Guest Star: Varda of The Squashed Bologna

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There are many blogs out there that write about parenting a special needs child, and early on, I was drawn by the beautiful and sometimes haunting writing of Varda of The Squashed Bologna: A Slice of Life In The Sandwich Generation.

She writes with honesty, like this post about her autistic son, Jacob and the growing differences between him and his twin Ethan; with great love, in this post about a special moment with her mother (this totally made me tear up); and she can bring the funny too, like this post about a hilarious conversation with Ethan.

Thanks to Varda, I’ve also ‘met’ some pretty special people who have guest posted on Varda’s weekly Special Needs Sibling Saturday series – she will tell you more about this wonderful series below.

Varda is a lovely, thoughtful and insightful writer, and I’m so glad I met her. You will be too.

Jacob, Varda and Ethan

1. When and why did you start blogging?
Well, this isn’t the most cheerful of stories, but here it goes: deep in the winter freeze of 2010 my father was dying, actively dying, a long drawn out death. He had been sent home in mid-December 2009 to live out his last few days, a week at the most. He died on March 13th. By the end of January, between caring for my father, my equally overwhelmed mother, and my twin boys (one of whom is autistic), I was ragged. And very tired of telling people over and over about how I was doing.

At that time, a good friend of mine was blogging about children’s books and her kids’ reading habits, and I really enjoyed reading her blog. She knew I wrote, and had been encouraging me for a long time to try it, noting how simple and foolproof the process was, even for “techno-weenies” like us.

Finally, in Early February 2010 it all came together and I sat down at the computer and started my blog, calling it “The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation” because at that moment? I was feeling the epitome of the squashed meat in the middle.

2. What do you love most about blogging?

Everything. Well, not everything… I don’t love the time it sucks out of the rest of my life. But other than that? I really can’t believe it took me so many years to find it, because it fits me like a glove. My husband says that when I am blogging or reading blogs or talking about them or chatting with other bloggers on Twitter, I am like a pig in… well, you know.

But to narrow “everything” down, I would say that for me it’s all about the connections. Connections in two directions: inwardly connecting with my deepest self when I’m writing. The act of blogging nearly every day has helped me truly to find my voice.

And then there are the outward connections: my community. Connecting with other bloggers and finding my tribe has been an incredibly positive force in my life. And it is a TRUE community, and I do consider these people (mostly women) my friends, even if we have never met; even if we never meet, ever.  There is a power in the connection with other bloggers, a sense of absolute belonging and acceptance to a degree I have rarely felt before in my life (and I am generally a very connected person to start with).  It is extraordinary. I am a very happy piggie.

3. Who is your favorite blogger ever?
You really think I can answer this question? There are so many that I love and so many I don’t want to offend by choosing another. There is Kris, Alexandra, Kirsten, Jenny, Heather, Maggie, Jess, Mary, Mir, Alice, Elizabeth, Stacey, Neil, Galit, Stacy, Nichole, Becky, You, and so many, many more… and then there is Adrienne.

If you twist my arm (ow!) and make me answer, I would have to go with Adrienne of No Points for Style. She is a special needs mom who is one of the bravest women I know, as well as being an incredible writer. She writes so movingly and honestly of her son’s (many, intense) issues, her blended family’s struggles, and her deep pain therein. She writes of her childhood, scarred by bullying and suicide. Some of her posts are literally breathtaking, as in I find myself gulping for air as I read them, tears streaming down my face.

And then, I am breathless with laughter as she tells hysterical stories of her husband and kids and their life together. Because not only does she get no points for style, it seems she has no sense of direction, either.  So, yes it’s Adrienne, by a nose.

4. Is there a post you regret publishing?

Nope. I am a proud over-sharer. I do have posts I regret NOT publishing – things I just couldn’t get ready in time, and then they lost their relevance.  I have ADD and getting things finished is not my strong point.

5. What do you love most about being a Mom?

Everything. Well, not everything… Let’s just say: being responsible for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for NINE years running? I do not love. But at the top of everything I love? This is hard. I really do love so much about being a mom, especially having waited so long for it, longed for it for so many years. But if I had to narrow it down…

Witnessing the blossoming of my kids personhoods as they develop.  Watching them become their own people and seeing the miracle of their thoughts and opinions forming.  They are not mini-me. They are their own selves. Amazing!

Also? Holding a sleeping child. My boys as infants, asleep in my arms was the most delicious thing on earth. And even now at nine, it is much less frequent but they will still sometimes fall asleep sitting in my lap watching TV at night, or leaning on my shoulder, my arm around them on the long subway ride home from a fun time.

