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Sandwich generation? It’s a pickle.

Creative Commons License photo credit: williamhartz

People who have to take care of their elderly parents and their children are sometimes called the “Sandwich Generation.” My experiences the last couple days, reminds me not only of a sandwich, but an old baseball game called Pickle.

In the game of Pickle, two fielders throw the ball back and forth trying to squeeze the runner until one of them can tag him/her out. The runner is said to be “in a pickle” because there are few choices.

In the post, “Attack by friendly fire: People with autism and their families” (click here) I shared how my son, who is 35 and has the label of autism, is caught in a residential crisis. The county board is the fielder on Base 1.

This same week, I’ve been running my mother who is 88 years old back and forth to the doctors for her acute pain. Today the doctors decided to give her full hip replacement surgery. My mother is the fielder on Base 2.

Me–I’m the runner caught in the middle, “In the Pickle.” I keep hoping to get a break and make it safely to the base. Back and forth, forth and back… go from one crisis to the next. Try not to be tagged “out.” It’s tricky, but maybe I can slide into a base, or pull a turn and twist maneuver, or run real fast. The odds aren’t good. But, sometimes we get lucky and can get to base safely.

Aaron’s problem is actually the more difficult to solve because the “system” is set up to deal with people like my mom. There are thousands of seniors having replacement surgery every day. The system, for the most part, works well. If it doesn’t work, there are thousands of family members across the nation who can advocate and fix things. Still not easy, but there are lots of voices and advocates.

With Aaron there are few voices to advocate. Few people have the luxury of even being in our situation.

Many parents of adults with disabilities have their child living at home. They might be on the waiting list for the few Medicaid Waivers. If their child does get residential services they do not know what best practice looks like, they are not likely to rock the boat or ask questions. Many parents are afraid the services will be taken away. Many think the agencies are doing the best they can and just give up.

Thanks to so many of you who have offered your prayers and concern. Thanks also to those who have given me some ideas and encouragement as we move forward.

Right now, I’m still “in the pickle” running between the bases.


Are you also a member of the sandwich generation? Also caught in a pickle? Tell us your story. How are you dealing with it?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All the best, Mary

Day 19 of our Chris Brogan’s Every-Day-For-30-Days Blogging Challenge Follow us on Twitter #CB30BC
Alison Golden of The Secret Life of a Warrior Woman is my partner in this challenge: (click here to check out her new post.)

Nursing and Caring: 1945 vs. 2013

Pittsburgh Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1968
Creative Commons License photo credit: nursing pins

Nursing and Caring during WWII

My mom became a nurse during WW II. One of her first assignments involved going into the homes of elderly people in the Washington, DC area. Many of these older Americans were by themselves because their adult children were serving in the war. These were regular patients she saw every week and she would give them their shots, medication, baths, change bandages… whatever they needed. Mom told stories about how her best medicine was often listening. They were scared, lonely and she would read the precious letters that came from faraway places and help them write back. One afternoon she was with an elderly couple as the military officers told them their son had been killed in action. She gave each person personal attention and dignity.

Her patients were personal. She knew them and their stories. She cared about them as individuals.

After each home visit, she and her companion (they traveled in twos) would take the bus or trolley cars back to the dorm where all the nurses lived. She had to wash, press and starch her uniform (this was before modern washers and dryers), she had to write her reports (longhand with a pen) and she had to make sure she was inside the dorm before 10 PM or she would be marked a fallen woman and unworthy to be a nurse.

After the war she married my dad and had five children in six years, with another child 4 years later–six children total in 10 years. When the children were all school-age, she again became a part-time ER and Recovery Room nurse.

Nursing and Caring in 2010

Mom always loved hospitals and everything medical. Even now at 88 years old, she remembers the names and doses of each of her 15+ medications. She tries to remember the nursing staff but there are too many of them.

This afternoon I stayed in her room while a steady stream of professionals did the prep work for her hip replacement surgery. They had her IV running; she was given preventative medicine for vomiting and acid reflux. She had one tube taped into her artery so during the surgery additional meds could be given without needle pricks. Everything was plastic, disposable, and sterile.

Everything was Impersonal

Each of the medical professionals seemed competent and efficient. They explained the procedures, they reassured her that her doctor was the best; they had amazing machines that beeped and whirled. But, even with me standing there, no one cared who mom was. She was the “hip replacement in room 424.”

Again, this was a state-of-the-art hospital with excellent nurses. Everyone was super nice and competent. On the bulletin board near her bed “Helen” was written in large green markers. Each of her nurses also signed the bulletin board so she would know the name of the staff person.

