Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The First Snow (Part 1)

On Sunday, we got an unexpected four inches of snow. The first snow is always so magical. The gleeful sound of children screaming with frustration because they can only find one glove. The joy of discovering that the boots you bought on sale at the end of last season are already too small so two kids are wearing boots that are the “wrong” color and one kid has his toes curled up backwards. The excitement of foraging through various closets looking for snow pants that don't have holes and that kind of fit only to discover you bought the same size pants for the same kid THREE times. The thrill of children wrestling each other in the laundry/coat room as they fight to be the first one outside.

I mean, at least it's pretty.
Getting all three kids out the door that first day it snows is always a Herculean task. Hats, gloves, scarves, snow pants, coats, and boots--finding these things and getting everyone dressed in the bottleneck that is our laundry room and door to the garage is nearly impossible. Further, just about the time I get the third kid out the door, the first one is already ready to come back in. And, this is where it gets tricky. I mean, it takes so long to get them all bundled, I kind of just want to keep them outside for as long as possible--or at least long enough to sit down and, say, read a whole page of a book or go to the bathroom. 

The time I made them stay outside and it turned out to be a blizzard.
Because if we leave all three kids out in the snow for too long, invariably someone will get hurt. Someone (or two, or sometimes even three) will come in crying with snow in his/her face, shirt, boots. Plus, when they come in, they simultaneously want help liberating themselves from their snow gear, and they want me to make a piping hot cup of hot chocolate ASAP. In their rush to be the first in line for hot chocolate, they manage to leave a mountain of coats, pants, boots, hats, gloves, and scarves on the garage floor that is so huge I wonder if they took some of these things off the neighborhood kids.

Ren's makeshift clothesline in the garage as a last-ditch effort to keep control of all the gear.
The good news is that we've survived the first snow, and now all the necessary articles of clothing have made their way to the garage for the winter. Who knows? Given that we are now generally prepared, maybe we'll get lucky and won't get anymore snow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The More Things Change...

You'll all be happy to know that I survived my least favorite holiday! In fact, I think this might have been one of our smoother Halloweens. Many of our usual speed bumps have become normalized for us; we know that Sky probably won't end up wearing his costume so we don't make a big deal out of it; we know that the kids won't be able to eat a lot of the candy they get, so we keep the trick-or-treating short (just a quick trip up and down the street), and the kids instinctively leave the candy alone until they can get home and separate out all of the ones they can't eat. And, we've learned not to head out to the local Halloween festival until Pink's taken her asthma medicine and everyone's eaten a full dinner.

This picture needs no caption.
In some ways, things are getting much better. Life almost seems "typical." In other ways, though, we are very much stuck in the same general ruts. And, as it turns out, these particular ruts are fairly anxiety producing for me. 

On Friday, Ren woke unable to walk again. This time, it was his knee, and we managed to get into the doctor and get the issue under control with steroids rather quickly. But all of this didn't happen without exacting a significant toll on my sense of well-being. Life goes SO much better when Ren and I are co-parenting. I am not sure I can face having him bedridden again, but I also know such incapacitation is undoubtedly in our future. So, the knee hiccup terrified me. 

The other rut we seem to keep falling into has to do with a son's ability to thrive in school. Our current challenge is with adjustment to kindergarten. Sky was in kindergarten six years ago. That was the year he got his autism diagnosis and we began to figure out the pieces of the puzzle, but it wasn't without a lot of hardship as we faced a tremendously steep learning curve on our path to getting services for him. Stow is our kindergartener now, and, despite the fact he is much different than Sky was at the same age, he is struggling in distressingly similar ways. So, we continue to advocate for him and to search for the magic puzzle pieces that help us figure out what will facilitate his success. 

I also continue to write letters. Maybe they don't do any good, but at least I feel like I'm accomplishing something when I write them. Here's one I sent recently about the good old behavior color chart which has never ever worked for our boys. What do you think? Do I sound like a broken record?

Thank you for another note alerting us to the issues Stow is having at school. We are concerned to hear that, today, in particular, there were so many instances in which he was having negative interactions with his classmates. Such interactions are, we're sure, unpleasant for his peers, and they are also not good for Stow as he works to adjust to elementary school and to socialize appropriately. We write to ask, first, if we can revisit the reward system and its use in Stow's case, and, second, to request that we schedule a meeting to brainstorm ways to better support Stow in school (and at home) to help him move toward consistently positive school experiences.

The clipping and sticker system seems to be making Stow hyper-aware that he is not doing as well as his peers. Without my prompting, he tells us often that he is the worst kid in the class and that he "can't do well at this school." Today he told us that he was the only one in his class who was still on the first sticker chart and that everyone else was on their third. This upsets him, he says, because he knows his classmates get prizes when their charts are full and he thinks that his peers and teachers don't like him as much because he doesn't do as well as everyone else. Further, we know that Stow becomes anxious when he believes he is being bad or is in trouble and that his anxiety presents as inappropriate behavior such as hitting, pushing, or using mean words. Since we know Stow is a kid who has developed more slowly than others his age, and since we know he has processing issues and tracks behind his peers in his social interactions, we wonder whether the clipping and sticker systems are appropriate for him as they seem to highlight the ways he is falling short of his classmates while also potentially triggering the very behavior that leads him to clip down.

