those who just meet Alex could never even think that he was diagnosed with autism about four years ago. Now he is a typical first grader, who earned his orange belt in tae kwon do, takes piano and swimming lessons, loves to trick his parents, jokes, and play games …  But, four years ago, when we finally realized that Alex has autism, we committed ourselves to working very hard with him, going through daily therapy sessions, trying to understand how his mind works, dealing with frustrations, learning to celebrate the tiniest milestones.

For the next three days I want to write about our family’s road to “the cure”. (I probably could write a three-volume book about it!) I will break it down in to three parts: Life Unedited, Walking The Walk, and Happily Ever After… Please read on and circulate these posts among your friends and loved ones. After all, nowadays we all know someone whose life is touched by autism.

Spread the word…

With love always,
xo Zuma A.
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