I am currently overseeing an epic NASCAR-style race through my house.

I am supposed to be furiously cleaning. Every year for my birthday, my mother gives me the present of  having my house cleaned. And finally, exactly six months after my birthday, I have it scheduled for tomorrow. It is sorely needed, as the house has become a disgusting combination of a movie theater (with those sticky floors) and a public bathroom (I blame that one on the fact that I live with all boys, including one just barely toilet trained).

I just can’t keep up with the dirt and the clutter. My days are filled with refereeing pillow fights or breaking up arguments over Legos and Thomas the Tank Engine trains. If I turn away for a minute to get the vacuum, or clean a toilet, or empty the dishwasher, inevitably the baby climbs onto something he shouldn’t, or Howie is tickling the baby too hard, or Gerry is trying to watch a show but Howie keeps crashing into him. I spend more time as a police officer than a housekeeper.

The “nice ladies” who are coming to clean gave me two weeks notice (we call them the “nice ladies” because they are nice enough to not call social services on us when they see the squalor that the kids live in). The woman in charge told me that should give me enough time to “organize things so I could find them again”. Loosely translated, this means “I’m giving you two weeks so I can find your kids’ bedroom floor”.

Recently, my Facebook friends and I had a discussion about which we’d prefer more – someone to cook for us or someone to clean up after us. For me, that choice is easy. I absolutely hate to cook.  I’m sure some of that has to do with the various food issues in my house. With my husband’s vegan diet and Howie’s food aversions and intolerances, making one meal for the five of us is quite a chore. And I’m not good at it. There’s no satisfaction at all for me in making dinner. Cleaning is something I actually enjoy. Sometimes it’s the one tangible visual accomplishment I have – a clean counter top, a basket of clothes put away in a bureau.  I can look at that and say I got something done.

But now my two weeks have gone by and I haven’t accomplished anything. I just can’t get to it all.

I’m watching the boys run those laps inside our house – all three of them chasing each other at a speed more appropriate for a high school track than a living room floor. Instead of cleaning off my desk so we can tell what color it is, I am yelling things like “That’s too fast!” and “Don’t push your brother out of the way!” and “I’m going to throw the red flag if you don’t slow down on the corners!!”

My husband always reminds me that the only thing that matters is that the kids are happy and healthy and raised in a loving environment.  He tells me that the mess in the house should not be seen as a reflection of the chaos and stress of our everyday lives, but rather as a statement that taking care of our kids’ needs come first above all else.  He reminds me of this most often when the house is at its most catastrophic state, perhaps trying to convince us both that this is true.

So with that in mind, I’m waving the checkered flag at the end of the race. The finish line is that large sticky spot on the kitchen floor.

Clean up, clean up
Everybody everywhere!
Clean up, clean up
Everybody does their share
” – Barney the Purple Dinosaur

I have been reading food labels since my husband became a vegan eight years ago.  When my oldest son was diagnosed with milk/soy protein intolerance as a baby, my reading took on a new vigilance, examining each word on every baby food product. I knew every ingredient indicating the presence of foods they couldn’t eat.  But the one label I wasn’t prepared to read was the one given to our middle child – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

We had known for a while that something was a little different about him but we couldn’t put our finger on what it was.  Finally at age 3 ½ our developmental pediatrician told us what we had guessed – that our son was on the autism spectrum.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children have ASD, and even though he didn’t have the classic signs we weren’t surprised by the diagnosis.  It was actually a relief.  We had tried to get him help, but without the autism “label”, the right services weren’t available.  Now many accommodations were accessible at home and at school that weren’t before.

Following his diagnosis, I shared this relief with family, friends and the autism community through an essay on the Autism Speaks website (http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2010/01/22/in-their-own-words-welcome-to-the-community/).  Using my son’s name and story I illustrated how amazed I was to be so welcomed into a family of people struggling with our same issues. I didn’t think how my need to share was potentially “labeling” my son for life on the internet.  I didn’t stop to explain to family and friends what autism spectrum disorder meant for our son.

I agonized over what I had done – “outing” my son as autistic without his consent or concern for his privacy. But in the end it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I realized that regardless of the stigma associated with autism, this is who my son is and will always be. Without that label, he could have spent years struggling with the most basic life and educational skills.  As parents our job is to help our son understand what his diagnosis means, and how it makes him special in so many ways.  And as my son’s mother, it’s my responsibility to help others get past their lack of knowledge, read his label, and see him for the remarkable little boy that he is.