September 26, 2009

Kid With The Poop Finger

Jagger came into the world screaming, letting everyone aware of his presence. Yes, he’s named after Rolling Stones front man, Mick Jagger, which is Adam’s all time favorite band.

For those who don’t believe a name defines a person, come to my house, my kids are living proof. Adam and I swear that as Mick Jagger ages and decays his soul is slowly creeping into our son’s body.

Jagger started out like any other baby (other than his apparent love of tantrums). He started to talk around a year of age, but at eighteen months his speech was replaced with what sounded like drunken British rock star jargon. We cursed Mick Jagger and tried to rebuke his soul out of our son. It didn’t work.

About a year later, after Jag had become quite proficient in walking, he developed a serious strut. He’s six years old now and still struts down the road. The first time he did it Adam looked at me and said, “What is that?!”

I responded with, “You named him Jagger.”

When Jagger’s speech deteriorated I began to suspect something was wrong. His doctor told me not to worry, and that he seemed normal. I tried to put it behind me over the next few years as I watched him tantrum more and develop his own language. Luckily, both his brothers understood it.

Finally, right before he turned 5, I took him to the doctor and pleaded with him to have Jagger checked for autism. I had done a lot of research on my own looking for an answer and he fit a lot of the criteria. His doctor still wasn't convinced.

I said, “He should be starting kindergarten this year and I still need his 3 year old brother to translate for me.”

“Oh.” He responded, finally realizing the severity of the situation.

He referred him to the Children’s Hospital, and we were lucky to get him in fairly quick. Jagger was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. He’s high functioning, but has a severe communication delay.
They talked to us about putting him in Special Ed kindergarten and our hearts broke.

When you have a baby, you think of all the great things they are going to do. You envision them having a normal childhood and becoming a well rounded adult. When someone tells you that the same child is going to be in Special Ed, all those dreams seem to shatter right in front of you.
The doctor did tell us that he would be the smartest kid in Special Ed, but needless to say that didn’t make us feel any better. We aren’t knocking the Special Ed department, it’s just we felt that it wasn’t a good fit for our son.
I remember leaving there feeling rather defeated. Adam and I sat in silence for about 20 minutes before he suddenly said, “He’s not going to Special Ed. I’d rather him be the dumb kid in the normal class than the smartest kid in Special Ed.”
I looked at him and smiled, letting out a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you feel the same.”
We both thought pushing him to do better was the best option. It wasn’t going to be the easiest, but it would be best for him in the end. We had never treated him like he had a disability and they told us that was probably the reason he was so high functioning. So, why change now?
We opted to have a TSS come to our house for 20 hours a week, and take him to speech therapy once a week. It was a crazy schedule, and his tantrums in the beginning were exhausting. (Especially for me, I was 8 months pregnant with our 5th child when we started the process.)
Luckily, we had a great support group. Our TSS was, and still is, a blessing, and our friends and family were there to push and encourage him during the times his TSS wasn’t around, not to mention all the prayers from family who weren’t in the vicinity.
With all these things combined, Jagger made more progress than any other child his psychiatrist had ever seen. When it came time to look into school, we knew if we took him to the public school they were immediately going to put him in Special Ed, due to his diagnosis, so we looked into private school. We weren’t sure if they would take him with autism, but we wanted to try.
Our neighbor referred us to the school where she taught. We made an appointment and took Jagger in to see what they thought. When we got there, they immediately took Jagger to the kindergarten room while we chatted with the principal. A little while later, he returned. They told us he sat and listened to a story and did a craft. They said they saw no reason as to why he wouldn’t persevere there.
Feelings of elation filled our hearts as we registered him for school. (I was also a little sick thinking about all the germs he would be swimming in, but I had a few months to mentally prepare myself!)
Jagger has been in kindergarten for a month now, and is doing great. He’s social and is doing wonderful in his studies. Unfortunately, for all of you that don’t know, one of the things kids on the spectrum struggle with is sensory issues. That is why Jagger is always in his underwear, or “going Hulk”, as he likes to call it. He doesn’t like the constraint of clothes. (Who does?!) He also doesn’t like it when he has dirt or sticky stuff on his hands. That kind of situation can start a meltdown. His TSS used to cover our dining room table in shaving cream and forced him to play in it for extensive periods of time, trying to curb his reaction.
This is where we started to have a problem. A couple of weeks after Jagger started school I got a phone call from his teacher (who is our neighbor, which makes this worse). I guess Jagger went to the bathroom and got poop on his hands. This resulted in him screaming and writing feces hieroglyphics on the bathroom wall. He wasn’t in trouble, they just wanted us to work on it with him at home.
I thought things were going good until Adam got home yesterday from picking Jet up from Preschool.
“I got called into the principal’s office today.” Adam said, as he walked in the door.
I looked at him and yelled, “NO!”
He nodded with a slight smirk.
“What now?” I asked.
He tried not to laugh and told me, “Well, you know how Jag is having trouble wiping his butt?”
“Oh no. He’s not wiping poop on the walls again, is he?” I asked.
“Well, that too, but….” He replied.
That too? I thought. Could it get any worse? Yes. Yes it could.
Adam continued, “I guess he’s not wiping good enough and when he’s in class he’s sticking his finger in his butt, pulling it out covered in crap, smells it, then says “Yep, that’s poop.” At least he’s not freaking out.” he shrugged.
I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there, mouth agape.
“They just want us to get him to stop, so parents don’t start calling with sanitary concerns.” he told me.
We didn’t want him to be the smartest kid in Special Ed, instead we got the kid with the poop finger.
Lesson 19: kid with the poop finger = white trash

September 23, 2009

T.P. Dilemma

Today I had company over and I seriously panicked about everyone using my bathroom. We only have one roll of toilet paper and it has to last us for the next three days!


