Psychology Today, The Book Brigade Talks with Kari Wagner-Peck

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I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Hara Estroff Marano, editor at large, Psychology Today, and author A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting. I invite you to read my interview: Not Always Happy, The Book Brigade Talks to Writer Kari Wagner-Peck.

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At the corner of happy & healthy

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First, this is not a Red Nose Day post. Secondly it was actually a Rite-Aid but the tagline for Walgreen’s is appropriate and, then, there’s Tina Fey’s voice-over.

Yesterday, May 16th — 90 minutes before the official launch party for my book–Not Always Happy: An Unusual Parenting Journey—Thorin and I ran into two people who played prominent roles in our story.*

Thorin and I walked out of Rite-Aid and ran into his first grade teacher, who is known as Mrs. Bruce, in the book. The last time I saw her was a few months after we left school. It was at  Hannaford’s Supermarket. I was still raw from our interactions with her. I was terse but civilized.

Here’s a tip on what I might think of you. If I don’t grab you and hug you or break into a wide, toothy grin and look like I’m levitating — I probably don’t like you. I’m from northern Wisconsin originally. That statement is redundant for all people from there.

I was pleasantly surprised that seeing Mrs. Bruce yesterday brought up no emotion in me. She asked, “How are you?”

“We’re great!” I said.

“We’re great, too, but busy,” she offered unsolicited.

Okay, we’re all great –now how to get to the car? That’s when the Universe kicked it into over-drive. Coming out of Rite-Aide was The Principal (TP) from Thorin’s former school—she’s also in the book and known as her title. This was clearly supposed to happen on this day at this little corner of the Rite-Aid entrance.

Strangely enough the two of them seemed more uncomfortable with each other than us. We quickly covered similar greetings with TP.

Mrs. Bruce, “How old is Thorin now?”

I didn’t even think anything like, “Are you fucking kidding me? You can’t ask him?” Instead, I said to Thorin, “How old are you?”

“Ten!”

Then for reasons not entirely clear I said, “Thorin takes specials at Walt Whitman Elementary School.”**

Mrs. Bruce asked, “Oh! What’s your favorite special, Thorin?”

He said, “Homeschooling!”

I give myself extra credit here for not crying. “Thorin, that makes me so happy!” I said levitating.

Mrs. Bruce, “Well, I’m glad you are doing social things. That’s important.”

It’s probably important to mention at this juncture, Mrs. Bruce told me she did not consider herself Thorin’s teacher during her tenure as his teacher and she didn’t support his augmentative communication device in the classroom, “Because it takes so much time.” How thoughtless of Thorin!

Did I see TP shake her head and give the stink eye to Mrs. Bruce through her dark shades, as if to say, “This is the kind of crap that got us in trouble in the first place!”

I turned to Mrs. Bruce—giving her my full attention: “If there is one thing you do not need to work about it is Thorin’s social life. He takes theater class, dance class, movies class, music class, gym, track, music and he has friends.”

“Nice,” Mrs. Bruce said oblivious to my tone.

TP responded in a warm and genuine tone, “Thorin that sounds amazing! Amazing! Really very nice.”

The corner of happy and healthy before the party last night was awesome.

*Our family started homeschooling in August of 2014. We started because we couldn’t tolerate how Thorin was treated and more importantly he couldn’t tolerate it. That said we found we love homeschooling.

**A few things to note: One — Walt Whitman is the name I gave another school in our district that is in my book. Second, “specials” are art, music and gym classes. Third, yes, Thorin has been attending specials in a public school since August of 2016. Fourth, to answer your question, yes it has been a real trip.

P.s. — if interested in knowing more about the book please go here to my author website.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind –

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This post is four years old but still relevant today. Oct. 3, 2016, Kwp

When we are in a hurry to pick something up at the grocery store Ward will wait outside with car running and he is apt to instruct me:

“Just go to the _______ aisle, grab the __________ and go to the check out.

When I get back in our car and immediately point to some older gentleman loading his groceries in his car and say something like:

“That poor guy lost his wife and his son lives in Ohio and doesn’t call him.”

Ward asks me “How could you possibly know that?”

“Which part?”

“The whole thing. How do you know any of that?”

“Well, this lady and I were talking to him and…”

“Lady? What lady? You talked to more than one person in there?”

“The lady who just had a hernia surgery and has a daughter who could care less. Her daughter lives…”

“Stop, I don’t care where the daughter lives. Is it possible for you to go in a store and not strike up a random conversation?”

“Probably not.”

Sometimes these encounters go beyond a fleeting conversation and sometimes they don’t. This week I found myself in an intimate conversation with a woman I met on the beach about our son’s strengths – hers with autism and mine with Ds. I gave her my email.

Ward can’t fathom these chance encounters of mine and I can’t understand this thing he calls ‘gardening’.

When we first moved in together we lived in what could only be described as a hovel – for Hobbits. Everything was slightly built – rooms, doors and windows. About a hundred years before, it had been a stable where I imagine freakishly small and likely disgruntled horses lived.

The yard wasn’t more than a patch of dirt. Over the course of several months Ward built a curious arrangement from the dirt. The process began with weeks of sifting the dirt, which he accomplished by setting an old window screen on the discarded cast iron legs of a sewing machine. For hours at a time alone in the yard he moved dirt across that screen.

Prior to this, I had never heard much less seen dirt sifting. I didn’t delve too much because we were newly living together and there seemed to be bigger things about Ward I was trying to decipher that sifting dirt became low on the list. Plus as my mom and I watched him from the porch one morning she said, “He seems content. I would focus on that.”

Overtime the sifted dirt joined rocks and plants becoming an organized pile in the center of the yard not unlike the structures Richard Dreyfuss created in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Dirt sifting and combing the neighborhood for rocks and bricks has mutated through the years ending up in more recognizable things to me such as re-built patios and lovingly made garden supports.

Ward will never understand how I end up in personal conversations with complete strangers and I will never understand his gardening.

Thorin has embraced both of our endeavors as valid and normal. He engages with people in the check out line, kids on the beach and he likes to work alone outside moving rocks and dirt from randomness to meaning.