The weight of my sleeping child, the feel of their slow sleep breathing against my chest penetrates my heart and fills it to the brim.

6. What’s your favorite time of the day?

Sunset. I love the golden tones of the late day sunlight and how it paints the world with a bronzing glow. The long shadows. And sunsets; fiery orange-pink skies with purple clouds. When I was a little girl I would pretend I lived on other planets when the sky turned lavender all around.

7. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Japan. I have never been to Asia, and am not likely to be taking a trip like that in the near future. I studied Japanese in college and a little fascination with that culture, and now that my sons are enthralled by Japanimation I am back in it. Ethan is in the middle of reading the Young Samurai series of books about a shipwrecked English “gaijin” boy who becomes a samurai in 17th century Japan.

8. What could you eat every single day?

Chocolate. And avocado. But not together (ick!)

9. Favorite season and why.

Summer. I’m a summer baby, born in August, and my kids are summer babies, born in July. And I LOVE the beach. Also? Less clothes to deal with. No yelling at the kids to put on their jackets, and bugging them to not leave their sweaters, jackets, hats and gloves behind, everywhere they go.

10. One word to describe you.

Evolving. (It’s what Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks painted on my arm at BlogHer10, and I think it still stands.)

11. You are the mom of twin boys, Ethan and Jacob. Tell us a little more about them.

Ethan and Jacob are now nine years old. NINE! I still have a hard time reconciling with that because it all happened in a blink (and yeah, I wrote a post about that).  I am an older mom – 42 when they were born – and they are IVF babies. When I found out I was pregnant with twins I was so thrilled (terrified, but thrilled) because I knew this was my one shot at motherhood, and I so wanted to have more than one child.  I thought “they will never be lonely, they will always have each other.”
But you know, it didn’t quite work out that way. Because Jacob is on the autism spectrum and Ethan is not. And so while they are the same biological age, they are at such different developmental ages, they have a very difficult relationship.

Their early years were marked by Ethan desperately trying to play with a brother who completely ignored him, which transformed at about age 5 into Jacob desperately trying to play with a brother who was thoroughly annoyed by and wanting no part of him.

And so I basically have TWO lonely only children in the house, instead of the twin joy I envisaged. And two completely separate kid lives to manage. They go to different schools (and always will) with their attendant disparate schedules. This is my life.

I hope and have faith that one day they will become closer and connect more. And the scattered moments they do now are magic, and I treasure them, even if it’s just a half hour of playing a loud Wii game in PJs together on a Saturday morning. Magic.

12. You host a weekly series, “Special Needs Siblings Saturdays.” Tell us more!

Well, I had loved reading and posting in regular guest series on friends blogs – like Mommypants Moments at Cheryl’s and Small Moments Mondays at Nichole’s.  As I’ve mentioned I love the community creating aspect of blogging and wanted to host my own guest post series. But I didn’t want it to be random, it had to be meaningful to me and connected to the core content of my blog.

I thought about what I wanted to reach out to my community about and it came to me in a flash. I was struggling with the difficult relationship between my boys (see my answer to the above question) and was thinking that not enough people out there were talking about / writing about / focusing on how having a special needs child affects the other kids in the house and family dynamics as a whole.  And thus the topic of my series was born.

In my post introducing Special Needs Siblings Saturdays I wrote: “That my children mostly do not get along, that it is so hard for us to function as a cohesive family unit?  Is probably the single most consistent source of pain in my life.  So that’s what I’m hosting a guest series about. Not what I do best, but what I do worst. Because that’s what I need to hear other voices about. I want to know how others do it, and how others don’t do it.”

The series launched this past March, and since then there have been thirty AMAZING posts written for it. There are a lot of posts about Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder because that is my world, but the special needs represented also include Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, psychiatric disorders, epilepsy/seizure disorders, genetic disorders, lead poisoning; and quite a number have multiple diagnoses.

The bloggers who have posted are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of people with special needs. There are siblings who love and support each other, siblings who fight and are destructive to each other, siblings who are sad, siblings who are joyful, and mostly just incredibly beautiful, moving stories of our complex, complicated families trying to figure it all out together.

What is also interesting to note is that while many of my readers have special needs children in their lives, many do not, are regular “vanilla” (or “chocolate”) parents. And they often find much to relate to in these Sibling Saturdays posts as well. Because even without special needs to complicate things? Sibling relationships are deep and complex, central to our lives. And the posts are always beautifully written. I feel honored to be hosting this series.
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Thank you Varda, for sharing your story and being here today.

Do follow Varda on her blog, Twitter and like her on Facebook!

