Thursday, September 9, 2021


Some of you have asked how Ren is doing, which made me realize it’s been awhile since I’ve written a proper update. So, now I present to you, ANSWERS TO ALL OF YOUR PRESSING QUESTIONS ABOUT REN: 

Answer #1: First, and most importantly, vacuuming is still Ren’s life source. Or should I say life force?! I guess it’s probably both. The kids know if dad is vacuuming, all is well with the world, and if he’s not, well, something’s off. Some of you may call that an obsession. I call it the world’s easiest way to know if your spouse is feeling ok physically and mentally. And, I can tell you, Ren is feeling fine!

I’m not sure how SHIRO feels about Ren’s vacuuming habit, but I’ve got to admit, I’m a huge fan of the reduction in dog hair around the house. Given the fact that she dutifully comes and lies down next to him when he grabs the vacuum and the bag of dog treats, I’ve got to believe she doesn’t mind it too much!

Have I ever told you how good Ren is at getting animals to do what he wants them to do? Are we the only family with a cat that knows how to beg for food?

Answer #2: The spine is still in one piece. Well, actually, it’s in a lot of pieces, including a not insignificant quantity of extra titanium pieces! But, for now, the pieces are all where they belong. In fact, they’ve been in the right place for TWO WHOLE YEARS, which, trust me, in the world of spine surgeries feels like a blessed eternity. 

X-ray from Ren’s 2-year follow up appointment

We know that one day it is likely that what remains un-fused may go south like the rest of the spine did, but that day is not today. And, Ren is tremendously adept at making things work with the spine he has. The man has more overall flexibility than I do (darn him!), and aside from a few notable (and entertaining) exceptions (like swimming and being able to get himself out of a deep chair…and, oh yeah, the alpine slide), you would never know he’s had seven spine surgeries!

Answer #3: Ren’s playbook of luuuuv, a lifelong go-to source. How do I know he loves me? He makes my tea and picks up the dog poop. When it comes to words, though, his skills are less developed. I’ve been working on a translation guide:
Standard Japanese  /  Ren’s Japanese


Hello? (On the phone) / uhn

Welcome home (when I get home from work) / uhn

How was your day? / (silence)

Yes. (In response to a question, even if it’s not a yes-no question) / uhn
I read somewhere that the average number of words exchanged between a married Japanese couple in a day is well below 100 words. I don’t know if that’s true, and I can’t remember the exact number. I just remember thinking it was shockingly low. But then I started noticing how many words Ren actually says in a day. Many people say that a healthy relationship in Japan is one that requires few words. Lucky for us, then!!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Shiro Goes to School

School started this week. Before we got Shiro, we weren't entirely certain we would try to send her to school with Stow right away. We wanted to be sure that they had good chemistry and that Stow wouldn't be distracted by her. As soon as the two of them met, though, we could see how she helps Stow regulate. So when the trainer came to work with us, we included a training session at his school in our schedule. 

In order to have a service dog at school, we needed to articulate specific tasks Shiro would do for Stow. For a visually impaired person or a person with epilepsy, it's perhaps easier to see the role a service animal can play. With autism, the support a dog can provide might be less obvious, so it took several conversations with the district to make sure that Shiro would actually be able to accompany Stow to school. Fortunately, when the director of special education saw him with Shiro, she immediately noticed just how much more confident and relaxed he seemed. Because she has worked with him since he was 3, she knows just how many human resource hours have gone into helping Stow regulate at school; I imagine it wasn't hard for her to appreciate the value in having Shiro there to help.

Checking out the building.
It took several conversations, some paperwork, advice sessions with the trainer, and a few phone calls to the bus company, but we finally got official permission for Shiro to go to school. The day before it started, we went to meet Stow's teacher and to introduce him to Shiro. He and Stow figured out what to do with her portable crate, where she would relieve herself, and where to put Stow's desk so Stow wouldn't be distracted and Shiro wouldn't distract others. Shiro and Stow walked the hallways with his case manager while I hung back and talked to his new teacher and the social worker. 

Heading to school.

The first day of school, Stow was up and ready to go well before the bus came. We made sure Shiro had an empty bladder, put her vest on her, and hooked her up to Stow. When the bus came, Stow went willingly and without anxiety. I had to lift and push Shiro onto the bus, though, because she was much less sure about the situation (she'd never ridden a school bus before). She came home at noon, and Stow came home at 3, and by all accounts, both of them had a great day. The second day, she went willingly onto the bus, and, other than a few hiccups (like Ren forgetting to go pick her up one day), it seems to be going really well.

Working hard at school.

People keep asking me if Shiro is helping Stow, as if she will bring some sudden and obvious change in his life. When I feel pressure to answer that question, to somehow justify all of the time and money that went into making this happen for him and our family, I get pretty anxious. I mean, it's not as if everything is magically better. But then I take a deep breath and notice that mornings have gone smoother; meltdowns have been shorter; and Stow has willingly and happily gone to school every day so far. Most importantly, Stow feels that Shiro makes things 100% easier for him. That's a huge improvement and something that we hope will lead to less stress, fewer intense moments at school, and increased independence for years to come.

Chilling after a long morning at work.