Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Think Maybe Aliens have Abducted My Children

I think maybe aliens have abducted my children and replaced them with strikingly realistic duplicates.

My suspicions were first aroused when they both performed brilliantly at the school program. Their track record at these things is spotty at best. When Pink P went to sing Christmas carols at the senior center, she started out by rocking back and forth with her finger in her mouth and finished by crawling around behind the other kids so "no one could see [her]" (and this is my "neuro-typical" kid). At the end, when Santa showed up, she literally ran the other way and refused to line up with all of her classmates to talk to him and get her bag of reindeer dust.**

Sky has a long history of erratic behavior in front of crowds. Best case scenarios include holding the last note of any given song for too long, bumping into the kids standing next to him on the risers, and chatting during songs (most likely about his latest passion--right now it's Minecraft). Worst case scenarios include the time he laughed maniacally (while also jumping around and shoving other kids) throughout the program, and that one time in Japan when he just stood there while everyone else jumped up, squatted down, and danced all around--that time was hard because we knew how well he could do those things when no one was watching. When everyone is watching, Sky gets overloaded with sensory input, and he doesn't quite know what to do. It makes him look like the class clown or the kid who just doesn't want to play along. I try hard not to be mortified by it.

But usually I fail.

Last night, though, last night, they did awesome. Pink sang with gusto throughout the song and never once looked back to scare herself about being on the top step. And, Sky, dear Sky. When his class walked on stage, I almost panicked. He was positioned in the very middle, front and center before an audience of more than 500 people. The routine contained a lot of standing, kneeling, sitting (repeat) and swinging of the arms. The kids even had to hold hands a couple of times. If you've been reading this blog long, you know that body awareness and the ability to regulate himself in relation to those around him can be challenging. He could have very easily taken the hand of the girl next to him and tried to pull her over. It wouldn't have surprised me if he'd used the opportunity presented by outstretched, flapping arms, to smack the boy on his other side. But he didn't.

You know what he did do? He followed every step as planned and even managed to sing a little along the way. It brought tears to my eyes.  So much so, I had to look away to keep myself together.


If it was just the program, I'd have declared it a fluke. But then this morning happened. I woke up at the regular time, but when I went to the kids' room to get them moving, they weren't there. Weirder? Their beds were made and their toys put away. Ren was still asleep, so it all seemed very fishy. When I got to the kitchen, I found Sky and Pink quietly chatting over their breakfast. They both had on their  school clothes.

"Good morning, Mommy!" they chirped in unison.

You know how in horror movies there's a scene when the protagonist/victim walks into a room and is startled to see an eerily pale child sitting with unusually straight posture, wearing nice clothes, her hair slicked back and a slightly lopsided smile on her face?

It was kind of like that.

Except much more awesome. Because, you guys, they were dressed, fed, and their beds were made, and I didn't even have to repeat myself for the 1000th time.

I don't know what happened. Maybe Ren's not the magical one after all. That or these kid-like creatures could really be aliens.

** Don't even get me started on the reindeer dust.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Magic is This?

You know what words I never like to hear at 3 in the morning?

"Mom, I feel sick."

Why, oh why, do they come and stand by my pillow to tell me this? They don't need my help throwing up, and I will figure out what's going on soon enough. One day their proximity to my pillow wiill turn out very badly, I just know it.

To be fair, and I'm taking a big risk by saying this, it's amazing I don't deal with vomit more often. Aside from a couple of episodes involving severe allergic reactions to food, on the whole my kids seem to  throw up much less than the average kid. Plus, I've trained the older two to either hit the trash can or make it to the bathroom.  So I know it could be much, much worse. (I also know I've just jinxed myself for at least the rest of this winter and possibly for years to come. It's a risk I'm willing to take so that you can learn from my experience.  You're welcome--even though I might resent it later...)

Whenever Sky is sick, we face two dilemmas that I'm guessing most parents don't face. First of all, we are never really sure he's sick. Sometimes Sky throws up for no apparent reason. In fact, when he was in kindergarten, he threw up approximately once every six days for 6 weeks. Despite all of my sleuthing and all of my attempts to add and remove things from his diet, the hurling happened like clockwork. His school has a "24-hour Policy," meaning kids have to stay home from school until they are fever-, vomit-, and diarrhea-free for 24 hours. I'm all for this practice in theory; it's a great way to reduce the spread of germs. But my kid throws up for sport. If I kept him home every time he did, he'd miss a lot of school.  So, whenever he's sick, I have to ascertain whether he's sick or if his stomach just happens to be out of sorts.

Second, once we realize he is sick, we have to assuage the guilt of not noticing his regressive behavior is health related sooner. One thing I can say with certainty about my ASD kid is that when his body starts to go, so does his behavior. Problem is I almost always realize this after the fact. I wish there was a litmus test I could do when he gets out-of-sync to determine whether impending illness is the cause because I always feel guilty later when I finally figure it out. And guilt gets old.

Anyway, none of that stuff really matters. That's not why I'm writing today. I'm writing this post today to tell you something amazing! Maybe you already knew this, but so far, my informal poll of five people indicates that it is not widespread knowledge.

Are you ready for it?

Are you sure?

Okay, here goes...

Salt water stops the pukes.

