Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Art of Imitation

If imitation is both art and the highest form of flattery, Anderson's teachers should feel incredibly flattered and impressed by his amazing artistic ability. He is, quite possibly, the best mimic I've ever had the opportunity to watch.  He imitates the teachers in his school for a good part of his free time each day. He's so good that, at this point, I can tell which teacher he's choosing to be in that particular moment. Today, for instance, he had on some lovely pink sunglasses and was walking around, carrying his cup of milk in a little tub. I knew immediately that he was Mrs. D, his special ed teacher. I can tell by his facial expressions when he's doing his regular classroom teacher or the kindergarten assistant in his room. He's very precise, and he stays in character amazingly well for a child who struggles to focus on ANYTHING for longer than about 30 seconds.

This is both awe-inducing and maddening--and when I say maddening, I mean that in the most extreme sense of the word.  The issue is that he clearly doesn't understand the difference between what is literally occurring in the classroom, and his purpose for actually being there. He's always watching and taking it all in, but he's not an active participant.  At night when he comes home, he can do a read-aloud with the precision of an experienced teacher--complete with comprehension questions and reminders to his students that they should not be talking while he is talking.  But read a story to him, and he has no clue how to listen to it, much less to listen for specific things like setting, characters.  Instead, when I read to him, he's imitating the other people in the room. The assistant who is quietly calling students over to sit with her. The teacher who comes in the room to pull an intervention student.  He's doing what he sees, but he doesn't understand that what he should be doing is listening and learning. MADDENING.

He's learned a lot this year, and he is making progress. I can't stop thinking about the struggles he's going to face as school gets metacognitively more difficult. with the new standards, this happens in 1st grade instead of 2nd or 3rd. I guess it's just something we will have to deal with as the time comes.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Catching Up

I just logged into Blogger for the first time in awhile, and realized it's been a month since I've written anything. It's both disappointing and also indicative of where we are right now.The last month has been so busy, it feels like we're just barely staying afloat sometimes.

The highlights:

School is still going well for the dynamic duo. They're both readers now, although we are still working on the whole comprehension thing with the boy. He *JUST* got the concept of setting, so we are making baby steps. Amelia, on the other hand, has mastered somewhere between 50-75 sight words and is really coming along. Anderson is absolutely FASCINATED by numbers right now. He loves to count things, loves to talk about different ways to make certain numbers. He can count well past 100 and can complete a hundreds chart. He's still working on the whole independent work thing.

Amelia got tubes in her ears last week. It was no big deal at all--I guess because we've dealt with hernia surgeries and heart surgery; this just didn't seem major. She was a trouper, and the ENT was pretty awesome. At her pre-op appointment, he talked to her about Frozen and told her she could wear her Ana costume to the procedure. Naturally, she was more than happy to oblige. She didn't even cry when they took her back, and about ten minutes later, they were calling us back for consultation.  She had pretty significant fluid in her tiny ears--no ear infections, but just standing fluid. The doctor told us that she should regain 15-20 decibels of hearing over the next few weeks and months. Crazy that it had gotten that bad.  She woke up angry as hell, which was no surprise to me, and we were on our way in about 20 minutes.  An hour later, it was like nothing had happened.  The ENT made a slightly surprising/shocking suggestion--he wanted us to take her to a pediatric pulmonologist and have her tested for Cystic Fibrosis.  I talked to our regular pediatrician about it, and he was as skeptical as I was, but we both agreed that since it was out there now, we should follow through and have it done.  She's scheduled for the CF sweat test on December 18th.

Anderson and I continue with swimming lessons...yes, you read that right. I'm taking lessons, too. Every time I take Anderson to lessons, I find myself staring at the people who are swimming laps, jealous. I've had back issues for years and all of my doctors recommend swimming. I'm a decent swimmer, but I have one huge problem--I can't (or I should say I couldn't) breathe while swimming. A few lessons later and I'm getting  better at that, but I still have issues. Actually, quite comically, one of my phobias is coming into play in terms of me being able to actually swim the length of the pool. I kind of have a version of megalophobia, which is the fear of large objects. Especially large transportation vehicles. I don't like being next to cruise ships, airplanes, etc.  I absolutely cannot STAND propellers--the ship-sinking scene in Titanic is horrible.  I know--totally irrational. Anyway, as part of that whole issue, I cannot STAND to look at empty swimming pools. Seriously. Like I just googled "fear of empty swimming pools", and images came up--and I had to turn my head. So...when I start off on the shallow end, I do fine. But, because I'm wearing goggles and can see under water clearly, I see when that steep drop-off is coming up and I freeze up. I put my feet down immediately. I know--so weird. I am absolutely not afraid of deep water. As a kid, I had no problem jumping off the diving board and touching the bottom, and I would gladly do it now, without goggles. But if I can see what the pool looks like, that steep hill that leads to the deep part and looks like an empty swimming pool...creeps. me. out.  So, I've got some work to do. :-) I'm quietly working towards a fitness goal that I refuse to make public until I commit, but so far, so good. Lots of working out going on, and it feels really, really great.

That's all around here. Passing time until winter break, when we can all breathe a little. More to come...as soon as I can work up the nerve to click the box next to the "fear of empty swimming pools" so I can log off. :-)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Letting Go

When your child is initially diagnosed with ASD, one of the most difficult issues that you deal with is letting go of expectations. Expectations of parenting through the "typical" childhood experiences and issues. Dads who dream of future athletes, moms who dream of dancers and make-up and shopping...the fantasies that enchant and bewitch us when we find that we are about to become parents.

When Anderson was about two years old--when I knew that he was on the spectrum and nobody else did--I started the process of grieving these expectations. Anyone will tell you that the first part of this experience is the denial. For me, it wasn't so much denial as trying to force Anderson to be "normal". This included pleading with him to stop flapping his hands, endless modeling of how to correctly play with toy cars, begging him to pay attention to things that typical kids notice and enjoy. I remember taking the kids to a birthday party at an inflatables playspace and fighting back tears as he cried, screamed, kicked, and eventually settled into a routine of pacing around the bounce houses over and over.  The noise of the fans and the size of the inflatables was just too much for him. I watched Amelia and the rest of the party-goers enjoying themselves and the hole that had just begun to form in my heart--way down deep in the most tender space that is reserved for your children--grew larger. More painful. My boy wasn't going to enjoy the typical childhood activities. It hurt.

Since that time, we've experienced similar issues with places like swimming pools, concert halls, and (of course) elevators.  Over time, the feeling of hurt and, unfortunately but admittedly, disappointment have faded. But not only have they disappeared, they've been replaced with something different. A realization that is so powerful and important that I wish all parents could experience it.  When we go through something like an ASD diagnosis, we feel that because our children don't enjoy typical childhood things, they won't experience the true, unadulterated joy that comes with being a kid. That carefree uninhibited feeling that dissipates as we near adulthood and never returns.  The reality is (at least in my case), Anderson probably experiences the world in a MORE carefree and uninhibited way than most children.  He is completely unaware of others' expectations of him and therefore their opinions of him. He experiences TRUE joy in things like just being outside, pretending to do yard work, or hiking, or watching elevators. He wears his heart and emotions on his sleeve, and therefore his excitement over things that he loves is literally almost tangible. In a nutshell, he is who he is. What you see is what you get. And what you get is pretty damn awesome.

On Tuesday, I decided to take the kids on a spur-of-the-moment trip to the zoo. Just us three. We went to the Louisville Zoo because the drive is shorter and the zoo is smaller and manageable.  We got there right as the gates opened, and the day couldn't have been more perfect. Cool temperatures and overcast skies kept crowds away, and we experienced the zoo without having to wait or deal with herds of people.  Amelia is an animal-lover in the truest sense of the word--she can't stand babies or Barbies or princesses, but show her a Florida Panther and she gets all googly-eyed. She and I spent hours that day staring at lions and giraffes, elephants and gorillas and tigers.  Anderson spent hours that day walking the grounds of the zoo. He maybe actually looked at three animals the entire day, and spent the rest of his time climbing and walking rock walls, pacing back and forth in front of fences. He had free rein of the area because without a crowd, he could get a good distance away from me and I could still see him and not worry about someone trying to grab him.  I couldn't help but think back to my earlier self--the one who worried and dreaded and panicked in the earliest days of his development. That Wendy would've spent the entire day trying to force him to LOOK at the animals, persuading him to not pace in front of the fences and begging him to pay attention. I would've been so incredibly disappointed that he wasn't enjoying the animals that I would've missed how happy he was just to be outside, to be in a new environment full of fun obstacles for climbing.  On this zoo day, I felt nothing but peace and happiness, and honestly? I was proud. Proud of how far I have come, how far we have come.

