Monday, January 27, 2014


Transitions are like....

....running full speed into a brick wall. 
....taxiing on a runway full of speed bumps. 
....riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair after you've eaten a snow cone, three bites of cotton candy, a funnel cake, and a pulled pork sandwich.
....poking your eye out with a very dull knitting needle. 
....being trod upon by a heard of baby elephants.

In case you're wondering, at the MOE house, transitions really stink. No matter what we do to get ready for them, they are about as smooth as the pot-hole filled roads around our house this time of year. It can be a good change, a bad change, a big change, a small change, an unexpected change, or a long-awaited change--the transition will still stink. Which is why it's even more ironic that we live a life so riddled with transitions. There are the moves, the new schools, the new friends, the new doctors, and the new therapists. Then there are the surgeries (lawdy, the surgeries!). If major surgery meant simply that one member of the family was laid up for a bit, it wouldn't be so bad, I guess. But, what surgery really means is that one member of the family is gone and then back but generally incapacitated, and then slightly re-capacitated, but not really, and then back but living a new normal. Some of the kids handle all of this change in parental status okay. One of the kids does not. Besides these major life changes, there are also the transitions that come with everyday life. Each new semester brings a new schedule, new classes, and new time constraints, for example.

Of course, most ironic of all is that if Ren or I exude even an iota of stress, Sky will sense it and immediately mirror it back to us a kajillion fold (which in turn increases our stress level exponentially). One of these days, Ren and I will learn to be totally zen. That day is not today.

To cope, I turn to metaphoric language (actually the ones that started this post are similes, but it doesn't sound as good to say "I turn to simile-ic language"). Somehow metaphors make things better.  Look:

To transition is.... die a thousand tiny deaths, all before breakfast. apply your brakes five seconds too late. 
....getting stuck in molasses only to have someone pour quick-drying concrete on your feet. remove all the oxygen from the universe until the whole world turns blue. 

See what I mean? I feel better already! Who says hyperbole isn't healthy?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How We Do, Part 2 (and 3)

Pink P finally lost her first tooth. It was loose for nearly three months before Stow helped knock it out. I was beginning to think it might be in there forever, but in the end, a well-timed foot to the mouth did the trick. Apparently there were many tears and a tiny bit of blood, but by the time Sky and I got home from his Cub Scout meeting, Pink was all semi-toothless smiles.

Before bed, she wrapped the tooth in a tissue and placed in under her pillow. Then she asked me to write the following note:

Dear Tooth Fairy,
I was scared, but I'm not any more. Please don't forget to come. 
Love, Pink. 

Her original message was much (MUCH) longer, but I was writing on a post-it note with a dull cornflower blue crayon...

Before bed, I told Pink to pick up her room or the Tooth Fairy wouldn't be able to get to her bed to retrieve the tooth from under her pillow. Pink reminded me that fairies fly and don't need a clear path from the door to the bed. So, then I told her the Tooth Fairy really didn't like to visit messy rooms. Apparently this was convincing because she picked everything up. Then she fell asleep, under her covers with her head on the pillow and slept there all night. This is not a common occurrence at our house, so I was grateful for the lost tooth. I was also glad that the Tooth Fairy hadn't misplaced anything in the move.

The next morning, Pink came in bright and early to show me what the Tooth Fairy had brought.

A tiny pillow...

...with a note inside.
The Tooth Fairy doesn't leave money at our house. She leaves teeth-related paraphernalia. On this occasion, she'd found a sale at Pottery Barn Kids and figured this pillow might be just the thing to cut down on missing lost teeth. It's not easy finding those little buggers under pillows on rumpled sheets in the middle of the night--especially since you can't turn the light on. Usually, the Tooth Fairy brings new toothbrushes or toothpaste. My kids know that the Tooth Fairy gives their friends money (and lots of money at that--did you know that the going rate for tiny detached teeth is anywhere between two and five dollars?), but the Tooth Fairy and I refuse to bow to peer pressure. Kids don't need to be paid exorbitant amounts of money for performing the completely natural act of losing their baby teeth. They do need to learn to love and care for their teeth, however, and cool toothbrushes and dental floss left under pillows work well for this.