Lesson 18: refusing bathroom privileges to guests in fear of running out of t.p. = white trash

So sad.

September 19, 2009

Duped!

Three years ago, we got a pamphlet in the mail. On the front was the Pennsylvania keystone in blue and gold, with the words Pennsylvania Housing something or other (I can’t quite remember) printed in the middle. Upon reading the pamphlet we realized this was a state run program that helped low income families and local contractors. It helped low income families acquire a loan to get badly needed home repairs. The repairs were to be done by local contractors, giving them a chance to do business in the colder times of the year when business was slow.

This sounded right up our alley. We desperately needed a new roof and heater. Neither one had been replaced since its construction in the 1930’s. Adam had grown extremely tired of chasing roof shingles every time we had strong winds, which happens quite often living on a hill like ours.

Our neighbors got quite a show one night when Adam realized our flashing, on one side of our house, had removed itself and had flown all over our hill. In his haste, Adam ran out of the house in his underwear. He ran up and down the hill, and into some of our neighbors’ yards, trying to retrieve the pieces of our home.

Lesson 14: Chasing pieces of your house throughout the neighborhood in your underwear = white trash

Adam and I decided to give this organization a try. A nice man came to the house to see what all we needed. Seeing we desperately needed a roof, and taking note of our fancy Sears brand furnace from 1930 that barely heated our house (We had $500 monthly heating bills when we were only setting the temperature to 62 degrees!), he agreed we definitely qualified for the program.

About a month later the ball had begun to roll. We qualified for a loan, and contractors were contacted. Within the week we got a new furnace. I couldn’t believe the difference! Our house was warm and our utility bill 2/3 less. A roofing company came and started with the plans for our new roof. We were so excited.

Then something peculiar happened. When we got our loan, the money was supposedly put into an Escrow account and money was to be taken out as the work got done. We were given a check to pay something and it bounced. Huh?!

This scared me. Why would it bounce? There should have been enough money left in there for a whole entire roof. I looked at Adam and said, “Call the furnace guy and see if he really got paid.”

Adam phoned him and we found that he had only received half of his payment, the other half bounced. I could feel my blood start to boil. We had four kids at the time and every penny counted. You mess with my money, you mess with my emotions!

Adam called the guy who organized the whole thing. The man who talked to us on a regular basis began to ignore all of Adam’s calls. I have to give Adam credit. He was quite vigilant, calling this guy several times a day.
“I don’t want him to forget about us.” Adam said with a smile.

Scared they were going to get ripped off too, we told the roofers, who had already done half of our roof, to hold off until they got their money. Needless to say, we still only have half a roof. We have the materials, they have been sitting in our driveway, covered in cob webs, for three years.

Lesson 15: three years of gutters full of shingles from the 30’s, a half finished roof, and a driveway full of unused roofing material = white trash

Adam went to a lawyer, but was told to get in line. Here, this guy had been doing similar things for years. He owed over a million dollars to various poor people and businesses. Adam came home feeling defeated. He called the furnace guy, who we had kept in contact with, and told him the bad news.

“This isn’t right.” the man said, “Someone should contact the news station or something. This has got to stop.”

He was right. All I could think about was that man driving around in his Corvette, and talking about his brand new in ground pool, while I had half a roof and no chance at the new gutters I needed. It made the momma bear syndrome kick in. You don’t steal from my family!

I contacted every news station in the Pittsburgh area. That same day a local undercover reporter e-mailed me. He wanted to investigate the story. He came to the house a couple of days later. We showed him the information from our lawyer, which showed the names of other various people who had been ripped off. He even went to the guy’s house and asked him how it felt to steal from poor people. The investigator called us laughing because the guy had locked himself in his garage for hours, trying to avoid the reporter.

The special aired a couple of weeks later. Adam and I got phone calls and e-mails thanking us from people who were just about to do business with him, but saw him on the news. Of course, we also got calls from friends and family from where we grew up who get the Pittsburgh news, who had seen us on the old boob-tube. That was embarrassing!

Lesson 16: friends and family seeing what an idiot you are on television = white trash

Despite the humiliation, we were glad we helped some. It also got those who had been fooled to rally together, and the Attorney General got involved. Of course when they did, they found he hadn’t paid taxes in several years and the IRS had to get involved as well.

Adam has had to go to a few hearings over the years, not for our own gain. We’ve known for quite some time we weren’t going to get the work done, and we are going to pay on a pointless second mortgage for the next 30 years, but we’re glad our misfortune saved some from the same fate.

There are days that I feel guilty about having a hand in putting this man in jail (which is where he currently resides). This man had a family, and I feel bad that they have to suffer. Then I look at that hideous pile of roofing, and the one gutter, full of old shingles, that is going to fall off into my neighbor’s driveway at any second, and I no longer feel too bad.

So, let this be a lesson to all of you. Don’t be na├»ve like Adam and myself. We had a hard time believing that people weren’t naturally honest and nice. If you are looking into getting house work done, please check the BBB. Do some research before diving into an agreement with someone you don’t know.

Lesson 17: check a contractor's background, and don’t let people take advantage of you, or you too can be white trash!

September 15, 2009

Smoking Cessation

I started smoking cigarettes at age 15. Why? I don’t know, but I can still remember the very first time I smoked.

It was a cold and snowy day in DuBois Pennsylvania, a quiet town full of nothing but banks and car washes. There were about six or seven of us girls, I can’t be sure, who had decided to go to the local ski lodge for some sled riding.

Somehow, during our innocent snow filled fun, the topic of smoking cigarettes had arisen. None of us had ever tried it, but we were all curious. Going to the bathroom, we discovered a cigarette machine. We debated and planned, chickened out, changed our minds about thirty more times, then came up with our plan.