That's right. Sometime during the second hour of Sky's stomach woes, Ren went down to the kitchen to prepare a bit of warm salt water for him. When I heard him tell Sky to gargle, rinse, and then swallow a little bit of it, I thought he was insane. In fact, I almost peeled myself out of bed to intervene. Lucky for Sky, after five trips to the bathroom with him, I was too tired to move. Because as soon as Sky drank the water, he stopped throwing up. It was instantaneous. His stomach pains and nausea stopped, and he was able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. And, you know what else? He didn't throw up again.

I'm sure there's a good scientific explanation. But I don't care. All I care about is that it made Sky stop puking because, really, that's all the evidence I need.

I am curious, though, is this common knowledge? Is this a Japanese old wives' remedy? Or, is Ren simply magical?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Well, at Least They Probably Won't Become Extinct

Over the years, I've traveled a lot--I visited 45 states and 15 different countries in my 20s and 30s. But recently, I've been feeling unnaturally grounded, as if no matter how hard I try, I can never really get anywhere. I suppose part of the reason for this is because I really never can get anywhere. Summer family vacation? Thwarted by Ren's back surgery. Business trip to Singapore? Cancelled due to illness. Christmas vacation road trip? Blizzard of 2012 (granted, this last one may have been ill-conceived from the start, but still).

And sometimes we can't even get beyond our own block. 

Saturday, we planned a little road trip to IKEA and the international grocery store (in desperate need of tofu and seaweed). The cold weather makes things infinitely worse for Ren's back, so the only way a road trip was going to work was if we had full cooperation from the kids. To that end, all Sky and Pink P had to do was refrain from fighting, crying, or excessive complaining. You'd be amazed by how hard this is for them, particularly lately.  

Before we even pulled out of the garage, Sky had a good cry.  Since he was crying about a book that fell on his foot when I tried to hand it to him, we decided it didn't count for the no fighting/no crying/no complaining rule. Still, it was an inauspicious beginning, and I knew we were doomed by the time we got to the end of our very short driveway. That's when Sky lamented, "Oh man, the battery's dead, now I don't have anything to do." To try to distract him from repeating this complaint (over and over and over), I said in a cheerful, if not slightly loud, voice, "That's okay, we can listen to your music." Then I turned on the CD player, an act which immediately prompted Pink P to chime in from the back, "It's too loud!" And when I turned it down? "Now it's too soft!"

By this time, we'd made it around the block and back to the end of our driveway, and I found myself seriously questioning why my children couldn't figure out when to keep their mouths shut. All they had to do was appear to be cooperative. 

Once we were back around to our driveway, Ren faltered. It's not easy getting everything together and putting everyone in the car. Plus, we really wanted to get out of town for awhile. Midwestern winters are long and tedious, and we needed a change. But they had just managed to squeeze in one cry and several complaints into the space of 2 minutes. It was a tough call. Just as Ren made his decision and started to inch past the driveway and down the block, just as the possibility of going still existed, just when they could have helped their cause tremendously by simply keeping their mouths shut, just at that moment, Pink P said, "It's all Sky's fault, I didn't do anything." And then she broke into a high pitched cry. Not to be outdone, Sky jumped in to defend himself vigorously.

At this point, I tried to intervene with, "Stop talking. Now!" I'd like to say I said this calmly and coolly, but my voice was loud enough to rise above the din of their whines. After the briefest of pauses, Sky started repeating, "I just have one thing to say. I just have one thing to say. I just have one thing to say..." When I tried to get him to stop, he just got louder. By this point, it was abundantly clear we weren't going to make it to IKEA. So, after our second trip around the block, we pulled back into the garage. I wish I could tell you that we all calmly returned to the house and took a moment to ponder reflectively on what had happened. We didn't--at least not right away.


Sometimes I am absolutely amazed by how thoroughly our children ignore us. When they are together, it can be as if Ren and I don't even exist, and no level of bribery is enticing enough to get them to do what we ask. Because, when they are together,  they are 100% intent on doing whatever the other is doing. When they are alone, they are pleasant, helpful, and respectful, but when they are together? Not so much. 

My friend, the geologist, tells me that this behavior makes complete sense. "They know they are competing for limited resources. They have to keep their eyes on each other in order to survive. It's totally evolutionarily sound behavior." It doesn't help anything to know my kids' rude behavior is part of their natural instinct to continue their line, but somehow the explanations of my geologist friend always make me feel better.

So, this weekend was a bust, but there's always next week. Maybe by then my kids will have evolved a tad further. If not, look at the bright side: we save a lot of time and money by never going anywhere.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Weekly Recap: Well, At Least There Were Pictures

So, here you have it, my week in review. Click the titles to go to the posts.

On Monday, I posted "On Being a Stepmom," my stab at describing what it's like to be a stepmom. It's impossible to clearly articulate the complex set of emotions involved, especially on such a touchy subject, but I gave it a shot. 

On Tuesday, in "Snack Time," I lamented the loss of the carefree snack time. It's no fun when your kids can't eat most of what they are offered, no fun at all. To cheer myself up, I posted pics of some of the lunches the kids have been eating. 

My fear of the food-related meltdown was realized the very next day when Sky fell apart about a Fruit Loop necklace. You can see the details in "In the End, It was the Fruit Loops."

On Friday, in "Details, Details, Details" I wrote about absolutely nothing of import, but, hey, at least there are pictures. 

And, finally, a mini-blog for today:

These last couple of weeks, I've been seeing a lot of bickering between people affected by ASD on two difficult topics: the link between vaccines and autism and the effectiveness of biomedical treatments. 