(Awkward change in topic with no clever transition and only a few poorly placed asterisks.)

This idea might be as brilliant as my Good Will box (which totally still seems to be working, by the way).

Every time I try to take a shower, the whole entire world falls apart. Every time. Forget the fact that my showers take a total of about 7 minutes from start to finish. And, forget the fact that I always wait until everyone is properly engaged in another activity before I attempt to take one. It doesn't matter. As soon as I get into the shower, at least one child (and usually more than one) will knock on the door. And, 9 times out of 10, that child will be crying when he/she does.  It makes me crazy.

So, the other day, I came up with this:

That's right. I set the kitchen timer. For 20 minutes (even though I knew I only needed 8).

And, then I told the kids that unless someone was bleeding, having an asthma attack, or unconscious, no one was allowed knock on the door until the timer got to zero.

And, you know what? It worked.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How We Do

Ugh, I seem to have lost my writing mojo again. Coincidentally (or maybe not), a new semester starts this week. This post will be poorly written, but there are pictures. The pictures count for something, right?


Sky has always been motivated by factors somewhere beyond what most of us see or understand. To the casual observer (and to his parents) this has meant that curbing challenging behavior and encouraging positive behavior has been particularly difficult. As a toddler and preschooler, he was never interested in stickers or candy or anything else, for that matter, at least not insofar as they were related to what he was doing. Similarly, "time out" meant nothing to him. I could spend a few paragraphs here outlining everything we tried and the numerous ways those attempts failed, but I'm tired, and I have classes to plan, so you're just going to have to trust me when I tell you Sky is very much intrinsically (and not at all extrinsically) motivated, and practically everything they say in parenting books is useless when it comes to dealing with him.

Over the years, Sky has learned to care about things other people care about, but this has never come easily for him. One thing that has worked unnaturally well is our "magnet chart."

It all started when I bought this chore chart:

We have a magnetic calendar from Melissa and Doug that we like a lot, but this chore chart just didn't work at our house. First, it's really only meant for one kid and to encourage that single kid to do any given "responsibility" once and only once a day. Perhaps I was overthinking the whole thing, but I just couldn't figure out how to make the chart work for us.

But then I started using it as a magnet chart:

Everything above the two white rectangles is Sky's, and everything below them is Pink P's. The chores listed on the left are basically meaningless except for the fact that these are the things we hope each of the kids will strive to achieve. Pink has trouble with remembering to brush her teeth and getting to bed. Sky tends to avoid homework and turn his bedroom into a lair of Lego chaos. Theoretically, anyway, the chart reminds them to work on the skills listed. Other than that, this is basically a magnetic sticker chart. When the kids earn rewards, they get a magnet. When they fill up their section with magnets (yes, that's 21 magnets each), they get a prize.

Unlike stickers, though, the magnets can be taken away. I've read the research and know that you are not supposed to undo positive reinforcement. In theory, I totally get this. In practice, however, the giving and taking away of these magnets is extremely effective, not so much because it serves as reward and punishment but because it serves as instruction and reminder for them.

They earn magnets for helping each other, doing something kind for someone else in the family without being asked, coming immediately when called, and basically any other spontaneous act of goodness. They do not get magnets for doing what they are expected to do. No rewards for doing homework, making beds, brushing teeth, taking plates to the sink, taking out the garbage, wiping the floor, or helping with Stow. Unless, of course, they consistently (and honestly) struggle with a part of the daily routine. For example, Pink hates sleeping in her own bed and will often wander down to sleep in the glider next to our bed. So, lately, I have been giving her a magnet for every night she stays in her room until morning. Sky, on the other hand, has trouble getting through the multiple transitions of our morning routine (get up, make bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get jacket, go to school), so he gets a magnet whenever he manages to get through all the steps without reminders and without having a meltdown. They can also earn magnets when they are willing to step in and help in Mom's time of desperation (these usually involve trying to keep a perpetually-hungry Stow out of the kitchen when I am making dinner, or shoveling snow; though there was the one time when Sky earned 10 magnets by climbing into the cobwebby cellar of our old house to mop up spilled chocolate soy milk from the earthen floor--I probably would've given him a hundred for that job if he'd asked).