The boy continues to make progress every single day. He's actually READING now with freakish accuracy. He can count past 100 and loves school. He's learning more and more how to tell us what is bothering him when he's unhappy, to use language appropriately.  In five weeks' time, he has gone from crying at the thought of getting into the pool with a swim teacher to begging him to take him out into the deeper part of the pool on a float and smiling throughout the entire lesson. The boy conquers his fears and issues on a daily basis. He's pretty amazing. I can't wait to see what the next year brings.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Conundrum

I need advice. Preferably not theoretical advice, but legitimate, "what would you do" kind of advice.

I feel like up until this point, I've done pretty decent with this whole parenting thing. My kids are good people; they're respectful and well-behaved and follow directions pretty well in public. They eat a wide variety of vegetables and other foods, they don't ask for much in the way of toys. I figure that combination kind of means I'm doing something right, at least some of the time.

But as with all kids, as they get older, they go through phases and things change.  Right now, Anderson is going through some...social changes.  He's done a complete 180; he's gone from not really wanting to engage strangers in conversations to talking their ears off. Now...please don't misunderstand. I'm glad he wants to talk to people, and that he's able to talk to communicate and all of that. But, it can be a bit...awkward. And I don't know what to do about it.

Case in point: our weekly mall excursion.  Yesterday, we went to the mall to do our chickensticks/elevator/escalator/Hollister combo. I've posted about it before, but Anderson loves to watch elevator videos. He has a favorite guy that we watch--interestingly enough, he's also on the spectrum. Like a lot of ASD kids, he watches the same videos over and over and he "echoes" them when he's playing elevators. Including when we are in public. At the mall. On busy weekends.  Saturday, we were waiting to ride the Macy's elevator.  Of course, as soon as we get there, five other people get in line to ride, too. We all get on what is one of the world's slowest elevators, and Anderson starts being Dieselducy.  He's saying all kinds of what can only be described as jibberish to the non-elevator educated.  Talking about fixtures and indicators and Dovers, pointing to things. The kids on the elevator look at Anderson, then at their mom, who is smiling but clearly befuddled. I let the family off first, and we follow--and I see the oldest girl in the family ask her mom what Anderson was doing. She wasn't rude; she was completely curious, and I don't blame her. It's definitely not something you see every day.

So this is where my question comes in. What would do you do? I am COMPLETELY comfortable with Anderson and his quirks, but I want everyone around us to be comfortable, too. In instances like those, do I tell people that he's on the spectrum--do I explain that he's imitating his favorite elevator videographer? Do I do what I've done up until this point and say nothing? Like I said, it doesn't bother ME, but I kind of feel this need for other people to "get it"--get what he's doing. I don't know...just something I've been thinking about. What would you do?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Do I?

Anderson has been in speech therapy for four years now.  During that time, he has made tremendous progress with communication. We went from goals like "using multi-word phrases", to "speaking in sentences of five or more words", to "initiating conversation" to "answering w questions".  You mention the word "autism", and most people's first thought is non-verbal, or slightly verbal.  They're taken aback by Anderson, because he is definitely very, very verbal.  In fact he doesn't really stop talking, which is problematic during things like, oh, SCHOOL.  Or homework. Or trying to get to sleep. Or when you have a raging headache. Or after you've listened to it non-stop for two hours. You get the idea.

There are times, however, when his delay is evident. If you spend more than a few hours with him, it definitely rears its head. When he is frustrated, or when he needs something that requires more explanation than a simple sentence, it becomes obvious.  He is still echoing times when he has been in trouble--or now when someone else has been in trouble--if he feels like he has done something "bad", whether he has actually been naughty or not.  He echoes his current teacher, who says things like "I am very disappointed that you made a bad choice", or "You are disobeying me". Although I'm glad that he has an outlet for his feelings and emotions, it still hurts my mama heart that he can't just say "my feelings are really hurt", or, as Amelia loves to tell me, "I'm super angry right now!" (but that's another post altogether). I just wish things were easier for him sometimes.

Another area where he still has some work to do is his tendency to talk in questions.  He doesn't do it all of the time, but it still happens. I have to confess this...it's really endearing. It's one of those little things I know that I'll miss, when he stops.  One of my favorite ways that he does this is that he asks you the question that he wants YOU to ask HIM. So, instead of saying "I'm hungry!", he might say "Mom, am I hungry?"  I'll of course ask him if he's hungry, and he says yes. Another popular one is "Do I want to play outside?"  Again--the answer is yes.

A few weeks ago, the kids were in a wedding.  It was a very long day for them, and they did an AMAZING job (and it didn't hurt that the bride thought of everything in terms of thinking of how to keep the kids entertained, and I mean everything!!).  Anderson has really come out of his shell in terms of warming up to people he doesn't know, and he loved the attention he got that day--and believe me, he commanded attention in many ways.  During the reception, after rocking the dance floor, eating cake and cookies and all kinds of other goodies, and running around opening and closing doors for the wait-staff (yes, that happened), he sat at the table, long after his bedtime, with sleepy eyes. He was in the kind of daze that can only be caused by hard play and sugar. He looked right at me and said, with the most contented smile, "Mom? Did I have so much fun at the wedding?" I kissed his sweet, sweaty head and told him yes, he'd had a very good time at the wedding.

This afternoon, as we were riding home from school, he was telling me that he plans to play "Meadowthorpe" (the name of his school) when he goes to Nana and Papaw's this weekend.  Then, he thought for a minute and said, "Do I like elementary school?" Yes--the boy is in love with school. Something I most definitely did not expect, but I'm thrilled with, of course.  And then, after we got home and I was helping him out of the van, he looked at me and said "Mommy? Do I miss you?" And then, he hugged me.  He hugged me and put his head on my shoulder for a good five seconds. All without me begging, or grabbing him and forcing it. He hugged me, and he loves me, and he misses me when he is not with me. Sure, he can't say those things, but he said it all today. It's something I will remember forever.


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My Public Service Announcement
I can't say enough about early intervention--if you're a new mama/mama to a toddler and you suspect your child may have a speech delay or any other kind of delay, I urge you to seek an evaluation through your area's early intervention service provider. Early intervention is KEY.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting Schooled

So the kids have been in school for between five and six weeks, but technically less with days off, holidays, etc. I am telling you...I am in AWE of the academic progress they have made in that short amount of time. Blown away.

Anderson...he knows all of his letters and their sounds, as well as how to write them correctly. His memory is a gift; he can remember most anything for an unlimited amount of time.  His teachers use a verbal path for letter-writing, meaning that they say the exact same thing every time they write a letter. For example, when they write a capital M, they say " straight down, slant down, slant up, straight down".  He has them ALL memorized. His handwriting isn't half bad, either.  He can write letters on command, meaning if I tell him how to spell them, he can write words. He loves practicing his writing and pretending to be his teacher. He does read-alouds at home, which consist of him questioning his "class" and reprimanding them when they talk while he is talking. He loves to talk about "disrespect" and "disobeying", and getting "oops notes" when someone is bad. He can also write and identify his numbers through 10 (something he could NOT do before school, for sure), and knows how to put two single-digit quantities together to make a bigger number, like two and three make five. He knows words like characters and illustrator, and states on a daily basis that "Mr. Katte's office is no place for me!" (the principal...). All in all, it's fair to say that he is really, really enjoying school. I am absolutely amazed at how he has handled the transition, and how much he is enjoying learning.  I do have to say, though, that as I anticipated, anything that requires work beyond literal or memorized skills is difficult for him.  Part of their homework each night is that we have to read together, and log our books on their reading logs.  Being the teacher mom that I am, I of course am not just going to read; I am going to ask all of the many types of comprehension questions.  Here is a snippet of my questioning of Anderson two nights ago:

Me (reading aloud): "The big boat said, 'Thanks, Joe!'  Anderson, what did the big boat say?"
Anderson:  "Uhhhhh...he said he wanted to float?"
Me (reading aloud again): "Listen...The big boat said, 'Thanks, Joe!'  What did the big boat say?"
Anderson:  Uhhh...he said he wanted to go home?"
Me (reading louder): "LISTEN...The big boat SAID,'THANKS, JOE!' WHAT did the big boat say?"
Anderson: "Thanks???"