Taking turns, we tried to conspicuously drop a quarter in the cigarette machine on our way to the bathroom. After we had deposited enough money, we fought over who was going to pull the ominous lever. The whole ordeal took about a half an hour. Finally, my one friend, who was always braver than the rest of us, angrily pushed past us and got the contraband. Though we had tried not to draw attention to ourselves up to this point, we all screamed and ran out of the lodge when the cigarettes hit her hand. Teenage girls.

We ran outside and hastily opened the pack. After we each had a cigarette in our hands, we realized we had no means as to light them.

“Hey, there were candles on the tables in there.” someone suggested pointing back to the lodge.

“Who’s going to go in there and light it?” asked another.

“Ugh! Just give it to me.” sighed my brave friend who had pulled the lever.

She went back inside, cigarette in hand, as we all waited nervously. A few seconds later she burst through the door.

“I did it!” she exclaimed as she put it in her mouth and took a drag. She exhaled and smoke emerged from her lips. We all decided to put our cigarettes back in the pack and just share one. The group of us took turns hitting it, feeling pretty cool. I remember it didn’t feel much like anything. I couldn’t believe it didn’t hurt like my elders had told me.

Ten minutes later we were still smoking the same cigarette. My one friend said, “Something’s not right. Why isn’t it going down?”

We examined the square and realized it wasn’t lit. The smoke we saw leaving our mouths had been our own breath, visible from the extreme cold. Realizing how incredibly stupid we were, we shared a laugh until it hurt.

“I’ll try again.” my friend said, disappearing back into the lodge.

I knew it was really lit this time, because she flung open the door coughing in a cloud of smoke.

“Here.” she choked, holding the cigarette out.

We were a little reluctant to take it, but eventually, we each took a turn, coughing our lungs out. It did hurt! It hadn’t all been a lie.

It was gone after everyone had two turns. None of us were sad to see it go. It left us light headed and nauseous. It’s amazing any of us ever tried it again, but we did.

A few months later I started to smoke on a regular basis.


Lesson 11: smoking at age 15 = white trash

I smoked for years despite my parents pleas. I didn’t stop until I got pregnant with Marky at age 19. Unfortunately, when he turned 1 I started again. Then, I quit when I found out I was pregnant with Jagger, but he was a colicky baby, and I was left alone most of the time, so I started smoking again. I thought to myself jokingly, “Maybe when I get pregnant with the next one.”

Jet came along and the smell of cigarettes made me sick. That was when I quit smoking for good.
I was lucky. Adam hasn’t had such an easy time. He started to smoke at age 12!


Lesson 12: smoking at age 12 SERIOUSLY= white trash

He’s made small steps over the years. It about killed him to not smoke in the house, but when we started having kids he began smoking outside. Another thing that proved to be a challenge for him was not smoking in the car. There are times, on long road trips with the kids, where he has to pull over at a rest stop and light up, but it has gotten considerably better.

He’s tried for years to quit all together, but he has never been quite ready. After Jovie was born he promised her he was going to quit. He was finally sick of smoking. He talked to his doctor and got a prescription that was supposed to help him in this seemingly impossible task.

To my dismay, the medicine cost over a hundred dollars, but I thought of all the money we’d be saving when he didn’t smoke, and it seemed worth it. Then I was infuriated when it sat on top of the cupboard for months. He was scared to take it after reading the side effects. (I personally thought he had changed his mind about quitting.)

Luckily, my best friend from childhood came for a visit about a month ago. She just happens to be a doctor. Not only has she prescribed it herself, but her mom had just quit smoking with it after having the habit for decades. Adam couldn’t put it off any longer.

He’s been taking the medicine for a week now. The first couple of nights he had a hard time sleeping. (Side effects included insomnia and weird dreams.) Adam has always been a sleep talker and walker and that gave me some concern, especially after the first night. I woke up to him pacing at the foot of the bed, flailing his arms, and yelling at fellow employees who weren’t there. (When he talks in his sleep, it’s always about work.)

“Oh no.” I thought to myself. I had visions of him going downstairs and thinking he had to butcher meat. So, the next day I hid all his knives. I put them in a place I thought he would never look.

The next night, there was more chef talk. He left the bedroom at one point telling some employee, “Wait a second. I’ll go check on it.”

I laughed to myself, and felt safe knowing the knives were in a secure place.

The next night was Friday, and Adam had to work late. I was already in bed when he came home. Waking me up as he crawled into bed, I said, “hi” and gave him a quick groggy kiss.

Knowing I was awake, he asked, “Why are all the knives in the washer?”

He had found my hiding place when he went to wash his chef uniforms. I can only imagine what he thought upon opening the lid to find every knife, along with our kitchen counter knife block, hanging out in the washer.


Lesson 13: knives in the washing machine to protect your loved one from chopping off his arm in his sleep = white trash

Don't worry, I’ve hidden them in a different place. So, if you get a minute, say a little prayer that Adam will finally be able to kick the habit. He needs all the help he can get. If you have extra time on top of that, say another one that he doesn’t find the knives! His limbs depend on it!!

September 12, 2009

Tubes

Being a lower-middle class member of society we have enough money to just squeak by each month, and extra money for things like eating out or entertainment are pretty much nonexistent. Adam and I never had a honeymoon, we've gone to the movies together 3 times over a 7 year period, and only go out to eat once in a great while for occasions like our anniversary or if we have a gift card. Our three youngest children don’t even know movie theatres exist, and we tell all our kids that McDonalds is for rich people.

Please don’t think our family never has any fun. We are just forced to be a little more creative. (Of course, not being able to go out does have a lot to do with having so many children!)

