Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scary Clowns

People like to be scared.  Look at how well (most) horror movies do at the box office.  Books about ghosts - fiction and nonfiction - sell very well.  There are websites devoted to the paranormal.  And now there is this little gem: Dominic Deville's evil birthday clown.  (Disturbing, yet also brilliant.)     

For thirteen seasons I worked at several different professional haunted houses.  The Haunted Hotel.  The Nightmare on Fifth Street.  The Nightmare Factory.  And oh, I have stories.  Dominic the evil clown reminded me of one of my favorites.  

I was the "monster manager" so it was my job to make sure that the actors were taken care of and the scenes ran smoothly.  This meant that I was not tied to any one area of the building, but could roam.  It was great!  If there was a scene that was particularly scary, I could hang out there and watch the people fall over each other.  If there was a group that promised to be really animated, I could follow them throughout the house and see them lose it over and over.  Or I could run ahead of a group and give the actor a name and a description so that he/she could single someone out.  Heh.   

Early in the season there were nights when it was really slow.  We would congregate outside and just hang out.  When a car would pull up, the monsters would go back to their "scenes" and it would be business as usual.  One night there were about four or five of us sitting around the entrance talking.  The owner, Steve, didn't like for actors with costumes and make-up to be outside while we were open, so our little group consisted of a couple of security guards, Steve, and an actor or two whose costumes were nondescript black outfits and masks (sans mask, of course).

A car pulled into the parking lot and four teenagers got out.  One girl was especially hesitant.  Her friends dragged her over to our group.

"Hey y'all, is it scary?" asked the first teen.  That was the most frequently asked question.  Sigh.

"Yeah, it's pretty scary."  The standard response.

"Y'all, I'm not going.  I'm not going!"  It was the hesitant girl.  Much convincing took place.  Her friends tried to convince her that it wasn't THAT scary.  We tried to convince her that it was scary, but very fun.  Finally, it came to this:

"Y'all gotta tell me, are there any clowns in there?  Because y'all, I'm like, really scared of clowns.  They freak me out."

We all looked at each other incredulously.  A couple of us laughed.

"No!  There aren't any clowns in there!  Why would there be clowns in there?  It's a haunted house, not a circus!"

"Okay, y'all, I'll go."  And they went and bought their tickets.

As soon as they disappeared into the doorway, we all ran for the back entrance.  Yes, we had very deftly and blatantly lied to the poor girl.  That year we had a scene based on Stephen King's "It" - complete with a maniac clown with an axe.  Steve got on the headsets and told everyone to meet in the "It" room.  It was about halfway through the house so we had a little bit of time.

We got to the scene and Steve briefed the actor on who he was looking for and why.  I could almost see the actor salivate!  He hid.  The small group came around the corner to find the scene populated with about five security people (and one or two stray actors).  The show was memorable.  I hate to admit that I got so much enjoyment out of watching a teenager scream as a clown towered over her.  I'm just not right.

Her friends helped her up and out of the scene.  The clown high-fived everyone.  Then we all told him to follow her.  It was classic.  He came at her from every dark corner.  We had that poor girl almost scared to take another step. 

When she finally made it to the exit, she lit into us!  However, she didn't get very far into her tirade when the clown emerged from the back door.  She screamed and took off running for the car.  He chased her around the car at least once before the driver hit the remote and unlocked the doors.  She immediately dove in and cowered.  The clown jumped on the hood and just stared at her.  Her friends took a little while to get to the car because they couldn't walk, they were laughing so hard.  They did manage to find half a breath and thanked us.

Just doing our jobs!
Disclaimer:  Lest a reader become upset with me thinking that we were being unduly cruel to this patron, let me clarify a few things.  When she approached us, she was very specific about asking about the clown, almost to the "briar patch" point.  She obviously didn't have a real clown phobia, she just wanted to make it known that if there was a clown, she would freak out. And she did not disappoint.  She did freak out, but it was a teen-aged performance of a freak out.  Yes, she was scared and yes, she screamed like a banshee.  But I have seen enough people become completely incapacitated and refuse to move to know that this girl was having fun.  No, she wasn't laughing, but she was enjoying all of the attention, even through her screams.