Every parent needs to come to his/her own conclusion on these topics, but please make those conclusions after doing your own research. If anything, our experiences post-diagnosis have shown me that there is a lot of misinformation out there--from the media, from many of our doctors who know very little about autism and current research on it, and even from places like the FDA and the CDC. Instead of reacting in fear or from a sense of inadequacy, take it slow. Take it slow, and figure out what works best for you.

It took more than a year to get Sky in the right therapies and to work things out with his school, and then it took several more months to find a good doctor and to start making changes in his diet to address his various nutrient deficiencies (deficiencies, it turns out, that many other ASD kids also have). Am I doing these things because someone told me to or because I somehow feel guilty? No, I'm doing them because research shows that these things can help. Was I completely overwhelmed at first? Absolutely.  It's expensive, and it's time-consuming. We just do what we can when we can and try not to worry about all these things we can't do right now. 

Like it or not, we're all in this together and our numbers are growing at a frightening rate. If we can share our knowledge and respect each other in the process, we might just be able to make this world a better place for all of our kids, autistic and neuro-typical. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Details, Details, Details


We seem to have forgotten something.

Maybe we'll just leave it up until next Christmas. It's hardly noticeable. I mean, I didn't notice it until today. And, how many of you have awesome inflatable mini Pokemon ornaments advertising Coca Cola on your Christmas tree? If you did, you might leave your tree up all year round, too.

Nothing says "Christmas" like the random kitsch that comes in little bags attached to convenience store drinks in Japan. What's not to love about blatant, unfettered commercialism? My all-time favorite was Pepsi Man. Somewhere buried in a box, I have a couple of dozen of these bottle tops with Pepsi guys falling into holes, running into walls, and generally face planting.

Another thing we brought back from Japan that I love this time of year?

Our kotatsu,** the perfect place to sit and write lectures late at night.

And, there you have it. A post about nothing, but with pictures. The pictures count for something, don't they?

**A kotatsu is a low wooden (unless it's ours, then it's plastic) table frame covered by a thick quilt that has a table top on it and a small heating unit underneath to keep you warm and toasty while you work.

Image from:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the End, It Was the Fruit Loops

In the end, it was the Fruit Loops. More than thirty of them, strung into a necklace. But then again, it wasn’t really the Fruit Loops at all. It was too many days out of routine. Too many snacks that he couldn’t eat. And then, finally, the realization that things haven't really gotten all that much easier. In short, it was the moment he recognized that, despite all the interventions, he still really has a long way to go.

OMG, you guys, I am so tired, I can't even spell "fruit." Sigh.

So, then, he wept.

He wept for how hard it is to remember what he can and can't eat. He wept for his inability to keep it together when things get too loud, or too exciting, or too "fun" around him. He wept because he really is doing the best he knows how, and still it's not enough. He wants to be able to anticipate how any given day will go and how he will react to what the world throws him, to feels a sense of control over himself in any given environment. But, he can't. 

He just can't.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re thrilled with the progress he has made. It took fifteen days into post-Christmas break for Sky to fall apart. That’s approximately 14 days longer than in post-Christmases past. But, to be honest, I’m not sure what our goals should be at this point. Does he learn effectively? Yes. Does he have friends? Yes. Is he able to express his feelings and understand when others express theirs? Generally. But, when he starts to fall apart... 

When he starts to fall apart, he just can't keep it together long enough to put into practice one of the many interventions we've introduced and explored.

Today the OT told me Sky had mastered two of his goals since the last evaluation. What goals? I asked. He can articulate what he needs to do when he gets too over- or under-stimulated, the OT explained. Yes, I said, but he could already do that. The problem is with the implementation. 

And, implementation is everything. 

It’s one thing to know what you should do when class party meets unexpected snack meets anticipation about playing video games later, but it's a whole other thing to be able to separate yourself from the moment and do what needs to be done to get through it. And we're just not there yet.

Worse, I think we all fear that we may never be.

Original image from:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snack Time

Ahhh, snack time. The idyllic moment  of childhood when kids pause from their energetic play to fill their tummies with their favorite treats and reflect on their day.....That is, until you go gluten** and casein-free. Then those harmless little snack times can threaten to get the best of you.

Until now, I've been able to convince Sky and Pink that their dietary limitations weren't a big deal. I compensated for a lack of dairy in snacks by making homemade ice cream or giving them crunchy granola bars (Sky's all-time favorite), and they were thrilled. Now, though, I'm having a hard time convincing Sky and Pink that rice crackers and corn chips are adequate replacements for their favorites: cookies and cupcakes. When we were just casein-free it was actually possible to find some baked good they could eat. Now, not so much. And the troops are rebelling, people. They miss bagels, the occasional donut, and good bread. 

But most of all they miss spontaneity and variety. 

The good news? I seem to have aced the lunch box challenge (see photo series below). They're more than happy with their rice balls, hummus and veggies, and sun butter and jelly on gluten-free frozen waffles. The bad news? I have not mastered the art of the unexpected snack.