Games of Caring

In this game of “name that patient” and “ring-around-revolving staff” It did seem disrespectful that a twenty-something staff person would address her as “Helen” like they were best buds.

In Disability World, we have often dealt with staff whose job was to write a report and then give their expertise as to what was best for Aaron. Sometimes the prejudice and low expections of the professionals are dangerous to the person (click here). As an advocate, I’ve been in meetings when psychologists (they were the worst) would go over their whole report with recommendations for placements or goals and they never even met the person. They claimed to know the person better than the biased parents or teachers…. Advocates always recommend parents bring a picture of their child to the meeting. I know of one case where the psychologist wrote the report up, only to find out he had the wrong person at the meeting.

Today, the company that provides Aaron’s residential care has “Home Managers” who oversee Aaron’s life. The “Home Managers” do not have anything in their job descriptions about getting to know Aaron–and since this is just a job to them–they do not do anything that isn’t in their job description. When I forced the one woman to actually meet Aaron, she explained she only did scheduling and paperwork. Yet, she is the person who would be in charge of Aaron if my husband and I got hit by a bus tomorrow; she is the person who signs off on Aaron’s ISP (Individual Service Plan) and she is the one who hires and trains staff. UNBELIEVABLE!

Always the Advocate

Learning to be an advocate is useful in so many situations. Research says people who are perceived as important, wealthy, or famous get better care than people who are anonymous, weak and ordinary.

As the two nurses maneuvered the hospital bed into the elevator with the soft music and the doors which opened in the front and back, I looked at my mom. Here was this frail 88 year old woman with her white hair mussed in bed head. Her skin kind of draped loosely around her eyes, mouth and neck. She insisted on putting on her lipstick before she went, so her bright red lips were in contrast to her pale waxy complexion.

She was just another old person to these nurses. She didn’t have an important story.

Going from Nurse to Patient to Nurse

On the elevator ride down to surgery, I told the nurses about her history. Suddenly mom was not a nobody. She became a real person—more than just the patient they were fitting into the schedule, the last surgery of the day, the hip-replacement in room 424.

In the elevator ride down to surgery, I shared some of mom’s stories about the changes in nursing, hospitals and medicine. We talked about the old days when mom wore starched white uniforms and hats–not permanent press colorful smocks and gym shoes with disposable covers. Think about it, in the fifties the hospitals were not air-conditioned (it was 85 degrees today) and many hospitals didn’t even have elevators. I told them how she visited the sick and elderly in their homes.

We were in the elevator for probably 4 minutes. That was all it took.

The Human Story Makes the Difference

Now, the old lady “Helen” was a retired nurse who worked when nurses really knew their patients. She was not a stranger; she was a nurse–one of them. She was a pioneer who paved the way for these two women pushing her bed. She was also a future THEM in 50 years when their hair would be mussed with bed-head and they would need caring nurses.

When we reached the doors to the surgery department, I kissed my mom on her red lipstick. This time when the nurse said, “Helen, we’ll take good care of you.” I smiled and knew “Helen” was now a real person and would get both dignity and good care.

Share YOUR Story:

Come on, I’m sure you have some comment about hospitals, medical or school professionals and caring?????

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward,
All the best,


What is Charity and Love?

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up
Creative Commons License photo credit: djwhelan

Every day we read about good people planning charity events for people with disabilities.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Wait! You are wondering how I can be an advocate for people with disabilities and not just jump up and down when two caring people are trying to raise funds for people with disabilities?

Let’s just say, “It’s complicated.”

My first fundraiser was when Tommy was an infant, Aaron was 20 months old and still not sleeping through the night. Two hours a day, I would drive them across town to Stepping Stones Center for the Handicapped. Perfect time for me to volunteer to lead the fundraiser, eh?

What pushed me into action was there were about 30 babies in the Stepping Stones program and no teacher. Sure there were amazing volunteers. But these children, who needed so much help, did not have a qualified teacher. I found that unacceptable. I could sleep in a couple years.

Community Fundraisers

The local shopping center was having their annual charity craft show. At the organizational meeting, I gave my impassioned speech, we were chosen the “designated charity” and then for the next month all the parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors of the “Tiny Tots Program” spent our free time making items for our booth. We raised about $3,000 which was then matched by the organization and an official “teacher” was hired.

