Summer Camp

When the kids were little, we started putting them in summer day camps – typically at the Y, and mostly to keep them occupied, surrounded by other kids, learning to learn from other adults, and, to be quite honest, to give me a few hours of respite from three toddlers. As the years went on, summer camp became tied up in whatever sport they were involved in at the time….soccer, golf, dance……Last year, Big Man went away to Mammoth for a few days with the cross country team to train at altitude. Two years ago, the Princess spent two weeks in Orange County at a summer dance intensive.

We’ve had a much more difficult time with Little Man as far as summer camps go.  He did the Y one year I think.  Once he was diagnosed on the spectrum, I struggled with putting him anywhere. We had a disaster of a Lego robotics camp a few years back. I ended up pulling him out a couple days before the week was out. The instructors just didn’t have it in them to deal. I lost patience, and a bit of faith.

Last year, we found an amazing camp nearby. Well, one of my close friends found it online and sent me the link. Right away, it sounded perfect for our guy.  It’s was a coding camp…five days, six hours a day, of working with technology, generally through gaming. I won’t say he had a perfect experience – autism did still rear its ugly head a few times. But the director and instructors were willing to work with him. Not to mention, he wasn’t the sole high-functioning kiddo there. We were super impressed. Much more, he made one  very good friend he still keeps in touch with.

I started getting emails for this summer back in January. Originally, they weren’t going to have any sessions at the college nearby (a ten minute drive), but rather down in San Diego (45-60 minutes each way, depending upon traffic). I didn’t think we were going to be able to manage the logistics.  But then a few months ago, they did open sessions at the nearby campus and we signed him up right away.

This is the week of camp. He was anxious but excited yesterday morning.  He was talking about the programs he thought they might be using, really looking forward to learning.  But when I picked him up, the director said he’d had a bit of a rough afternoon. It is a LONG day – 8 hours to be exact. That’s a lot for him. Little Man wouldn’t even talk about what he’d done all day until a few hours after he got home. I do think he ran out of fuel, and lost the ability then to self-manage.  He was happy to go back today, waking at 6:30, and announcing, “Day 2!”.

I texted the director a bit ago, just giving him some hints and tips for dealing with Little Man. He responded right away, letting me know things were going well today, and that he was appreciative of the input.  Again, I’m sure our son isn’t the only spectrum kid they’re dealing with. He can’t be. But if you know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism. They’re just as different from each other as anyone else.

I’m not picking him up today, as I have a work event, but I’m still anxious to hear how his day went. He is doing something he loves, so hopefully that keeps the issues to a minimum. And on Friday, we’ll get to meet his instructors and classmates, and see what he’s been doing all week.

Once Again

I’m once again faced with the situation of Little Man having  new friend – one who has invited him over to hang out, and to go to the zoo at some point this summer. He went to this friend’s house for a birthday party yesterday, and even over an extended afternoon, seemed fine. But I find myself faced with the dilemma/decision/choice of telling this friend’s mom about Little Man’s autism.

Maybe she knows, or at least senses something. She didn’t say anything yesterday when I picked him up, but she has to wonder why a 13 year old chooses to hang out with a 10 year old. She said my guy waits for her son by the gate at school each morning too, and I know they spend hours facetiming, talking all things video game.

I haven’t had to struggle with this issue in a few years. What do I tell the parent of a new friend, when do I tell that parent? What’s best? What’s right for all involved?

If you didn’t know he’s autistic, you may just guess he’s either a lot younger than his chronological age, or just very immature, unless you have the pure pleasure of seeing him in meltdown or tantrum mode. Then you know for sure something is different. I don’t even know if his friend realizes he’s autistic.

I think part of me just wants him to be able to engage with friends without having Autism hanging over his head, part of me wants his life experience to be “normal” and me not have to consider this decision. But then am I being fair to that parent by not giving them fair warning, especially when they are going to be in charge of my child for a few hours? Sigh…….

What would you want to know about your child’s new friend, and when would you want to know it?

The animal half of our Herd

Re-Posting this today seems appropriate. Our neighbors, and very good friends,  had to put one of their fur herd to sleep this morning. Buzz was loved by our family, and was the first of the Disney-theme-named animals on the street. Buzz, as you cross the rainbow bridge, know you were loved well. You gave great joy, and lots of laughter and love to your family and the B’side hood.

The number of animals in our household equals the number of humans, if you don’t count the fish. If you do count the fish, then the animals have us 2-to-1. But I digress (already?).  All our animals – again, excluding the fish – were rescued in one way or another. Names  have not been changed to protect the innocent, as they deserve what they get. I love them each to pieces.