Sometimes,I dread the days Adam has off, purely for the fact that he seems to make a bigger mess than the kids. He has a great imagination, but it can get out of control. When he’s home the boys will get out books, pieces of Hot Wheel tracks, and a roll of duct tape. The end result is a living room full of race track that they use to race their cars for hours. We’ve had tracks taped to the ceiling!

We also take advantage of free things like public parks. My boys are all big Star Wars fans (I’m including Adam here), so one day we went to a hiking trail located at a nearby park. We packed up the kids and their lightsabers, and walked in the “jungle” for hours killing Wookies. (My sweet little boys all want to be on the Dark Side. It’s a tad troubling, but what are you going to do?)

Now I would like to take a minute to tell you about one of my husband’s most creative ideas that has brought us not only hours, but years of fun. It all started when my parents decided to move.

My mother and step-father owned a motorcycle shop back in the day. You’re probably thinking, “She was raised by bikers?!” I know that may seem trashy, but my parents are not your typical bikers. Do they live to ride? Yes. Would you see them in the street and say to yourself, “Biker.”? No.

My mom is currently a motorcycle safety instructor for the military. She is very feminine, and she never wears leather. (Unless it’s a riding jacket.) My dad is a motorcycle theory teacher at MMI. (Motorcycle Mechanics Institute) He sports a horseshoe hairdo, and didn’t get his first tattoo until Adam gave him one for his 50th birthday this past August.

Anyway, when they sold the shop 5 years ago, the buyer only wanted the building, not the inventory. My parents had no where to put the goods and it was way too expensive to ship it from Pennsylvania to Arizona. So, they asked if they could store it in our basement and garage. We brought the inventory here and tried to sell as much as we could on ebay.

We sold a lot of items, but some things like tires and spark plugs proved to be almost impossible to sell on-line. Adam did manage to sell some tires to local riders, but the others sat in our garage, and began to dry rot.

One beautiful fall day, three years ago, Adam futilely tried to clean our over stuffed garage. Pulling stuff out into the yard in an effort to reorganize, our lawn was covered in tires and large boxes. The kids spent hours crawling in and out of the tires, pretending to be in some other world.

Hours went by, and Adam was still at it after the kids had gone to bed. Adam’s brother Alex was our basement dweller at the time, who was summoned to help, and soon after he knew the kids would be asleep, my own brother (who lived at the bottom of our hill), his wife, and our cousin Brett came up to our house for our weekly barbeque. When everyone lived nearby, we’d pull our money together to get beer and enough food to feast for hours.

The guys went through each box, labeling, and placing them in the garage in some man order I still don’t understand. Towards the end Adam began opening box after box of tire tubes. Realizing we would never be able to sell all the tubes before they rotted, Adam borrowed a neighbor boy’s tire pump and inflated a few of the tubes. The guys had a good time throwing them at each other and putting them on and running into one another.

The night went on, but the tubes never got old. Then, out of no where Adam invented a game. We have one clothesline pole in our yard. It’s cemented into the ground, but has always been useless without its mate. Adam stood in a dirt ring, across the yard from the pole, where the kids swimming pole had destroyed the grass that summer.

“Hey, let’s try and ring one of these tubes around that pole.” Adam stated.

The guys threw tubes for two hours. Tubes flew everywhere. They went over the fence, into the garage, and straight up in the air, before someone finally got one to shimmy down the pole. When it did, they cheered with enthusiasm, and Tubes was born. It has become a game we play for hours and hours. Everyone has their own technique on how to get a ringer, but even the most seasoned of Tubes player can lose control in an instant and lob a tube over the fence.

I can’t even tell you how many people have participated in a game of Tubes, far more than I ever would have imagined. We now have a set list of rules, including extra points if you ring a player from the other team when they aren’t paying attention. (I’ve been rung a lot!) We’ve even had different versions. Once we set the poles (we put up a piece of pvc pipe on the other side of the yard when we have large groups of players) on fire, called Flaming Tubes. Then, Adam got a great idea called Sacks, where you throw a sack (dirt in a plastic grocery bag completely duct taped in a ball, with a duct tape handle for throwing) in an already tossed tube that didn’t make the pole, for extra points.

Lesson 10: motorcycle tire tubes + clothes line pole = white trash horseshoes

So, if you are ever in the area, stop on by and toss a tube, but be prepared, it’s addicting!

September 9, 2009

Jasper the White Trash Dog

Our dog Jasper, was quite different from any dog I have ever met. I met Jasper, who was already 3 years old, when I started to hang out with Adam in high school. (Adam got Jasper as a puppy when he was 12 years old.) I would go to his house most every day and be greeted warmly by his beautiful German Shepherd/Husky mixed buddy. Jasper was built like a Shepherd, but had pure white fur with dark doe like eyes. Upon my entrance, his ears, which usually stood up straight and proud, would lay back while he wagged his tail violently and whined for my attention. After Adam and I broke up, we didn’t see each other for three years, but when I came for a visit, after all that time, Jasper still remembered me. I got out of my car and he barked at me with intimidating vigor. Still down by the road, I called out, “Hey Jasper!” Immediately his threatening bark turned to an excited whimper as he tugged on his chain trying desperately to get to me. Once inside, he never left my side. His head in my lap for hours, looking up at me and letting me know that three years was way too long. (I agreed.)

After Adam and I got a place of our own, I went to Adam’s mom’s house to pick Jasper up and take him to his new home. As we left I remember wondering why his mom seemed excited to be getting rid of the mild-mannered dog I loved so much.

