Autism, Apologies and Spiced Rum

Clever lives in my home.

It does and if I didn’t always know this before, I am coming to understand lately just how immense the levels of clever really are that surround me.  What I learned today, with one apology letter, is that clever and resourcefulness walk hand in hand with autism.

As I told you several weeks back our family has,despite all kicking and screaming, gone “electronics free” this summer.  Sounds simple but it has been a bit more eye opening than I’d expected when I first reclaimed the electronics in my house and decided to ask my teens to reinstate their social skills and actually interact with people once again.  Once upon a time, when kiddos were younger and mom declared our lives electronics free, GREAT things happened.  Kids played, kids built, kids explored.  It was beautiful.  Not so much this time as, sadly, teenagers are different creatures.  Electronics-free-lives are NOT easy to live and teenagers without electronics are a whole other level of parenting.  I truly believe that a “free-and-unrestricted-use-of-electronics” parenting policy is the easy way out.  I now FULLY understand why no one EVER declares their teens lives electronics free.  It’s NOT pretty, my friends.

When I fixed my tea and headed out to sit on my patio swing this morning, playing I-Spy was the farthest thing from my mind.  It’s not something we do anymore.  My children are teens and one tween and they no longer indulge mom’s remember-when kid-kind-of-games.  So, sitting on my swing, I found myself reluctantly engaged in an unexpected game of Solitaire-I-Spy.  Yeah.  I was playing I-Spy alone.

Innocently swinging with my chai tea,  I was watching my boy scootering by at a distance beyond the pool and this was supposed to be the zen part of my day. Reluctantly, the I-Spyer in me spied what appeared to be a rectangular shaped bulge in the right front pocket of his hand-me-down Volcoms.  Please remember all rectangular metal devices have been confiscated by the mom and are bagged up and in the top of MY closet…or so I thought.  Apparently, with the level of clever that surrounds me, I should have bought a lockable safe.

Discovering I had not chosen my hiding place well at all went something like this:

(I refrained from any “I spy with my little eye” verbiage because the boy is now 14 and that would only irritate the moment even more)

  • Mom: Buddy, is there something in your front pocket?
  • Spectrum kiddo: No there isn’t.
  • Mom: Buddy.  I can see from here there IS something in your pocket.  Let’s think about this before we start digging our hole deeper with a lie.  Is there a Nintendo in your pocket?
  • Spectrum kiddo: No, Mom.
  • Mom: Buddy.  You need to empty that pocket.  Please tell me you didn’t take your Nintendo out of my room.
  • Spectrum kiddo: Well how is it stealing anyway when it already belongs to ME?

He then pulls the Nintendo out of his pocket.

Wonder Souls, never doubt that electronics are an addiction.

All of this is simply back story for this apology letter my boy was asked to write.  Let me say in his defense, his writing suffers when he is angry and he was angry that he had to write.  And, in my own defense, as many of you know, I’m not a drinker but I AM a baker and I make an excellent bread pudding with rum sauce but that bottle has been in that top cabinet for four years.  Let me also say, the spectrum kiddo is apparently quite skilled at getting the last word in AND changing the subject.

Skill level= MASTER.

autism sparkles-102

I personally blame Martha:

http://www.marthastewart.com/286017/bread-pudding-with-rum-sauce

Lessons learned this week in my home: Clever lives in my home, electronics ARE an addiction, and I apparently hide the rum about as well as I hide the electronics.

Sparkle On, my friends.!

A Love Letter to Nintendo…

Game On

I understand there is a very popular philosophy these days that says electronics and video games are evil and that Nintendo and wii are ruining today’s youth. Yeah, I don’t always agree but I get it. I personaly wonder if the grown-up-blame-throwers ever calculate how many hours they themselves spend in front of screens texting, Facebooking, and all day binge watching multi seasons of television shows . Kids are no different than adults, in my opinion, their screens are just smaller.

But…here’s the thing…

I seriously need to send Nintendo a thank you note. No, really, a ginormous thank you.

