Saturday, August 27, 2011

New Wheels, Old Attitudes

I picked out a new bike yesterday!  Happy birthday to me, I'm quite excited.  My old bike had mouldered in the shed ever since before our son was born, and is essentially a rustbucket now.  Overhauling it would have cost just about as much as a new bike.  I've been riding my husband's bike this summer, and I decided I'd really like to have a new one of my own.  Thanks to some birthday money from my parents and my husband's parents, I could go looking for one.  Now we can ride together as a family, and I can ride for exercise more comfortably.

I looked quite a few places:  big box stores, toy stores, professional bike stores, and sporting goods stores.  I discovered that prices vary wildly, from "cheap" bikes for adults starting around $125 (no gears to shift, no hand brakes, for flat terrain only) and going up quickly to decent hybrid and mountain bikes ($189-$300) and into the stratosphere for bikes for serious athletes ($500-$1500 and more).  I realized right away that in a big box or toy store you're on your own for your purchase - you just pick one out and hope it's been assembled correctly and safely.  Thankfully my husband can trouble-shoot bikes, and would check over anything I bought to make sure it was safe. 

I also discovered something quite unpleasant in the process of looking for a bike.  I realized that because I am overweight, some stores catering to "serious" cyclists will not encourage my patronage.  That is, they'll ignore me and apparently hope I'll go away quietly.  Only one store did that to me, but it was a most humiliating experience (especially since I had my daughter with me).  There were a handful of staff in the store, and not all of them were busy with other customers, but no one even greeted me as I looked around.  Part of me would like to generously think it was just a bad day for them, and that they just weren't paying attention.  A much larger part of me strongly suspects that to them I didn't look like someone that would be serious about purchasing a bike.  Their loss - neither I nor my husband will go there again.  My husband has been a "serious" cyclist in the past, and would like to take up the sport again.  He needs his current bike tuned up/overhauled now, and he will need a new bike in the not too distant future.  He won't be refitting the old one or buying a new one at the store that snubbed me.  No wonder people "of a certain size" don't like going in sports stores, if that's how we can be treated.  I was (and still am) quite annoyed with their weight prejudice.  Everyone has to start somewhere - why not with good advice from experienced cyclists?  At least they could have given me their courteous attention, instead of making me feel like I had no business being in their store because I don't look like an athlete.

Fortunately, I also had some very good experiences while bike hunting, particularly with Syracuse Bicycle on Erie Boulevard, and at Dick's Sporting Goods in Clay.  Both stores were immediately helpful and friendly, and their salespeople took the time to suggest bicycles that would suit my height and my anticipated riding needs.  Both stores had a large selection of bikes in a wide range of prices, and the salespeople didn't have any "attitude" about my perceived fitness level.  In the end, I purchased my bike from Dick's. 

Tonight I think I'll go for a nice, long ride.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Old Friends, New Friends, Changes

The past couple weeks have been full of changes for our family, with neighbors and friends moving, new neighbors (hopefully soon to be friends) moving in, old friends reappearing in our lives, and old friends passing on.  It's been good to renew and reminisce, hug and commiserate, encourage and laugh.  The grieving has been harder.

It's been good for our kids to see and hear about these life passages, but hard as well.  Death and change are just another part of life, and dealing with them a facet of growing up, but sometimes it's not easy.  (Sometimes it stinks beyond words.)  It's not easy at any age, really, if you love and care for the people you know.  It's only "easy come, easy go" if you don't form any real, lasting attachments; if you don't care enough to mind when someone leaves, if you don't love enough to hurt at partings.

Today my Mom called.  Usually she's the one who can hear me say one word and ask, "What's wrong?"  (We call it "Mom radar.")  Today it was the other way around.  A dear friend she and my Dad have known for over 40 years passed away yesterday.  My parents met "Aunt" Bea and "Uncle" Bill when I was a baby.  My sisters and I knew their two sons; we played with them during the time we lived near each other, while our parents talked and hung out.  I still remember Uncle Bill buying sparklers and lighting them up for us in their back yard on muggy summer evenings.  We'd play with the sparklers and chase fireflies and each other until after the stars came out, then we'd fall asleep in the car on the ride home.  Years went by, and our families moved miles/states/countries apart, but Mom and Aunt Bea always stayed in touch.  We saw them a handful of times through our teen years, and my parents visited them after they moved to North Carolina.  Just a couple months ago Uncle Bill was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.  He passed away yesterday, not long after a chemo treatment; his heart couldn't take it any more.  Mom and Dad will see Aunt Bea in a couple weeks, on their way down that direction to visit my youngest sister and her family.

My parents are understandably upset and sad.  From their group of longstanding friends, a handful of couples they've know for decades, Mom is the only one who isn't a widow now.  Dad has seen many of his friends pass on in the last few years (one just a month ago), and my Uncle Chris had a scare with Guillane-Barre Syndrome recently.  I wish I could help them more, but I haven't walked their path yet.  I can offer support and love, but not understanding.  It will be my generation's turn soon enough.