No word on whether she ever came back. Based on what I observed, I would bet that she put up a huge show to her friends about how the clown chased her and that she would never go back, but I also bet that she let herself be dragged back at least one more time that season.  

Oh, THAT'S What Nit Picking Means! (And . . . Thank you Joss Whedon)

Buddy brought home the ultimate Mother's Day Gift on Friday - lice.  Woo to the hoo!  This was my first experience with the little creepers.  How my brother and I dodged that bullet, I'll never know.  I remember getting checked for lice a couple of times a year at school, but I was never one of the lucky ones who had them.  *shiver*

Luckily, it looks like we caught them early.  I found less than a dozen adults in his hair on Friday.  I didn't want to use any chemicals, so I went for the natural treatment of smothering the bugs with olive oil.  You douse the hair with olive oil and then leave on a shower cap for 10-12 hours.  That suffocates the adults.  You still have to pick out all the nits and eggs and stuff like that, but you have to do that with chemicals, too.  The olive oil smells much nicer.  And his hair and scalp are nice and healthy.

Looks like we're winning the war, too.  I read where the adults do not lay eggs for a few days after they mature, so if I stay on top of it we should be able to eradicate this little colony.  The eggs that I miss (and I'm sure to miss some) will hatch in 1 to 2 weeks so I'll retreat with the olive oil this coming weekend.  He hates it, but he doesn't fight it.  Thank GOODNESS!

All of this comes on the heels of waiting and WAITING for news about financial aid for Princess for the fall.  None of the classes that I was going to teach made so this news is important.  I have picked up two classes to teach (one is a one day per week class, the other is a two day per week class), so that helps.  But it doesn't cover what we need covered.

Saturday was a very rough day.  It was kind of the perfect storm.  I had promised Princess that I would take her shopping alone that morning.  When I made that promise, I did know 1) that Hubby has to work every Saturday in May and 2) that I would need to spend an ungodly amount of time playing Mama Monkey and picking nits out of my son's hair.  Princess got weepy, Buddy was squirmy and my blood pressure was rising.  Add to all of this the fact that I needed desperately to buy groceries (no milk, no cereal) PLUS we were trying to work around a volleyball game, an end of the season volleyball party and a re-scheduled family movie night and . . . hello Xanax.  So . . . Saturday was not a good day.  Until 5:45.

Thank you, Joss Whedon.  Thank you for pure escapism.  Thank you for the cathartic moment (for me) involving Hulk and Thor.*  Thank you for writing a story and dialogue that transcends age and gender.  Thank you for providing me and Hubby with the opportunity to see our children's enjoyment and delight.  Thank you to the actors/actresses for believing in your characters and having a total blast with the story and with each other.  The Avengers was the perfect way to end a stressful day.  Just wonderful. 

I'm still waiting on a decision from the school about financial aid.  At least I have some more nit picking to keep me busy until word comes down. 

*SPOILER ALERT - I could totally relate to Hulk having so much rage and energy that he just needed to punch one more thing.  Never mind that that one thing was an ally.  He just needed that release.  I get it, Hulk.  I get it.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


Yesterday as we were driving to school, the DJ on the radio said that he would be back in a moment with information on how and when to see the Supermoon.  Princess looked at me with horror on her face.

"Supermoon?  Really?" she said.

"Yes," I said.  And then I explained how not only was there a full moon Saturday, but it was going to occur as the moon passed closest to the Earth so it was going to appear HUGE in the evening sky.  She looked relieved.

Turns out, she thought that the DJ was advertising a large gathering of people showing their butts.  Sort of a Guinness World Record of mooning.  Naturally, she was appalled that they would advertise this, much less organize it.