We try not to be draconian when it comes to taking away magnets. Both kids lose magnets automatically for lying or hitting. Pink loses them for forgetting to flush the toilet. Sky for yelling when he's mad (instead of using one of the many other less destructive ways of expressing his feelings that we've practiced and discussed approximately umpteen million times). Otherwise, general bad behavior can lead to the loss of magnets if, and only if, they've been given fair warning first. Sometimes, but not too often, I lose my cool and take away 5 at a time, say, if it's 2 minutes until time for the bus and they are still fighting over toothpaste in the upstairs bathroom, but usually it's a lot harder to lose than to gain magnets.

I know there are people out there who will find all sorts of reasons to criticize our magnet approach, but it works. And, when you have a kid on the spectrum and can find something that is motivational without leading to anxiety or increased meltdowns, you stick with it.

When the kids get their 21 magnets (which usually takes three to four weeks). They can get rewards such as a trip to the movies or roller skating, an extra "family fun night," extended video game time, a chance to pick out dessert, or a book or small toy.

One time for a reward, Sky requested a Rainbow Loom so he could make rubber band bracelets and give them to his friends at school.

Honestly, magnets aren't usually worth quite that much. But, this was back in October when he still had no friends and was really struggling to make sense of everything, so I decided to get it as his reward and made him promise to make some for Pink who was struggling to make friends of her own. Soon he was making bracelets for everyone.

So, we started with a kit like the one above. And after Christmas and his birthday, we had this:

Then last Sunday, we had this:

Sky attending his first ever "Rainbow Loom Meet-up." Sure it was mostly older girls, and sure he was as socially awkward as ever, and sure, thanks to YouTube videos and his photographic memory, he already knew how to make all the bracelets (which he announced more than once to the group), but he still had fun.

And the bonus is that he's working hard to get all his magnets so he can go to another "meet-up" in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Back to School: The 2014 Version***

Phew, what a week! While a lot of my friends couldn't wait for their kids to go back to school, there was much ambivalence about it at the MOE house. The routine of the school year is nice, but the end of vacation brings a boatload of heartache that I am never quite ready for. Especially for Sky. He still struggles to manage his sensory issues and to navigate the increasingly complicated social world that is school.

The transition may have been a bit rougher this year because our break was so darn sweet. Thanks to Ren's bum back, we had a particularly relaxing vacation in which we didn't really go anywhere or do anything. This all but eliminated the stress that comes from trying to make sure the kids adjust to travel schedules, new beds, and people who don't know them very well. Plus, we didn't have to worry as much about their dietary restrictions because everything was already gluten and dairy free. My stress level was also infinitely lower because this vacation was the first time in a very, very, very long time that I was not writing a dissertation, desperately looking for a tenure-track job, or moving. It turned out to be one of the sanest, most relaxing vacations we've spent together. Did I mention they let me sleep until 8:30 four days in a row? That hasn't happened since at least 2004.

Sure the kids were thrown by the lack of routine and the unavoidable changes in diet that come with the holidays (there were a few candy canes and cups of hot chocolate, not to mention all the marshmallows). By the time we started the second week of their break, though, we'd found a pretty good rhythm that combined as-much-as-humanely-possible time playing in the snow, special dates with Mommy, and tons of sensory play. Besides the sensory bins and play dough, we had numerous dance parties and obstacle course relays (that required them to jump, crash, punch, toss, and scoot).

This past Monday and Tuesday, when the absolutely Arctic temperatures extended the kids' winter vacation by two more days, I was actually kind of relieved. A shorter week is always easier than a long one, especially when it's the first week back to school.

But ever since they started back on Wednesday this week can't seem short enough. First there's the challenge of getting all three kids up, dressed, and properly breakfast-ed, lunches made, and coats (and gloves, hats, boots, and backpacks) on before the bus arrives at 7:20 (Did I mention the ongoing saga of the bus? If not, I will save that for another post). Second, actually, there is no second. Or third. Because in order to pull off step number one, I basically have to orchestrate EVERYTHING from the time they get home from school the day before until they set foot on the bus the next morning. And it's not easy, I tell you.

