Gretchen Schock shares her love of recipes, crafts and frugal living. She also speaks very opening about the challenges and triumphs of parenting a neurotypical child and a child on the Autism Spectrum. After a breast cancer scare in 2012, she decided to say goodbye to her nightly glasses of Chardonnay. It was time to get sober and live life with eyes wide open! The CocktailMom name remains, however with a new focus on healthy and authentic living.

7/29/2011

Safety

A conversation with Logan while we were filling out the summer camp survey.

Me: "do you fee safe at camp Logan?"
Logan: "sort of."
Me: "when do you feel the most safe?"
Logan: "when I'm with you. You understand me Mom."

And my heart just melts.
A nice reminder that I'm doing pretty good at this mom job.

7/28/2011

College Park Patch: Beyond Please and Thank You

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

L was first diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum at around three years old. At that time I would spend several minutes a day holding up flash cards with photos of people expressing an emotion. Angry, mad, sad, embarrassed and confused to name a few.
Children on the spectrum often need to be taught social cues and facial expressions. They struggle to understand facial cues that other people rely on to gauge the moods of others. Over the years, L has become better at identifying other people's emotions. He continues to struggle with some but now has the ability to ask the person to clarify.
"Are you mad? Because you are crying ... I'm not sure."
It is confusing for him to understand that people sometimes cry when they are sad, mad, frustrated and happy. That's hard to keep track of!
He is currently attending a summer camp for high functioning autistic kids where they focus every day on social skills. This past weekend we witnessed his new found skills at a birthday party. As I was packing up our belongings, I asked the boys to say goodbye to the birthday girl. Instead L went around to every adult at the party and held out his hand to shake and said to each and every person, "It was nice to meet you."
My mouth may have hit the floor.
And then it got me thinking; kids on the spectrum need to be taught social cues but that doesn't excuse the nuerotypical kids from learning proper manners themselves. If they aren't learning by example, who are they learning from? Over the last five years, I have to remind L daily to make eye contact. And then I look at the adults and kids around us in our society, and they are all glued to iPhones and BlackBerries barely making eye contact with anyone. Ever.
People from other countries who are preparing to visit the United States may stumble upon this lesson of etiquette. We definitely over use the word "dude," and it is typically okay for a male friend to hug a female friend. But I wonder when the last time our local bus driver got thanked. Have we forgotten our etiquette?

7/27/2011

College Park Patch: NASA's Final Launch Kills Children's Dreams

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

What do you want to be when you grow up?
What kid hasn't been asked that question?
Adults impulsively ask children of their dreams from the moment they can talk. Maybe it’s because so many adults aren’t following their own dreams, or maybe what they wanted to be when they were 4-years-old was ludicrous in terms of financial stability. Last time I checked, fairies didn’t get a 401K plan.
My oldest son is on the Autism Spectrum, and when asked the age-old question during his Thomas the Train phase, he would look very serious and answer, “engineer.”
My heart would feel relieved because the reality is he’d be very good as an engineer. He can be socially awkward since it is a very solitary job. His obsessive compulsiveness of needing things in order and on schedule would actually be an asset.
Then he moved into the Superhero phase, and when asked the age-old question I thought for certain his answer would be “Spiderman/Batman/Green Lantern.” But instead it was “scientist,” another job that would be perfect for someone on the Autism Spectrum.
I was elated and embraced this dream by purchasing science kits, microscopes ... anything that would further his love of learning science. People on the Autism Spectrum are very literal, typically good at math and science and would work best in an environment where they don’t have to engage in team activities.
My son has moved from dreams of being a scientist to an astronaut. How do you tell your eight-year-old that NASA is no longer sending people to space? The light in his eyes while he looks at pictures online of the final launch, my heart hurts for him and for all the kids who dream of being an astronaut or an engineer that builds spaceships.
His birthday is approaching; I walked the aisles of the Toys R Us searching for something space related. If my son was interested in war I would have a hard time deciding which gun to purchase amongst the entire aisle of guns, bombs and night-vision goggles. What does this say about the state of our country when you can find a plethora of war weapons for children, but you can’t find an astronaut or a spaceship to save your life?