We are very concerned that Stow is internalizing messages about himself that are untrue and detrimental to the development of a healthy self-esteem and confidence in his ability to succeed at school. We worry that loss of self-esteem and confidence now will carry on as he matures leading to future negative peer interactions and to the inability to achieve his full academic potential. 

One day, we hope that all of the pieces will fall into place for Stow, but until then, we want to advocate for the support he needs to engage in consistently positive peer interactions, to maintain his self-confidence, and to develop the skills he will need to succeed as he moves into first grade and beyond. Can we meet and revisit these issues surrounding classroom behavior and think about ways to provide him more (potentially one-on-one) support in the classroom to facilitate these goals?





Monday, October 24, 2016

The Problem with Inertia

A few days ago, I came home from work to find this on the kitchen counter.

In case it's not clear, that's a 14-inch snake coiled at the bottom of an empty pickle jar.
By the time I walked in, the snake had already been welcomed wholeheartedly into the family. The two younger kids tittered around the jar talking excitedly about what they'd feed it and what they'd name it while Sky searched studiously for information about our new pet on the internet.

Let's pretend you've been gone on a 10-day business trip to, say, Japan, where you were busy ten to twelve hours each day, fighting jet lag on the fumes of the caffeine you managed to get your hands on when it became clear you wouldn't sleep past 5 a.m. on any given morning. Then imagine you'd come back to a monstrously tall pile of midterm papers to grade and three children and a spouse with an infinitely deep mom-sized hole in their collective souls that could only be filled by you. Add to that a very full week of classes and meetings, and you have a pretty good idea of what state I was in when I met the snake.

Sometimes it can be really hard for me to keep it together. This was one of those times.

It took every ounce of my self control to keep a calm voice when I asked Ren, "Where'd we get the snake?"

His answer didn't do much to help my frayed, exhausted self.

"The basement," he said, simply. 

After a little more prodding, I learned that he'd found the snake at the bottom of the steps, and since it was in the kids' playroom, he assumed it was a toy. Until he kicked it. And it slithered away.

I don't know about you, but if I was home alone and found a snake at the bottom of the steps to the basement playroom (which is usually dark, by the way), and if I'd kicked that snake thinking it was a toy only to have it hiss away, I would have lost my sh*t. I'm not sure what form my screaming and fleeing would've taken, but I know that I'd probably never go into the basement ever again. Ever.

Ren is not me, though. Apparently, his first thought was to catch the snake, put it in a jar, and save it to show all of us when we got home. I wish I could've been there to see his actual reaction when he kicked a real snake with his bare foot. He tells me he did not scream and that he was not particularly surprised by it. Part of me finds that really hard to believe, but the other part of me knows just how unflappable Ren can be.

"What did you say when you saw it?" I asked hopefully, imagining that this might be the one time he expressed unfettered emotion.

"I said, 'Oh,'" he replied, "and then I caught it with some disposable chopsticks."

With chopsticks!!! Take that, Mr. Miyagi! I was too fascinated with the image of Ren plucking a snake off the floor with chopsticks to wonder whether he'd taken a jar with him or carried the darn thing up the steps while it squirmed disturbingly close to his hand. As I was thinking about this, I noticed that our usual drying pad was missing from the counter top. 

"It's in the wash," Ren said in response to my puzzled look. "The snake got away, so I had to wash it. That bugger is fast!"

Looking at the disinfectant wipes and everything that was pushed aside on the counter, images of Stow loosening the lid of the jar to get a better look flashed through my mind. 

"Don't you think the snake is pretty overwhelmed by us? Maybe we should put him some place quieter," I suggested, feigning concern about the snake in the hopes that Ren would agree to take the jar off the kitchen counter and put it into the garage. 

Mysteriously, the kids didn't seem to be the least bit fazed by this new addition to our family. (Then again, Ren is their father, so maybe this isn't such a mystery after all). By dinner time, Sky had determined that the snake was a venom-less, non-poisonous brown snake. I managed to get everyone through the dinner, homework, and baths without weighing in on possible names or giving ANY INDICATION WHATSOEVER that I would be willing to house a snake. Still, there seemed to be a general assumption that the snake was here to stay. 

When I left for work the next morning, I asked Ren to let the snake go before the kids got home.

"Okay," he responded distractedly. I couldn't tell whether he was not listening or whether maybe he thought a snake would make a nice pet, but I was pretty sure it'd still be here when I got home.

It was.