Take today, for example, within 15 minutes of returning home from school, Sky was engaged in full-blown sobbing and gnashing of teeth because one of the math problems on his homework assignment asked him to draw a line seven inches long, and THERE WASN'T ENOUGH SPACE NEXT TO THE PROBLEM FOR A 7-INCH LINE!!! (For the love of God, have the people who created the workbook never met a kid on the autism spectrum?) When I suggested he use an arrow or somehow indicate his line was in the nearby margin, he looked at me as if I'd just suggested he remove his liver himself, cook it for dinner, and serve it with ice cream. "I can't DO that, Mom. I'll get in TROUBLE."

So, we might as well be back to the first day of school because, this week anyway, Sky has resumed his obsessive worrying about possibly falling afoul of all the rules at his "new" school. He's back to being convinced that no one (especially not his teacher) likes him. And he's back to falling apart over all the mundane things like getting up early, riding the bus, and having homework.

In other words, that relaxing vacation was just enough to undo everything we'd accomplished, and it kind of makes me never want to sleep until 8:30 ever again.

*** If you're new here, you might be mistakenly led to believe that this is the first and only time our back to school transition has been difficult. Don't be fooled for a moment. Every dang time the kid goes back to school, he loses ground (at least at first). The only real insanity here is that I KEEP THINKING IT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME.

It won't.

Related links:

Back to School, Again
Back to School

(I'm beginning to think I might need to give these posts more creative names).


The morning after the math homework meltdown described in this post, I convinced Sky to do this:

This, my friends, it what I like to call "victory." 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Now We Know Why I'll Never Be a Millionaire

I've been trying to figure out for a while now how to advertise on this blog. Some of you early readers will remember my failed attempt at using the ads provided by this blogging platform. First, there was the page full of TOMS ads to accompany my rant about TOMS (click here for that oldie but goody), and then there was the one too many ads trying to hook my readers up with Asian women. “How many is one too many?” you ask. One. That's how many. So, I disconnected the ads just as I was nearing the cut-off for my first payday. Ugh, I hate having principles. It's so not financially rewarding.

Anyway, as I was pondering this and talking to my friend who happens to do web marketing, I decided I might never figure out how to make any money with this meager endeavor. Then I saw the media kit for Jenny over at the (A much more awesome blog than mine, by the way. If you're not reading it, you should be), and I was inspired to create this:

 The Official Moe/ Media Kit ©

(Please feel free to share it with all your marketing and media mogul friends. No, really, I insist.)

About Moe: Moe is a professor of things both relevant and not, blogger, and #1 mom to her three young, somewhat bilingual, special needs kids who have a shared fetish for Lego space ships and hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Her blog ( is extremely popular with her relatives, her mom’s bridge clubs, and a couple of other people. According to Google Analytics, she averages over 1800 page views a month (which makes her think that either her mom needs to play less bridge or she needs to become more familiar with her growing fan base).  
She has been recognized by practically no one ever, but that might be because she refuses to post pictures of herself on Facebook and hasn’t updated the photo on her departmental webpage in a decade.  She is a sought-after bear hugger who can get your engine level under control stat (click on this link before you get all kinky) and has hundreds of followers (but that’s mainly because they’re required to come to class). She has a knack for being “funny and real” when she blogs and tends to ignore what other people think (unless they are writing student evaluations because everyone knows you’re supposed to pay attention to those).

Rates for advertising on are:
 $25 a month for text ads.
 $50 for a sponsored post.
 $75 for a month of graphic ads.
 $250,000 for a notarized pledge to never eat tonkotsu ramen again.