It's not until you embark on a special diet that you realize just how ubiquitous the mid-morning/mid-afternoon snack is. This week alone, I was unprepared for snacks at a play date, Sunday school, and a birthday party. I also didn't anticipate the chocolate candy rewards handed out at dance class and Cub Scouts or the chocolate that accompanied the favors from the pool party. Each time, the parent in charge expressed appropriate remorse for not having viable alternatives for us, and two even offered to buy something different next time, writing down a list of things my kids could eat. (I can't even begin to tell you how heartwarming that gesture is, by the way). Still, that doesn't solve the problem of the unanticipated snack. Sky takes responsibility for and ownership of his dietary restrictions. He sees the value in what we're trying to accomplish. But so many instances where he can eat nothing being offered is demoralizing, even for him.

I know I need to get better at always having a back-up snack on hand. I've already supplied both of their teachers with a bag full of gluten-, casein-, nut-, and dye-free snacks, and I always take some whenever we go out of town. But clearly I need to do more. That, or I need to convince everyone to quit handing out food all the time.

**I know, I know, I know. I just can't resist the fine print: We haven't managed to get totally gluten-free, yet. There's gluten in our Costco-size container of soy sauce, and Sky has a few more oatmeal granola bars to get through. Still, we've seen improved behavior overall--though, he will be the first to point out, gluten doesn't seem to help increase patience for little sisters nor does it help him remember to stop singing at the end of songs when everyone else does. 

#1 This is the part where I try to distract you from the sore lack of compelling content in this post by showing you pictures of the lunches we've made recently. Some of these have appeared on my FB page, so sorry if you are seeing them for a second time.

#2 I forgot to mention that this is a quiz. Try to guess which lunches I made and which ones Ren made. I'll give you a hint--his always look better than mine. Leave your guesses in the comment section if you want.

#3 Like the green beans rolled up in ham? A nice touch, don't you think?

#4 Van's Gluten-free Waffles. When someone suggested these as a bread alternative, I thought she was crazy, but  the kids love them. 

#5 This one may not look like much, but there's cooked fish inside those rice balls.

#6 Reverse-rolled brown-rice sushi with ham, lettuce, and carrots.

#7 "Niku-jaga," broccoli, tomatoes, and rice balls. This is a tricky one since I made part of it and Ren made part of it.

#8 Hummus, veggies, and sesame seaweed rice chips.

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Being a Stepmom

Recently, a few of my friends have become stepparents. Before I became a mom, I was a stepmom, so hearing they were starting on this journey made me remember my first years as a stepmom. When I married Ren, Big Sissy was in junior high. Junior high! Those early years were a big adjustment for both of us, and nothing from that time was easy. It took us awhile to grow into our new roles, and I learned a few things along the way.

There are plenty of websites out there that give great advice on step-parenting and blended families, and if you are really seeking guidance on this topic, you should probably go to those sites. Just like every kid with autism is different from every other kid with autism, so, too, every blended family is different from every other blended family. So, much of what I learned was specific to our situation, but here are a few of the more universal lessons I picked up along the way:

1. The kids didn't choose the situation they are in. 

There's nothing glamorous about going from no kids to having stepchildren. They will use your toothpaste, dirty your furniture, break your dishes, hog your bathroom. You will feel annoyed and cramped and little bit of everything else. Get over it. When you got married, you were agreeing to become a family, a family that not only includes your spouse's kids but that should be focused on them. I'm not saying it's easy; in fact, it can be horrible at times, but you still have to bring your A game and be the parent your stepchild deserves.

2. If you put your spouse in the middle, he will choose the kids. 

He has to, and, really, you should want him to. I don't know what else to say about this except don't put your spouse in the middle.

3. American pop culture gives stepparents, and especially stepmothers, a bad rap. 

Think Cinderella. I can't tell you how many people have gushed over how great I am as a stepmom. I'm sure I make mistakes, and I'm sure there were times I resented the struggle of those early years, but compared to the stepmoms we see in the movies, I'm a saint. And, to be honest, I'm not comfortable with that (See point number 1).

4. You're always the stepparent. 

When push comes to shove, when your stepchild is in trouble, your opinion won't always hold the weight you think it should. There's nothing so demoralizing as pouring everything you have into your relationship with your stepchild only to have your motives questioned when things get dicey. But, it happens. Be patient, be consistent, and be tenacious, and eventually those moments of mistrust will disappear.

5. This isn't the movies. 

You know those heart-warming romantic comedies where the single dad suffers alone raising his kids until the perfect woman stumbles into their lives, filling the void, and helping everyone live happily ever after? This isn't that story. It's not that easy. Between the stumbling in and the happily ever after, you'll have a lot of work, a lot of frustration, and a lot of tears. Chances are, your stepchildren will never figure out how to thank you for all of the sacrifices you made (and shouldn't have to, really). And you'll probably never figure out how to love your stepchildren as unconditionally as you think you should. So, here's what you do: you stop worrying about it. You stop worrying about it and just do the best you can.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recap: Ren and Stow, Ponch and Jon

Just in case you missed anything, here's a recap for the week. Click titles to follow the link.

On Monday, in "What CHiPs Taught Me about International Marriage," I unveiled my grand philosophy on marriage. Ponch and Jon from CHiPs show up but nothing racy happens. I promise.

On Tuesday, in "Dear Comcast, Really?" I revisited my complaint to Comcast after they raised my rates even higher. In a creepy turn of events, the Comcast appeasement "troll" commented on the blog and invited the displeasure of several readers.

(Gluten-free lunch, Day 18: Rice balls with fish, apple, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, and seaweed. Day 19 was blue corn chips, hummus, carrots, and tomatoes, but I didn't get a picture.)