For years, nearly a decade, my boy and I have battled over electronics.  My wanting him to get outside and play and him wanting to stay in the cool house and play Nintendo and wii.  Don’t worry, I always win because, as the adult, I can confiscate the electronics.  But, after many years, you get tired of having to force the child to go outside.  It gets tiring to always be the bad guy, always being the one to take the electronics away or severely limit them.  After a while, you’d like to not fight about electronics.

And that is why I am writing today.  I honestly need to thank Nintendo for bringing a new found peace to my home and to my parenting game.

It appears, in a crazy turn of events, that Nintendo’s games, Sonic Generations and Street Pass, actually require “play coins”. Play coins!! And do you know how you get “play coins?” You have to play!!! Yeah, after my glue-the-face-to-the-screen-while-sitting-on-the-couch boy went outside to “scooter” in the SUNSHINE for half an hour on three different occasions, I asked him what was going on. Not that it bothered me but, after years of couch sitting and mom having to force the outdoor play, I will admit it confused me.  So, like I said, I asked him what he was doing.

My boy then informed me, “I’m scootering to get play coins.”

Thank you, Nintendo.

Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. You didn’t have to write that into your game program but parents everywhere are thankful <3. There IS method to the madness <3.
Sparkle On, my friends ❤

Being John Goodman

sully

As so often happens in my house, sleepovers are never really just one night.  The last minute sleepover my youngest son threw together was slowly turning into an almost “all-weekend over”.  It morphed from a sleepover to a sleepover with lunch and movie and, by the time we were done, the seemingly innocent one-nighter was beginning to span a second day.  It happens like that when the sleep over guest conveniently lives right across the street and is also frequently a near-resident of our home.  You never know, when you make that first night commitment, when the child will actually move back into their own home.

They are twelve.  It’s sweet.  I’m good with it.

I wasn’t even very surprised when they started talking about a movie.  And when his mom asked if she needed to feed her boy lunch first, I of course said no and that we would find a fun place to eat before the movie.  I just didn’t know the slow motion service at the boys’ choice of eateries would find us splitting those very last seconds of time in order to make it on time to the movie.

Okay, and honestly, we weren’t on time enough to see the pre-movie trivia part of the program but I’m happy to report, we plopped down into our fourth row floor-seats-before-the-steps seats in a super dark theater but just in time to see the first preview.  Yeah, those seats.  Since we were running a scoche bit late, we got floor seats.  The ones that sit you down almost inside the movie screen where you are obligated to crane your neck to see the upper section of the screen.  Tough seats but perfect timing.  I was just settling into my seat and taking my first relaxing breath of our boy-brain-sleep-over-marathon when the previews began towering over my head.

That’s when it happened.

Unexpectedly.

That fly-under-the-radar-sweet-guy, unassuming John Goodman, gobsmacked me right to tears.

Really.

I have always, on some level, been a John Goodman fan.  Never a hater, perhaps lukewarm for the most part (and not a groupie by any means) but I will say with my first viewing of Always, with Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfus and coinciding with the summer I worked/survived my wildland fire crew, he won quite the place in my heart.  At 5’3″, and 110 pounds soaking wet back in college, firefighting was a hard gig for me that summer I was assigned to Plumas’ Engine 3-81.  Somehow, Holly Hunter dancing in that white dress, making grocery lists in her sleep and John Goodman swooping in as that devoted friend to pull her out of the dumps when she was falling apart sure got me through that summer of my  own personal deep waters.  That troubling summer, I wished I had a John Goodman to be my rock, my puller-up-out-of-the-dumps-despite-my-protests.

But I am digressing. This is about John, not me.

Until I sat in that crane-your-neck-movie-seat, I’d never thought much about John Goodman. I’d loved him as Pacha and Sully and in a flurry of great performances over my life but despite the stack of performances he’s nailed over decades, the importance of John Goodman had not become apparent until that near-weekend-sleep-over.  Not until the preview for Monuments Men towered over my craned neck did I notice the larger than life and wonderfully colossal qualities of this man I’d known for so long.