Special Fundraisers

After that there were the fundraisers for The Mother’s of Special Children and the Arc (formerly known as the Association for Retarded Children), and TASH (formerly known as The Association for People with Severe Handicaps) and on and on.

I met other mothers (mostly) and we had many good times, but I started asking why we had to have charity drives to fund important services other children in the community took for granted.

Regular Inclusive Fundraisers

After our court case and Aaron was finally allowed to go to public school, I got involved in the regular school PTO fundraisers. There were spaghetti dinners, White Elephant sales, Dances, Raffles, Magic Shows, Motorcycle Rides, Bake Sales, Races for… and saving boxtops, cans… It goes on and on.

I learned about inclusion (click here) and realized we didn’t need a “special track team” we only needed an extra support person to help Aaron to participate in the track team events.

“Disability World” Fundraisers

This led to more committees, grant writing, working for levy’s for the County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities as well as the regular local school district.

Other parents got to have jobs and earn money to help their families. I got to be the only non-paid person at numerous committee meetings.

Now, we did some great things that wouldn’t have happened without the volunteer parents. We began an after-school club and a summer school program so our children would have something to do and not lose all the skills they gained during the school year. We started four non-profit groups and incorporated. Yes, indeedy, sleep would have to wait.

But it never ends.

It is my feeling many of these organizations spend their energy insuring their own jobs and pay and giving lip service to the support of people they are supposed to be serving.

Autism Speaks, March of Dimes… are currently under fire because one of their main reasons for existence is to raise money to wipe out people with autism and developmental disabilities. They want a cure and spend much of their funds on sending Medical Doctors to conferences and conducting research.

But what about the people who are here now? These professionals, who make good salaries, have their way paid to conferences. Parents, who volunteer, not only pay our own way–we are supposed to donate to send the doctors? Plus, their executive directors make big big bucks. When I learned what some of the executives of these charities were making–that was it.

When it is all about charity, then it is all about the person who is giving the money. When it is about a person’s life and rights, it is about the person with the disabilities.

There are some large organizations who understand this, but most don’t. Here’s a post on my experience outside my grocery store (click here).

Everyone wants to help babies and young children

I know Aaron’s life was more interesting because of my leadership and volunteer work. But now he is an adult, and there are even fewer opportunities. Babies are cute and helpless and of course we want to help. But the majority of our lives we are adults. That’s 20 years as a young person and maybe 50-60 years as an adult.

So, I don’t do much volunteering for charitable organizations any more.

I spend every moment of my life working directly with the people with disabilities or the caregivers on the front lines. The ones who make little more than minimum wage. The people who take Aaron to the bathroom and clean up his messes. The people who celebrate Aaron’s diversity and think he’s a pretty neat guy. There is no tax write-off, no non-profits. Just people who care and need resources.

Segregated Charity–charity gone wrong

I don’t believe in onetime events like, “People with Disabilities Come to Church Sunday” where the church rents a ramp for the weekend (I couldn’t make this up). I don’t believe in Special Olympic Golf Fundraisers, when they won’t let Aaron even ride in the golf cart (“Oh, honey we just raise money for these poor children, we don’t actually want them on the course.”–couldn’t make that up either.) I don’t want Girl Scouts showing up at my door saying they want to play with my child because it is Lent and they have to do penance (some day I’ll share the details on that one.)

Rights–not Pity

As Joe Shapiro wrote in his classic book, “NO PITY.” People with disabilities don’t want to be the object of other’s charity. People with disabilities have needs, but they are citizens with rights. They don’t want the handicapped parking place because you are having pity on them. They want the handicapped parking place because as a citizen and consumer, they need the extra wide space so they can get out of their car. And, as an American, I’m proud our country recognizes that right to equal access.

If we really want to help people with disabilities–don’t give them your dimes. Instead make room in your lives and give your love..and your friendship. That is the best gift and, I believe, closer to the Biblical definition of “charity.”

Like I said, this is complicated.


What are your experiences with charity models? With helping people with disabilities? What does it feel like when you are the giver? When you are the receiver? When do you feel pity? Charitable?

I love Aaron| I hate Autism

Aaron and his family

Our Family 1980

Aaron at piano

Aaron at Piano 2011

In our Introduction to Exceptionalities class I am starting with a look at point of view.

Proust says, “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” I am encouraging the students to take a risk and try to see with new eyes.

I’m repeating this post on my view on Autism.
I hope this short piece will show them a personal view they may not get anywhere else.
According to the Google stats, this is one of my most popular posts. I hope it is helping people make sense of all this.

