Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winter's Coming: Sensory Bins Revisited

Here in the upper Midwest, our pleasant autumn with its golden leaves and bright orange pumpkins turned into cold, colorless, and eternal winter over the course of a couple of days (much to my chagrin and to the chagrin of our neighbors who probably really wanted me to mow one last time). In the blink of an eye, the kids went from riding bikes and scooters up and down the street and playing in the backyard, to being inside All. The. Time. 

I'm already tired of it, and it's not even December, yet.

Such dire conditions immediately triggered my survival instincts, so I turned to our stash of sensory bins. (Click here for my original post on sensory bins). Stow has been playing with them on and off for most of the last year, but Pink had all but forgotten about them. So Saturday morning, I pulled out the fairy box and suggested she make a fairy garden. Twenty minutes later, she had this:

Kids playing quietly together for 20 to 30 minutes while also using their brains and being creative is the goal for any toy/craft that finds its way into our house. Pink's garden was enough to inspire me to go ahead and put together another bin I'd been contemplating for awhile, Star Wars.

Whenever I make a new bin, I try to recycle stuff we have around the house as much as possible. For this bin, I used the following:

Empty medicine bottles turned escape pods.
An egg carton space station.
Abandoned marbles make great planets. Some of them even have their own cloud cover (which, according to Sky, makes them much more convincing).
My original plan was to use Sky's old Star Wars figurines in the bin, so all I would have to buy is a bag of black beans. But, when Sky went to get his Star Wars guys, they were GONE!!!!!!!! (EDITOR'S NOTE: The only one surprised by this was Sky. We all know that no one stole his Star Wars guys. He just can't remember where he put them). To avert the meltdown that was bound to happen each and every time I reminded him to look for the Star Wars figurines, I decided it made more sense to just buy the cheapest possible set of plastic Star Wars pieces to complete the bin. 

I couldn't find a cheaper-looking collection of Star Wars things if I tried, and these STILL weren't all that inexpensive. It's amazing what this one mom will do to avoid unnecessary meltdowns (Plus, Stow had a leftover gift card from Target, so that enabled me to pretend these guys were free).

In the end, I bought a two-pound bag of black beans (for $1.97) and a collection of junky plastic Star Wars guys (for more than $1.97). But, I wound up with this:

On the bin's inaugural mission, Stow played with it for 40 minutes while we made dinner and begged for it again after breakfast the next morning. Those little plastic dudes are going to pay for themselves in no time!


Day four, and this is still the first thing he asks for in the morning...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Powerful Art by Pink P and Sky

The kids brought home Thanksgiving-related school work in preparation for the holiday. In a book called "Thanksgiving," Pink P describes her excitement about going to an aunt's house, smelling apple pie in the kitchen, and eating salad. 

It all seems so idyllic until she drops the hammer on Big Sissy.

"I feel like I could cry because Big Sissy will not come."
I pointed out that Big Sissy WAS coming for Thanksgiving, but Pink P said it didn't matter because Big Sissy doesn't come nearly enough. I texted a picture of this to Big Sissy, mainly so she could see that everyone really does miss her, but also because I was really glad someone else was on the receiving end of a Pink P guilt trip for once.

Pink has perfected the art of guilt-inducing creativity. On the first day of school, she brought home this:

Dear Teacher, Please quit asking Pink P how she feels because obviously she is neglected by her mom and her big sister.
Last week, she insisted I mail a letter to my parents that said, "Dear Grandma and Grandpa, Please come to our house and bring bean soup and nail polish. Love, Pink P." To Santa, she just sent a list, only adding "From Pink" when I pointed out that he might find her letter of demands to be a tad rude.

I'm not sure Sky is doing much better, though. He brought this home from school:

Cannibalism and talking turkey legs--not to mention serious lack of compassion.

Inside the card, he seemed mostly thankful that we are all not dead.

In other writing, he nicely articulated how fortunate he is to have a family that loves him, a school where he can be educated, and plenty of chances to grow as a human being. Here, however, he's glad to be "rich" and not dead. Uh, thanks, Buddy. 

Just when I'd started to seriously worry about where we went wrong with Sky, he handed me this:


In reality, we don't have chores at our house. We have jobs--all of us working together for the good of the family and none of us doing it in hopes of getting paid. At least, that's what we call it and how we think about it. Then again, that might just be semantics. The important part is that he wants to to stuff to help and that he's thought about what specifically he can do. Things like:

This is actually a pretty great coupon book. I just hope he doesn't start charging me once the coupons run out.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

60 Simple Steps to Sending Holiday Cards

Step 1: Forget to take a family picture until the very last possible minute leaving yourself with the conundrum of whether you will be sending Christmas cards, the also appropriate Japanese-style new years card, or possibly even Valentine's Day cards.