In "Crash Helmets Optional," we look at one of the realities of having a toddler with sensory issues, and, I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm not sure the helmets should be optional.

I wrapped up the week with two lists. The first, "Five Things You Should Know about Ren" reveals all his deep dirty secrets. In the second, "Stow's Top Five Play List," I give you the lowdown on all the best toys for a kid like mine. No one paid me to promote these products, which is kind of a shame since my day job isn't going to make me rich any time soon.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stow's Top Five Play List

Okay, so I'm not getting  paid for this (though I totally should be), but since I always tell you what companyies or products make me mad (Comcast and TOMS are at the top), I thought I'd also show you some of the things we're loving right now. And by "we," I mean Stow.  Maybe we should call this post "Stow's Stash." (Hmmm...then again, maybe not.  The alliteration is nice, but it sounds a bit too drug-gy for what I'm after. Plus it's slightly redundant.) Anyway, here's a list of his favorite new toys, which happen to be mine, too.

1. Racin' Rody:

I'm so glad they dropped the  "g" from "racing." That makes this thing so much cooler for sure. (Don't even get me started about stupid kids' toy names). Stow first encountered a Rody when our OT brought one for him to play with during one of their sessions. He hated it. Or, at least we assume he hated it because he refused to get on it and then picked it up and carried it to the front door where he left it to wait for its owner to put it back in her car. By that time, I'd already gotten one for him for Christmas. And since I kinda refuse to buy and return things before Christmas, we kept it. Good thing, too. Now Stow loves to climb on it, bounce up and down like crazy, and then tumble off of it as if he's lost his balance (this is what actually happened the first time he rode it, so he seems convinced this is the only way to dismount a rubber bouncy horse). I love it because it forces him to work on his side-to-side balance. Due to his low muscle tone, he tends to favor his left, and the fact Rody is so wobbly makes Stow use muscles that he might otherwise avoid.

2. Giant Peg Board (Discovery Toys):

When Stow got his early intervention evaluation, the therapists were enthralled with his fine motor skills. Who knew that stacking five little blocks was a superhuman feat for a 12-month old? Seemed normal to us. This peg board, which the OT also introduced, lets him play to his strengths. The first time Stow saw it, he messed with it non-stop for 30 minutes. He particularly loves the pieces that rattle. As he gets older we will work on shapes, colors, and sorting. For now, he's content making towers as tall as he can before they come crashing down.

Oddly, this toy is for kids 19 months or older, so whatever you do don't buy it for an 18-month old (WTH?!?!!).

3. Spooner:

Despite it's unfortunate name, and despite the fact that this toy entered our house as a birthday present for Pink P, Stow loves to stand on it when watching his older sibs play or watching TV. I like it because it helps him work on his overall balance, which should, in theory, help him develop better gross motor skills. I can't decide if this thing is worth the $40+ I spent on it, but it's a good toy for our house. It can be used inside giving kids a way to stay active on cold or rainy days, and it takes up very little storage space. Most of all, though, it's great for helping Stow develop strength and balance, and so far, anyway, Pink hasn't minded sharing it.

4. Fold and Go Mini Stable:

This is another Pink P present that was quickly commandeered by her little brother. She loves the horses and will play with them alone. He loves the stable. So many doors to open and close. So many horses to put in and out. It's wooden, sturdy, and folds up, so what's not for a mom to love? And, just like the Spooner, Pink P's happy to share.

5. Wooden Thomas Trains:

The first Thomas train entered our lives on Sky's second birthday six years ago. Before Sky got hooked, I swore we wouldn't buy any overly commercial kids' toys (I also swore Pink P wouldn't wear pink or love princesses, so you see where my convictions get me).  For the past few months, trains have been at the top of Stow's play list. He cares enough about them to talk about them, so that alone is worth adding to our collection.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Crash Helmets Optional

Stow's OT ran another sensory assessment of him. Generally, I'm not a fan of these assessments because I always tend to overthink anything that is multiple choice. Plus, whenever I take any kind of test aimed at producing a useful profile, I can't resist trying to outsmart the assessment. That's how I ended up with a career profile in high school that said I was most suited to becoming a minister or a butcher.

So I filled out Stow's sensory profile on my own but then decided that was a stupid thing to do since not only am I bad at these things, but I also don't spend as much time with Stow as Ren does. So, I started over and did the whole thing again, this time in careful consultation with Ren. The end result looked like some kind of football playbook.

We must've done something right, though, because the profile confirmed everything we'd suspected. Stow tests as having low registration and a propensity for sensory seeking behavior (much like his older brother, sigh). Remember how infant Stow lost weight and had severe ear infections without fussing (link)? You know how super chill and zen he always seems to be (link)? Low registration.

The low registration stuff's actually not so bad (well, except for the fact that Stow's clearly not engaging with his world quite like he should be). But this is where it gets interesting. See, sensory seeking behavior in toddlers is hard to miss. Think Evil Knievil in a diaper (okay, be honest, how many of you did I lose with that cultural reference?). A toddler with low registration and sensory seeking behaviors is a toddler who likes to crash. A lot. If you come to our house, you will get head butted, and it will only hurt you. I promise. This week alone, Ren, Sky, and I have all gotten a good blow to the face from the head of a certain thrill-seeking one-year old. Tonight, as Sky wept through the fat lips his little brother had inflicted upon him, I reminded him that the best offense was a good defense.....No, wait. That's not it. The best defense is the best defense. Duck and cover, friend. Duck and cover. That, or invest in a good helmet.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dear Comcast, Really!?!!