Larger than life is not a reference to the size of the man that John Goodman is.  Though he truly is a mountain of a man, it wasn’t that kind of colossal that occurred to me in that moment. It was that colossal kind of mettle that molds a soul into more than who you thought them to be until they towered over you.  The kind of colossal that sets a man apart from who life and his peers should have turned him into.  A greatness that comes from so much more than merely the individual pieces that make up the whole.

John Goodman?

Colossal?

Really?

You’re probably thinking, “Come on, Sparkles, he’s no Robert Redford, you know?    He’s John Goodman.  Good, kind, funny…but colossal?”

Yes.  Colossal.  Stay with me here.

I look at our autism community and we are a lot of things.  A LOT of things, my friends.  We are vocal, passionate, intelligent, educated, committed and brave but, there are moments, when we lack the colossal of John Goodman and that foundation that makes us all more than the sum of our parts.  He is that.  It’s a crazy time we’re living in, Wonder Souls. We spend an embarrassing amount of time giving our attention to the antics of celebrities, hanging on every dysfunctional word that comes out of their mouths, watching as they become obsessed with trivial things like fancy clothing, cars and being seen.  In a community of crazy that celebrities become, John Goodman is a truly and magically a horse of a different color.

A horse of a different color because he is not merely a product of the place he comes from.  He is so much more.  In many ways he is a quandry, a mystery and he is so much more than the sum of the parts.  Despite the acting community he resides in,he is not a man chasing fame.  He is not a man catering his actions to please the masses or his peers.  He is boldly himself.  He is kindly himself.  He is unabashedly himself…despite who those swirling around him choose to become.  He is boldly an independent without harboring a need to crush anyone else.

We all need more John Goodman within our lives, within our communities.

Crazy, you say?  No way.

Watching the faces of the Monuments Men, I remembered a lot of things about John Goodman and not one of them was mean.  I see a man who is humbled, flawed and modest at a time when few people choose that path.  I don’t remember one unkind word.  Not one moment of blame.  Not one moment when he was anything other than kind and true to himself.  Over the last three decades, not once have I watched him be a follower of the masses. He may not agree with me and that’s okay because, you know what?  He didn’t ask me to write this nor did he give me any permissions to see him the way that I do.

I give him a pass on this one.

But what I see, when I look at him towering above me, is a man who has always been just himself.  Throughout the many decades he has graced those celluloid cells, he has been nothing but an original.  In the acting community where so many of his peers chase a fleeting image of thin and fit, he balks at the stereotypes and chooses to simply be an independent without apology.  What I see when I look at John Goodman is incredible strength and character in a world that does not make it easy to be that way.  He is not a perfect man but he is honest and he is real and, no matter what happens, he is kind and smiling.  Positive despite the trials and triumphs of troubles or failures.

That is what strikes me most about John Goodman.  That is what I think is missing in the autism community and perhaps in life in general.  He is comfort and kindness, he is a smile in troubled waters and a familiar chuckle…no matter how deep those troubling waters may be.  We need more of that.  More John Goodman in life and certainly more John Goodman in the autism community. Just try it.  Be the John Goodman that’s missing in your life, in your circles, in the autism community.

More good.

More honest and less perfect.

More flawed, more real and much less camo and pretend.

More soft places to fall into and less finger pointer.

More acceptance and less blaming.

More being John Goodman.

I think he’s pretty darn sparkly and more sparkle is always good.  Sparkle On, my friends.

The Remarkable Superhero Siblings Of Autism

It was our beach day.

I was trying hard with four children to get out the door by 7:30 a.m.  We were off to our beach, Jellybowl, and there was still a bit left to do. I had three kids of my own plus one friend to get organized, sandwiches to make, a dog to feed and a cat to appease.  The kids needed to get dressed, remember their rash guards and beach shoes and mom needed to remember to find the sunscreen, pack chairs, gather enough towels, bring clean comfy clothes for the drive home and enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated (but not too many since I would need to carry all those drinks  up and over the train tracks on the trail to our Jellybowl).  I’m pretty good about the chairs and towels but I have forgotten the sunscreen before and it is never pretty.  I didn’t grow up using sunscreen so it is not top on my list.  But today I have been entrusted with a friend’s child so I can’t mess that one up.

