Monday, March 30, 2009


Yesterday, I ran across my son's infant cap hat that he wore home from the hospital.   I stood there in front of the closet, staring at this tiny thing in the palm of my hand and took a deep breath.  It's all gone so fast.  It feels like a week ago when we brought him home and we became parents. 

I brushed my hand across the cap, thinking about the day my son and daughter were born.   I may have brought my children into this world, but they brought life into me.  Through teaching them and nurturing them, I accidently nurtured myself.  I discovered who I was and what I needed, because of them.  I still remember the day at the park when my son was afraid to walk over the bridge.   

"Go on, it's okay.  Don't be afraid.  You can do it."  Over and over again I encouraged him to walk to the other side.  He looked up at me, trusting me.  I looked into his eyes and realized if I was going to be the best mother I could be, I better start walking towards my fears.  I better stop running.  

After I put him down for his nap, I dug through my file cabinet and pulled out all the writing I had done since I was eight years old.  Spirals, legal pads, plain white sheets of paper torn in half.  Cocktail napkins.  It was time I stopped being scared.  I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer so badly that I was terrified of it.  I could handle failing at being an administrative assistant, or dental assistant, or waitress or Mary Kay consultant.  But what if I failed at doing what means the most to me?  What if I failed at doing what God put me on the earth to do? What then?  And the biggest question of all hit me in the gut:  What will happen to me if I never try?  I would never want my kids to live a life not even trying at what they're passionate about.  

My kids don't know it, but every day I thank them as they walk onto the school bus and I head towards my desk, without fear, with only hope and determination to be the best I can be. I write for me, for my future readers, for the audience I've been writing to since I was eight. Someday I will tell my kids how they helped me find a part of myself that I buried at some point along the way.  Someday I will explain to them how their needing me, challenging me, and forcing me to be the best I can be, they brought me to where I am today, and where I'll go tomorrow.


Friday, March 13, 2009

What's Up with the Artichoke?

Since I've had several people (okay, just about everyone) ask me for the meaning behind the Artichoke reference in the title of the blog, I shall explain:

In my opinion, everything in life can be explained in terms of an artichoke. In the case of my title, the artichoke is referencing family (the Aristotle is painfully obvious, right?). The way I see it, family is like an artichoke. There's the heart of the artichoke (parents) and the leaves (kids). Now, you can separate the heart from the leaves. Sure, artichoke hearts are everywhere. But who eats the leaves without the heart? In order for an artichoke to truly be an artichoke at its best, it must be all connected.

Life in general is like an artichoke too. When you're a kid, you're hesitant at first, slowly plucking off the leaves as you go, figuring it out. Then you get more confident and anxious and start really going at the leaves, searching for the heart. Then, life gets more complicated and you tend to be more cautious with your life, avoiding the prickly parts. And then there's the point in your life when you're just about at the heart and you know what you're doing. (God knows I'm not there --some days I feel about as smart as my eight year old). You're done figuring this whole thing out and just savoring the good part.

And then there's the obvious cliche' type one: People are like artichokes...

Finally, being raised primarily Italian, artichokes were more than simply a food in my family, but an event in our house. (If you've ever sat down with a stuffed artichoke, you know what I mean!). I can still see my sister and I sitting around the Formica table, eating stuffed artichokes, plucking off the leaves, talking, plucking, talking.

Can't resist posting my Italian Grandmother's recipe for Stuffed Arichokes:

Stuffed Artichokes
1. Remove tiny low leaves.
2. Cut off stems.
3. Put the artichokes in a large pan, cover with salt water for 20-30 min.
4. Drain upside down.
5. Mix together:
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Olive oil

6. After draining, spread leaves apart and sprinkle mixture into leaves, then on top.
7. Place artichokes in a roasting pan, upright.
8. Put enough water on bottom to cover 1"
9. Drizzle with olive oil.
10. Cover and bake at 375 for one hour.

Artichokes anyone?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Go With Your Gut

On Monday, Lego Boy's (our son) eye specialist confirmed that his vision disorder is now successfully corrected. This made me feel the need to reprint an article I wrote for Chicago Parent in November of '07 (names are changed to protect the innocent) in order to spread the word about vision disorders. Through our experience, I've found out they are more common than people think. Also, I must add that the journey is not in any way over for us or most importantly, Lego Boy, but at least now we know what journey we're on. I asked him if he minded me talking about all this and he said confidently, no. He hopes other kids will be helped by his story. So, pass it on...

Misdiagnosis of ADHD

As a parent, our job is to fix whatever is broken in our kids and comfort them with answers and advice. I couldn’t do that for our son. I couldn’t tell him things would be OK because I didn’t know what was wrong.

When Lego Boy started struggling in kindergarten, we were surprised. By second grade, that surprise turned to horror as we watched him academically shut down in the classroom and emotionally shut down at home.