It wasn’t long before I figured it out. Adam never told me Jasper suffered from separation anxiety. The first time we left the apartment, we came home to find a pane of glass broken out of the front door and Jasper gone. We still to this day don’t know how he fit through that tiny rectangular hole. Did he have collapsible rodent genes we weren’t award of? Anyway, after a couple days of fruitless searches and many tears, Jasper turned up on the front porch 3 days later famished and tired. Did I tell you he wasn’t neutered? These little disappearances occurred every spring. Every time we see a dog that looks like him we wonder if they are one of Jasper’s illegitimate offspring.

Another thing he used to do, to get back at us, was his spiteful pooping. He loved to defecate in the house when we’d leave. It didn’t even have to be a long trip. One time I walked outside to get the mail, and when I returned I found a fresh steamy pile waiting for me. I looked at him and he stared back dumbfounded as if to say, “Whoops. I thought you were leaving.” Don’t even ask about the time he dumped in the heater. All I’ll say is there is nothing like coming home to the aroma of a freshly baked poop-pie.

Now, making bowel movements on the floor and disappearing weren’t Jasper’s only talents. This calm and loving dog had an alter ego when we closed the front door. For such a sweet animal, he acquired super strength while we were away, and on one occasion he had to have gotten the ability to fly.

When we first moved to Pittsburgh, we rented a beautiful house. The back porch was awesome, but it stood about a story and a half above the ground. Jasper loved the back porch and seemed quite content to sit back there when we weren't home. This worked for a couple of weeks until we found him running around the yard upon coming home. The porch was fine so we concluded that he had either jumped over the very tall railing or activated his rodent like ability to collapse his body and squeeze through the rungs. How he withstood that fall without breaking a leg is beyond us.

After the leaping episode, we decided to tie him up outside by the basement door. He really preferred to be outside, plus the added bonus of no urine in the house. This too was short lived when we came home to find the door rammed down and him sitting proudly on top of it. We weren’t sure how the door came to be lying on the basement floor until I put him on the back porch one day to scrub the kitchen floor. A few minutes went by when I heard a violent pounding on the door. I peeked out the window see my sweet dog head butting the door over and over again, until the hinges started to give. I quickly let him in and he looked scared, obviously not knowing I was still home.

Since we couldn’t leave him alone in the house and we couldn’t put him outside without losing another door, we decided to buy a cage. We bought one that was made primarily of strong plastic. The only metal on the cage was the door and lock. We spent $180 (that we didn’t have) and brought it home feeling like our problems were coming to an end. Needless to say, Jasper didn’t like his cage. He barked and cried when we put him in and he was still barking and crying when we came home.

One night, after Adam and I got home from work, we walked into our dark house and Jasper greeted us at the door.

“Who let the dog out?” Adam asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe Clayte came home and let him out.” I told him, thinking my brother, who lived with us at the time, had probably come home, let him out, and forgot to put him back in.

We were wrong. Adam turned on the light and we both screamed. Jasper’s poor face was covered in blood that was rich in color due to his light fur.

“What happened?” I asked as tears came to my eyes.

“Holy crap!” I heard Adam exclaim from the kitchen. He walked back into the hallway holding the lock that used to be on Jasper’s cage. It was mangled with stray pieces of plastic around it. Adam looked at me in disbelief and awe. “He chewed the lock off.”

“He did what?!” I shouted. The tears in my eyes immediately dried up as my thoughts drifted to that $180 we had spent three days prior. Feeling like I would have been better off flushing that money down the toilet, I no longer felt sorry for him. I got up and walked into the kitchen to see the destroyed cage. It was amazing. He chewed through plastic and metal and only lost one tooth. Who does that?!

I wish I could say that was the end, but it wasn’t. After we moved to our current address, and after his evening of barking, dubbing me white trash, he went back to using the living room as a toilet. I was terrified to leave him outside, since I was trying to show my neighbor I wasn’t white trash. As if the bodily fluids on my carpet weren’t bad enough, Jasper decided to try something new.

It was a beautiful summer day, Adam and I decided we didn’t want to turn on the oven, so we took our two kids to Pizza Hut. We were enjoying our family time together when a police officer came into the restaurant. As he scanned the room I jokingly asked Adam, “Is he looking for you?” We shared a laugh, but the gaiety of the situation subsided as the officer approached our table. Adam and I exchanged confused glances.

“Excuse me folks. I don’t mean to interrupt your dinner, but are you Mr. Johnston?” the policeman asked.

“Yes.” Adam replied feeling even more confused.

“Um….We have a situation. Your dog is on your roof.”

“He’s what?!” we both yelled.

“The fire department tried to get him down, but he keeps barking at them and we don’t want anyone to get bit.” the man explained.

I looked at Adam and mouthed, “The fire department?”

“I’ll be right there.” Adam told him.

I stayed at Pizza Hut with the kids while he ran up the street to deal with our little situation. When Adam returned he seemed slightly irritated. He sighed and began an account of what had happened.

As Adam pulled up the hill he saw police cars and fire trucks parked in front of our house with bystanders filling the streets watching Jasper, who had broken out the screen of our boys’ open bedroom window, and had then begun to prance on our porch roof like some sort of cocky reindeer. Adam went inside and up to the bedroom. He called Jasper in, and to his extreme embarrassment the crowd cheered and applauded as our imposter Rudolph made his way back inside.

Lesson 9: Dog on roof requiring the assistance of the police and fire departments= white trash

This became Jasper’s punishment of choice for us over the next few weeks. If there was even the slightest crack in a window he was making his way out on the roof. It got so bad we came home one day to a note from the police department that read, “Please stop putting your dog on the roof or we’ll have to press charges.” I laughed. Yes, that is how it went down. “Jasper, we’re leaving, get on the roof now!”