Alison

Alison

Alison

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  • November 14, 2011 By Word of Mouth Musings

    The lovely Varda, as delightful in real life as she is on her blog. Her words are always honest and ring true in every aspect of her life. She is a true inspiration for all Mom’s to look beyond and enjoy every good moment!
    … and two wonderful ladies on this page today – how blessed we are 😉
    By Word of Mouth Musings recently wrote…VlogTalk From The Beginning. Monday’s Muse.My Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Kimberly

    What a courageous and inspirational woman! Thank you for sharing her with us today!
    Kimberly recently wrote…If You Give A Mom A Few HoursMy Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Galit Breen

    So very lovely to see you here, Varda!
    Galit Breen recently wrote…Rainbow PancakesMy Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Jessica

    A new blogger (to me). Nice to meet you Varda. It sounds like you are creating a wonderful community with your Special Needs Siblings Saturdays.
    Jessica recently wrote…VlogTalk From The BeginningMy Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Jessica

    What an inspiring woman! I am so glad you shared her with us. Im so excited to head to your blog, Varda! 🙂

  • November 14, 2011 Stasha

    I know Varda through Twitter but it is great to see her here, talking about herself! What a lovely interview.
    Stasha recently wrote…Monday ListiclesMy Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Kiddothings

    Thanks for sharing your story Varda. It was inspiring to read about your sons.
    Kiddothings recently wrote…What Makes A Perfect Vacation?My Profile

  • November 14, 2011 tracy

    I love seeing Varda here. One of my highlights of BlogHer was meeting her. xoxo
    tracy recently wrote…My Kids are Gifted and Talented…My Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Desperate Housemommy

    A proud over-sharer.

    Love that.

    No regrets.

    Nice to meet you, Varda!
    Desperate Housemommy recently wrote…Deep Thoughts at 30,000 FeetMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Christine

    I just recently ‘met’ Varda (through Lovelinks, I think, which is also thanks to you.) Love her writing and her perspective and so nice to learn more about her here.
    Christine recently wrote…Because…My Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Julie

    Varda is really lovely! I like this series and how it features new stalk-worthy blogs. 🙂
    Julie recently wrote…Monday Meals: Talkin’ TurkeyMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Erica M

    Thanks for a wonderfully insightful interview, Alison and Varda! It’s so much fun getting to know our fellow bloggers better.
    Erica M recently wrote…I’m getting grumpy over hereMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Varda (SquashedMom)

    Alison, thank you so much for having me here. I really enjoyed answering your questions and feel honored to be in such great company as your other fabulous guests.
    Varda (SquashedMom) recently wrote…I’m a (Guest) StarMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Kristin

    So nice to make your acquaintance, Varda. I read the two posts Alison linked above – about the difference between your sons and the special moment you shared with your mom – and was blown away by your writing.
    Kristin recently wrote…I’m Stockpiling Canned Goods (And So Should You)My Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Mama Track

    Hi Varda! Great to see you here. And I agree–the connections ARE the best part of blogging!
    Mama Track recently wrote…CharacterMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Alexandra

    Oh, gosh, I love this woman.

    I know her since before I began my blog.

    Met her through a writing collective: silicon valley moms.

    Followed her since then.

    Then, the luck of the fates, I was able to be her roommie at BLogHer via mutual friend: Dusty.

    Life can be so wonderful.
    Alexandra recently wrote…Notes On How To Make A BedMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 liz

    Avocado IS pretty amazing. 🙂

    Alison, do you get a lot of people who say they do regret publishing a post?
    liz recently wrote…Why I Broke up with Klout & Changed my Twitter HandleMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Ann

    What a great guest star….it’s amazing how many sandwich generations folks there are now. I agree – avocado and chocolate – separately is delicious! Thanks for another winner, Alison!
    Ann recently wrote…Primavera Rice CasseroleMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Ann

    I forgot to say…I LOVE your one word description!
    Ann recently wrote…Primavera Rice CasseroleMy Profile

  • November 15, 2011 Ado

    Varda you are an inspiration and thanks to Alison for hosting your moving story on Mama Wants This. I agree that the friends we make in the virtual community are “real” – even if we never meet them. I really had no idea how much support and friendship I’d run into up here. Glad you found blogging Varda. (-:
    Ado recently wrote…10 Surprising Places to Travel with KidsMy Profile

  • November 16, 2011 deborah l quinn

    Thanks, Alison, for giving us this slice of the squashed bologna so many of us love! her connections have created communities all over the “real” world and the internet world (which, let’s face it, is pretty real) … Loved hearing her voice in this post; it felt like having a conversation with her. Thanks to both of you!
    deborah l quinn recently wrote…Monday Listicle: Are You on Vacation? Or a Family Trip?My Profile

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