Buddy, however, was disappointed that we couldn't attend.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Another Writer in the Family? Buddy's Book Review

Buddy's 3rd grade class read an excerpt from Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  Their assignment was to write a paragraph summarizing what they read.  Here is Buddy's (in his own words with his own spelling):

"Skyla judges her son (Owen) of how he looks.  She does not judge him from his actions.  Only she does not spend time with him.  And it seems to me that Owen feels left out.  He's very nice and all but Skyla only likes Niomi because she is not deformed.  I mean, she's cruel she left them when they were little to SHOP!  Come on woman! (Skyla)"

He got a 100 on the assignment.  I don't know about you, but this makes me want to read the book!

The Hand You Are Dealt - Sleep Disorders

We have some friends whose kids are behind their peers in quite a few areas. We have other friends whose daughter has a sensory integration disorder. Still other friends whose son has a sensitivity to gluten and must be on a very strict diet otherwise he exhibits bipolar symptoms. And life goes on.

Every time a family that we know comes upon a challenge, I thank God that He has blessed us with such wonderful and healthy kids.  I find myself thinking, "That you, God, that that's not us!"  Our kids don't have any issue that plagues them on a daily basis (well, seasonal allergies plague EVERYONE, so I don't really count them).  They don't have behavior disorders or problems (disregard all of my previous posts on their antics!), they don't have diseases or lengthy illnesses. Our lives are easy!

Sometimes it feels like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. How many "disease of the week" articles have I read that start out, "She was a normal, healthy, fun-loving child until she was (fill in the blank) years old. Then it all started." Ahhh! Is that us?!?!?! I pray quite often that God will protect us from all of that

I watch families who have rough roads and listen to the way they handle their challenges.  The pervasive attitude is one of "that's life" and "you do what you have to do for your child".  You just do it.  You don't think much, you just do it  and you go on.  I often wonder how I would handle it if we had a significant challenge.  How would we cope?  What would it look like?  How would our "just go on" go on?  Then I remember.  We did have a pretty big challenge for a while.  And, in a way, it continues.

In September of 2005, Buddy showed signs of a sleep disorder (he was just over two years old).  He would go to sleep fine.  Never gave us much of a problem at all.  Then between 9:30 and 11:00 he would start kicking the walls and wake up screaming.  He would cry and cry and thrash around until we would come up and comfort him.  I'd walk into the room, pick him up, he'd put his head on my shoulder, I'd cuddle with him for about two or three minutes (the length of a lullaby) and then put him back down.  Then about two to four hours later, it would be the same thing.  At its worst, he would wake up five plus times a night (I would usually stop counting at 4 or 5).  We measured a good night as a night where he only awoke twice.  We would sometimes get one full nights' sleep, but usually it was once every 10 - 14 days.  
As an added bonus, this was also Princess' kindergarten year in a University Model school.  So I was trying to home school her three days a week.  Luckily, it's very hard to screw up kindergarten so I had some wiggle room there.  I may not have always been as patient as I should have been, but she learned to read, she learned to do basic math and we all survived. 

I began to understand why sleep deprivation is used as a torture.  After a while, it was hard for me to even try to go to sleep.  I didn't want to drift off because I knew that just as I did, he would wake up.  My memory was affected, my diet was affected, of course my mood was affected.  My relationship with Hubby was affected in several different ways - especially, um, night-time activities.  (Who wants to start something that just may get cut short by a screaming child?)  I look back at that time as if through a fog.  How did I do it?  I just did.  I went on auto-pilot and I got through it.

At one point during the ordeal, I remember telling someone about it and noticing that she looked horrified.  She said that it must be completely awful.  Until then, I hadn't realized that it really was that bad.  It just seemed like another thing to get through - like a cold or a scraped knee.  I was so dulled by the lack of sleep, that I didn't see it as a challenge.  It just simply "was".  It was how our lives were.

I did what I could to try to get help.  We prayed and prayed.  We talked to our pediatrician.  We tried letting him cry it out.  We tried going in as soon as we heard the kicking start.  We tried interrupting his sleep pattern by waking him up just before the usual time of his first episode (that actually seemed to help for a while, but it didn't stop them.)  We grasped at every straw we had.