 (Donations also welcome because, duh, she's desperate and would really like to make enough money to cover her expenses.) 
Contact Moe at momintwocultures(at)gmail(dot)com for more information. And remember, every penny you spend on advertising goes toward keeping this blog humming like the fine-tuned machine that it is (and also toward anchoring Moe just this side of insanity as she holds down a not-terribly-lucrative job and pays for childcare while her spouse recovers from his 273 millionth back surgery), which is something.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Adventures in Bilingual Parenting

When we moved to Japan when Sky was three, he called me "Mommy." By his second week of preschool, he was calling me "Mama." Soon enough, I became "Okaasan." Because we'd always spoken Japanese to him, we assumed he understood it and could speak it. We may have been wrong about that.

His first week at Japanese preschool, when he still called me "Mommy," Sky managed to lock everyone out of  his school. It's still not entirely clear to me how he did that, but at just three years old, he was stealth enough to sneak back into the school building, close the sliding door, and apply the lock while everyone else (including all of the teachers and the head nun) was outside enjoying recess. It must have been interesting for a sensory-motivated kid to see so many animated faces mouthing Japanese words to him through the window. Fortunately, he unlocked the door before they had to break the glass.

That's when we realized he might not understand as much Japanese as we thought. During summer break of that year, we spent a lot of time practicing simple greetings: ohayoo gozaimasu, konnichiwa, arigatoo gozaimasu. His teacher thought this was the key to his becoming conversant in Japanese. I'm not sure it was, but Sky did become much more fluent with his friends at school, and soon enough, he was calling me Okaasan.

Gratuitous "awwww" shot of Sky using his Japanese to woo his preschool "girlfriend."
I've never felt like an Okaasan. When Big Sissy was still in junior high, before we all moved to America the first time, Ren would refer to me as Okaasan, but Big Sissy didn't call me anything. Somehow that word didn't work for her foreign stepmom, at least not then. Once we moved to the US, she slipped comfortably into calling me Mom. Okaasan has always seemed unnatural to me.

On this grey, snowy morning in the Midwestern United States, as we all sit by the fire to warm ourselves in this bitter cold, I listen to Ren building train tracks with the kids, speaking to them patiently in a Japanese that seems foreign to them. And I am reminded of these moments past when I was Okaasan and not Mom. I think of the year or so we lived in Japan and how strange it felt to have my own son speak so fluently in a tongue that wasn't my own. And I am thankful for Ren's persistence as the kids vacillate between resistance and acceptance, incompetence and fluency. Most of all, I'm grateful for his patience as they slowly but gradually figure out how to go from calling him Dad to Otoosan.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taking the Long View

Last year, I went out on a limb and made a New Year's resolution. I'm not normally one to make resolutions, but I thought this one was a sure thing.

I resolved that Ren would not have any back surgeries in 2013.  Well, we all know how that ended up. And we almost made it, too. November 2013 is pretty darn close to January 2014. What a disappointment! I totally expected 2013 to be the one and only time I managed to keep a New Year's resolution.

So, instead of resolutions, I've vowed to stick to making lists. Lists have helped stave off my anxiety and keep me focused through a lot of life's insanity. Lists help me keep my eye on the essence of what needs to be done. My lists are usually short and uninspired:
  • Call the dentist
  • Pay bills
  • Submit application
  • Take kids to gymnastics
But sometimes, they are pure gold. Once, twenty years ago, I made a list called: "Things I Want to Do with My Life:"
  • Live near mountains
  • Travel or live overseas
  • Write
  • Having a meaningful yet challenging job
  • Get married (maybe eventually) and have kids (maybe eventually)
The list is relatively short and in many ways oversimplified, but the things on it ended up molding most my 20s and 30s. Some of these (like finding a meaningful job and having kids) took awhile, but I eventually managed to cross everything off. Looking back at this list got me thinking that maybe it's time for a new one. So, here I present:

The Things I Want to Do with My Life 2.0
  • Be fully present 
  • Show as much grace under pressure as I can muster at any given moment
  • Treat my body well enough to make it the next 40 years
  • Write a book
  • Stay married 
Maybe this list of goals isn't as inspired as the first. I suppose only time will tell. I do know that none of the things on it will be easy for me (except, God willing, the last one). Hopefully, as long as these are not New Year's resolutions, I can pull them off.