Shew. We have some work to do, there.  Good thing I'm professionally trained. :-)

Amelia has also learned so much.  She already knew letters and sounds and numbers and all that jazz, but she's learned quite a few sight words and lots of content information. The other day, I asked her if she did reading groups. You know, because I'm nosy about what other schools do in kindergarten.  Her response surprised me; she said, "Yep! Sure do! I go to journal, then Mrs. Smith, then phonics, then ABCs, then Ms. Lundgren!"  She has her group/center rotation memorized already!  So, I asked her what she wrote in her journal. She proudly said, "My opinion!" I was totally blown away. As stupid as it is, because I work with the standards pretty much every single day and have most of them at least partially memorized, I never thought about MY kids learning the standards.  You Fayette County people following the pacing guides for ELA standards know that the first writing piece is an opinion piece. I couldn't believe it. Not only did she know what an opinion was, she was able to tell me about what she wrote. I cannot believe my daughter is WRITING.

So, all in all, school has just gone so much better than expected.  I'm thrilled.  Coming up next in our lives: Anderson starts private swim lessons. That's going to be interesting.

Next post will be all about the wedding that the kids were in this past weekend. It was a whirlwind of a few days, but it was unbelieveable. They did great and we all had a truly fabulous time. Can't wait to share.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kindergarten Comedy

I've known for years that kindergartners are funny little people. I love going into our K classrooms and just talking to the kids because they say some hilarious stuff (sidenote: I love kindergartners. I could never teach kindergarten.  I do not have the patience, and those teachers are saints). My own K babies are no exception to this rule. We've had some pretty funny conversations around here since the dynamic duo started their educational career.  A few highlights:

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The kids are supposed to listen to reading every night as part of homework.  I don't know about you all, but we honestly don't have time for me to read two different stories to two kindergartners. So, while they have their bedtime snack after showers, I read out loud to them.  They weren't keen on this at first, but it's grown on them. Amelia has always been a good listener and can answer questions, make predictions, all of that good stuff.  Anderson...well...he has the attention span of a flea, and that's putting it mildly.  That first night, he kept trying to talk to me about all things non-related to the book.  As often happens with teacher moms, I was getting very frustrated. We had the following exchange:

Anderson:  Mom, I played outside today...
Me:  Anderson--I'm reading. Listen to the book.
Anderson:  Can I have a sandwich for lunch?
Me:  LISTEN to the story!
Anderson:  You know what mom? I can't take showers when my nose is runny....
Me:  ANDERSON!!! STOP TALKING!!
Anderson:  Mom...
Me (loudly and with the correct hand gesture--and you know what I mean): ZIP IT!!!!!!  ZIP!!!! IT!!!!!!
I continue reading.  Anderson doesn't talk, but I can see him gesturing wildly out of the corner of my eye, trying to get my attention. I ignore. He continues. I finally look at him.
Me: WHAT??????
Anderson (whispering and pointing to his mouth): But I don't have a zipper....

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Upon getting in the van each day, Amelia doesn't want to talk about what she learned at school that day. She wants to tell me all about who got in trouble. As a nosy concerned parent, I'm all for this kind of dishing.  It may not be a stretch to even say that maybe I ask her about it now. Anyway, last week she got in the van and here was our conversation:

Amelia:  I'm sad...my friend Hannah just got in trouble.
Me:  What did she get in trouble for?
Amelia: She hit my brother...she had to sit in time out.
Me (foolishly thinking she might be upset for this injustice thrust upon her brother):  Ohhh...are you sad that your brother was hit, or are you sad because she got in trouble??
Amelia:  I'm sad she got in trouble!
Me:  Well, why did she hit Anderson?
Amelia:  Well...I said to her, "Get him!!!", and she did.
Me:  Ummm....well...did you play with her after she got out of time out?
Amelia;  No. She didn't want to play with me after that.

Can't say I blame Hannah. My girl is already hiring hitmen.

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Anderson, naturally, has speech.  His speech pathologist is wonderful and was kind enough to email me something Anderson said during his first official speech session. He attends speech with another student, and apparently this little guy is quite...loquacious.  He tends to try to dominate the conversation.  Anyway, here's what happened:

Anderson (to Speech Pathologist, hereby known as SP):  I want to tell you about showers...
Other kid:  Blah blah blah blahblahblahblah....
Anderson: HEY! I was trying to tell...(he looks at the SP)...um, what's your name?
SP:  Mrs. H...
Anderson:  I was trying to tell Mrs. H about something!!!!!

She was impressed with his speech that day, I can tell you. He's already cracking everyone up.

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I know there are more funnies that I can't even remember in my overtired state.  We've already had our first funk-of-the-year; Anderson threw up at school yesterday and ran a fever all night.  His teacher texted to ask about him and let me know he was the first to "christen" her classroom this year (aka puke all over the place). Proud mom here, I'll tell ya. He also managed to puke all over my couch, something I had been able to avoid for FIVE YEARS. That was a hell of a streak. Anyway, I'm tired and staring at Amelia like the ticking time bomb that she is. Yay, kindergarten germs!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy 2nd ARDSiversary

This week marks the two year anniversary of Marty's near-death ARDS experience.  In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, and in others it feels like it was just yesterday. I've been both dreading and anticipating it this year because I have the TimeHop app on my phone, and I knew it would bring up my Facebook updates from that time in our history. I'm sure it sounds a little bit crazy, but it's something I never want to forget. The raw emotions of the whole experience are an important fingerprint on my life. It changed me forever, helped me not to take things for granted, so as painful as it is, I need to remember it.

TimeHop is not disappointing me:
That particular day was the absolute worst of my whole life. It's a blur of sitting in the ICU waiting room, doctors and nurses updating me periodically with numbers I didn't understand.  The part of the day I remember most vividly is actually that night. Marty was too unstable for me to comfortably go home.  I slept at the hospital that night, my mother-in-law and sister with me in the waiting room with the lights that wouldn't turn off, much less dim. Everyone finally fell into restless sleep around midnight--everyone except me. I lay there in that uncomfortable chair covered in hospital linens that have that bleached-out, sterile smell that you only find in hospitals. I laid there and I cried. I cried more than I've ever cried in my entire life. Every single time I closed my eyes, all I could picture was my children without their father. Me telling them that he was gone.  Their reactions. It absolutely shattered me. It was the kind of grief that you only experience a few times in your life. The kind that changes you.

These days, things are pretty good.  During Marty's last hospitalization, we discovered that he has significant sleep apnea, most likely caused by the brain tumor he had in his 20s. Since then, he has used a C-PAP machine, which has both helped his apnea issues and his drainage/aspiration issues. Having the constant blast of air has really kept his lungs drier, for lack of a better word.  He had a cold this past week, and for the first time in YEARS--and I mean YEARS--he didn't wake up one morning with lung crackles and rattling. His chest stayed completely clear. Between sleeping in a recliner that keeps him at an upright angle and using the C-PAP, we are figuring out how to keep him healthier.

So, in a time when things are completely hectic--both kids are getting used to school and the boy is still struggling with PE, work is busy for both of us and some days are just plain hard--those are the things that make me grateful.  Grateful that things worked out, despite how grim they seemed on the date of the picture posted above. Even on the craziest days, I'll never take our insane lives for granted.

(If you're interested in reading more about ARDS, including stories of people just like Marty, visit the ARDS Foundation here. )

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why having your kids go to school is hardest for teachers.

The As have two weeks of kindergarten under their belts.  They've pretty well rocked it, if I do say so myself. Aside from an unfortunate whistle-blowing incident in PE, during which Anderson freaked out, things have gone fairly smoothly--from what I can tell.

I've decided that being a teacher and having your kids go to school is just incredibly hard. I'm not taking anything away from you non-teacher mothers out there, but I think it's even harder for us. Especially if our kids aren't in our school. See, I know too much. I've spent the last seven years as a K-3 Curriculum Coach. That means I go into K-3 classrooms and work with teachers to create engaging units and lesson plans that meet curriculum standards. Sometimes I model-teach, which is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes I work with kids in intervention groups. Sometimes I just hang out, because I miss being with the students.  But another part of my job is to attend professional development sessions, so that I can stay informed about all that is up-and-coming in education. Over the past seven years, I bet I've had well over 400 hours of PD on topics ranging from behavior management to very specific literacy strategy instruction. I've been fortunate enough to attend many national conferences. All this to say--obviously I have very specific ideas of what I believe instruction should look like in classrooms. How teachers should teach. What they teach and when they should teach it. At my own school I collaborate with our leadership team and our teachers to be sure that we are providing the best instruction possible. I KNOW what happens in OUR classrooms. But my kids are going to our neighborhood school. I have absolutely no idea what happens all day every day. And that's hard for me.