The kids have been a bit unnerved by all the deaths and illnesses around them this summer.  A friend's father whose cancer has returned, a little girl murdered in a town nearby, Uncle Chris' illness, their cousin's heart surgery, Uncle Bill, and the list goes on.  I've tried to comfort them and explain things to them without scaring them, but sometimes life is very scary even though we have hope in Christ.  I hope and pray we don't lose anyone else any time soon.  Sometimes life seems so short.

I have to go hug my kids now. . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

High Hopes

School starts for our kids in a little less than two weeks.  They're both as ready as they can be, but I'm not sure I'm ready yet.  It's not that I want them to have more time off (heaven only knows I'd relish a few days to myself).  It's that I'm a little apprehensive about the bullying situation our son found himself in last year.

The junior high school has been very responsive to us this summer.  I've spoken to the assistant principal, the guidance counselor, the director of special services, and to Safety Guy's new resource teacher.  The assistant principal asked me a number of questions about how we could help Safety Guy make the transition to seventh grade.  The guidance counselor gave him a private tour of the school and walked him through his entire schedule.  We'll be meeting the new director of special services next week, so she can get to know Safety Guy.  And his resource teacher called me at home tonight to talk about him, and has already addressed one of the issues I brought up regarding gym class that the assistant principal passed on to her.  I couldn't ask for a better response to my requests for help.  I really am hopeful that this will be a better year for Safety Guy. 

No, I'm nervous about the random factor - the bullies themselves.  I don't think I pushed hard enough on the middle school last year about the bullying, so I'm going to be even more on top of it this year in junior high.  I'm not looking for perfection, but I'm absolutely expecting accountability, and hoping for progress.  I'm hoping for less provocation and bullying by the other students against Safety Guy, and for less anxiety and fewer overreactions from him.  I hope that the bullies learn to curb their hurtful behavior (for their own sakes, as well as for our son and their other victims), and I hope our son learns further coping skills and strategies to deal with bullying, and how to stand up for himself with proper assertiveness.  The teachers and staff can't be everywhere all the time, but I hope more is done this year to separate the bullies from their victims, and make the consequences against the bullies stick.  Because I'm under no illusions about bullying going away.  It's part of our culture now, more than ever, sad to say.  But that doesn't mean we have to take it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Self-Awareness, Radios and Railroads

"Mom, am I socially awkward?" Safety Guy asked me late last night.

How to answer that without being tactless ("Ya THINK?!") or rude ("BWAHAHAHAAAA!") or crying (because his sudden self-awareness took me by surprise and made me have a total flashback to realizing what his Aspergers would mean for his life when he was diagnosed) took a few seconds of iron self-control on my part.  Then I gently said, "Yes, honey, you do struggle with being socially awkward."

He wasn't upset to have his question confirmed; he was searching for answers about himself.  We had a long conversation, starting with his question about his social skills, and going on from there through his anxieties about the upcoming school year, his sense of loneliness and feeling like he's not fitting in even when he's surrounded by other kids, and wondering if his Dad really understands him (which is a resounding, Yes, very much so!).  He was so open and sincere, and so in touch with his emotions and able to express them.  I was floored.  He has taken a major, huge, MASSIVE emotional growth spurt this summer to be able to discuss his feelings and needs with us so openly, and with greater understanding than he's ever shown before.

Some of his questions were funny:  "Mom, am I a nerd?  Because I don't wear glasses, and they always dress up."  I confess I hedged a little on this one.  "Um, no, you're not really a nerd - you just have some of the characteristics of someone distracted by their own interests and way of seeing the world to the point of being socially awkward - kind of like a nerd.  But you're not - really."  Because he doesn't fit the stereotype, but I can see why some other kids might draw the parallel.

"Mom, why do you seem to GET me more than Dad does?  Sometimes it seems like you're reading my mind.  It's creepy!"  I explained that it was a Mom thing - most Moms spend so much time with their kids that they're naturally tuned in to how their kids think and what they need, and can anticipate how they'll react to most situations.  I explained that his Dad and I are like radios, and Safety Guy is the broadcasting station.  I pick up his "signal" a bit stronger than his Dad does, even though we're both tuned in to the same station.  Safety Guy liked that analogy.

He asked why he and his Dad sometimes don't get along.  I explained that it was like having two railroads running through the same territory.  Both guys are very linear thinkers, with a clear idea of how they expect a given situation to play out, how events should unfold.  When things don't go as they anticipate, they can get derailed (anxious, frustrated, or angry).  So when they're trying to negotiate the same terrain, and their linear expectations don't line up, sooner or later they'll cross tracks, and there will be some sort of crash, ranging from a fender-bender to mass destruction.  It's hard for Safety Guy to bend his line of thinking to parallel his father's when it's an authority issue.  Other times they both need to bend to get along.  And sometimes his father bends to go along with him.  Safety Guy liked that analogy too, since he's loved trains for as long as he can remember.