7/25/2011

Easy Polenta Dinner

I've never been a huge fan of polenta, for no real reason other than it doesn't really excite me. I think of it the same way I do tofu; a good base but kinda blah on it's own.
I've been bored with cooking as of late so I thought I'd give polenta a try again.

I purchased pre made polenta (it comes in a clear tube). I sliced it in 1/2 inch thick slices and cooked it in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil. I then added sliced peppers and salt and pepper for seasoning.  To make the puree I cooked 6 large carrots and then purred them in a food processor adding 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a glove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
The meal was fantastic!
It was easy and healthy.

7/18/2011

Crochet Octopus or Squid?

A very special friend of the family celebrated her 3rd birthday and I wanted to make her a "cuddly friend", as my youngest son calls them. When I begin making a cuddly friend some times I have a vision or an idea of what I want to create, other times I just start crocheting and let  the yarn take shape. I knew when I began this project that I wanted to make something with a big head and big eyes. I grabbed yarn from my stash and began...and out came a pink octopus/squid?
At first Zane wasn't too please with the idea giving the cuddly friend away but after Iris shared her brand new Jeep with him he was totally willing.

7/15/2011

College Park Patch: What are You Grateful for?

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

My brand new minivan :(
The jerk who hit me!
 I teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga Classes at the College Park Woods Pool House. Each week while the students lay in savasana, I lead the class into meditation. Monday, I talked about the word gratitude.
I stretched my own body into downward dog pose, fingers wide pressing into the mat, and I spoke to the class about having gratitude for being here on our mats each week, gratitude for this moment.
“During class when your mind drifts to self doubt and feelings of inadequacy … stop and remind yourself that there are other people who wish they could be here physically on this mat.”
Little did I know that the next day I’d have a personal lesson in gratitude.
Tuesday, after picking up some paint from the Home Depot, I was the first car at the intersection of Cherry Hill Road and 47th Avenue waiting to turn left toward U.S. Route 1. I stared off thinking of what to cook for dinner that would be quick and easy so I could get a head start on a painting project in my living room.
My light turned green and I began to make my left-hand turn when a huge commercial dump truck ran his red light and hit my car! The impact pushed me into the turning lane of oncoming traffic. I got out of my car and approached the truck driver, my mind racing with questions of what to do. Do we call 911 even though neither of us was hurt? Do we call the police, and what number is that?
As I approached the truck driver I asked, “Who should we call?” He turned his back on me and flipped open his cell phone.
“Are you calling the police?” I asked.
He ignored my question and walked away from where I am standing; I remained there stunned by his behavior when an unmarked car approached with lights on his dash and a firefighter license plate on the front of his car. I exhaled in what feels like the first time in minutes. Thank you, Universe!
This total stranger happened to be driving by, a retired firefighter who is now working at the University of Maryland as a paramedic. We had some time to kill while we waited for the police to arrive after he kindly called it in over the dispatch radio in his car. I learned a lot about him but sadly forgot to ask his name.
My brand new minivan was towed away, the dump truck driver received a traffic violation and we went our separate ways.
Life experiences like this one force me to take a step back and look at my life … Am I on the right path? Am I fulfilling my purpose? It also leaves me overflowing with gratitude. I’m so thankful that I woke up with a sore neck the following day; it could have been so much worse.
I hold my kids longer when tucking them into bed. I won’t forget to ever tell them that I love them. I’ll stop rushing through life and I’ll be grateful for each moment - even when the moments contain whining, brothers arguing over whose turn it is to pick the movie, and juggling one car between two working parents.
I’m grateful for life.