First, and oldest, is Bruce the Cocker Spaniel. We got Bruce when he was maybe 7 months old. Adorable, right? The friend of Spouse’s employee was moving and couldn’t have a dog at the new place. Bruce was going to be taken to the pound if a new home wasn’t found, so he ended up here. His name when we got him was Happy. There was no way I could call a dog “Happy” and not nearly lose it, so we decided a new name was in order. Little Man was in his Nemo-obsessed phase, and Bruce the shark was one of his favorite characters. Thus, Bruce ended up with his new name. Bruce is now 8 1/2 years old. He’s a typical cocker, aka pain in the tush. He’s an alert barker, and since the windows in our front room don’t have blinds or curtains, and owing to the fact there are window seats in each of those windows, he sits there all day and barks his fool head off at everything and everyone who comes into view. I know he thinks he’s protecting us. But seriously, it’s enough to push a person over the edge, particularly when you’re on a conference call you can’t mute, and you have to explain the very loud round of barking in the background. Bruce can be a wee bit temperamental, and he is definitely the alpha male. He can also be needy in that typical small-dog way. He wants in our laps, even though he is a large cocker and doesn’t really fit. Oh, and he just LOVES to pull tissue out of the trash cans and shred it, leaving paper trails all over the house. He also snoodles all over any blanket, towel, or shirt left on the floor. He had lately taken up a habit of pooping in Spouse’s favorite work shoes (those are in the trash now), apparently mad we took the carpeting out of our room and replaced it with wood flooring. I have to clean my front windows every other day for the marks he leaves with his nose while staring out said windows. He hates my vacuum cleaner. If it’s left out where he can get to it, he pees on it. Every. Single. Time. He frequently meanders through the fountain in our courtyard, then bolts into the house, leaving a trail of wet, often also muddy, paw prints. He particularly loves doing this right after I’ve cleaned the wood floors. Bruce is a bolter. Seriously. If he gets out, he takes off like a shot down the street, and it’s game on. I usually have to get in the car to chase him down. He thinks it’s a big game.

Next up is Livvy the Labrodoodle. She’s actually 75% lab, and just 25% standard poodle, so guess what? She sheds like a fiend. I’m fairly sure she can walk into a room, and intentionally shoot loose fur all over the place. I sweep our downstairs every day, and vacuum the family room every other day for this reason. I often believe I could cover create a new, large dog out of all the fur she sheds within a week. Being a lab, Livvy is an opportunist. She also has separation anxiety, even though she has two dogs and two cats to entertain her when we’re gone. If I’m not careful about closing the pantry door, completely cleaning off any dishes left in the sink, pushing any edible items to the very center of the kitchen island, and making sure there isn’t a pan of oil left on the stove, she will have it within minutes of us walking out the door. She once even pulled a crockpot (think the heaviest ceramic you can) full of water and a little bit of chicken off the kitchen counter while I took the kids to school. You guessed it – shattered the pot, and left water all over the kitchen floor. If some snack box is missing, she’s typically hauled it to the back yard and gone to town. And that thing about dogs dying from eating chocolate? Yeah, that doesn’t hold water for Livvy. She’s eaten full containers of Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and fudge, and never blinked an eye. She has an iron stomach. Oh yeah, she’s pretty easy to train to do anything else, except stop counter surfing and nosing her way into the pantry. We bought her a feeder bowl to slow down her intake at meal times. She learned to lay down and hook her dew claw over the edge of the bowl to hold it still so she can inhale as quickly as she ever did. She is very submissive, the sweetest dog I’ve ever had in my life, but OY! she takes a lot of mental energy to stay ahead. If Livvy gets out by herself, she will usually just go say hello to the three dogs across the street, see if the kids next door are outside, and then meander back home. If she gets out with Bruce, forget it. They’re having a party running all around – and I do mean all around – the neighborhood. When we finally get them home, she lays down in the fountain mentioned above. She loves to lay on clean clothes. If she finds even one sock on the floor, she will lay on it. Every stuffed animal becomes her “baby” (at least until she rips all the stuffing out). She carries socks around the house. I’m forever finding lonely socks in the pantry, the kitchen, the stairs, hallway, and backyard.

only on the left side

Maizy will only sleep on the left side of the recliner

livvy found a pillow on the floor

Livvy found a pillow on the floor, which is entirely better than just one sock

sisters

Sisters

the blankie is over here momma maizy

i know you’re sitting over there, Momma, but the blankie is over here

Why I sleep on the edge of the bed

This is why I sleep on the edge of the bed.