Ok, I digress.  Away from the sunscreen and back to my point.  This is about autism.  Really, it is.  Just wait for it…

So in the middle of the chaos after I have just finished cleaning up the zucchini bread mess the dog left in the kitchen (because we did not adequately protect the zucchini bread my daughter made from the food obsessed labrador) and I am in the middle of brushing my teeth when my fourteen year old comes in to my bathroom to finish drying her hair.  It’s all good.  We co-habitate well and we share pretty well too.  And, at the same time as my daughter begins to unravel the cord on the hair dryer, my twelve year old comes in to ask if I will tie his swim trunks.  He is all about being naked at home and not ashamed of his body in our halls but being on the beach and losing your shorts is an entirely different story.  He wants to be certain his shorts stay up.

With my toothbrush in hand and the toothpaste slop dripping off, I ask him to wait a minute.  He stands there patiently, waiting pretty well and then his sister does this thing she has started doing.  She is fourteen, he is her little brother and the really neat thing I see that morning is that he is just her brother… before he is her autistic brother, and she does this thing.  She steps in to help out.  Without a word, without a huff or complaint, without announcing it to me and before she plugs in the hair dryer she instinctively reaches down and, in a motherly fashion beyond her years, she ties his shorts.  He says thank you and goes on his way.  Without fanfare, she asks, “Isn’t this autism day or something?”  I finish brushing my teeth and tell her, “It’s autism awareness day.”  It’s a quiet conversation between us.  I tell her what the world is doing.  She asks what we are doing.  I tell her we are going to Jellybowl.  I tell her she can wear blue if she wants to.

I smile quietly to myself so that I don’t shine too much light on it.  This is all normal for her now.  I realize as we are speaking to each other that…. autism is natural to her.  Autism was never really part of her existence.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Everything about autism is familiar to her but it just never had a defined name.  It was not applauded or hated during her childhood.  It was not painted in neon and carted around our life.  It was just part of us and, because of that, autism is different to her than it is even to me.  It was just her little brother.  We never spoke about autism or being less or giving him special privileges.  He was simply her brother and she treated him…well,  just like a brother.  She never asked what was wrong with him, he was a part of her world and she just accepted who he was.  His value was simply equal to hers and her other littler brother.  Yes, he might have been quirky or amplified at times but it was normal to her.  He is nothing more than the older of her two little brothers.

She was twelve before she ever spoke the word.  She was twelve before she ever asked what autism was.  She was twelve before she asked if her brother was.  I had books on the shelf and she was helping me organize them.  Actually, being the girl she is, she asked if she could organize the shelf.  When she was finished, she asked, “Mom, is my brother autistic? You have a lot of books about autism.”  And, that was the beginning of her understanding and maybe even putting together the pieces of her memories.  It wasn’t a big conversation.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, he is.  But that doesn’t mean we treat him any different.  We expect as much out of him as we do anyone.  He is just as capable as any of us and just as intelligent.  This doesn’t change anything.”  Her response, in that oh so lovely fourteen year old tone, was something like, “I know, Mom.”

And, she is the sibling.  She is the next generation.  She is amazing.  She knows autism on a different level than most of us and it is simply part of life.  It is neither less nor is it more.  It just is.

She is the awareness others seek.

And, honestly, there is little fan fare.  We don’t hang banners, we don’t do walks, we accept and love it and bring it to the world in our quiet way and when others ask, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.”  And, they say, “That’s autism?”  And, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.  Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”  It looked different at three than it does at twelve but, yeah, that’s what it looks like. It was a lot crazier at three and at five and at seven than it is at twelve but he is still himself.  Autism is part of him but it is not all of him.  Yeah, it’s autism but it’s more than that too because he is more than autism.

