Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Before 6 A.M.

All sorts of bewildering and amazing things happen before 6 a.m. at my house. This morning, by chance, Ren started talking in the middle of an animated dream, and I woke up. Thank goodness for the dream or we would no doubt still be asleep and Pink P would have destroyed our house. Where was my alarm clock, you ask? Pink P hid it while we slept, of course. As soon as I knew the clock was missing, I also knew the culprit. Disoriented from lack of sleep after a 3 a.m. feeding, and blind without my glasses, I stumbled from our room to Pink P's. On the way, I passed no less than five stuffed animals meticulously tucked in to beds made from random pillows and blankets gathered from throughout the house. Since the bathroom light beckoned like a beacon cutting through my grogginess and threatening to awaken me completely from my sleep, I took a detour to turn it off. There I discovered the faucet running and a cardboard box full of water and bathing Barbies. Back in the playroom, a pile of blocks covered the table and the rapidly dimming desk light highlighted three new works of art, including two of my keepsake postcards that had been turned into homemade confetti. Fortunately, on this morning, Pink P was deterred from entering the office by the readjusted lock Ren had installed at the top of the door. Before the lock readjustment, she was quite skilled at using a broom stick to undo it. In fact, the last time Pink P got into the room, she'd climbed up on the desk and used a stool (on the desk) in order to reach the top shelf where she secured Ren's new video camera in order to take pictures of her artwork. The proof of this escapade and the subsequent rifling through drawers in search of hidden treasure was captured on the video she inadvertently recorded of herself committing the crime--before killing the battery, that is.

My preliminary search failed to uncover either the missing cell phone (my alarm clock) or the 40-inch, 40-pound offender. Too tired to go on, I yelled, "Pink P! Where are you?"
"Right here, Mommy," came the sugary sweet, angelic reply from Sky's bed, where she hid under the covers next to her sleeping brother. "What's wrong?"
"Where's my phone?"
"It's right there, Mommy. I was making letters."
Sure enough she was. Numerous failed attempts at text messages to be precise. And when I finally had the phone in hand and could check the time, it was 6 a.m.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Perspective and Losing It

Just in time for the first day of school, the results of yet another autism study hit the news circuit. The study, out of UC Davis, looked at the prevalence of autism in the younger siblings of kids with autism. Before the study, researchers estimated the sibling of an autistic child had a 3 to 14% chance of being autistic, but this new study shows that the chances are closer to 20% overall and even higher (more than 25%) if the younger sib is a boy.

Glass half-full folks will point out that this means there is still close to a 75% chance that Stow is not autistic, but I am horrible with numbers. I tend to fall in the "less than X percent" no matter how little that percentage happens to be. When I had an ACL reconstruction in my right knee, I was one of the less than two (yes, two) percent who had problems post surgery, and when I went through the housing lottery my first year of college, I drew the very last number--number 347 out of 347. So sure, 25% means that Stow has a 75% chance of being neuro-typical, but given my luck with numbers, it's hard not to panic.

As any parent with a kid on the spectrum knows, the trick is to catch the problem early and hit various therapies as soon as possible. So even before the results of this study, I knew we needed to be more vigilant with Stow. We knew something was different about Sky years before we could convince a doctor to have him evaluated. We had at least four doctors in two different countries tell us that Sky's issues were due to his developmental stage and that he would "grow out of them." It's hard not to blame ourselves for not being more persistent and for not trusting our gut(s) a little bit more. How would things have been different if we'd known sooner? Would Sky have been better prepared for kindergarten and first grade? Would his school experience be better? All good questions. All completely useless.

We learned we were expecting Stow right about the time we got Sky's diagnosis. Like I have said in previous posts, getting the diagnosis helped us figure out a lot. But it also made us realize Sky wasn't simply going "grow out" of his challenges and made us wonder whether the new baby would be on the spectrum as well. Even before we knew Stow was a boy, I worried. And then we found out he was a boy, and I worried even more. You can tell me it won't do any good to worry, and I will agree with you wholeheartedly. But I doubt I will stop worrying. In fact I am pretty sure I will worry for the next several years.

Ren points out that the numerous studies don't matter since we can't change anything. In his more optimistic moments, he even points out that now we know what we are doing, so we are prepared if Stow is on the spectrum. I suppose he's right, though I also know that autism can take a hundred different forms in a hundred different kids.

Even the earliest tests don't detect autism before the age of one. Still, Ren and I find ourselves checking Stow's eye contact, seeing if he reads and responds to our facial expressions, etc. It's ridiculous, we know it is. But we still do it.

Fortunately, Stow just laughs and gurgles at us. "Silly Mommy. Silly Daddy. You keep this up and you will miss all the great stuff."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Learning to Cook

Almost every day for my first six months in Japan, the junior high office manager Mr. Nishimura asked me what I'd eaten for dinner the night before. He was convinced that my eating habits centered around peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pizza and he was giddy every time I admitted I'd eaten one of these things for dinner. In my defense, these were the days when you couldn't buy American peanut butter anywhere on the island of Kyushu so you had to buy it in bulk from the foreign food buyer's club. I made a shared order of peanut butter and spaghetti sauce my first month in Japan, and it lasted the entire three years I was there and beyond. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are still some of those jars of peanut butter floating around Kyushu even now, more than fifteen years later. I had 20 jars of peanut butter. Oh, and did I mention there was only one "grocery store" (I use the term lightly) which was smaller than a 7/11 and carried a wide array of expired foodstuffs? So the combination of decreased shopping opportunity and increased peanut butter supply meant I did eat a lot of pb&j sandwiches those first few months in Japan.