Did you know that it is nearly freaking impossible to find a sleep expert to help a two-year-old.  I couldn't find one in Austin that treated pediatric patients.  They told me to call a pediatric neurologist, which I did.  Four times.  Never got a return phone call.  I e-mailed a sleep specialist whose website described similar wakings, but didn't list them as being as frequent as Buddy's.  I asked him a couple of questions - one being would he please pass on the name of a colleague in Austin.  The guy e-mailed me back and said that Buddy's wakings were behavioral.  No other name, no other explanation.  Thanks, guy.

My pediatrician told me that they were night terrors.  I know for a fact that they weren't.  My brother had night terrors.*  You couldn't come near him during one of those.  One symptom that was on all the night terror websites was that the "victim" could not be comforted.  Buddy was calm the moment I touched him.  I think that's why the internet doc thought they were behavioral.  But why would he kick and thrash and scream?  Nightmares?  Quite possibly.  Who knows.

The closest thing I came to finding a true diagnosis was on one website about sleep disturbances/disorders.  There's a fairly rare disorder called "confusion arousal".  The sleeper partially wakes (like in a night terror) and doesn't know where they are so they get scared.  It was characterized by kicking, thrashing and crying.  The kicking came first.  That's what clued me in as to what we were probably dealing with.  Every night I knew when an episode was starting because I would hear the boom boom boom of Buddy kicking the wall.  That was followed by a wail and then more booms.  I did a Google search for "confusion arousal" and found that there was no treatment.  He had to grow out of it.  I almost lost it then.  But there was that ray of hope - he'll grow out of it.

He did.  February of 2006 was our first truly good month.  For a while we counted a bad night as one with only two wakings.  It gradually tapered down to one.  Then it became rare to be awakened at all.  And when/if he woke it was usually because he'd had your garden variety bad dream.  No kicking to herald the arrival of screams from hell.  Just regular crying.  One of us would go in, tell him it's okay and he'd go back to sleep.  The whole thing was over in less than five minutes from first cry to door shutting.  (In the worst of it in 2005, sometimes the episode would be upwards of 20 minutes - not counting the time I would have to try to put myself back to sleep.)
Sometimes even now he'll have a night here or there where he has a fitful period.  He'll kick the wall and maybe cry out, but I've learned that if I leave him alone he'll stop within a minute or two and not remember anything about it the next day.  Every once in a while he'll yell something funny and that's always good for a morning chuckle.  

For a couple of years he's had maybe two or three severe nightmares per year - not quite night terrors, but a bit more intense than regular nightmares.  He'd come out of his room and call downstairs for me.  By the time I got upstairs, he was back in bed asking to cuddle.  Powerful feelings, but he was awake.  Now they have escalated into full-blown Screamin' Mimis.  Buddy still is able to walk out of his room and call to me, but he's panting and gasping and shaking like he's barely hanging on.  I've come upstairs to see him curled up on the floor or pacing or even just standing.  He had a Screamin' Mimi on a Cub Scout overnight and Hubby said that at that time he was crawling around the bunk on his hands and knees chanting, "Bored!"  (Buddy found that funny the next morning.  Seems he always says something that will make him laugh later.  Last week it was "I can't say 'thank you' to everyone who's taller than me!" and last night it was a very emphatic "Pretzels!")  It's pretty freaky.  Especially if you've seen The Exorcist.  I can understand how night terrors - or any sleep disorder - would be classified as possessions in less enlightened times.

Last night was particularly scary.  I was on the bed with Buddy alternately holding him (he would clutch me like I was his lifeline and then scoot away just as fervently) when he hopped off the bed, stood straight up, said, "NO!" then walked toward the door, said, "NO!" again and then jumped on the bed, crawled toward me and raised his fist like he was about to punch me in the face.  I didn't cower or flinch and maybe that's why he immediately melted back into a ball on my lap.  I couldn't help but think that I seriously dodged a bullet there and that next time he could hurt me.  I hate, HATE thinking that.  I don't want to be scared of my boy.  I know that he would never, ever hurt me in his right mind.  But while he's asleep, he has no idea what he's doing. 