Two mini rants for your Tuesday...


Dear Comcast,

Following my last letter (link), Mark Casem from customer care commented on my post offering help. I assume his job is to troll the internet and to offer reassuring comments about Comcast. I suppose this is one way to improve Comcast's public image, but I'd think you might want to follow up by actually doing something for your disgruntled customers.

After checking that Mark was legit, I forwarded my previous complaint to the e-mail address he provided, requesting a prompt reply.

And, I heard nothing.

In fact, instead of receiving a response to my grievance, yesterday I got my newest bill. And guess what? It was even higher than my bill the previous month--you know, the one that prompted me to complain in the first place. So, not only did you fail to address my concerns about bill inflation as requested, you actually increased it by an additional 5%! Are you kidding me?

I'm not sure what else to do but cancel my account, so I'll be calling in the next few days to do so. Oh, and I will also be sure to encourage all the readers of my blog to avoid Comcast if at all possible (and, when not possible, to request a rate guarantee in writing when establishing their accounts).


Mom on the Edge


WTF, C.diff?!??** Why not go pick on someone your own size for awhile? The other day, when I talked to the on-call doctor about Stow's gut problems, I gave Stow's birth date as "June of 11." The doc thought I meant that Stow's 101 instead of 1. Why? Because only old people are supposed to get C.diff, that's why. Granted, before we realized his mistake, the doc's misunderstanding led to a really funny conversation about wheelchairs and COPD, but still.

After three rounds of that horrible medicine (link), I'd think you could find a more hospitable environment somewhere else. We've become way too familiar with all the nice people at the hospital lab, and we know way too much about how to collect poop. We've scraped it, scooped it, smeared it, and dipped it. We even put some of it in the mail. Oh, and even though they say you should line the diaper with Saran wrap to get a clean sample, we know that's a very, very bad idea.

So, go away C. diff and let us move on to more cheerful pursuits.***


** Unfamiliar with C-diff? Click here.

***I was going to make a list of all sorts of unpleasant tasks that are still better than collecting poop, but I didn't want to gross anyone out this early in the morning. So, let's say "laundry" and "potty training" and "throwing away rotten pumpkins" (link) and leave it at that!

UPDATE: On February 13, 2013 the most amazing thing happened. I got my Comcast bill, and it was correct!!! I'm not ready to believe Comcast has its sh*t together, but it's a start.

UPDATE AGAIN: Alas, my bill dated 3/7/13 has inexplicably gone back up. COMCAST SU*KS!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What CHiPs Taught Me about International Marriage

Twelve years into our marriage and fifteen years after our first date, Ren and I discovered our first and only shared cultural touchstone: CHiPs. Somehow, though I don't quite understand how, we both "grew up" watching Poncho and Jon save the day. The discovery that we shared this one thing from our youth made us giddy, if not perplexed. After all we not only grew up in two different countries but also in two different generations.

It can be strange not to share any experiences from your youth with your spouse. In our case, the lack of overlap carries on in our adulthoods. Ren likes Japanese historical dramas on TV, sci-fi and special effects in his movies, maudlin Japanese folk songs in his music, and his reading on the computer. Plus, he has nothing to do with any kind of social media. I like independent films and alternative music. I read books constantly. And I blog.

Don't get me wrong, we agree on some really important things: what we want for our kids, how we will use our money, the importance of hard work and shared responsibility. It's just that our interests and opinions diverge on most other things. And sometimes that can be difficult, especially when life keeps introducing new changes and challenges.

When you marry someone who is from a different country and who speaks a different language, you can't presume to know where he or she is coming from. From your very first date, you understand that you will have to work a little harder to make things work. You will have to figure out how to communicate effectively. You will have to carry out some top-level negotiations (not to mention savvy money-managing techniques) as you decide which country to call home and how and when you will visit the other country. Once you have kids, you have to decide what language to speak at home, what holidays to celebrate and how to celebrate them. Even little the things like whether your kids will use chopsticks or forks (or both) are up for debate. In other words, nothing is a given. Everything must be discussed and negotiated. Sometimes you won't be able to agree because you will be coming from very different places. And you have to be okay with that, too.

Having an international marriage is hard. There are a lot of sacrifices involved, and someone is usually giving up something. But here's the thing: isn't that true of all marriages?

In our case, we were just lucky to figure it out at the beginning instead of at the end.

Image from

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What You Missed

Since I posted several times this week, you might not have been able to keep up, so here's a recap (click on the titles to link to the posts):

On Saturday I posted "Curses!" about Sky's acquisition of some colorful language at school. In the post I worried about whether his new vocabulary might force me to give this blog an "R" rating.

On Sunday I wrote a follow-up post called "The Vagaries of Language." Some of you wondered why it was such a big deal for my eight-year old to learn a few bad words. So I explained how Sky's relationship with words impacts his world. This post reminds me of a couple of other ones about how language fails us. Check them out by clicking the title.

"The Conversations We Have at Our House"
"To TV or not TV"
"To Diagnose and To Label"

Then on Monday, I posted a guide to Mom In Two Cultures called "So Are You New Here? or Do You Come Here Often? or Hey, Baby What's Your Sign?" to welcome all my new readers.