After that, Jasper went to live with my parents for a while. They lived in the middle of no where and we thought that would be good for him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good for my parents. After filling the sliding glass door track with feces, a run in with a porcupine, and night after night of incessant barking, my parents had had enough. We brought him home.

By this time Jasper was just shy of 12 years old. His whole life he had been as playful as a puppy if you wanted him to be, but after his return something wasn't right. He no longer wanted to go outside, not even to use the bathroom. He started going to the basement to do his business, even when we were home. He lay around all day, hardly noticing any of us.

About a month later a very large lump protruded from under his fur on the back of his right leg. We took him to the vet who found he had cancer. We took him home and cried as we realized what had to be done. He wasn’t going to get better and we couldn’t stand to see him in this state. As much as it broke our hearts, we had Jasper put down.

So, here’s to you Jasper, on the 5 year anniversary of your death, we still have never found anyone to take your place. You may have been slightly crazy, but you fit our family like no one else ever will. I hope as you look down on us, while prancing on your giant rooftop in the sky, I hope you know we still miss you, think of you, and love you very much.

September 7, 2009

Germaphobe

Hi, my name is Jessica, and I’m a germaphobe. Yes it’s true. I swear I have super powers that enable me to see these nasty little buggers whose whole purpose in life is to make me sick. (Adam tells me I’m insane and what I’m really seeing is just dust.) Do you know what’s not good to have when you have a problem like mine? ….KIDS!

Kids are freaking gross. I’m not kidding. Who in their right mind is ever ok with green, germy boogers hanging out of their nose? Kids. Who has no qualms about teething on the handle of a Walmart cart? Kids. Who finds a delectable treat in their nose on a regular basis? That’s right….kids!!

My own children are no exception to the norm. As horrifying as it may be, I have seen these little people that came from my own womb pick gum up off the ground and try to eat it. I’ve also caught them licking their runny noses, writing hieroglyphics on their bedroom walls with their own feces, splashing merrily in a toilet full of urine, and trying to eat it their own vomit. In fact, my daughter Jovie was quite angry with me when she puked up pizza and I wouldn’t let her eat it. Who knew Aldi made such a good pizza! I have lucked out considering my mother-in-law found Adam eating someone else’s poop from out of the toilet when he was little. There he was, two logs in his hand and a proud smile with the nasty all through his teeth. It gives real meaning to the phrase, s*#% eating grin! That story always makes me retch a little in my own mouth.

Lesson 7: Eating someone else’s fecal matter = white trash

Thank goodness for Costco. It’s the perfect place for people like me. There I can buy bulk paper towels, cans of Lysol, Chlorox wipes, and the biggest tubes of Airborne I ever did see, all for a great price.

When we go out in public I always have hand sanitizer and Chlorox wipes on hand. Adam is embarrassed by my obsessive wiping of shopping carts. He doesn’t think I need to sanitize every little piece of the cart, but I never know what part they are going to grab or what disgusting, runny nosed kids had just occupied it.

I wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t until I had more than two kids. Do you know how long it takes for a sickness to circulate through our house? The months of January and February 2008….gone, due to a stomach bug immediately followed by a nasty cold. May 2008….gone, quarantined to the house. I swear we all had swine flu. So do you should see why I’m a little maniacal about the sanitizing? When I see one of my kids with a runny nose, I sigh and prepare myself for at least a month of illness.

Now, some of you may disagree with me, but my kids are sick right now, and I’m tired of wiping noses, distributing vile after vile of antibiotics and ibuprofen (Not to mention, holding Jude down and forcing him to swallow the pink liquid that smells like crap), dry cracked hands from perpetual washing, and my house being in a thick cloud of Lysol. So in honor of my current situation and based purely on the fact that I loathe them:

Lesson 8: GERMS ARE WHITE TRASH!!

September 4, 2009

Baby Smackin' Purse

The families on our street are big breeders. (We fit right in!) We all joke there is something in the water on our hill. No family has less than 3 children and some families have up to 8! It’s great for our kids since it’s never hard to find someone to play with.

As most of you know, all children are completely different. Some are full of energy, while others enjoy sitting around and coloring. A good majority of them on our street are very outspoken, and the rest just follow their demands. We adults (Jackie, Adam, our occasional basement dweller, and myself) find it quite amusing to watch these little personalities interact with one another.

One particular day I had three of my neighbor’s younger children over to play with my three younger boys. So I had six kids in my back yard from ages 2-5. That kind of scenario requires more than one adult, so I summoned my basement dweller at the time, Brett, who is my first cousin and had inhabited my basement for a year.

The play-date went smoothly. The kids got along great as they usually do. My oldest son, Marky, who is 9, used to be really good friends with our neighbors 8 year old daughter. They were close when they were younger before the boy/girl lines were drawn. Back then there was nothing too girly or too boyish for either of them to try for the sake of the other. Unfortunately, after they began school, they drifted apart. Marky became more interested in video games, and she became enthralled with fashion and flirting with boys. It breaks my heart to see them interact now. She compliments him on his hair or clothes while batting her eyes, and he returns the gesture with a monotone, “Whatever.” What happened to the two kids laughing hysterically as they raced their Big Wheels down the hill?

Anyway, their parents had obviously sent her to retrieve the younger kids, because here she came, strutting down my driveway, hand on her hip, toward the back yard like it was some sort of catwalk. She burst through the gate and struck a pose. She was decked out in leopard print slip-on shoes, stretch pants to match, a white sweater dress that was gathered in the middle by a gold chain belt, and enormous gold hoop earrings. Her older sisters must have gotten to her, because her hair was done up for a ball and she was wearing more makeup than the Joker.

She looked at her brother and sisters and shrieked in her best diva voice, “Kids! Get down to the house before I smack you with my purse!” The kids stopped playing and looked at her. “I’ll do it!” she reaffirmed, shaking her head from side to side with attitude.