Step 2: Decide to do a Christmas card and realize you don't have any decent clothes for the kids to wear in a picture. Also, they all need haircuts.

Step 3: Waste three days trying to decide whether to take them to get haircuts.

Step 4: Decide not to.

Step 5: Manage to pull together passable outfits and take the picture.

Step 6: Surprise yourself by taking a decent one.

Step 7: Post all the awesome outtakes on Facebook.

Step 8: Search online for the cheapest possible photo card.

Step 9: Get distracted by a toddler who needs to use the potty and forget about ordering the cards. For three days.

Step 10: Remember you were trying to order cards but realize you forget where you saved the picture.

Step 11: Get distracted by a potty-training toddler again and wonder if he will be in college before he figures it out.

Step 12: Find a coupon for ordering cards online and remember you still haven't ordered them.

Step 13: Get hung up on whether you will wish people merry Christmases or happy holidays.

Step 14: Make the decision based on the color of the graphic and go with the one that clashes least with your kids' mismatched outfits.

Step 14 1/2: Wonder what happened to Joy, Love and Peace, and question whether such things ever existed. (BTW, this is from the card we sent last year since I haven't gotten around to ordering them this year).

Step 15: Place the order and then do nothing for the next several days while you wait for the cards to arrive. Sure, you could go to the post office and buy some nice Christmas stamps. You could even find and update your address book while you wait. You do none of these things.

Step 16: Once the cards arrive, open the box and admire your handiwork. Then place the box in the corner of your desk and forget about it for a couple of weeks. Ignore that nagging sensation that you forgot to do something.

Step 17: Write a blog post about writing Christmas cards. Find it funny that this doesn't motivate you to actually write them.

Step 18: Wait a few days. Move up two levels on Candy Crush.

Step 19: Give in to the guilt and decide to start working on the cards.

Step 10: Get distracted by a Love It or List It marathon and do nothing.

Step 21: Sit down to work on the cards and realize you've lost your address book. (Who are we kidding? The last time you had an address book, you were just out of college. After that, you had the information in your computer, but that was when you lived in Japan, and you didn't bring that computer with you when you moved. What you're actually missing is the stack of cards from last year that you saved in order to send out cards this year.)

Step 22: Proceed to track down the addresses of everyone you can't remember by searching for them on or calling your mom.

Step 23: Spend at least 15 minutes being totally creeped out by how easy it is to find so much personal info about family and friends online.

Step 24: And an entire day bummed that even though you are an adult your mom is STILL more organized than you are.

Step 25: Once you have the addresses, obsess about whether your handwriting is neat enough to address the cards by hand.

Step 26: Decide it's not but be too lazy to figure out how to do this on the computer.

Step 27: Have an internal debate about whether you want to address people as Mr. and Mrs., Family, or simply by name.

Step 28: Decide that you'd rather not offend anyone by using the wrong title and address the envelopes with no titles at all thereby potentially offending everyone.

Step 29: Write a brief note on every dang card even though you said you weren't going to do that this year.

Step 30: Repeat Step 25, only this time obsess about your writing on the backs of the cards. Hear your mother's voice in your head telling you to write neater and eventually find it impossible to write anything at all.

Step 31: Take a break to look at Facebook and check if anyone has been reading your blog post about writing Christmas cards. Worry that maybe you're the only one who has this much trouble writing Christmas cards.

Step 32: Try to bribe your son into licking shut all the envelopes.

Step 33: Fail.

Step 34: Tell him this is one of the ways he can help you with Santa's job. Convince him to seal a few but quickly send him off to do something else when he starts devising other ways to get the envelopes wet.

Step 35: Notice that 6 of the 10 envelopes he licked before you fired him didn't seal completely anyway and ponder how you can improve the seal.

Step 36: Become temporarily grossed out by the possibilities.

Step 37: Lick all the envelopes yourself, quickly and without swallowing.

Step 38: Wonder where you put your address labels.

Step 39: Find them and realize they only have your name on them.

Step 40: Wonder whether it's appropriate to use an address label with only one person's name for a card from the whole family.

Step 41: Decide you really don't care as long as you don't have to write or lick anymore.

Step 42: Realize you also can't find your stamps and wonder why in the world they aren't with the address labels.

Step 43: Look everywhere for them.