Willie neighborhood watch

Willie’s favorite spot to watch what’s going on in the ‘hood

Willies lizard catch

Willie’s gift for me today

Our youngest canine is Maizy the Yorkie. I found her on the walking/running trail that goes around our neighborhood. She was following another runner. I stopped and said, “That’s really cool your dog follows you without a leash while you run!” The runner responded it wasn’t her dog, it had been following her the last quarter mile. I couldn’t leave this little girl out there. We have lots of open space around us. Coyotes, hawks, raccoon, possum, and skunks roam at will. She would have been a midnight snack. She came home with me, and we made every effort to find her humans. Five days later, she became a permanent part of our household. I never, ever wanted a little tiny dog. They’re usually yippy, ankle biters. Maizy is too cute for words, and very attached to me. She follows me everywhere. She sleeps by my side or at my feet. She will only sit on my left side when I sit in my green recliner. She loves to lay in blankets. She does NOT like to have the hood put up on her sweater. She will bark when the other dogs bark, even though there’s no way she can see what they’re barking at out the front window. If Spouse sleeps in on the weekends, she will stand on his chest and bark until he wakes up. He gives them their treats when he goes downstairs in the morning, and she that’s how she lets him know he’s behind schedule.

We have two cats, Willie and Keela. Keela is your typical cat-cat. We got her from the Humane Society for free. Her eyelashes were growing into her eyes, so they’d had to remove part of her eyelids and they couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t have to be done again, thus no fee for adopting her. She’s black, fluffy, independent, and does not like the dogs. She terrorizes Maizy, often trapping her upstairs or down just by blocking Maizy’s path. She will avoid Little Man all day, but when it’s time to go to bed, she’s in his room, on his bed. Her eyes do look a little weird. Her eyeteeth often hang over her upper lip (I call her Dracula when she does that). She has allergies for which she gets shots. She only likes to drink fresh water, preferably with the tap running. She turns her nose up at the community water bowls.

Last is Willie. We’ve had him almost three years. His mom was a feral cat. The kittens were rescued and hand-fed. They spent their early weeks with a litter of puppies. He’s not quite sure what he is. He talks, a lot. He won’t eat unless we walk him to his food and purr at him. He often sleeps sprawled on his back. He wrestles with Maizy. In typical cat fashion, he tries to get in every box he can find.  He will paw your face while you’re sleeping so you will wake up and pet him. He is a hunter though. I can, in the nice weather, almost daily count on an offering of some sort…..birds, lizards, mice, grasshoppers, large butterflies. At least five times a year, I’ll come home to a room full of feathers. Another bird bites the dust. I try to stop him before he finishes them off. I’ve become rather adept at catching lizards and relocating them outside, where they’re sure to be caught again. Willie is the weirdest cat I’ve ever had. He’s pretty big too at nearly 13 pounds. He’s made many friends in the neighborhood. Pretty sure he has a few feeding spots.

There ya go. The animal side of our Herd in all its glory. This is a big part of why I say I’m allowed to live here and be the Herd caretaker. If I’m not hauling kids around, I’m dealing with these animals and all their quirks. Lucky me.

Hiatus

Yes, I am still alive. I’ve been on an unintentional blogging hiatus. We’re all fine, I promise. There’s just been so much……and much that I could, but don’t feel yet comfortable writing about, some things I needed to keep to myself, deal with without putting it on blast. This parenting of teens gig is tough, and I’m learning sometimes we all  need to just huddle and manage within our own little herd.

Also, we traveled over spring break, and while there was some access to wi-fi, we needed time away from the outside world. The trip was everything we needed it to be – family insulation. We drove, we hiked, we biked, we laughed, we played games, we watched movies, we talked. The kids did snip at each other – hard to not lose patience when you’re all confined to an RV rather than a home with all kinds of corners to retreat. But it was an amazing, awesome, beautiful trip.

Someday maybe I’ll share what we’ve been dealing with. Again, it’s nothing super serious, just growing pains. There have been so many emotions, days of worry and anxiety, some anger, some tiny fears. We’re okay, and I will be back, I promise. Just taking some time to handle things WITH my babies rather than processing them on a screen through written words.

I will leave you with this….the Herd hiking in Arches National Park, Utah.

IMG_1693

I Hit My Knees

I grew up in the church.  It has just always been a part of my life. I don’t remember a time I didn’t believe in God, pray, know that Jesus died for me. My faith is a part of me.  I developed a more personal relationship with God as I grew into my teens and college years. Life was not perfect…my Daddy had heart issues, my parents went through a divorce, our family suffered through severe financial struggles. But it was not until Big Man was born that I ever found myself falling to my knees.

When I was admitted to the hospital, just over halfway through my pregnancy, prayers went up at our church, throughout our family and spread through friends.  Once Big Man was born, the network expanded literally around the world. I didn’t realize the extent at the time. We were so caught up in the world of prematurity and the NICU. When you find yourself with your child in the NICU, you enter a new place, a new normal. I prayed continually, but not many of those prayers were very complete. They often came in brief sentences, or parts of sentences. My thoughts were so scattered, the emotions so intense I could not formulate complete thoughts. Sometimes, oftentimes, I was reduced to just saying, “Please,  God.”