My daughter is a straight A student who has an IQ that mine never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of and I have great hopes for her.  She is remarkable and I hope one day that because autism is so natural to her that she will be the awareness in her generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism.  So what?”  And not the kind of “so what” that says we don’t care about your needs because you are not like us but rather the best kind of “so what” that says, “What’s your point?”  The kind of “so what” that says we all have the same value and WILL be treated equally.  And the acceptance that follows the awareness begins with her as a role model for autism’s “So What-ness.”  By birth she has become an autism ambassador but, the really cool thing, is it is so natural to her…she doesn’t even know it.  She simply accepts it as normal.

I hope she becomes a scientist or a doctor or the POTUS and with her strength and her ability I hope she sets the tone for her generation to begin to see autism through new eyes.  Her kind of eyes that see iridescence rather than a lessening of value.   In my biggest dreams (mine and not hers I have to tell you, LOL) I imagine her becoming a doctor who works with kids.  And, with her understanding, I imagine her telling these new parents, “Hey there.  Yes, I do have the diagnosis.  We have found that your child is a bit iridescent.  The official term is autism but seriously, with the experience I’ve had, I have come to see autism as so much more than just one word can contain.  The word, autism, is so confining but these kids are overwhelmingly iridescent.  Yeah, you’re right, he/she is going to be quirky.  It’s a kind of quirky sparkle that you may not be used to and you may need some support with it.  I know, it won’t be easy and some days will just down right suck but, take heart, these iridescent kids are crazy brilliant.  You just have to be patient.  Part of their brilliance gets stuck in their sparkle and it takes a little longer for these iridescent kids to sort it all out.  Don’t give up and don’t lower your standards though because he/she sure is going to surprise you. OH, and hey…let me tell you about my brother.”

And, I know, not everyone will agree with me.  I get it.  Autism is different for everyone.  But this is my dream…that one day the awareness will be so internalized that no one will care about the differences, or the tantrums or the lack of eye contact because we will also have a plan of action, a path to follow.  I hope one day that people will understand more so they will point and blame less.  I hope one day play groups won’t gripe and complain about their inability to socialize as easily as others and teachers won’t feel they are doing favors or being slighted by taking these kids into their classes.  That it won’t take specialized training to prepare teachers for autistic students because teachers and school districts will be expected to teach all students together and equally.    And, when the world is trying to point fingers and lessen those with autism I hope she, and others like her, stand up with their young peers and begin a new generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism. So what? It’s all good.  We are all the same.”

The Oy Vey Moments of Parenting

The oy vey moments happen more often than you’d think… or maybe just more often than I am prepared for.  Those moments when the kids say something that is the equivalent to an emotional sucker punch but, as parents, you have to keep your composure.   As parents, you can’t let them see you sweat.

I am getting older.  I get that and I am okie dokie with it.  I am not pulling my hair out, I am not botoxing, I am not making appointments for facials, I am not pushing anything up or tucking anything else in.  I am okay with me….age and all.  It just is what it is.  I did not have my children right out of high school.  I waited.  I went to college first and then I played the working game for a while.  I had my first just before I turned thirty and I have never thought I was too old.

Lately, I can feel the creaks in my bones a bit more profoundly.  I can see my gray if I put my reading glasses on and there was that moment when I was out running and I mistook the cat for a fox.  In my own defense, I will say it is dark out at 5 a.m.

So, it happened again today.  This afternoon after my kiddos came home.  I should not have taken it as such a sucker punch but, in the moment as it happened and the unexpected words floated out of his mouth, it was hard not to.  My youngest child was being all boy, using his ten year old boy brain, and the oy vey moment was so pronounced that it was all I could do to gather my breath and move on.  He is lucky he is as cute as he is.  His blue eyes have saved him on many occasions before this one.

The Oy-Vey-Moment went like this:

Little Man: Hey, Mom, I read this book today (which is a great line to tell mom since he was the one of my three who had the hardest time learning to read.  He used to carry a book around just to be ‘seen’ with the book even though he could not read).