Ren was exhibiting an odd inertia about the whole thing, and I knew it was the kind of inertia that would lead us to becoming a two-pet family, so, before dinner on the second night, I took matters into my own hands and sent the kids out on a repatriation mission. They knew that the snake would die if we didn't either feed it or let it go, and they also knew--though I never said as much--that there was no WAY I was about to start feeding a snake. So, they traipsed out into the empty field behind our house and let not-so-little Snakey go.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is, but I do know that I won't walk through the basement without turning the lights on ever again. And, I also know that a while pets can be a great addition to any family, it's okay to let the snake back out into the yard.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Meet Momo

Momo, assessing us at the Humane Society
Meet Momo, the kids' first ever pet. Besides the bullfrog tadpole I inadvertently helped kill, Ren and I managed to make it well into our tenure as parents without dealing with an animal. But, then we caved.

Given Pink's asthma and allergies, you are probably wondering what in the world we were thinking. Turns out, I wasn't thinking clearly at all when I suggested to Ren that the kids might like a cat. This was three days after Pink's survived her first sleepover at a friend's house. The friend had two cats, so I figured I'd get called to pick her up somewhere around 10 pm. But, not only did she make it through the night, she did it without needing any Benadryl. If that's not a sign that we should go out and get a cat, I don't know what is.

Stow's regression this summer was part of my thinking, too. In the midst of the multiple meltdowns he had, I often wondered whether a pet might help calm him. Lots of kids have pets and work out many of their socialization kinks by hanging out with animals. Plus, he's done so well with hippo-therapy (or as we call it, OT on a horse), that I thought he could transfer some of those interaction skills to a pet at home.

The kids and their various challenges weren't the only thing on my mind, though. To be honest, the other reason I started thinking about a pet is that I thought Ren could use some company now that Stow has started kindergarten.

Still, when I suggested a cat, I entirely expected Ren to say no. He has always been a dog person, and ever since that summer evening kickball game when I was 9--the one where I got jumped on by Joey, the neighbor's Great Dane that, I swear, was taller than a grown man, and ended up in the ER--I have been a cat person. I never imagined Ren would cross over to my side, but I was wrong. Like so many other times in our many years of marriage, he was not only not surprised when I suggested the cat, he was also thinking the exact same thing.

So, that very afternoon we started our quest for a pet.

First, we went to the Humane Society. There we learned that they were completely out of cats. Not willing to be discouraged, we drove to a different Humane Society 30 minutes away. That second place, awkwardly placed in the middle of a pet store, had plenty of kittens, so the kids played with several of them and picked out one that they promptly fell in love with and named Pingu. We left an application for Pingu and waited to hear from the director.

The following day, our application was resoundingly rejected. (Because on the application I suggested that the cat might go outside from time to time.) Have you ever seen the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi? That's what this Humane Society was like ("NO PET FOR YOU!!"). Not only would they not believe me when I told them I didn't know that our local ordinances forbade cats from going outside (which sounds the opposite of humane to me, by the way), they also told me I could never, ever adopt a pet from them again. I was forever blacklisted. Apparently, the brief application I filled out was more than enough to convince them that we were the worst possible pet family on the planet. (I could post a copy of the letter I sent them afterwards, pointing out that they were failing at every part of their mission to place pets in families and to educate people about the humane treatment of animals, but I figured you guys have probably had enough of my ranting. Plus, it turns out that I wasn't the only one to experience their soup-nazi-like rejection. Yelp and other websites were full of horror stories about them.)

Unfortunately, I didn't know any of this BEFORE taking the kids to fall in love with Pingu. And, while our failed attempt to get a kitten seemed like a sure sign from the universe that we should rethink our plan, especially since Stow, Sky, and Ren ALL left the second Humane Society sniffing and sneezing, and Pink's eye swelled during the car ride home, the kids were more determined than ever to get a pet.

So, we decided to try again the following weekend.


That's when we found Momo.

*****

The day we brought Momo home, two lamps got broken and two cars got scratched. I can't imagine worse omens. But here, nearly 20 years into my relationship with Ren and more than 10 years after becoming special needs parents, I have finally learned that sometimes the most joy can be found when we ignore the signs.

To manage the allergies, we decided to restrict Momo to certain rooms and keep her off the furniture. Our gradual adjustment has shown us that no one is as allergic as we feared, and as long as Ren keeps up with his vacuuming habits and as long as the kids wash their hands and take their allergy meds, all goes pretty well.

Momo not staying off the furniture.
Of course, I didn't even come close to anticipating what the real problem of owning a pet would be. And, honestly, I can't begin to tell you why I didn't KNOW that having a kitten in the house would turn things on their ear. In another excellent example of my permanent naivete despite so very many opportunities for me to learn to know better, I had no idea that Stow would lose his ever-loving mind when the cat came to stay.  But he did, and it took weeks for us to be able to get through any kind of routine smoothly again. WEEKS!

Photo edited to make it publishable on my G-rated page.
He's very slowly adjusting to her, though we STILL can't get him to stop mixing her food into her water or to refrain from carrying her around when he's half-naked (which is most of the time) despite the fact he has a bit of a contact allergy to cats. And, he has NO idea how to interact with a cat that isn't completely terrifying for the cat.

Still, we're hopeful. We're hopeful that, one day, both Momo and Stow can look back and laugh about all the ways they learned how to make it in this world together.