Don't misunderstand; their homeroom teachers have been nothing short of amazing. I've had many interactions with them already, and I know that they are good teachers. They're kind, warm, and just right for my kids. But I have no clue what they do all day! Sure, they bring home a newsletter and the odd worksheet here and there. That doesn't tell me what their literacy block looks like. Do they do a combination of whole group and small group instruction? What does it look like when they're teaching phonics? Are they teaching them correct letter formation? Do they have an assessment that they use to drive instruction? Are they monitoring the class to be sure that my little crazies are actually paying attention?

If you have kids in school, you know what kinds of responses you get when you ask them what they did at school that day. Anderson immediately talks about the whistle in gym (we are working hard to get over that...), even if he didn't go to gym that day. Amelia pretty much just gives me the run-down on who got in trouble that day in her room. Sometimes, if I ask just the right question, I get something out of them. Amelia read the "David" books her first week and told me that she learned that "mothers and teachers still love their kids if they get into trouble".  Anderson can recite his class rules, and apparently they have some kind of class motto: "Be kind, be honest, be your BEST!"  The "best" in the motto is said with a nice fist pump. I know there are good things going on.  But not knowing the instructional part of it is, well, hard.

I don't know. Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it'll help me let go of some of my controlling tendencies. Or maybe I'll just continue to hound the teachers and be "that mom". I'm just playing it by ear. :-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lucky

The kids spent last week with Marty's parents (aka Nana and Papaw). I had three days of professional development for work, followed by a full workday this past Monday, and Marty couldn't take off four days in a row. Since we have no local family, this was the best option--especially since the kids absolutely LOVE going to stay with them. I missed them terribly, but was so busy with work that I didn't have time to focus on them being gone. 

They came home Monday afternoon. I don't think I've ever been happier to see anyone in my life. They were happy, full of stories and excitement over both their trip and the fact that they were home to their toys, their dog, and most exciting of all--their new bunk beds. After hugs and kisses all around, we jumped right back into our routine, spending time playing outside together before getting ready for bed. After showers and pajamas, I asked Anderson if we were going to "snuggle", which is code for getting into my bed and watching his favorite elevator videos. I was shocked to realize that I couldn't WAIT to "snuggle". In the hectic whirlwind that is our everyday lives, "snuggling" is just another thing to check off the list before I can finally drag myself to bed, and I admit it; sometimes, I wish I could just skip it. Sometimes, I wish he was just one of those kids who says goodnight and crawls into bed, kind of like his sister. And most of the time, I would rather watch anything than elevator videos (linked in case you want to check out Anderson's current favorite). Watching grown men, albeit also on the ASD spectrum, ride and talk about elevators is not the most...entertaining thing to watch. It is admittedly oftentimes like listening to fingernails down a chalkboard.

On this day, though, I swear it was as if I had taken off the blinders of our regular busy routine. I was seeing our routine through new eyes. As we crawled into my bed and he pulled the comforter up to his chin, I watched him. I looked at his little profile in the light of the phone; his slightly pudgy cheeks and nose that are still holding onto toddlerhood.  His long blonde eyelashes and perfect pouty lips. His slightly out-turned ears and fuzzy hair. His eyes, intent on the videos. His genuine smile as he looked at me and said, "see those indicators?" I watched it all and soaked it in, stored it in a locked treasure box in my heart that I can unlock on those days when I literally would rather do anything than the bedtime routine. In those moments, I was purely and completely grateful. Thankful for all of it--for the gorgeous blonde boy that I created and love so fiercely. For the fact that he is on the spectrum, because he has taught me so damn much about acceptance and quirkiness, that different and unique aren't qualities to be embarrassed of but real actual gifts. Gifts that are so rare in this conformist world! In that moment, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, gratitude that I was chosen to be his mother.

Life isn't always so sugar-sweet and perfect. I know that there will be days, probably sooner rather than later, where I will once again dread the bedtime routine. I'll be so tired and stressed that I just want to get into bed without having to hear Dieselducy talk about original, glass-back cabbed elevators. But I'll remember that particular night and know in the back of my mind that it's all a gift I was lucky enough to receive.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Our Orbit

He wakes up, and I know. I know immediately. Breakfast is a battle, the granola bars he has eaten a million times, including yesterday, are "yucky". They are "bad", they "will make you throw up".  He glances out the window and sees an overcast sky and cries. It's going to rain today, he says. We can't play outside. Oh no, we can't play outside anymore ever again. We are fifteen minutes into the day, and I know.

His orbit is at its farthest point from me. He's on that outer arc, pushing against the gravity that threatens to bring him back, closer to me, to his family.  It's a struggle; he wants to come back and he doesn't want to come back, and it's a familiar, painful struggle.

I know what the day will be like, and I'm right. Every simple decision is hard, none of the toys cooperate and there are many tears, lots of yelling and hurt feelings. Amelia understands the cycle, but she's five.  On these days, we go above and beyond to find creative things to do, things that are novel and new but not outside the comfort zone. On this particular day, we make Eclair cake, which requires the use of a mixer--one of his favorite things. He settles in, gets his toy mixer out and just like that, calm settles over the house. We breathe, and enjoy a solid hour of quiet play.

These orbital shifts are hard. There are a few rough days, days where he swings, almost out of control, through that farthest point. In the beginning, his anxiety spread through our house and caused everyone to be on edge. But that's the thing about orbits. They're routine, and predictable. So while my wild satellite inevitably pushes his way to that distant part of his path, the part that is most distant from me, I hunker down to ride it out, knowing that almost as quickly as he swings away, he will always, always come back around to me.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

I Wonder

In two weeks and two days, Amelia and Anderson will go to Kindergarten.

As a teacher, I've always claimed that I am not going to be emotional when they go to their first day of school. Instead of being dramatic, I'm going to be happy; happy that they're going to start their independent life, that they're going to be learning, legitimately learning things like addition and subtraction and comprehension. And a happy bonus--no more insane cost of simultaneously putting two kids through private preschool . Let's just say it has been...costly.

As the time gets closer, though, I see why parents get emotional.  It's not that they're sad that their babies are going to school for a whole day every day. It's that going to school means leaving behind a certain part of childhood. It's a definite step up on the staircase of life. It's both exciting--seriously, I'm so excited for them--but so sad that they're at this age. It has passed in the blink of an eye.

I've been watching them lately through this new lens, the lens of a burgeoning educational career. I've been listening to their words, watching their interactions with others and thinking about how who they have become over the last five years is going to translate into becoming a part of the classroom community. Classrooms truly are little mini communities--they are a child's first taste of the real world outside of their home. There is an economy, and laws complete with punishments for infractions.  And most importantly, their is a social system that EXACTLY mimics the outside grown-up world.  There are first friends, and first enemies, and the realization that despite not always liking every request or every peer, being respectful and responsible leads to a happy life. So, I've been watching, and thinking, taking it all in. Wondering how they will do.
I've watched them go from wordlessly ignoring each other, to parallel play, to playing together. I've watched them navigate disagreements with one another, and I'm proud to say that on a daily basis, I hear one or the other say, "When you are finished with _________, then it will be my turn." There is rarely a need for parental intervention. They love and respect each other.
I've watched this little guy struggle with words. I've watched him develop words, but struggle to use them to describe what he needs. I've watched him begin to ask for certain things and ask questions about his surroundings. And I've watched him become more flexible in his thinking (sometimes) and conquer some huge sources of anxiety. I think he is so brave. And so smart.
And this one. I've watched her struggle to sit independently well after turning a year old. I've seen her balance on her tiny bird legs, taking that first step at almost two years old. I've seen her struggle physically to keep up with her brother and friends. I've watched her deal with heartache over others not taking her seriously because despite being five years old, most people we encounter think she is much younger. And yet, she is so confident, and strong, and determined. She's gone from calling me Mommy to "Mom", and has even developed that little indignant tone that only girls use with their mothers. Lately, she's become so much more empathetic. She understands her brother's needs on a different level and is very protective of him. She is all about fairness. And she is so, SO smart. I worry about her in school, and I'm so excited all at the same time. She's ready.
Their legs have lengthened, as have their sentences.  They've lost the baby fat from their cheeks and the baby words from their vocabularies.  Amelia says things like "I was COMPLETELY scared of that thunderstorm!" and Anderson hedges the rules we have about saying the words 'stupid' and 'dumb' by saying 'cupid' and 'drum'. They're quick to let me know that they are feeling "mad" when I've denied them some request or asked them to do something that they don't like. They think logically and rarely lash out in anger, especially with one another.

So lately, I've wondered about how they'll function at school. How they'll fit in. And the answer: who knows? Just like the adult world, nothing is really predictable. You can prepare for anything and be thrown a curveball at any time. But you know what? My little humans are as ready as anyone else. I think they're more than ready. And I am so, SO incredibly proud of them and how far they have come. So proud.