Brett and I both burst out in laughter. “Man, it just got real ghetto up in this piece.” Brett chuckled. She immediately shot him a nasty look.

As the kids hurried out the gate I asked Marky’s old playmate, “So, you have a baby smackin’ purse, huh?”

She turned and gave me the evil eye, and for a moment I was scared she was going to use that dreaded bag of magical powers on me! Her 5 year old sister was just about to leave the yard, but turned to quickly address me. “She really does. She has a purse.”

Miss Thang gave me a vindicated look and followed her siblings home. As soon as they were out of sight, Brett and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Wow."

Lesson 6: Eight year old girl with a baby smackin’ purse will someday = white trash

September 3, 2009

Thank God for Good Neighbors

When we moved into our home six years ago, I was very lonely. Adam worked all the time and the only person I had to converse with was an infant who had nothing stimulating to talk about. My mother frequently received crying phone calls about my plight. “You’re just going to have to get out and make some new friends.” she lovingly told me.

A desperate laugh was my usual response. We could only afford one vehicle and it was always sitting at Adam’s place of work, so the prospect of me taking off to make new friends was not a realistic option.

After enough complaints my mom told me, “Well, then you’re going to have to pray and have God send a friend to you.”

Knowing God would have to bring me a friend from somewhere close by, I immediately thought about the lovely lady who called me white trash. She was the only person on my street close to my age. The thought caused me to cry hysterically.
“There’s nobody here!” I wailed.

“Just give it a try.” My mom insisted.

“Fine.” My tone emphasized my annoyance with being given a task and not a means to get me immediate results.

The house to the left of us had been unoccupied since before we moved in. Our neighbors told us the person who lived there had abandoned it, causing it to go into foreclosure.

About a year later, we started to notice prospective buyers coming to look at the house. Months went by with no taker. Of course I don’t think we helped the situation.

As I said before, our house needed some definite love. We went right to work when we moved in, tearing up floors and painting. The project we were working on during the showing of the other house was what became our current eat-in kitchen, which had originally been an extremely small, closet like kitchen, (that doesn’t fly when there is a chef in the house) and a dark, dreary dining room. To accomplish this extensive feat, we had to take out the wall separating the two. We had removed the wall; but couldn’t afford a dumpster, so a large pile of wall chunks lay scattered in my driveway, next to our broken down Caravan that had the classic wood strip. A total eye sore, not exactly something you want to see when you look out your window.
Lesson 4: driveway full of wall chunks and broke down vehicles = white trash
There was one particular couple that we knew we scared away. My husband had invited his best friend over the night before, which always involves beer drinking. I know this sounds bad, but when we are strapped for cash I make Adam get a $2 forty instead of a case of beer. So, in the morning, I found that the guys had left a couple of forty bottles on our front porch. (That’s where they drink because no one is permitted to smoke in our house.) I decided to go outside and clean up. At that time I still occasionally smoked and had decided to indulge myself in an after coffee cigarette.

I walked outside and lit my cig just as a very nice SUV pulled up in front of the vacant house next door. I walked over to the little table on my porch and picked up the two empty forty bottles. I turned around, forties in hand with a cigarette hanging loosely from my lips to see a couple with the real estate agent looking at me.

I smiled and waved the best I could while holding the awkward bottles. They didn’t wave back or smile, a look of horror on their faces. Realizing what I must look like, I quickly extinguished my square and disappeared into my house hoping that they didn’t look out their living room window down on my driveway full of garbage.

About ten minutes later I hear Adam yelling from out in the back yard. I ran outside and found him and Seth frantically swinging a two-by-four and a running leaf blower in my garage. The leaf blower was so loud they had to scream to communicate. Adam glanced in my direction and screamed, “There’s a @*#! bird in here! Do you want me to kill it?!” Just then I feel someone staring at me. I look over to find the unknown couple had come outside to admire the beautiful deck, and instead they got an earful of obscenities and a bird slaying.

I was mortified. I knew we had ruined any chances of this couple making the neighboring house their home. No matter how beautiful it may have been, living next to us had to be the last thing they ever wanted to do. I chuckled to myself at the ridiculous situation as I watched my husband and his best friend try to slaughter the poor bird. The couple and their agent watched too out of pure shock. Then, if it couldn't get any worse, something else caught my eye. There, in our yard, was our dog Jasper, heaving until he puked up some weird fluorescent yellow foam. I turned and look at the couple who were now running away.

Lesson 5: smoking while cleaning forty bottles off your front porch + killing birds with two-by-fours and leaf blowers + dog puking up toxic waste DOES IN FACT = white trash


Anyway, a few months past and finally a single lady named Jackie moved in. She told me later that we weren’t home when she looked at the house. (Luckily!) Four years later, she’s not only my best friend, but an adopted family member, and Godmother to my one and only daughter. I’m very thankful God answered my prayer!

September 2, 2009

A Chef and His Lawn Mower

My husband, Adam, is a gifted chef, and when someone hears of his occupation their immediate reaction is, “Oh, you're so lucky.” Their dreamy tones and smiles of admiration make it hard to destroy their visions of me being served three scrumptious meals a day by my attractive man (who looks like a thirty year old Nick Jonas). Unfortunately this is not the case.

In reality, I’m quite lucky to have him home for a meal, let alone cook me anything. So for those who don’t know, being a chef’s wife is not for the faint of heart. A chef’s schedule is much like that of a doctor or police officer, but without the glory, respect, or paycheck!

Adam leaves at 10:30 am everyday, (There is a lot of prep work that goes into the lovely meal you devour at a restaurant.) and he usually doesn’t return until 11 pm, if not later. On weekends it is always much later. He works every weekend, every holiday, and on average, six days week.