Wednesday I came clean about the pumpkins in "Why I Should Never Become a Cultural Ambassador or Parenting Advice Guru." Ironically, totally unrelated to my post, the next day Ren discovered both pumpkins are starting to decompose. Yay, they are edging their way slowly off our property.

Thursday we talked about boy parts in "Can I Call this 'Tiny Baby Penises' or Will That Get Me in Trouble?"

And yesterday Sky celebrated some awesome gains this week by using his Kindle all night. Friday's post, "So You Know This Is Just Enough to Jinx Us" tells you all about it.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 11, 2013

You Know This is Just Enough to Jinx Us, Right?

Do you know what this is? It's one of Sky's daily behavior logs. And, do you you know why it's ah-may-zing?

Yes, that's right. Nothing is circled.

Sky didn't have to write his name in the book. This in and of itself is not such a big deal. What's big is the fact that it's the fifth straight day that Sky has had nothing to write home about. That's unprecedented.

Typically, Sky can put together one or two good days before his disruptive and slightly dangerous impulsive, proprioceptive-seeking behaviors (i.e. crashing into his friends)take over. It's not that every day is bad; it's just that he usually needs to be reminded, redirected, and asked to write his name in the book.

But ever since winter break ended, Sky has managed to keep it together. In fact, the only trouble he's had centered on a certain recess cursing incident (link).

Like I said, amazing.

It could be an incredible coincidence, or it could the fact that we went gluten-free just before Christmas. It's too early to tell. Maybe there's something going on with the moon, maybe it's the vibrating pencil (link), or maybe his new Kindle Fire is just the motivating factor he needed. I'm happy enough not to know what exactly has led to this positive streak,** but I would like it to continue, oh you know, like, forever.

** Good for you! You should always read the fine print. It's not entirely true that I don't care what caused the sudden change in school-time behavior. I mean, gluten-free stuff is expensive, hard to find, and labor intensive, so if it happens not to be the gluten, I'd kinda like to know because it sure would save me some time and money.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

So Can I Title This Post "Little Baby Penises" or Will That Get Me in Trouble?

I'll bet you've never sent an email like this to your doctor:

Dear Dr. Parsons,

I've taken a picture of Stow's rash as it keeps getting worse, and I wonder if it needs attention before our appointment next week. It's a picture of his genital area, and I didn't want to send it without making sure you don't mind having something like that sent to your email. Let me know a quick "yay" or "nay," so I know whether to send it. Thank you!



In case you're wondering, she said she'd be more than happy to look at my baby penis pictures if I felt comfortable sending them.

Heck, yeah, I feel comfortable sending potential baby porn to my doctor late at night. You know why? Because not only did she give me her e-mail address in case I had questions, she also checks it and responds to inquiries after hours! On this particular night, she wrote back with a promise to call in a salve prescription for us the next morning.

Those of you out there with kids who don't have special needs or who aren't constantly sick with bizarre and scary stuff probably think the doctor's crazy and I'm an over-needy mom. But, those of you who have experience with this kind of thing know just how incredibly amazing this doctor really is. I can't tell you her name, because, well, this blog is anonymous, but I just want you to know that it's in large part because of her that we've figured out a lot of what's going on with Stow. By being available after hours, she makes it possible for me to keep up with my kids' illnesses and still do my job. And, more importantly, she's helped me stay sane more times than she will ever know.

May you all be as lucky as we are.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why I Should Probably Never Become a Cultural Ambassador or a Parenting Advice Guru

It's January, normally the bleak midwinter for this part of the country, and therefore a perfect time to talk about...pumpkins.

"Pumpkins?" you ask. "MOE, don't you know that the season for pumpkins is long past?"

Why, yes. Yes, I do.

But, then there's this:

And this:

We bought these pumpkins two weeks before Halloween. That's right. We've had them for nearly three months now. They not only survived Halloween, but they also survived Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. They even survived the great blizzard of 2012.

And I suppose this is exactly what I deserve for trying to avoid carving them. As you know from my post from way back when about dyeing Easter eggs (link), I'm not the best cultural attaché when it comes to the messy traditions.

In fact, in the nearly 13 years Ren and I have been married, we've only carved pumpkins three times. Once because it was Ren and Big Sissy's first Halloween in the US, once because we were at a party and everyone else was doing it, and once three years ago, our first year living back in the States when Sky and Pink P were old enough to appreciate it.

The last pumpkin carving produced this:

Impressive for a guy who'd only carved two other pumpkins in his life.

Our friendly pumpkin lasted less than 24 hours before someone smashed it in the road in front of our house. Sky took it so well (link) I hesitated to repeat the crushing pumpkin crushing two years in a row. Then we had another kid and Ren's back went south, and somehow no one mentioned carving a pumpkin.

That is until this last Halloween. This time Sky and Pink wanted pumpkins and they wanted to carve them.

"Shouldn't we draw faces on them instead?" I offered, lamely, hoping they would choose the easier way out.

"Nah, if we do that, they'll look terrible," Sky reasoned.

"I want to cut out faces and put a candle in them!" Pink P chimed in.

"But if we carve them. They'll rot quicker," I explained, reminding them of the moldy pumpkins we'd seen at a friend's house. A dirty trick, I know. I mean, who likes moldy pumpkins?

No one, that's who.

For days, the conversation was at an impasse. Then we got busy and went trick-or-treating, celebrated birthdays, had a skating party, wrote letters to Santa, and generally forgot about the pumpkins.