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No News is Good News

I've turned on the computer to blog twice in the last week, but then I just stare at it. Nothing too exciting is happening around here. We're enjoying the few real weeks of summer that we have before we start the back-to-school stuff. We've settled into a routine of wake up, go to the YMCA and work out while the kids play in their Kids Corner, change and go to the pool and have a picnic lunch, come home and relax or nap. Dinner, play outside, showers and bed. Repeat.  It's a comfortable, pleasant routine, even for someone who HATES when things get too monotonous.

Anderson has really become interested in time--not so much what time it is because the numbers don't really mean much to him--but whether it's morning, afternoon, and night.  Marty was kind of explaining it to him one day, showing him where the sun rises, how it's in the center of the sky around mid-day, and where it sets at night.  He paid attention and brings it to our attention all the time.  He'll say things like, "When the sun goes down and it is night, we will go to dinner."  Marty chuckled the other day and said he sounds like a Native American--something like "When the sun is high in the sky and the buffalo roams the fields, we will be ready to hunt." Now every time he says it, I crack up. He's gone all Dances With Wolves on us.

Confession: we don't spend a lot of time at other people's houses. It's not that we are anti-social, it's that we don't get together with people very often. My friends are either past the little kid stage of life and don't exactly want two five-year-olds terrorizing their houses, or they also have little kids and we're all so busy we can never seem to find time to get together.  So, when we spent a lovely day at some friends' house a few weeks ago, they REALLY enjoyed it. They also became super interested in family dynamics. Like who is a mother, who is a wife, etc. etc. Anderson loves to remind me that I'm Marty's wife. Amelia volunteers to be Anderson's wife. Anderson claims he wants his cousin to be his wife. Hilarity ensues with these conversations on the daily. Who knew conversations about incest could be so funny?

Every summer, I have these grandiose plans for all the many things I will get accomplished around the house.  Every summer, around this time, I sink into a great depression because I have yet to accomplish said grandiose plans. This summer? I made NONE. My plans included going to the pool as much as humanly possible and enjoying the kids. And you know what? No depression. On one hand, I could be disappointed in myself and say that it's lazy and slovenly to not accomplish anything. But in reality, I AM accomplishing something. I'm enjoying my summer with my kids without the weight of needing-to-be-doing-something on my shoulders. And bonus? Anything I DO manage to get done is just extra goodness! The kids and I went through every single toy that we own and gave away/threw away all the things that were broken or that we no longer play with.  The result is a much neater room for both of them, as well as less junk just laying around the house! See? Bonus!

Next week the kids will be going with me to work for four hours/day and participating in my school's Camp Kindergarten summer program.  We went today to kind of get them used to it, and they loved it. I think it'll be good for them. It'll be good for all of us.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Garbage Can Debate--A Cautionary Tale

This morning, as I continued to clean up vacation remnants, I heard the garbage collectors outside emptying our Herbie (non-Lexingtonians, all of our waste containers have names. Rosie is for recycling, Herbie-curby is for garbage, and Lenny is for lawn clippings. Cause we're cool like that...) and thought about how the garbage sat in that can for two weeks while we were on vacation. It was smelling...rather ripe out there. It reminded me to do something I've been wanting to do for well over a year, and I quickly Googled "garbage can cleaning in Lexington, KY" to get some price estimates. Yes...I want our cans professionally cleaned. I fired off a text to Marty, and here was the conversation:
Now. Before you go agreeing with him, let me explain. I cannot believe I'm putting this out there in the blogosphere for all to read, but alas, I want what I have gone through to go to the greater good of humanity. Because it needs to have SOMETHING positive attached to it. Because it was HORRIFIC. If I can save just one person from going through what I experienced, then maybe I can put the whole episode to rest in my mind. Maybe. Probably not.

The story starts almost two years ago, when Marty was in the hospital near death. We were very fortunate in that all of our friends and coworkers got together and created a meal train for us.  It was amazing and so helpful; I had absolutely no time to go to the grocery in the thick of the craziness that was our hospital life; our fridge was always full of good things to eat, and my kids and I, along with visiting family, were well-fed. I couldn't have been more thankful.

Unfortunately, though, we would sometimes end up with little leftover bits of food that had to be thrown away. I would bag and double-bag the leftovers and put them in the trash.  Our Herbie, at the time, stayed in our garage; our neighborhood association has a bylaw against leaving cans outside of houses, and we get fined if ours stays out a day past our collection day. That wasn't the problem, though.  The problem was that rolling the Herbie to the curb each week was one of Marty's jobs. I wasn't used to doing it, therefore I couldn't remember to do it. The end result was a rank Herbie that had been in my garage for two weeks without being emptied.

It gets worse.  The other thing you need to know is that we use our garage for storage, and for an extra play space. When the kids play outside, we always open the garage so that they can go in and out. Anderson's yard tools are in there, as well as the kids' bikes, sidewalk chalk, etc. I include this because you need to know that my children actively play in there, and were playing in there at the time of the...incident. It was August and our house was a revolving door of helpful friends and family taking turns to be with my kids so I could go to the hospital to be with Marty.  So, whoever happened to be watching the kids at the time, be it me, family, or friends, would inevitably take them outside. Which meant the garage was open. With the rank Herbie.

One night, after yet another exhausting hospital day during which Marty had started getting better but had the unfortunate side effect of ICU psychosis (which wasn't dangerous like ARDS, but was exhausting for me as a caregiver; he thought everyone was trying to kill him and I was the only person he'd listen to...good times). I remember being EXHAUSTED this particular evening. Bone tired. Dead tired. Whatever you want to call it.  I went into the garage to get some dog food for the dog, and that's when I saw them.  I looked closer at the ground.  Little black things that could only be one thing in my mind--mouse poop.  I cried. Hard.  I was so tired, so stressed, and now I had to deal with a mouse infestation. I felt guilty. My kids had been PLAYING in there hours earlier and I hadn't even noticed.  I started Googling mouse poop to determine whether my kids could get sick from it. I texted friends, freaking OUT. I cried some more. Googled exterminators.  Went to bed with the plan to drop my kids off at school in the morning and then come home and start cleaning out the garage.

The next morning I woke up depressed but determined. I got the kids to school, checked in on Marty to be sure he was okay, and then I came home and started taking everything out.  In the light of day, with a little sleep and a lot more clarity, I got a closer look at the situation.  Friends, it wasn't mouse poop after all--it was MAGGOTS. I cringe as I say that. Absolutely cringe.  The black things were little hatched shells. The source? The Herbie, where all that leftover food had been sitting for two weeks because I couldn't remember to take out the garbage can.  I cried again--a lot--and then I set about cleaning it. I emptied the garage completely and swept up/killed an unnatural amount of maggots and maggot shells.  It was like a scene from a horror movie, and it took hours--the entire day, in fact.  I dragged the Herbie into the backyard and literally poured a gallon of bleach in it, scrubbed it with a broom. I bought cans and cans of organic, natural bug spray to continuously spray the flies that had hatched and were living in the garage. I had to do this for days. DAYS.

So, when our can goes unemptied in the heat of summer for over a week, you can see why I get a little antsy. I never, EVER want to go through that again. Therefore, I will be calling a cleaning company and letting them clean that damn Herbie. Let my suffering be a warning to you, too--trust me, you don't want to go through what I went through.

Marty isn't sold on it because he wasn't THERE! If he had seen the horrors, he would be on my side. I didn't even want to bother him with it, you know, with the whole almost-dying-thing, so he didn't know for awhile. I'm pretty sure I've earned this Herbie-cleaning. I'm calling it $40.00 well-spent.


Monday, June 23, 2014

My Big Fat Vacation Post

So we went on a little trip last week. Okay it was huge. Huge for a ton of reasons--it was our first *real* vacation with the kids, and huge because two years ago, my anxiety was so bad that there is no way I could've gone on a vacation like this.  I don't post a lot about my anxiety issues, but not because I'm embarrassed--I hate that there is a stigma about mental health issues and I'm very open about what I've gone through and how medication has helped me. Other things just seem to take precedence here. Maybe one day I'll feel the need to talk more about it. In any case, it was a big deal.