I'm going to have to start charting his days - what he eats, what events happen, etc.  The first two of his recent Screamin' Mimis I think I can pinpoint the triggers.  On the Cub Scout overnight he was exhausted and the food was so bad that he only ate noodles and cake (Hubby was able to get him a protein snack later but it was too little too late).  Plus, he was sleeping in a strange place.  Hubby was with him, but it was still not his own bed.  The second event was the night of the STAAR test.  He didn't seem worried or stressed about the test on the outside, but maybe he was inwardly tense.  Dunno.  Last night's trigger is a mystery.  He seemed to be well rested and non-stressed.  So we'll just have to look at other things.  Sigh. 

So that is our family challenge.  This is something in our lives as parents that I know other parents look at us and think, "Thank you God that's not us."  We'll get through it.  We always do.  But I firmly believe that the only way we will get through it is the strength that God gives us.  There were days when I hadn't had more than two hours of sleep strung together when I knew I couldn't do it and He gave me His strength.  As I watch our other friends go through their trials with their kids, I pray that God will give them His strength and wisdom, too.  Thank goodness He doesn't leave us to deal with these situations alone.  He is always there to help us and to guide us.  And to sing us a lullaby and tell us it's all going to be okay.     
*In our family they are known as Screamin' Mimis.  In the 70's there were these vitamins that were akin to Flintstone's called Monster Vitamins.  They were in character shapes and one of the shapes was Screamin' Mimi.  One day when the commercial came on, it just clicked and the night terror nickname was born.  I seem to remember that every morning after my brother would have a Screamin' Mimi, Mom would open the bottle of vitamins and my brother would pick out a Screamin' Mimi shape and chomp the snot out of her.  We'd giggle and Mom would have to stop us from picking the rest of her shape out of the bottle and seeking even more revenge.  It was very cathartic! 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Is That A Crawfish In Your Pocket?

I just received this e-mail from the school (I will not reveal whether it is Princess' school or Buddy's because it just doesn't matter):

Dear Parents,
It has come to my attention that there have been distractions in lunch that need to be stopped.  Students have been bringing crawfish to school in their lunchboxes, sometimes alive and sometimes dead.  Some students have recklessly played with the crawfish by putting them on other students, chasing other students with the crawfish, or rubbing the crawfish on a classmate's body or belongings.  Please speak with your student about these incidences and let him/her know that this will not be tolerated.  Any student found with a crawfish, or any other creature, on campus will be sent directly to the office and I will call the parent.  These incidences are distressing to many students, they are unhealthy, and school is not a place for these kinds of actions.  Thank you for talking with your student about this and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Thank for you partnering with us,
Your Child's Teacher*

Call me weird, but I think that this is stinkin' hilarious.  I asked my student about it and he/she said that yes, some of the boys had been bringing crawfish to school in their lunchboxes and then transferring them to pockets at some point during the day.  Said boys were also using these deceased crustaceans as puppets to gross out the girls.  Brilliant.

I am amused and nostalgic at these shenanigans.  Growing up near a lake, it was a rite of passage to dodge a "crawdad" or two - most being alive and well as they were thrust into faces, down shirts and on top of heads.  Ah, those were the days.

I have cautioned my student about refraining from participating in the lunchtime lunacy.  My student has sworn to resist temptation.  (And if you automatically think that this is Buddy, you don't know Princess very well.)

Let's hope that the mudbug madness stops soon.

*A side note about this teacher - she is also a friend of mine and I think that one of the reasons I laughed so hard at this is that I could hear her voice as I read the e-mail.  I could tell that she had promised the girls in the class that she would do something about the situation and that she could not believe that she was having to type those words.  I adore this woman even more now.