And, now, three months later, there they sit on the back porch. As permanent reminders of my bad parenting. Of my failure to embrace the hokey, messy traditions that should be a part of every kid's childhood.

And, as logistical challenges. After all, I promised the kids the pumpkins would last longer if we didn't carve them, so now I can't even throw them out. And it's way too late in the season to sit them on the front porch and hope someone will smash them. At this rate, these darn pumpkins may well become family.

Anyone know how long it takes a pumpkin to decompose naturally?

Monday, January 7, 2013

"So, Are You New Here?" (Or "Do You Come Here Often?" Or maybe, "Hey, Baby What's Your Sign?")

Sleazy, out-dated pick-up lines aside, it's nice to see all the new faces. Welcome! And since I know it can be a bear to back track through all the old posts, here's a quick guide to Mom In Two Cultures. Each of the titles should link to the related post. Of course, I want you to read everything I've ever written, but these should get you started.

If you want to read about our life with autism spectrum disorder (aka ASD), the following posts are either my favorites or crowd favorites and sometimes even both:

* How to Write a Social Story
* My Two Cents
* Top Ten Lessons for a New ASD Mom
* Accidental Advocate, Redux
* Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back--or--Schoolhouse Blues
* The Vagaries of Language
A Day in the Life

If you're more interested in our Japanese-American life, start with these:

* My Secret Life as a Japanese Housewife
* Mommy Training
* Diet Coke is Bad for Us
* Why My Kid Doesn't Know his Nursery Rhymes and Yours Does
* The Unexpected Go-Between
* Learning to Drive, Part 1
* Take Off Your Shoes for Goodness Sakes
* The Less Glamorous Side of Our So-Called International Life
* Top Ten Signs You'll Never be a Japanese Housewife

If random musings and poor parenting advice is your thing, start with these:

* A Christmas Story
* The Family Portrait
* I Know that Somehow I Will be Held Personally Responsible
* What's Your Super Power?
* Phalluses and Other Inappropriate Symbolism
* The Conversations We Have at Our House
* How I Met Ren
* Before 6 AM
* The Birthday Party, Part 1

Glad you're here and hope you have fun.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Vagaries of Language

We are a bilingual family that encounters some form of cultural and linguistic translation on a daily basis. All of our kids have varying levels of understanding of both Japanese and of English. So we think about and talk about words more than most folks might.

But on top of that, Sky has a pragmatic language delay and an auditory processing disorder. I can't tell you what that means exactly other than that words and the way they are communicated are very different for him than they are for the rest of us. For one thing, he is quite literal, and while his vocabulary rivals most adults, his ability to hear something, process it, and make sense of it lags behind his peers considerably.

This can sometimes lead to funny, interesting, and seemingly deadpan conversations like these:

Me: What'd you do at school today?

Sky: We had a math test.

Me: Really? What was it on?

Sky: Paper.


Me: You can't say f**k because it's not a nice word and it makes people feel yucky when you say it.

Sky: That doesn't make any sense. It's just f, u, c, k. What's wrong with those letters?


Me: I want you to eat a snack, do your homework, and put your laundry away. Then, you can watch TV.

Sky: I don't know what you're saying.

Me: First, snack. Second, homework. Third, laundry. Fourth, TV.

Sky: Ok. Now I get it.

Now that we know he has these delays, communication has gotten a lot easier. We no longer assume he understands something. We try to keep lecturing and verbal explanation to a bare minimum, and we don't assume he is ignoring us just because he seems to have tuned us out. But, remember, we didn't know about any of this two years ago, so for the first six years of his life, Sky got in trouble at home and at school often because he didn't understand what we were saying or what we meant. So even now, when Sky is not certain about how to express himself, he will panic in fear that he's about to get into trouble.

Besides the "holes" in verbal language, Sky also has problems reading nonverbal social cues as well as a sensory processing disorder. The combination of these three things makes school very difficult for him. Sometimes his hypersensitivity to sounds, smells, and visual cues makes it almost impossible for him to stay focused. Other times, he completely misreads social cues.

Take the other day, for example. The teacher passed out a math worksheet, but she didn't explicitly tell the students to start working, so Sky didn't know he was supposed to start. He didn't pick up on any of the nonverbal cues such as the fact that her giving him the paper meant he was supposed to do it or the fact that everyone else had started working on theirs. Instead, not wanting to waste time, he took a book out and started to read it. Thinking he was ignoring the assignment, the teacher took the book out of his hand and put it on her desk, where it stayed. He didn't understand why she was mad, why she took his book, or what he needed to say to get it back. Of course, he didn't tell any of this to me. Instead, all he said the next morning when he resisted getting out of bed and getting ready for school was, "I don't like school. I always get into trouble, and everyone is so mean." And it was only after considerable prodding and asking the right questions did I learn what had happened. To quell his anxiety, I had to go into school with him that morning, explain the misunderstanding to his teacher, and encourage Sky to talk to her directly about his concerns next time.

Each year, Sky gets better at recognizing and covering for the various gaps in his understanding of what's happening around him, so I have no doubt that, eventually, he will learn to function quite well in the world. For now, though, every day when I drop him off at school, it feels a little bit like I am throwing him to the sharks.

And that's the thing about being the parent of a highly functional kid with ASD. As much as it pains you, you have to keep sending him out into the world to get his heart broken and just pray that his ability to compensate will outpace his anxieties and fears.