Can I love Aaron and hate autism?

If I say, “I love my child, but hate cancer or heart disease…” many people would say that is okay.

If I say, “I love my son, Aaron. I hate autism.” some people say that is NOT okay.

So, call me a villain, ignorant, hypocrite, politically incorrect, or whatever–but I refuse to celebrate autism–I refuse to give autism that power.

I gladly celebrate the diversity of individuals. This diversity makes our world stronger and a more interesting place to live.

I love individuals who have autism, just the way they are.

But–I will not celebrate autism like it is a good thing.

World Autism Awareness Day April 2, 2013

This is the 6th year the United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. April 2nd next year is already designated too.

Are you going to wear blue? Will blue lights in the Empire State Building, or on the Jesus statue in Rio, or the top of a pyramid in Egypt really mean anything?

Is this like a birthday party? Something we celebrate every year? Send up the blue balloons? Paint your face blue?

I found some of the World Awareness Day press curious: “In fact a world without Autism would be a lesser world.” New Zealand: United Nations declare day to celebrate autism

I think wearing black would send a better message. Autism Awareness should send a plea for action NOW. We need help and resources NOW.

So, the United Nations has established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Great! Let’s talk about autism.

What causes Autism?

Well, no one knows for sure. The “experts” have narrowed the cause down to: environmental, biological, sensory, abuse and neglect, genetic, chemical, neurological, food…and the ever popular–it’s the parent’s fault.

So the short answer is, who knows?

Yesterday someone told me our children have autism because they don’t get enough eggs. Just add that to the list. They might be right.

I recently read a study (2013) that blames the grandparents. They conceived the parents late in life.

Don’t you love scientists–probably funded with the autism awareness fundraising, eh?

Dr. Anne Donnellan spent her career working with families and people with autism. She often says, “The more theories, the more proof that we don’t know.” She also gives her version of circular logic in Disability World.

Circular Logic

Parent: My child keeps flapping their hands.

Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.

Parent: How do you know?

Doctor: Because your child flaps their hands.

Is Autism the Greatest Gift?

Some advocates want you to think autism is the greatest thing ever. They talk about the special abilities of people on the autism spectrum and say it is only because of autism they have these talents.

Hummmm. Is that so?

Sure Temple Grandin, with a glance, can tell how many nails are needed to build a livestock yard–but is that only possible because of her autism?

Rainman could count the number of toothpicks on the floor. Is it possible there is someone else in the history of the world that could also do that?

Are we again caught in circular logic?

Parent: My child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.

Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.

Parent: How do you know?

Doctor: Because your child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.

There are some people with the label of autism who can tell you the day of the week for every calendar year in recorded time.

I can’t. Probably you can’t. But, is it possible there is at least one other human being without the label of autism who can?

The Guiness Record books are full of typical folks who can do all sorts of incredible tasks.

Hurry, quick. Do we now need to give those persons the label of autism?

There are some who are going back to past genius’ and claiming they must have been autistic…Mozart must have had autism. Disney perserverated on those mouse pictures–he must have had autism….

Couldn’t Temple Grandin and Donna Williams just talented people? Isn’t it demeaning to say, “No, the individual Temple Grandin has nothing to do with it, it is only because she has autism.”

Is it possible the statistical increases in the number of people with autism is partly due to our current scientific paradigm of labeling and sorting people? And some people promoting “autistic envy”? The new figures are 1-50. One child in every fifty–and all we are doing is having Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo?

What is normal?

Well, turns out we don’t really know that either. Plus, we could say “normal” changes every year in every culture.

Sure we have tests, but anyone who studies IQ or other quantitative or quantitative measures will point out the flaws.

Multiple Intelligences| Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner, studied people with autism who were labeled as autistic savants (actually “idiot savants” was the term used at the time). He was able to identify at least eight different kinds of “gifts or intelligences.” Now, in every school in the world (that uses best practice) his theory of multiple intelligences helps all children learn. Gardner says each of us has all these eight intelligences, some are just more developed than others.

This is one of the side benefits of autism. Without the diagnosis of autism, the scientific community might have had a harder time making this discovery. Science needs large groups.

Could it be we all have gifts and traits of genius, gifts and traits that could be labeled as autistic? Are we all a little autistic? Are none of us “autistic” in the pure definition of wanting to be apart.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

So, what’s the deal about autism? Can’t we just celebrate individual diversity?

If we really believe autism is a tremendous gift, then it would be logical for each parent to wish their child would have autism. Right?