Step 44: Find some old, ugly "Forever" stamps and decide they're as good as any.

Step 45: Wonder if your international stamps are still good.

Step 46: Go online and discover that international postage has gone up by 10 cents again. WTH?

Step 47: Dig through your drawers to see if you have any 10 cent stamps lying around.

Step 48: Discover you don't and realize you're going to have to go to the post office anyway.

Step 49: Give up in defeat and spend the next two hours watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

Step 50: Pull yourself together and sit down for the final haul.

Step 51: Write, lick, and stick until every last one of the ragtag bunch of cards is done.

Step 52: Put the finished cards in the car to take to the post office.

Step 53: Forget about them for a couple of more days.

Step 54: Finally remember to mail them when you go to buy 10 cent stamps.

Step 55: Stamp the last of the international cards and drop them in the mail slot on December 24th (if you're lucky).

Step 56: Have serious doubts about whether any of that was really worth it.

Step 57: Realize you forgot to stamp a few when they show up in your mailbox briefly tricking you into thinking you've actually received a Christmas card.

Step 58: Ditto the cards that had the wrong address on them.

Step 59: Vow never to send Christmas cards again and throw away your address list.

Step 60: Go through the exact same process approximately 12 months later.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Perfect 10

Sky turned 10. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this, actually. When he was an infant, I looked at moms of 10 year-olds and they seemed like parenting pros. Ironically (or, perhaps, totally predictably), I don't feel any more competent or skilled as a parent than I did the day he was born (though I am a heck of a lot better at dealing with bodily fluids).

On that day, when it was just the two us for the first time, I felt pretty overwhelmed. I had no idea how I would parent this kid. But I did know that we were definitely in this together, and that no matter what, I would always love him and I would always have his back. I told him that then. He sighed and snuggled, still getting used to the bright big world.

Last week, I told him this story of our first conversation. The cool thing about Sky is that if you slow down and pay attention, you can watch him hear you, process what you said, and then react slowly and deeply to it. I watched him do this after I told him this story. It took a couple of seconds for the light to shine in his eyes. He knows I love him, but he also longs to hear every detail of the wondrous story of us. "Thanks, Mom," he said with with a huge smile. I could tell he was simultaneously relieved and really touched. In his book, if I've had his back this far, I'm good for my word.

Random Sky Art
To tell you the truth, though, I feel unbelievably lucky to be this kid's mom. Sure, it's challenging and mind bending at times, but holy cow! He's so smart, funny, and creative. He's kind and a genuinely sincere kid. But, none of these adjectives comes close to describing what it's like to join him in his world and glimpse things through his eyes. It's a trip, and it's also the best ride of my life.

And, the thing that makes it all better is that we are slowly but surely figuring out how to make autism manageable for us, for him. There are still days when the stims, the anxieties, and the social/sensory stuff just totally quash our good vibe, but we are figuring it out. And, more importantly, Sky is figuring it out. He's learning to see all the awesome in himself and share it with others. He's learning how to track with the rest of us, and It. Is. So. Much. Fun.

Yesterday, we went into the Hallmark shop where we discovered the newest collection of Christmas ornaments. Much to the chagrin of the woman working behind the counter, we tried out most of them. I was particularly fond of the Brady Bunch ornament (in case you're wondering, it plays the whole entire theme song). Sky was interested in the newest Star Wars offerings. If I buy one, it will be the Cantina Band ornament. It will most definitely not be this one:

Go ahead, click on the link. Trust me. You'll be sorry if you don't.

When we listened to this in the store (after looking for the darn button for about 5 minutes--hint, it's on Vader's left), it seemed to be turned up to the-whole-store-can-hear-it volume level. At another time and in another place, Sky would've freaked out when I pushed the button to stop the ornament short, saying, "Wow. I can't imagine an ornament with more Christmas spirit."

Instead of freaking out, though, he laughed and walked out of the store grinning. No meltdowns. No resistance. Just good-natured ribbing.

On the way to the car, I said: "It's like saying, oops. I killed the woman I love. Merry Christmas!"

He joined me on my riff, "Or, someone ate all the Christmas cookies. Nooooooooooooooooo!"

"Yeah," I agreed. "Nothing says Happy Holidays like death and destruction!"

We're in a sweet spot.  Sky's coming into his own. He's figuring it out. He's understanding jokes. He's learning to read people's non-verbal cues. He getting better at keeping his sensory-driven impulses under control. Sure, he still has to work hard, and it's not always easy. But to me he's  perfect--a perfect, perfect 10.