Mom: Awesome.  What was it about?

Little Man: Well, you see, there’s this shark attack survivor and it takes place in 1916.

And, then he stops.  Then the wheels roll into boy brain motion.  For a moment he is silent as he ponders the thoughts rolling around on the wheel in his boy brain.  Being the seasoned mom that I am I should have braced myself.  I should have seen it coming at me.  I could literally see his wheels turning and I should have been able to see the words forming and brace myself before the comment ever made its way out of his mouth.  I should have.  But I didn’t. I didn’t see it all until I heard it hit the air.

Continuing, he says…

Little Man: Mom, how old were you in 1916?

And there it was…floating into the world and out of his boy brain.  And, he says it with the kind of innocence that means no one any harm.  Kid naivete and the blue, blue eyes are what saved him.  The same explosion of words might not have gone so well for my 15 year old but it was finessed by the boy.

And, while I am catching my breath, my fifteen year old, who gets how all of this works more than the ten year old, says, “How old did he just call you, Mom?” She is my math whiz with the IQ up in the stars and it does not take her long to calculate the jaw dropping facts, “Did he call you 96?”

And I can hear her and she is right but I am concentrating on breathing.  Deep breath in and then exhale.  Deep breath, exhale.  Deep breath.  Exhale.  And quietly, without any sign of gruff, I say, “He did.”  And we move on as calmly as possible, no ripples, with me licking my aging wounds because he is just a kid, a boy filled with boy brain at that, and he knows not what he does.

Age is just a number…right?

Ugghhhhh…..and that, my friends, is the sucker punch of parenting.  No ill intentions and yet an Oy Vey moment nonetheless.  I hope your day is much more sucker punchless than mine :).

Life in the Treehouse

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I could move.

Well, if it weren’t for the kids’ schools and IEP’s and my parents…I could…I could move right on up to Oregon, right this moment.  And, if I were to move…I would move to the tree house resort or, as they so eloquently call themselves, the Treesort.  I would.  I really, really would.

The best vacation the kids and I have ever taken happened last summer.  After driving up through the gorgeous Redwoods and enjoying those giants, we landed in Takilma, Oregon’s Out n’ About’s Treesort.  Before we arrived, we even got emails from the treefairy!  It was outstanding.  Five days, sleeping in the treehouse, swimming in the gorgeous and cold river fed pool, riding the horses, playing kick ball and frisbee with new friends, the Tarzan Swing and ZIP LINING! What could be better?  I will tell you absolutely nothing was better than watching autism on the ziplines…and the ADVANCED ziplines.  Take that autism!

Well, the only thing that could have been any better was to stay forever.  To move into our tree house permanently, drop out of school and take up permanent residence in the trees!

I remember being the first person awake in all of the treesort and how quiet it was there.  Through our window, I would wake to see the horses in the pasture next to our treehouse, the pool calm and reflective of the beautiful blue sky and even the rain clouds that hung around for a few days looked delightful in her water.  It was a place of peace and tranquility during those mornings before all of the children staying in the treesort woke up.

There must have been twenty kids, aged four to seventeen, and the children ALL played together and ran in packs.  It was tremendous to watch the dynamics of the children unfolding.  All of these children from different towns and different states, of different interests and background, melded together as though they had known each other for years.  It took them only days to bond in ways that other friends need decades.  These new found friends were in tears upon good byes and even us parents remarked how odd it was that we were already so close and so terribly sad to see one another go.

The treesort is a remarkable and magical place and, for the life of me, I can hardly explain why.  But it is and all of our memories and our new friends are stored safely and are still warm in our hearts.  I won’t even begin to explain Taco Tuesday.  Sadie and her grandkids may be the only people ever who will break out in side splitting, spit your drink kind of laughter at the mention of Taco Tuesday in Takilma.