I won't give you every single detail of the trip. It would bore you. Honestly, we didn't do much. We didn't do any touristy type things--no miniature golf or parasailing or anything like that. We just...hung out. Spent time together. Time as an extended family with Marty's parents (Nana and Papaw), time as just our little family of four, and Marty and I even got to spend some time alone. We played on the beach, played in the various pools at our resort (we stayed here and it was fabulous--I highly recommend!), did a little shopping and ate some delicious seafood meals for dinner. We cooked in one night, brought food in a few others. It was so low key and chill--it was perfect. The weather was perfect, there were no expectations, I even let the kids *gasp* stay up late enough to swim in the dark! If you know me at all, you know how hard it is for me to deviate from our routines. The kids repaid that kindness by sleeping in until 7 most days and taking solid naps, even though we'd gotten away from the nap routine. Playing hard in the sun and water just wore them out completely.

The only blip in the trip was the traveling to and from Alabama.  The kids tolerated the drive fantastically.  They watched many movies and took a few car naps (not nearly enough but oh well). We got out to snack and stretch often and made it a point to eat at least one sit-down meal each trip. The problem came with Anderson's...ahem...bowel habits.  He deals with the typical ASD constipation issue. It isn't horrible and could be much worse, so it generally isn't a big deal.  His routine is to go to the bathroom, skip a few days, go again.  Leading up to his...well...being able to go, he sits on the toilet numerous times, trying to make it happen. Let's just say that he did that on the way there and back.  Due to an unfortunate automatic toilet flushing incident at a Cracker Barrel, he wouldn't just attempt it on any toilet, either.  This lead to some hanging out in bathrooms in, shall we say, 'special' places.  I spent a good 20 minutes in a one-seater gas station bathroom somewhere in northern Alabama with him, listening to the people line up outside and wonder what the heck was taking so long.  Good times.

As we switched off driving home yesterday, I was mentally reflecting on the trip. Without further ado, here are my top five vacation revelations, in no particular order.

1)  Anderson has ASD.  I haven't mentioned it here, but I'd been doubting the diagnosis just a little bit in the last few months.  Not really doubting it, but let's just say that some things transpired that made me less certain.  I sought a 2nd opinion from a high-school friend who has a fantastic mental health practice for children, and I cannot say enough about this place. My friend's story is interesting (and you can check it out in the video on the webpage)...he actually started his career as a forensic psychiatrist, meaning that he testifies in court for various types of cases.  Throughout his work, he realized that, when he's asked to testify, he is allowed to take as much time as is needed to come to his conclusions, but when we diagnose children, we generally do a couple of observations, fill out a few questionnaires, and call it a day. He believes in taking as much time as is needed to both diagnose and treat his patients. If you live in the Lexington/nearby area and you are in need of mental health services for your child, I highly recommend checking out 360 Mental Health. Anyway, he generously met with us to evaluate Anderson and read over all of his previous evaluations, and he was honest with me and explained that Anderson had been thoroughly evaluated and that, based on all of the evidence, he came to the same conclusion as our previous evaluators.  I appreciated that, and was also relieved to know that Anderson had been thoroughly evaluated--props to our school system.  All of that to say, if I'd ever doubted his diagnosis, this trip pretty well eliminated those fears. Don't misunderstand; he did amazing on this trip. He was able to handle the lack of routine/schedule like a champ. But that doesn't mean he wasn't anxious about it. We made the critical mistake of trying to leave in the very early  morning hours. Not only did the kids wake up and not go back to sleep, but poor Anderson was SO confused. He was confused about why it was taking so long to get there, he was confused about where we were going. We had to keep reiterating our agenda for the drive day over, and over, and over...and he still never really got it. He also never really understood that despite that lengthy drive, the beach was in Alabama and our home was 10 hours away in Kentucky--something else he asked about repeatedly.  There was a lot of reassuring and repeating of schedules and talking through everything, which I'm going to admit was seriously exhausting, but he didn't have any meltdowns. He knows how to ask questions to reassure himself so that he doesn't panic, and I'm grateful he has coping strategies. But yowzah... it is something. I think he literally talked from dawn to dusk every single day. So yeah. He has ASD. I'm good with it, and glad I can put the issue to rest for myself.
2. The ocean is healing. I honestly believe that.  Breathing in warm salty air, watching the tide come in and go out--it is medicinal. Sunsets that change the sky to every shade of pink, orange, and purple are a religious experience. I swear I felt some of the weight of the world slip from my shoulders as I sat on the balcony with the kids after dark, ocean breeze on our faces as Amelia gave names to all of the stars. I wish I could get there more often.
 3.  Vacations afford parents the opportunity to fall in love with their children all over again. You know what I'm talking about--those moments where you look at your child and your heart literally bursts with love and pride. Vacations are full of those moments.  Watching Amelia--my little sandbox and dirt lover--see the beach for the first time?? That was a one-of-a-kind experience. Seeing both kids become comfortable in the water over the course of the week  left me feeling immensely proud. Peeking in on them as they napped, their hair a little blonder and their tan lines a little darker...you get the idea. My heart was a pile of mush.
 4.  Kids are innately creative.  We didn't take a slew of toys with us and we didn't really watch movies or TV once we got to the beach. The kids created games to play with each other in the condo and collected shells on the beach and played in the water and they didn't need much of anything to be entertained. We took a ton of beach toys with us, and they really didn't use any of them. Next time we will travel much lighter.
 5.  I'm a terrible traveler. I love traveling and seeing new places. I hate the actual trip to get there. I am a bad flier--I have to be medicated. I'm impatient in the car for long periods of time.  After about seven hours, I start to lose my mind. Huge props to my family for tolerating me. That's all I'm going to say about that.

So we are back and we spent yesterday going through that post-vacation depression that is much like post-holiday depression. Today is officially the first day of our summer break together--wish me luck!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Heron

Probably two years ago, I was driving from my house somewhere, I forget where. There's a patch of land between where we live and the shortest route to the main road in Lexington that used to be home to a boarding stable for horses, but for the past couple of years or so, its been vacant space.  I've seen deer in the area at dawn and dusk, so I drive slowly. On this particular day, I was driving slow and looking around, and that's when I saw it. A tall blue heron stood alone in that field.  The inquisitive side of me always loves seeing rare things; I wake up in the middle of the night for meteor showers, I stop to take a closer look at odd bugs and critters, and I loved seeing this heron. In fact, I had to google to be sure it WAS a heron. I drove slowly by, not wanting to startle it, and just stared. I got home and immediately shared what I saw with Marty, who doesn't share my fascination with all things unique, and he nodded and smiled, humoring my childish excitability, and that was it.

Probably a month later, I saw the heron in the same place. Again, I drove slowly and took it in. I was happy to see him back in the same place, glad to know he was still around. Since that day over two years ago, I've seen this heron probably ten more times. Sometimes I see him a few times a month, sometimes I go months and months without seeing him. Two years have gone by, and still I see the heron.  I saw him again for the first time in a long time last week. He has gotten bigger, seemed even more blue and more beautiful.

That heron has come to mean more to me than just seeing a bird in a field.  His continuous presence here represents stability, I think, a reminder that regardless of what comes and goes, nature exists, the world keeps spinning on its axis.  Since I first saw him, Marty has almost died once and been critically ill twice, I lost several family members, my child received an autism diagnosis. I lost beloved pets, gained a new beloved pet, made new friends and watched best friends move away. And still, the heron shows up. Things change, and they don't, and regardless, life must go on.

Every time I see him, I immediately text Marty, who is always happy because I'm happy. And I'm always immediately grateful that I CAN text Marty, that he made it through everything that happened to him the past two years and despite all of the adversity, we have two fantastic kids, the absolute best dog, and wonderful family. He's more than just a heron. He's my reminder to take nothing for granted, and at the same time, to accept what is, because we must go on.

Monday, June 9, 2014

SUMMER IS HERE...

So it's officially summer break for us in the school system. The end of the school year builds into this huge crescendo that peaks with state testing and zooms downhill with fun activities like outside-torture-day field day and awards day. Add into the mix intricate planning of summer school and you get one stressed out woman.  But this week wraps up all the work things (until summer school in July) and now it's time to relax, enjoy this summer before the kids start Kindergarten. Except I can't.

We are about to embark on our first full-on family vacation next week.  We are leaving this weekend for a full week's vacay in Orange Beach, Alabama. When we first planned this trip, all I pictured was white sandy beaches, the sound of the surf, the cool night breeze.  But as it looms over my head, getting closer and closer, I'm feeling more and more stress.  Kids require a LOT of crap for vacation. Beach toys, tons of sun block, extra towels, snacks and drinks, toys to entertain them when it rains. And that's not even including the stuff you need to entertain them on a 10+ hour trip. Car snacks and movies and batteries and crap to keep them quiet (which is doubtful anyway). Oh holy packing.