I once went to a conference for people with Down syndrome. Everyone kept talking about how people with Down syndrome were the happiest people in the world–how glad they were to have their child in their family. They used examples like, “They will always believe in Santa.” “They are pleased when I fix them chocolate milk.”…

Using circular logic:

Parent: I want my child to be happy.

Doctor: Children with Down syndrome are happy.

Parent: Then I want my child to have Down syndrome.

So, if we want our children to be happy maybe we should try to figure out how to add an extra chromosome to every baby’s DNA.

If autism makes us gifted, maybe we should be researching how to make 100% of the population have autism–add autism magic to our babies’ lives.

This kind of thinking is just nuts, yet it is common in each area of disability. Stick around Disability World and you will hear people yearn to have the courage of people with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, be sexy like people with cerebral palsy….

Okay, I understand some advocates are probably hyperventilating at this point. How dare I talk this way about people with autism and Down syndrome?

The person who gets joy in Santa, or in having chocolate milk is an individual. Each individual person–even if they have a label– is different.

We can love the individual–not the disability.

As family members, friends and as self-advocates, we can value the individual person’s talents, gifts, joys and sorrows. We can see them in the context of their environments–but, we don’t have to give all the power and credit to the label of disability. The individual should get the power and credit. They are the ones who are who they are.

I can love my Aaron–I don’t have to love autism.

I can see Aaron’s gifts and talents–I don’t have to think they are only because he has the label of autism.

Aaron is a loving person who makes kissing noises as I turn out the light. He smiles when I pull on the toes of his socks. He gives me hugs when I walk past him. He is patient as I try to figure out what he wants. He concentrates on his books and loves pictures. He gets excited when I come in a room. I love when he relaxes in his bath. I love when he initiates a song or going to the bathroom. I love when he figures out how to eat the cheese off my sandwich….

Aaron is unique. He adds his own version of diversity to the human family. He is a great son, brother, uncle, friend… just the way he is.

Autism sucks. Aaron doesn’t.

Autism affects each person differently.

In Aaron’s case, Autism means he can’t talk with words. It means he is 38 years old and can’t always tell when he needs to go to the bathroom. It means he has trouble making friends. It means he yells in public restaurants. It means he chews on his clothes and books and the car seats. It means he has motor difficulties and has trouble walking–crossing from the rug to a tile floor. It means he is always afraid of falling and losing his balance. It means he bites his hand to calm himself. It means it takes him a long time to learn things. It means he will forget them if he doesn’t practice them every day. It means he likes music, but not loud noises. It means he likes to be moving (in cars, buses, boats, planes…) It means he likes to swim, but not bend over. It means he can’t tie his shoes or dress himself independently…it means he cannot be left unsupervised even for a minute.

That all sucks.

I wish it was easier for him. I wish it were easier for me to help him.

But all those difficulties don’t mean I don’t love Aaron with every fiber of my being.

Each day for the last 38 years, I work to get Aaron the support he needs to live, work and recreate in his community. To allow him to be the best person he can be–For him to be able to make choices and have opportunities he wants.

There is a difference.

Dream Plans for Aaron Ulrich

I am adding our dream plan for Aaron. You can click on each of them and see I am NOT trying to cure Aaron. I am NOT trying to make him a different person. I love and respect him as the person he is.

I am NOT trying to make him the person I want him to be.

The first one we wrote in 1981 when he was 6 years old. Dream 2: 1989 The next Dream 3: 1998. And, Dream 4: 2010.

Every day Aaron teaches me about courage, love, and tolerance. But he knows he can count on me, my husband, and his brother. He knows Annie, his caregiver will do her best to look out for him. He wants a new housemate, like his former housemate Jack who will be there for him. He knows his grandma and extended family including Ana and his niece love him just the way he is.

And until our dying breaths, we will do our best to make his life happy.

No, I’m not going to inject Aaron with an extra chromosome to make sure he is happy. No, I’m not going to give this thing we call “autism” supernatural powers to dominate his life.

But I will give him opportunities to make choices about his life as best he can–in spite of “autism.”

Yes, I can Love Aaron and Hate Autism.

Autism Awareness Day Marching On

Celebrate each wonderful individual person you meet in this video.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.

All my best,



Are you sitting there thinking, “how can this mother be an advocate for people with autism?” Do these words make you upset? Do you agree? Do you think “Disability World” thinks different than “The World”? Can we separate the individual from the label?

Related Article:

Here is another article about Autism Awareness Day asking people to do more than just wear blue.