It didn't take long for me to tire of the (very) few things I could make with familiar food available at the local grocery store. I had to branch out, like it or not.

The only reason I survived my first year in rural Japan was thanks to the generosity of my neighbors, the Ishida's. They were Japanese, but due to the fact they had only moved to the town a few months before me, they were outsiders there, too. Mr. Ishida work for the national government helping monitor the environmental impact of large construction projects, and he'd been given a three-year assignment in the dam division of our city hall. Mrs. Ishida was a stay-at-home mom. She couldn't drive so she did all of her shopping and errands on foot with the baby strapped to her back, which meant she could often be seen trekking up and down the mountain carrying massive loads of food. Eventually, she learned to drive. In Japan getting a driver's license is not only astronomically expensive, the discipline from the driver's ed teacher was also fear-inducing. Apparently, it was enough to make a grown woman cry, which she did on numerous occasions.

Anyway, Mrs. Ishida decided I needed cooking lessons. So, once a week, I would go to her house to learn how to make a dish of my choice. She taught me how to make miso soup, champon, curry, okonomiyaki, chawan mushi, sushi, omu raisu, and several other things. The catch was that she didn't speak any English and my Japanese wasn't all that great. Further, many of the ingredients were foreign to me and all of the measurements were in metrics. Thus each cooking lesson became a dizzying array of new information hitting me at once and by the end of each session, I had no better idea of how to cook than before I started. I did, however, get to eat a lot of really great food.

Eventually I learned to cook. In fact, I became better at making Japanese food than I am at making American food. Too bad I can't buy any of the ingredients I need for Japanese cuisine here in rural mid-America!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflections on the Casserole

casserole (n) 1.an earthenware or glass baking dish, usually with a cover, in which food can be baked and then served 2.the food baked and served in such a dish

I've been thinking about casseroles a lot lately as I struggle to balance three time-consuming kids, a job, a dissertation, and a need for the occasional peace and quiet (and by "peace and quiet" I mean a lull in the total and absolute chaos that seems to characterize life at our house). Perhaps casseroles are the busy mom's answer to healthy home-cooked meals without the inevitable cooking time crunch that comes just at that point in the day when the kids fall to pieces, I thought. And as my dad pointed out "it is an entire meal in a single dish." What could be easier?

When I was just out of college and cooking for myself for the first time, I was also living in Japan. So, my earliest cooking adventures were all with Japanese food. This means I can make


and miso soup

and ginger pork

and okonomiyaki

and even rolled egg (this is the probably the only thing I make that convinces Ren there is hope for me as a "Japanese wife"),

but I can't really make casseroles.


For the record, I'm pretty sure the definition of casserole is actually: (n) any dish baked in the oven that contains either cheese or cream of mushroom soup as the primary ingredient.

Until recently, I had made exactly 4 green bean casseroles (cream of mushroom soup) and one egg casserole (cheese). Since Stow came along, though, I have been gathering various casserole recipes. I've even tried to make a couple. But the thing about casseroles is that they take twice as long to make as non casseroles. First you have to cook everything like you would if you were stir frying or steaming (things we do a lot at our house) and then you have to BAKE it.

So my question is, if it's not easier to deal with a hectic schedule by making a casserole, why do they seem to be a staple of American food? I'm starting to suspect it's because of the cream of mushroom soup and the excessive cheese which means that maybe the casserole is not the answer to my cooking problems.

Hmmm...maybe it's time to break out the crock pot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fear and Trembling

Five days until school starts for Sky again. No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to shake the sense of fear and trembling that sets in when I think about the upcoming school year. There is so much that I can't predict about what will happen this year, and it worries me. It also reminds me of what school must feel like for Sky. He doesn't like it because he is never sure his senses won't overpower him and cause him to fall apart. He knows what that looks like once it happens, and he knows the headache the aftermath can be. But he hasn't quite figured out how to be preventative, and the lack of control scares him. So I remind myself that whatever anxiety I am feeling is probably nothing compared to what he's feeling.

I know it won't be the same for Pink P. She remembers the names of her friends and understands when the other kids are being mean or trying to get her into trouble. She knows the rules and can follow them without a million other pieces of sensory input getting in the way. When her teachers tell her what to do, language processing issues don't make the instructions impossible to follow. School is never confusing, and she never has to worry about whether the teachers like her. When I take Pink P and drop her off for the day, no knots form in my stomach, and I can be pretty sure no one will be calling from school.

We've done everything we can to set Sky up for success this year. We've been hitting speech and occupational therapy hard all summer, and Sky's been in a boy's social skills group where he's practiced group work, self-control, and leadership. He will go to the same school and have many of the same friends in his class. The principal and I are in close contact--let's just say she's pretty familiar with Sky's various challenges and ready to intervene whenever necessary. And today, we met with his teacher so Sky could get a sense of her, the classroom, and what to expect (and also so she could begin to be initiated into the odyssey of "Sky at school"). I was thrilled to learn she's had spectrum kids in class before and is familiar with weighted vests, velcro strips under the desk, and the benefits of rocking chairs. She even knows what therapeutic listening is!

So here's to back to school--not for the faint of heart, but hopefully not a total nightmare.