Now all I am envisioning is hauling a ton of junk to and from the beach every day--wait a minute, every HOUR. I'm envisioning whining because it's hot or there's a bug or someone has to go potty or 'I wanna go to the pool, but wait I want to go inside, but now let's go to the beach'...you get the idea. More work than vacation.

I have a theory that this kind of negative anticipation comes when you have kids a little later in life. I feel like moms my age who have young kids share that same sharp skeptical cynicism that I have about things like this. It's because we are like old dogs--old hound dogs.  We've had a good long taste of life without kids--we've had many vacations unfettered by pulling rickety wagons of dirty children and beach necessities or long whiny mini-van rides listening to the Frozen soundtrack on repeat.  And we have a hard time deviating from that picture, from that routine.  We know exactly how good it can be, and while we are incredibly GRATEFUL to have children and we delight in every single 'first', including the first time seeing the beach, there's a part of us that can't help but think of the days of lying on the beach TRULY relaxing.

So with a lot of anxiety and a lot of good humor, we're prepping this week for the trip.  We've talked to the kids about what to expect, and the condo we're staying at has bunk beds in the kiddie bedroom and multiple pools with a variety of fun water features, so they're pretty psyched.  Except for that elevator.  He's a tad nervous. We shall see.

More to come from the beach....wish us luck! If you have any "traveling-with-young-children" tips, I'm all ears!  Please share....

Friday, May 30, 2014

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends...

Can't help but think of The Wonder Years when I think of that song. Best show on TV in the 80s/90s. I loved me some Fred Savage.

It's a universal truth that, as a woman, you have different kinds of friends during different stages of life.  You have your childhood friends, and then your high school friends. You have your college friends--the ones who hold your hair the first time you overdo it at an off-campus party--and your first work friends from your first real job.  As you go through life experiences, your friend groups change. You have single friends, mama friends. Urban friends and rural friends. And if you're lucky, you hold on to all types of friends throughout all of the craziness that being an adult brings.

I am fortunate. I have a WIDE variety of friends, and they each bring something different and special to my life. I have single friends, the ones who are always up for an impromptu night out and are always willing to listen to my whining about life in general.  I have mama friends, people I know will text me back immediately when one of the kids has a funky rash, or when I need to vent because Tofu disappeared for the millionth time (that little *@#%*@!!). I have special needs mama friends, the ones who talk me down when I'm having a rough ASD day or when I'm suddenly blindsided with worry about my girl and her future. I have high school friends, people I can not see for years at a time and yet always manage to pick up exactly where we left off when we finally get together. I have guy friends (yes, I know that's controversial...I know some people believe that women and men, especially *gasp* MARRIED women and men, can't be friends. I whole-heartedly disagree...) who are like brothers. I have work friends who are there for me when I need to vent about "The Gray Box", but who are equally supportive and caring when my husband is in the hospital. I have friends who are older than me by more than a decade, and friends who are younger than me by over a decade. And each and every one of those friends is important to me, special in different ways but no less significant.

So, to all of my wonderful friends out there--old, young, mamas, single, men, women, gay, straight,--you are what gets me through the days. Thank you so much for supporting this busy, overtired, overstressed, overweight mama. I couldn't do it without you. Feeling so grateful for you all today.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Developmental Developments

Lately, the kids have been doing and saying some things that really indicate how much they're changing, developmentally-speaking. It's fascinating to watch them develop their sense of empathy, cause and effect, loyalty,  their sibling relationship.

Amelia is just working out what it means to be loyal, to have that fierce love for her family.  Last week, Anderson wanted something that I had taken away--I think it was a digital thermometer, which he had been using as a camera in some little game they had been playing. We were on our way out the door and needed to leave quickly, so I just kind of grabbed it and put it away, which made Anderson cry.  Amelia grew very indignant, emphasizing to me that "he was just playing with it, just pretending it's a camera", and ending with "you should give it back to my brother!"  'My brother', as in ownership, not in the way of property, but in a way that meant she claimed him--he was hers. Although I stuck to my guns (and offered some other toy as a camera, which completely pacified him), the moment was tender, one that I filed away in the little box of precious memories that occupies a corner of my heart. A few days later, Anderson was upset with me about something or other, I forget what. He yelled at me, ordering me to do something (don't worry; I don't respond to demands made by five-year-olds. I most certainly did not submit to his request...). Amelia winced and immediately piped up with, "Hey! You don't talk to my mother like that!"  Loyalty. Love. Family. She really gets it.

They've also been playing together much more meaningfully lately.  Instead of just playing near each other, they're playing detailed games, during which they come up with the rules. It's very cool to watch. One unintended side-effect of this increase in playing together is the development of a more "normal" sibling relationship. And by normal I mean they're getting on each others' nerves.  And by 'they' I mean Anderson is acting like a typical brother and intentionally irritating Amelia, who never fails to whine very LOUDLY about whatever it is that he's doing. Yesterday,  they were playing some little game, and Anderson started running away from her whenever she would get near. Now, he's faster than her--he outweighs her by almost twenty pounds and is just bigger in general--so he would run into another room, slam the door, and not let her in. Incessant whining/yelling would ensue. He would CRACK UP, open the door, and let her in only to repeat the same process over again. I actually uttered the words, "Anderson, stop irritating your sister."  Those words, while possibly annoying to any other mama, are music to my own ears. There was a time when I wasn't sure they'd form this relationship. I wasn't sure he'd form any obvious relationships at all. So to see him annoying his sister, like any brother would? Sure, it's a tad frustrating (mostly because of the decibel of her whining), but mostly it's wonderful.  Last night I had to get on him for squeezing her cheeks before running out of his room, cackling like a mad man. Ahhh, the joys of parenting. :-)


Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Heart

He comes in from a walk to the bridges, all tears and screams. He did NOT want to come in, he wanted to play outside after his bath. Blood-curdling screams on the rug by the door. Amelia holding her ears, begging him to stop. Me threatening him with no treats or elevator videos if he doesn't quiet down, parenting in the desperate, punishing way that I hate so much. He calms enough to stand up and take his clothes off for his bath. He takes his pants off before his socks, and they get stuck at his ankles, reigniting the fire that burns within him when he's so angry.

I wince, help Amelia out of her dress and tights, guide her to the tub and pray that he just stops. He continues to script negative things....the door is dirty, the bath would be too hot, it's just too much. They get in the tub, and I put Pandora Yoga station on the radio and announce that we are having a bath with "nice calm music".

He argues, voice rising. I quietly tell him that it hurts our ears when he yells, that if he is upset he needs to use a quiet voice. Amelia agrees. A song comes on with a soft, soothing sound and he turns his head to listen, giving in to the warm water of the bath and the entrancing melody. We are wordless for a few minutes, all of us lost in our own thoughts.

My mind drifts to him. What causes him to have such strong reactions? Why does he scream so loud? Are we heading through another rough patch with him? How will these incidents change as he gets older? Will he ever become violent? And then to more broad thoughts...does he understand the emotion of love? Does he know how much we love him--how much I love him? How much it hurts when he's so upset?

He stands up. He walks slowly through the tub water to the front of the tub, carrying a cup in his hand. I watch curiously, not sure what he's doing.  Then he says, "I've got you, I've got you. I'm not going to let go. I promise. I'm not going to let go."  And he leans over and takes a palmful of water, rubs it on the cup gently.

And it hits me.  He is ME.

He is imitating me, holding him at swim lessons. How I slowly walk with him through the pool, holding him as close as he needs.  Telling him that I will not let go.  Taking one hand and rubbing warm water on his back.  Whispering songs in his ear, songs that he loves. Soothing him. Encouraging him. He's talking softly to his own child, saying all of the calming things that I say to him.

And I realize. He knows. He knows I love him, that I will keep him safe and comfort him. And I'm left to watch in awe of the amazing boy that, along with his sister, completed my life.

My heart.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day

I've had some pretty good Mother's Days in the past, but I think yesterday was my favorite. It was so low key and relaxing!  Marty told me I could do whatever I wanted all day long (within reason...I mean the urge to catch the next flight to Florida was tempting but you know..the finances..). I requested two things on Saturday night--that I be allowed to sleep in and that breakfast be ready when I woke up--cream of wheat and toast.  I crawled out of bed at almost 8 (which is sleeping in, believe me) to discover a delicious bowl of cream of wheat and coffee waiting for me. I leisurely ate breakfast, as all others had been fed.  Then, I took a 2nd cup of coffee to the recliner and relaxed.  Sidebar:  I'm absolutely convinced that our recliner is laced with Benadryl or some other sleep-inducing agent. I swear, I sit in it and ten minutes later, I'm ready to pass out! It doesn't matter how much sleep I've had prior; my rear hits that soft, pillow-like chair and it is ALL. OVER.  So, that morning, I dozed in the recliner for about an hour while all sorts of craziness ensued around me. Ahhhh.