When Big Man was about three weeks old, I came home from visiting him with a feeling that something just wasn’t right with him. He didn’t look right. He wasn’t acting the way he normally did.  He had more episodes than usual of apnea/bradychardia. He was fussy. He was too sensitive for me to hold him that day. I tried twice and he dropped his heart rate and stopped breathing both times. So the entire time I was with him that day, I stared at him through the walls of his isolette. When I got home that night, I went into his bedroom. I rarely went in there while he was in the NICU. It was just too hard to see a room all ready for a baby who would not be home for months. It was too difficult to think I should still be pregnant with him. Seeing his empty room brought home the fact I was a daily visitor to my tiny infant in a NICU world full of lights, beeps, alarms, IV lines, sickness and even death, rather than being a complete family under one roof. But that night, I went into his room and stood before his crib. And I hit my knees. I found the words to bargain with God for my son’s life. I cried for all we had lost. I sobbed in fear. And after a long while, I felt some small peace steal over me, like warm, comforting arms wrapping around me. I was not completely at ease, but I had someone stronger than myself to lean on.

We went back to the NICU at 10:30 that night because I was still unable to rest. Turned out Big Man had his own staph infection. It was agonizing news to receive, just when we had begun to think we were out of the woods as far as the scariest time in the NICU with a micro-preemie. Three days later, just before he was scheduled to have a spinal tap, he turned a corner. Within seven days, he’d beaten the infection.

I will never, ever forget that night. I will always remember with such clarity that moment of complete surrender. I can’t say that I never tried to negotiate with God for my son’s life again, but I knew he was not in my hands.  I’ve not hit my knees that way since then, but I know I can.

Bombarded

I have been feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted lately. Anyone else? I couldn’t figure out why for awhile, but then realized how frequently the news, posts on Facebook, tweets, and other television shows had me feeling I was on high alert all the time, constantly  reactionary. More than one friend informed me she’d stopped watching tv, listening to the news, and had gone on a Facebook hiatus for the very reason  we are being continually bombarded with news and stories we MUST react to, positively or negatively, and that is draining us.

I refuse to step away. I feel a responsibility to be fully informed, no matter how draining it might be. I’m wary of those stories and sites that are “fake news”, relying strictly on reputable, respectable resources, and always double-checking their value. If we bury our heads in the sand because we are feeling bombarded isn’t going to make it go away, or make it better. But we all must handle it as best we see fit.

I have learned I need to schedule my social media time, and not look at it last thing at night nor first thing in the morning. If I wake to the real world slowly, and walk away from it before going to sleep at night, I feel much more capable of an appropriate response, of not becoming overwhelmed or exhausted. I have enough going on in this household, managing two teens in  high school who are want to drive me around the bend as it is. I have to learn to deal with all the outside stuff at a level that doesn’t interfere with my ability to parent, to wife, to work. I have re-learned the capacity to compartmentalize to a certain extent. It’s made things much easier. I’m also running a lot more, have returned to yoga and Pilates, and make a point of taking care of myself. My kids are wondering why I’m in “real clothes” and heels (boots) instead of being in yoga pants all the time. Being dressed, make-up on, and with hair done makes me feel better, gives me more confidence, somehow makes me feel more capable of handling whatever life is going to throw at me that day.

The other thing I’ve forced myself to remember is that I don’t HAVE to react to every little thing. I’ve set the bar pretty high, and I don’t engage in debate, most of the time. I love my friends and family, and want to maintain those relationships. A lot of people have yet to learn the skill of scrolling right by a post with an opinion that doesn’t match theirs. Not every article, every post, every personal opinion requires a response. It saves a TON of angst to just keep moving along to those posts of your friend’s kids saying funny things, or what your mom is eating for dinner, or that sunset on the beach in your favorite town in the world. If we focused on how we are the same, instead of how our opinions are different, maybe we’d all be a lot less stressed out. Just my two cents, for whatever their worth.

I’m feeling less bombarded the last few days. I’ve retaken control. It’s refreshing and a relief.

 

That certain point

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to reach that certain point in the Holiday season when I’m tapped out – exhausted mentally, emotionally, physically – from all the demands, all the to-do’s, all the parties, shopping, planning, prep. I live on the verge of tears alternating with angry outbursts for a couple of days, and then it all comes back together again.

I reached that certain point this morning. The kids still have one more day of school after today. The older two are smack in the middle of first semester finals. They’re tired, overwhelmed, cranky, not so nice all the time. Little Man is feeling the stress of an upcoming change in routine. Big Man still needs to go to the mall to do his shopping, but I can’t find it in me to actually take him. My shopping is done, but the wrapping is only about halfway finished. Yet all I want to do is sit on the couch with my coffee, watching random, mindless tv.

Anyone else get in this funk every year? What do you do to pull yourself back up?