7/08/2011

College Park Patch: Acting with Kindness

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

It's a beautiful Sunday; the sun is shining with not a cloud in the sky. I've planned today to be mellow and laid-back, because Monday begins a new routine of going to camp instead of school.
Typically a change in routine – even if it's a fun change in routine – causes my oldest son, who is on the Autism Spectrum, to behave in a heightened anxious or else emotionally sensitive state.
I dare say it's been a perfect day. Everyone has gotten along; there haven’t been any arguments.
The kids are fastened in their booster seats engaging in idle chitchat about the cars and people around them as we sit in traffic on the beltway. For no particular reason, I don't have the radio on. Instead of focusing my attention on an NPR newscast I am eves-dropping on the conversation going on in the backseat between the boys.
L asks, "Do you like coconut?"
Z promptly replies, "No, I hate coconuts."
"Do you like asparagus?"
Z crosses his arms and makes a disgusted face, "No I hate asparagus! And you know what I really, really hate?"
L looks at him eagerly, "What?"
Leaning over into L's seat in a sharp whisper, "You. I hate you."
I slammed on my breaks, which caused the car behind me to almost rear-end us, and I whipped my head around glaring at my youngest son while shouting his birth first and middle name and then continued with, "We do NOT speak to people in our family that way."
He's quick to start apologizing, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry L. I didn't mean it."
Slowly I execute my minivan over to the shoulder, reading curse words from the lips of the drivers behind me through my rearview mirror.  Once in park with the hazard lights on, I turn around to see L staring forward, eyes wide. Z already had huge alligator tears streaming down his cheeks.
I continued to look at him with a mixture of rage and disbelief, though he could not meet my gaze. Z spoke with such hatred in his voice, and it was unrecognizable coming from him. Looking back I am so thankful that I was behind the wheel, because at that moment this anti-spanking mama might have been swayed.
"Why did you say that?"
Biting down on his lip he musters out, "I don't know."
There is a pause. "L never plays with me. And I don't have any friends at camp tomorrow!"
The floodgates of tears have been opened.
Ah-ha. Now I understand it all.
Yes, it's easier to create anger toward someone than to admit your own vulnerability. This tactic isn't only used by five-year olds; I've known a few adults to do the same thing. Think about how often you are quick to judge, act negatively or accuse when you should be pointing the finger at yourself and recognizing  that you are scared to show your own vulnerability.
We talked about how great camp is going to be, relieving his fears while boosting his ego, telling him how likable he is and what a good friend he can be. Our minivan has returned to its calm state, I make my way back into traffic and the boys proceed to tell bad knock-knock jokes.
In a moment of stillness, L says to no one in particular, "I'm scared about camp, too, but that doesn't mean you can be mean to people."
So, so true my son.

7/07/2011

College Park Patch: Delete, Delete, Delete!

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

I’m recovering from a week of vacation. I have uploaded 488 digital pictures from my camera, the luggage has been unpacked, and I have sand in my washing machine—which I may never be able to get rid of.
Thank goodness I am raising my children in the digital age, because I don’t know how I could continue my photography hobby on a budget at the rate in which I take pictures. Four hundred eighty-eight for one week! And I’m struggling with deleting any of them. There are so many that could be deleted, but then I spot a small hint of something.
The freckles on Z’s nose that seem to sprout over night in the sun, the funny moment captured between the boys while trying to take a family portrait, the pictures that serve as a reminder of never being able to capture L looking into the camera and making eye contact so that when it happens, I am elated. (Only one out of 488)
Every time I delete one I regret it and go back, look again … is there something there that tells the story of the day? Will this be one of those pictures that five years from now I will wish I saved, even though it’s over processed and blurry?
I recognize how ridiculous I am being.
I’m not a mom that keeps really anything. My kids are use to it. Some parents horde everything their child makes from pre-K finger paintings to high school essays. That is just not in my nature; instead, I purge with a vengeance. The Mother’s Day cards stayed on the fridge long enough that the boys actually asked to take them down. I do keep some things hidden in scrapbooks but not many; it really has to be “special”.
Maybe I need to step away from the vacation pictures and look at them with new eyes in a week or so—allow my eyes to readjust to the overhead fluorescent lights in my office and the desk chair that doesn’t have the same slope as my beach recliner did.
Maybe then I will be ready to let some of these moments go.
Are you able to sift through your family pictures and delete the boring or bad ones? Or, do you just run out to Best Buy and purchase more memory for your computer? (I’m considering it.)
Gretchen talks about crafts, conscience living and parenting on her blog, CocktailMom.com