As I looked into his eyes, which were filled with anger, frustration and sadness, I made him a promise. I promised to find answers—answers to why he wasn’t able to keep up with the work at school like his friends and why he wasn’t able to focus in the classroom and reap any rewards from his efforts.

We decided to consult with a private neuropsychologist along with the school specialists. The amount of help and caring given to Lego Boy, my husband and me overwhelmed us. Everyone in Lego Boy's school banded together to help him, from his classroom aide and teacher all the way up to the principal. I was amazed at how much effort a school could put into helping one child.

After 15 hours of testing by the neuropsychologist and three hours of testing at school, the diagnosis came back. "Lego Boy has ADHD."

Lego Boy has ADHD? My gut told me no. My son, my artist, my inventor, my "Leonardo Da Vinci" as I call him, has ADHD? And I need to medicate him? Make a quiet introspective boy even quieter? What will that do to him?

The medication made Lego Boy sick and stole his personality. Each medication we tried seemed to turn a calm, focused boy into a hyper, withdrawn, angry one. I felt like my heart was getting ripped out of my chest each time I gave him a pill. I knew I was going to make him sick for the day and unable to enjoy anything, especially the one thing he always loved, playing with his friends.

So we stopped.

Back at square one.

But none of us gave up.

One Saturday morning, Lego Boy saw a commercial on TV for Sylvan Learning Centers and came running up to me, grabbing my arm, "Mommy! Mommy! Can I go there? Can I? Please? They say they can help me do better in school!"

I reassured him with a hug.

As I continued a new quest for answers, I heard about developmental optometrists from a friend. My neighbor recommended two doctors in Arlington Heights, IL who are supposed to be the best in their field, specializing in treating children like our son who are having difficulties in school and no one knows why.

In August of '07, Lego Boy underwent extensive testing of his eyes.

One of the tests is a 3-D puzzle. He couldn’t do it. I bit my lip and put my hand over my mouth, trying hard to hold back tears as I watched my son struggle to fit in a giant puzzle piece—something that should come automatically to an 8 year old.

Then came his diagnosis: Occular Motor Dysfunction and Saccadic Dysfunction, two visual disorders silently plaguing Lego Boy with blurred vision, lack of depth perception, eyestrain and headaches.

The doctor said Lego Boy's vision problems could very well inhibit him from functioning normally at school, in sports and in life. These types of vision problems can make reading and doing math virtually impossible because kids with eye disorders can’t learn by sight. And because Lego Boy doesn’t have any depth perception, he can’t judge where a ball is in relationship to him, which would explain his frustration with any kind of sports involving a ball.

Children with eye disorders can’t see normally, no matter how hard they try to focus. They have 20/20 vision, but things are blurry and they use an enormous amount of energy trying to keep their eyes from hopping and jumping around while they read. Their head aches. Their eyes hurt.

So instead of learning concepts all day in school, Lego Boy has been trying hard to just focus. The doctor told me many children with vision disorders exhibit behaviors that mimic ADHD and very often get misdiagnosed.

Who wouldn’t fidget in their seat and sharpen their pencil for 20 minutes instead of doing work that requires the use of their eyes?

The doctor explained Lego Boy's treatment plan for the next year or so that he would oversee. It consisted of visits at his office with a therapist along with at-home exercises 20 minutes a day, four days a week. He would be monitored after treatment indefinitely. As I listened I felt like I finally got my solution, my answers, my hope.

And then the skeptic in me took over. "So, after a year of doing all this, what percent chance does he have of seeing results, no pun intended?"

The doctor smiled and said 100 percent—depending on Lego Boy. He could guarantee that when Lego Boy's done with therapy, his frustration level will diminish and he will see direct results from his academic efforts.

One thing the doctor said he can’t fix completely is Lego Boy's handwriting.

"That’s OK," I told him. "So he’ll have handwriting like a doctor."

Is it a vision problem?
One in four kids in a classroom has vision problems and 60 percent of "problem learners" have undetected vision problems.

The College of Optometrists in Vision Development in Aurora, Ohio, has developed a list of signs to watch for in your child:

Physical symptoms
• Frequent headaches or eye strain
• Blurring of distance or near vision, particularly after reading or other close work
• Avoidance of close work or other visually demanding tasks
• Poor judgment of depth
• Turning of an eye in or out, up or down
• Tendency to cover or close one eye or favor the vision in one eye
• Double vision
• Poor hand-eye coordination
• Difficulty following a moving target
• Dizziness or motion sickness

Performance problems
• Poor reading comprehension
• Difficulty copying from one place to another
• Loss of place, repetition and/or omission of words while reading
• Difficulty changing focus from distance to near and back
• Poor posture when reading or writing
• Poor handwriting
• Can respond orally but can’t get the same information down on paper
• Letter and word reversals
• Difficulty judging sizes and shapes

For more information, go to