Next, I dragged my sorry self out of the chair and decided to go for a walk--ALONE. No dog, no kids. I took a nice long stroll and ended up jogging a little bit, just because I love running and sometimes walking gets boring. Came home, cooled off, and decided to run some necessary errands, which included getting Amelia some new pajamas and hitting Costco.  I asked Amelia if she wanted to come with me and to my great surprise, she agreed.  You all--we had the BEST time.  She is such a funny little girl! She kept me laughing the entire time, and was just so good. She's growing up, that one. She definitely acts like a 5-year-old. If you're talking to her, or reading a book, and she doesn't know what one of the words means, she asks. Sometimes a lot.  Most of the time, I feel prepared to answer her--being a teacher has given me years of practice coming up with kid-friendly definitions.  However, after singing a rousing rendition of "Fixer-Upper" from Frozen, she asked me what "flaws" are. Try explaining that one to a kid in a way that they actually understand it. Anyway, she was just a delight the entire time we shopped.

When we got home, I decided I wanted to take a REAL nap. So I did! I mean, this was at 2:00! That's pretty much unheard of...but the man said I could do whatever I wanted all day and I was determined to take full advantage of it! I woke up about an hour and a half later. Anderson was wanting to go to "the big hill"--aka McConnell Springs--to hike a little. So...I took him! Why not?  He was also just so much fun. He loves being outside in nature--he truly has a respect for it. We walked some of his favorite trails, watched some turtles swim lazily around, saw a goose that was bigger than Anderson. When we left, we decided that we needed a cake for Mother's Day--his idea, I swear--so we went to Kroger to find something appropriate.  He helped me choose some cupcakes and I'm telling you, he had every person in a five foot radius eating out of the palm of his hand. He was exceptionally cute and talkative, and just so good.

We came home, ate a lovely dinner of grilled chicken and grilled zucchini and squash, and had our cupcakes. I wrapped up my special day by running to Best Buy to get an armband for my iPhone, so that I can use it when I work out.

Mother's Day is an interesting holiday for me. My own mother passed away when I was 12. I spent many years being depressed when Mother's Day rolled around, because everyone I knew was celebrating their mothers. It's hard to describe, but it's just an empty, lonely feeling.  Then, that feeling changed to something even more dark and depressing when we learned we had fertility issues. I'm telling you...Mother's Day can be the equivalent of hitting rock bottom when you're dealing with infertility. I can honestly say I'm grateful that I wasn't involved with social media during that time. I don't think I could have survived seeing all of the Facebook posts and Instagram pictures. I was incredibly fragile;  I think my heart would've shattered into pieces. It was hard.

 Now, I'm fortunate enough to have the two lights of my life. I know what an absolute miracle they are, and how lucky I am to have them. I take absolutely none of it for granted. They're my light and joy. Sure, there are tough times. Okay, there are lots of tough times, Like right now, as I'm trying to get them to brush their teeth for bed and they're chasing each other around the house and completely acting like I don't exist. Being grateful doesn't negate the fact that parenting is hard stuff.  I joke here about the complications and difficulties, because that's what I do--when things get too serious, I joke. Given the opportunity to laugh or cry, I choose laughter every time. So as I'm lamenting the loss of Tofu for the millionth time (that *&@*@&$*@!!!) or dealing with Ms. SassyPants, don't misunderstand. It's hard, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the entire world. Not one thing.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Swim Lessons and Spider Monkeys

This Monday, the kids started taking swim lessons at the YMCA.  I'd had a conversation with the assistant aquatics director prior to them starting, because I wanted to let her know about Anderson and to see what our options were, should it not work out for him. The Y is such a special organization because it supports ALL people--old, young, low SES, high SES, special needs, superb athletes. There really is something for everyone there (insert Village People song here). She assured me that if he wasn't quite up for participating in a group class, we could either switch to a special-needs swim class (which I'm not sure is the answer) or put lessons on hold for a bit.

I prepped them both pretty well, I think. Before our first lesson, I took them to the Y, showed them all of the locker rooms and pools, and talked about exactly what would happen. They were fascinated with the idea of a lifeguard, who would be like a teacher in the pool.  They seemed to be pretty interested and we left feeling good about it all.

The morning of the first lesson, Anderson kept saying, "We're just going to sit on the steps" and "We're just going to put our feet in--we are not going to get in the pool". I made no promises, just said that we'd see what happened.

When we arrived at the Y, it was kind of adorable. Amelia ran in saying, "I"m SOOO excited!"  We couldn't get into the pool area fast enough. Anderson was leery but not upset. We got there early and watched the class before ours--an infant class, so they enjoyed watching the babies splashing around. They were kind of precious.

When it was time for their class, we went right into the warm-water pool area and they waited anxiously for their teacher.  A young guy came over and said he was the teacher--and I have to admit, I was nervous. I was worried that a guy would be a bit...brusque...with the kids and that Anderson wouldn't respond to it very well.  I'm sure you know by now, if you've read this blog at all, that Anderson isn't really a "guy's guy" kind of kid. He's just...well, he's just Anderson...just a unique little man, and typical "boy" talk doesn't really work.  However, when the kids sat down and the lesson started, I was shocked.  This guy was so very calm, quiet, and gentle with the kids. I'm pretty sure Amelia immediately developed a huge crush on him--she told me today that he is "a really cool guy" and "a great guardlife". Anderson was very happy and excited to start out. He willingly got in with him, up to his belly, and even put his face in the water and blew bubbles.




The next part of the lesson involved the kids holding onto the huge fishy kickboard and letting the guard pull them through the pool. A seemingly fun activity, right? Except he LOST. HIS. MIND.  I could see the panic on his face, but couldn't make out what he was saying. I'm sure the guard got an earful of something special.  He didn't immediately cry, he was just terrified.  The guard brought him back, sat him on the side, and took Amelia--who was of course enthralled with Mr. Guardlife taking her for a ride.  She was pretty fearless. 
After the kickboard, he put the floaty belt on them and did the same thing. Anderson looked back at me and mouthed "I'm not going to do it!!", but when the guard reached for him, he allowed him to put the belt on him and take him out.  This time the cries turned into tears, despite the guard's calm demeanor.  When he got back to the side, he was pretty well done.  He kept telling me he didn't want to do it. I stayed strong and told him he needed to try.  The last part of the lesson involved the kids jumping in while holding the guard's hands. I wasn't sure what he would do.
He did it, though, and I was so proud.  We of course made a huge deal out of it and once he got his clothes on and we were out of the pool area, he was proud too.

We returned for lesson 2 on Wednesday, and he was just having none of it. I'd already decided if he was super anxious, I wasn't making him try.  I want him to learn to love the water, not be deathly afraid.  The sweet assistant aquatics director tried to talk him into trying, but it was just not going to happen. So, I talked to Mr. Guardlife and asked if he minded if I took Anderson to the other side of the pool where there were no lessons and got in while Amelia had her lesson.  I wasn't sure he'd go for it, because it took me a good distance from the sis, but he was totally fine, and of course Amelia was more than happy to spend some quality time with Mr. Guardlife. So, as Amelia started, I climbed in and slowly got Anderson in the pool.

You all--he was a literal SPIDER MONKEY! He climbed me and hung onto me with a death grip.  He cried in my ear and shook--he was legit terrified. I kept whispering that I would NOT let go of him. Over and over. We finally got to the center of the pool where we could watch the class. He wouldn't let go enough to watch the class, so I had to turn my body so that he could see over my shoulder.  He finally settled in enough to comment on how Amelia was doing with her lesson, but every single time I moved even a little, he would stiffen up and start over again with the crying.  SO, I did what all great mothers do. I sang some lovely alt-indie songs in his ear.  Songs that I know he loves. And slowly, he loosened the death grip on my neck. Sank into me, relaxed a little. I started swaying with the beat of the music, and he allowed it. By the end of the lesson, he was pretty comfortable. Amelia did fabulous again, and Anderson was sure to congratulate her on her great lesson. He was also very proud of himself. I was proud, too.

He will get there. I am sure of it. I think it's just going to take some time for him to get used to the sensation of being in water. My theory is that his vestibular system is so messed up (hence the elevator phobia) that the sensation of the floating, the bobbing, scares him to death. But as long as he will get in with me, I'll keep scaring the other parents with the sight of me in my bathing suit and keep taking him in. And maybe he will be ready for the next round of lessons that starts this summer.