7/02/2011

College Park Patch: On the Wide Open Road

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

The minivan was packed, not quite to capacity, but packed enough that in order to find something you had to move three things to get to the item. Thankfully that only happened once.
This was our first family vacation that required a long car ride. When we lived in Seattle, WA, I would travel to the East Coast to visit family and from experience learned the staples to have on hand for each flight—items to have just in case the layover lasted longer than expected, or if we had technical difficulties that left us motionless on the tarmac.
On flights, I always pack extra crackers hidden in my bag and pipe cleaners. Pipe cleaners are my go-to boredom buster. Hand your child some pipe cleaners and ask them to make a monster/fairy and see where their creative juices take them.
Before this trip I asked some seasoned mom friends who have endured long car rides with their children for advice. I also Googled "car trip activities for kids" and within minutes I was loaded with information.
Each child had their own backpack full of individual activities just for them. The contents consisted of coloring books, travel markers (these are a staple for us), small assignment style notebooks to write messages to each other, a travel-sized game (Sorry and Connect Four), two new comic books and a Ziploc bag filled with random Lego pieces. I didn't include Lego sets on purpose. I wanted to force them to think more creatively.
The absolute best purchase I made before this trip were these new plastic lap trays. They are perfect for building Legos, coloring and eating a snack without a mess.
At travel plazas, each child was able to get a new pressed penny for their collection. If you haven't already started your own pressed penny collection, I highly recommend it. When you go to museums, instead of dealing with whiny kids begging for overpriced items at the gift shop, you can instead hand them each 51 cents to have their penny pressed. My boys love these!
I hope your summer includes a road trip with your family. What is your go-to boredom buster?

7/01/2011

College Park Patch: Beyond the Influence

This article was originally published on the College Park Patch as part of the weekly column by Gretchen Schock, Parenting on a Tightrope

"You can do whatever you want at this house," my youngest son says to me while dropping Doritos on the grass instead of throwing them away in a near by trashcan. Or disposing them on the plate I am holding.
"Excuse me. Who told you that?" I reply.
"That kid, he said we can do whatever we want." Z points a finger toward the five-year-old he just met at a friend's cookout. This child is clearly "cool": he's sporting spike and leather bracelets and a Justin Bieber hairdo. Obviously his fashion is influenced by an older tween brother.
This kid is a good kid. I know his parents, but together Z and this boy are ready to see how far they can cross the line.
I worry alot about my oldest son and bullying because he's on the Autism Spectrum. There have been times when I've had to interjet when he's been tormented by his peers, moments when they thought no adults were looking. Often L doesn't realize that he's being picked on, or being set up to have to fight for his toy or give up.
My youngest son, though, is very adaptable. He's the type of kid that flows with the current. He knows better than to join in bullying, but when other kids aren't making the safest or wisest choices, he can sometimes be found following along.
I have to refrain from saying "If Joey jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"
Along with nightly spelling words and reading readiness, we will have daily conversations about making your own choices in our house. Even though your friend gets a larger laugh from the group by making fun of the opposite gender or another race, that is not the behavior in which I have instilled in my children. I expect more compassion. Right now it's dropping Doritos on the ground, but in ten years it could be something entirely different. I recognize that. After yesterday I will add to my Mommy List of Worries: influences.
Have you talked with your children about not being influenced by their friends and making their own choices?

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