Sadly, we didn’t get to stay forever and, in hindsight, that’s okay too.  There was something special about the exact families we met during our week that could never have been duplicated with the new families arriving.  No one could have been a better friend to my youngest son than the older boy he met.  Priceless and unexplainable how a fourteen year old and an eight year old can become best friends in two days and how two teen girls who are all “teen” can cast aside any insecurities and bond as tight in those two days as it had taken my daughter years to bond with girls back home.

After our mind boggling five days, another family was anxiously waiting to check in as soon as we checked out.  Their lovely family would have no part of us staking a claim to their reservation. So, we regretfully checked out of our beloved treehouse but, I will tell you, our memories are so warm and fond that my kids would willingly hop in the car right now and joyfully travel multiple days in our car to go back.   The best part of the last day at the treehouse was breakfast with the cook, Steve.  Steve made us peach scones that were out of this world.  Steve, being the amazing person, even shared the recipe with me when I asked.

I think the next time I visit the treehouse, it will be with women from The Village.  That would be some good times and laughing stories to tell.  Imagine if we could fill all the treehouses with our girls and have a Wonder Soul weekend.  That would be some kind of fun though I am not sure the staff at Out n About would survive.  Here’s to planning some adventure in the future.  Add it to the Fetchin’ Gretchen Must Do List!!

And, instead of waxing on about how wonderful it was or how beautiful the place is…here are pics….!…you know you’re in the right place when the entire navigation screen is GREEN 🙂

Beware when your entire navigation screen turns GREEN! First time E-V-E-R!

This is where my spectrum boy slept…up in the loft :).

This is the view from our front porch…and the swimming pool 🙂

This is Jasper…he was a funny fellow.

My kiddos having a swim party in a river fed pool, hand lined with rocks and colorful marbles.  My kiddos met this bunch of kiddos about ten minutes before they all fell in together as old friends.  Kids from Cali, Indiana, Oregon and England.  Very cool. And, yes , the water was COLD.

The pasture in the morning…this is the side view from our deck!

Spectrum does ziplines!  My boy not only liked this, he went on to the ADVANCED ZIPLINES with his sister.  Outstanding stuff!

My youngest…zipping away!This was some crazy stuff.  The picture above, with my youngest up in the tree is the TARZAN SWING.  OMGoodness.  They pull you back, up into the tree, about a hundred feet up and then…they release you.  Actually you are holding onto grips…and YOU have to let go.  W-I-L-D.  Mom only did it once…once was clearly enough.  My youngest…the wild man…did it FOUR times and would have stayed all day long.  He worries me JUST A BIT.

Seriously, BEST vacation EVER.  Can’t wait to go back one day 🙂

The Joy of the Fall Aparts

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Not everyday with autism is a good day.

It’s just that way.  We have our ups and down.  Don’t get me wrong…my boy has his strong points.  He is a funny guy.  He is sensitive, he loves snakes and spiders, he is good at electronics, a guru with Legos, a wiz at Nintendo, an ace with the IPod he saved up for and the boy has a memory like a steel trap when it comes to movies and directors and the voices of actors from animated flicks.  He is good at lots of things.

That said, he is not so hot in the outdoor arena. Getting hot and sweaty on purpose?  No thank you.

Though we do have the bug area conquered, the great outdoors, playing sports, being competitive, playing with other kids socially is just not our long suit.  It is who we are.  As a parent, I have tried to reel in the electronics and force the outdoor adventures and, I will admit, some days are better than others.  I find that bartering works quite well.  Electronics become incentives to be earned through good behavior while outdoor activities become the “alternative” activity when the good choices are not embraced at school to earn electronic minutes.  It’s not a perfect system but it is working.

So, under the heading of Marilyn’s quote, “Some things fall apart so better things can fall together,” Monday was one of those “fall aparts.”

It goes like this…On Monday, autism won.