You are probably thinking, “Hey, he has time to make a great breakfast.” Again, I am laughing on the inside. I hate to tell you, but the man doesn’t wake up until 10!

I don’t want to make it sound like he’s never home. He does have one day off a week, and on special occasions, two; and those are the days he makes up for all the time he’s gone. He’s an attentive father and loving mate. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that also require his manly attention around our house. Like the grass for instance, he refuses to let me run the lawn mower, but he is rarely home to manage our tiny patch of lawn. This summer there were a few times I looked out back and expected to see a tiger popping its head out of what looked like its natural habitat. On multiple occasions I caught disapproving glances from neighbors as they scanned over my untidy yard.


Lesson 3: unruly grass = white trash


Truthfully, I wasn’t too bothered by the jungle. Sorry neighbors, but I will always pick quality time with my husband and kids over mown grass any day!

September 1, 2009

Why White Trash?

Hi. I’m Jess, a 29 year old, lower-middle class American citizen, who, for some reason, has been dubbed “white trash”. White trash…..why am I white trash? At first, I didn’t know. To figure out this enigma, I researched the actual definition.



White trash: Ignorant, lazy, poor white person.



This confused me. First off, I am educated. I graduated from a private high school with honors. Moving on, I attended Saint Vincent College, where I majored in chemistry. I dropped out a year later to pursue a family. I have since then acquired an Associates Degree in accounting. Do I have a fancy degree in chemistry? No, but I’m definitely not unintelligent.

Now the poor part I can understand. We don’t have a lot of material assets or a savings to speak of; but we are not on welfare, and that’s saying something for a family of seven living on one income.

I have been referred to as white trash on a couple of occasions. There had to be something more to this white trash business than the actual definition. I’ve spent years trying to figure out this mysterious formula. These are some of my own personal findings:



The first time I was referred to as “white trash” was right after my husband and I purchased our first house in 2003, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Being a young couple, just starting out, the amount a mortgage company was willing to give us was not much. With only three options, we settled for the only one that didn’t reside in, what seemed like, a suburban ghetto.

Our new home was, by far, the most neglected on the street. Built in the early 1930’s, the original owners had bought the house new, lived there their whole lives, and died just when we started our house hunting, and they obviously had not done a thing with the place since the 1970’s.

Perched at the near top of a most inconvenient, yet typical Pittsburgh hill, it stood in close proximity to our neighbors. The two-tone structure of maroon and dingy white had a beautiful porch (I was excited) decorated with piles of garbage. Broken chairs, a glider frame topped with a blown tv, and a dry rotten American flag, among other things, littered what I saw as something with great potential. To top off the outer visage, a broken down car rested in my teeny-tiny back yard.

The inside was no better filled with a fluorescent pink refrigerator, peeling 70’s wall paper held up with duct tape, dirty wall to wall shag carpeting, and way too much wood paneling. The paneling was so thick we felt as if we lived in a tree. The dark and dreary paneling was in every room except for two bedrooms and the bathroom, (We did come to find, when we replaced the floors in the bathroom, that they had used wood paneling as a sub floor under the carpeting. I kid you not!)

A couple of days after moving in, the surviving children of the deceased came and removed the car. My husband, Adam removed all the garbage from our porch leaving it clean and full of possibilities. I couldn’t do much moving since I had just had our first son, Jagger, three weeks prior.

This leads me to being white trash. At the time we had a dog named Jasper. Jasper was eleven years old, but he still acted the same as he did when he was a puppy. (He could be a real pain in the butt!) The first night my husband had to go back to work I was alone with the baby and the dog. I put the dog out to use the bathroom after a day of dreary rain. By the time I went to retrieve him, he had completely covered himself in mud. Looking at my white German Shepherd, who now looked more like a normal shepherd, I thought of my options. We didn’t have a hose yet, so I couldn’t spray him off. I had just had a baby and was not permitted to lift more than the weight of my son, let alone a hundred pound dog, without the possibility of hemorrhaging and dying, and Jasper never got into the tub on his own. The only option was to wait for Adam to get home.

Adam returned from work at eleven pm to find a muddy barking dog tied to the laundry pole out back. He promptly brought him in and cleaned him. The ordeal was over. Or so I thought.
The next afternoon, Adam had left for work and I took the baby and dog out to sit on my new, clean front porch. A few minutes later a young lady, no more than five years older than me, approached me from a neighboring house with her toddler son. I became excited, hoping to make a new friend. I smiled wanting to seem friendly and open. She met my smile with a scowl. This took me back. What did this lady want? I had only been here for a few days. What did I do?
She reached me and said in a snide manner, “So this is the animal who was making all the noise.”
“Sorry, he got muddy and I…” I began, but she wasn’t going to let me explain.

“You need to do something about that dog or we’re going to have a problem.” she yelled. With that, she turned and began dragging her son back up the hill. “White trash.” I heard her mutter as she walked away.

I sat stunned with tears in my eyes. She never even let me explain. She didn’t give me a chance to speak at all. How did she know I was white trash?

The more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, especially after a few years of watching her interact with other neighbors. We’ve been here for six years and I’ve never even seen her smile.


Lesson 1: barking dog = white trash




The second time was a little more bothersome, as it came from my own brother. My brother and I have quite different views on the definition of success. He believes success is measured by the amount of money you make and assets you have. He has never been able to understand why I have chosen to be a stay at home mom. I’m a great disappointment in his eyes. His belief is that I should have had only one kid, dropped him off at day care and got a job like all other respectable people. So when I found myself pregnant with my son Jude, he lovingly asked me, “Why do you want to be white trash?”


Lesson 2: stay at home mom + more than one child = white trash