We have fought hard to be where we are…in regular education class, full time, with no pull out or resource minutes.  I will say it has not been easy.  We did not start out there.  We started out in special ed, full time and with no one urging us to set our goals on anything but special ed for the rest of our life.  There have also been some choice moments, after leaving special ed, when administrators wanted us back there but, we persevered and we have remained steadfast in regular ed.  I’ll give you the short version for now and just say last year was not a very good year for us academically, socially or behaviorally but, as we do, we hung in there.  This year, after some major battling, has been better and most days this year has even, dare i say it out loud, been quite pleasant.  But, as it is with autism, some days are just better than others.

Yesterday was one of the less better days.

Math class was our nemesis yesterday.  In math, my boy chose to not show his work on paper (because he does it in his head instead and then ignores the teachers directives to show how he got his answer), he then chose to read his Garfield book during math after the teacher asked him to put it away, and after finally putting the reading book away he dawdled around another fifteen minutes out of his seat, blowing his nose and sharpening his pencil.  To say the least, his teacher was NOT impressed.

Let me also mention, his teacher is a fabulous man and an amazing teacher so when I finally get an email home…I knew my boy had pushed a whole load of buttons on the poor man.  We own those moments and I try hard to find incentives to turn our behavior back around.

And, so it went…and when my boy got home we had the obligatory talk about why he would not be visiting any of his electronic friends until he made some better choices.  There have been moments when those conversation have not gone well but Monday went fairly smoothly.  No melt downs, no tantrums, no fits.  He knew it was coming and, as he has matured with age, he took responsibility for what he had done.  It has not always been that way so after I held my breath, I jumped for joy and smiled from ear to ear…inside my own head of course.

The moment then presented itself where the boy would have to fill his non-electronic time with some unpreferred alternative activity which is sometimes a bit of a challenge.  In warmer weather, the pool is a no brainer since he is a good swimmer.  All those Medina Rec Center pool hours on snowy days when he was three to enhance his verbal abilities paid off in spades with great swimming abilities.  The warm water is starting to leave the pool and Monday was indeed sunny but the pool water is not quite warm enough to put a body into.

As he and I finished our conversation, his little brother ran out the door to join the fifth grade group of neighborhood boys who had assembled on our street and he quickly rode off on his bike as other typical kids would do on a sunny day.  And, then, as I pondered what we would do next, my seventh grade autism spectrum son, as nonchalantly and out of character as can be, asks me, “Can I ride my bike, Mom?”

I had to catch my breath and remember my words, as well as hide my shock, when I answered, “You betcha, buddy.  Hop on.”  I tried to pretend as though I was not concerned as I watched him grab his unused helmet, hop on the yellow Hummer bicycle that his Poppy bought him four years ago that is still in mint condition, and roll his wheels into the street with the other boys his brother goes to school with.  And, just as normal as can be, he began to ride up and down the street with eight other children as though it was just another day on the street with the neighborhood kids.  And, thankfully, the other kids could not feel my nervousness and they simply rode along side their friend’s brother as though it was just another day in the neighborhood.

I took a deep breath and I sat back down in my drive way chair and I tried not to fall into one of those mom puddle of tears. I tried to be just another mom on the street watching her kids play in the sunshine.  Inside I knew this was a God moment.  I knew it was a gift.  It was one of those moments that I would always cherish.  It was one of those days when it all had to fall apart so something better could fall together….and fall together it did.  And, truthfully, if you get too stuck in the falling apart part, it’s hard to allow the better stuff to fall together.  Autism is like that for us.  There are moments when the world seems dark and if you get too mired down in the muck you don’t allow yourself to notice the ray of sunshine that is forming on your own horizon.  There are going to be fall apart days but they are just another avenue or window into something else better and more brilliant that is trying to fall together.

Today at school was a good day and the boy earned his electronics.  The really terrific thing is that even though he earned the good stuff, he still came home and immediately joined his brother and the neighborhood boys on bikes in the street.  I am not sure if this will hold out.  I do not delude myself but I sure am enjoying watching him blossom socially and physically for now.  I realize he is still an electronics guru but I appreciate that he is enjoying this new experience.  I am also trying to be thankful for the fall apart days and remember that the dark moments have light too.