I was sad to realize how much Safety Guy realizes that he's different than his peers - but I also had to reassure him that his feelings are totally common for kids his age.  Very few kids are blessed enough to feel like they always fit in, always know what to say or do, and never feel awkward.  Feeling out of sync with his peers is exaggerated by his Aspergers, but he's far from alone.  He was glad to hear that he's not strange or broken for feeling that way.  He does feel set apart by his Aspegers (he's realized recently that AS can be a disability as well as a different way of thinking and relating to the world, as we've always told him).  He also feels set apart by his precocious physical development.  (The only cure for that is time, when his peers eventually catch up to him.)

I am so blessed that Safety Guy wants to talk with us about such personal stuff, that he trusts us to tell him the truth with kindness.  This is such a rough age - I hope he continues to be so transparent with us, and I hope and pray for the wisdom to give him good answers, and to know when to say "I don't know, but the Lord does," when it's appropriate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Of Fluffy Cats And Paint

Princess Yakyak decided the pretty yellow cat-print-shaped blob 
would be the sun.

This weekend Princess Yakyak learned why she cannot leave her paint projects on the kitchen table.  Especially uncovered wet paint on a piece of paper being used as a palette.  Our fluffy cat, Sophia, walked through the wet paint.  She missed the other color blobs, but stepped squarely in the bright sunshine yellow.  Then she proceeded to walk across Princess Yakyak's work in progress, across the table, then jumped off onto the floor.  She meandered across the kitchen and into the computer room, and started washing her paw, which is when saw her bright mustard yellow foot and noticed that she was leaving a trail.

Ack!  Not only did I have to clean the paint off the floor ASAP, but off of Sophia, because I a) didn't want her to track the bright yellow paint onto the carpet, and b) didn't know if the paint was toxic to cats.  So I scooped her up, took her to the sink, and washed her paw.  Oooh, she was not happy with me!  She squiggled and struggled, I got scratched once, but I soaked her paw and wiped it off with paper towels.  Lots of paper towels.

So of course I took a second to snap a photo of my technicolor kitty's paw.

I put her down and went to clean up the trail she'd left.  Then I realized she was still leaving a trail as she stalked around the kitchen and glared at me while she tried to dry off her paw - this time tracks of damp, watery yellow.  I picked her up once more (she was NOT amused at ALL - if looks could kill, I'd have been bacon, extra crispy), and I washed her paw AGAIN (soap, lots of water, lots of paper towels).  She'd squished the thick yellow acrylic paint well up in between her very fuzzy toes, and her plush paw acted like a nice, absorbent sponge.  I got most of the paint off of her eventually, cleaned the paint off of myself (I looked like someone had tried to paint me with watercolors where her flailing wet paw had swiped at me), and I gave the floor another once-over.  The tablecloth was a write-off - good thing I buy cheap vinyl ones and replace them every couple months anyhow.

Sophia avoided me for the rest of the day, and meowled and squirmed when my husband picked her up in the evening.  Poor Tech Guy, he had no idea why Sophia was so annoyed with him.  I had to explain that I had ticked her off by cleaning her paw after the paint incident.  Sophia eventually forgave me, but it took most of the weekend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shooting His Mouth Off

This expression, "Shooting his mouth off," is so apropos for our son.  Safety Guy just doesn't know when to stop talking and back down.  This has been probably the biggest source of his issues in school, both in antagonizing peers and in responding to bullying.  It also makes him at times very confrontational with authority figures - with his teachers and Scout Master occasionally, and with his parents quite often.  Today has been one of those days.  I know part of his behavior is his age; part is his personality; and part is Aspergers.  But, it's ALL STINKIN' ANNOYING.  God help me, Safety Guy is making me crazy today.

My project this afternoon (aside from the normal round of cleaning house and herding laundry) is to make a "cheat sheet" for Safety Guy's new teachers and his guidance counselor.  I did this last year, and it was very helpful for the staff getting to know him.  It's a simple document, a couple pages long, listing some basic things that we think his school staff ought to know about him that you can't get from last year's report cards:  his special interests, his social limitations and issues, things that trigger his anxiety, calming techniques for when he's upset or anxious, the overt behaviors he's most likely to show when he's upset, the subtler signs that he's getting upset or overstimulated, and anything else I think they ought to know to help our son have a successful school year.

I guess channeling my aggravation this way is better than telling my son to stop being such a know-it-all, back-talking, annoying dork of a 12 year old.  ;-)   I'm trying to see the humor in the situation, and thinking of the classic Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon, and the running gag "Duck season! Wabbit season!"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keeping Busy

Only three weeks of summer vacation left for the kids.  Princess Yakyak is totally ready for school to start - if it started tomorrow, she'd be thrilled.  She needs the social stimulation and busy-ness of school, and she's anxious to see who's in her class.  Safety Guy is less thrilled that summer is winding down, and showing some anxiety about the transition, but he's ready for school to begin too.

Safety Guy had his orientation for seventh grade today, 1:1 with the guidance counselor (since we'll be out of town for the big group orientation in a couple weeks).  He'll have all the usual classes (English, social studies, math, science, health, phys ed), as well as a resource time, a study hall, and what they call Tech (and my generation called Shop Class).  No French this year, and no required music, because of his extra resource time.  We can live with that - I'd rather he focus on the fundamentals with the extra help.  I'm hoping his primary teacher will "click" with him, and have a firm hand on his class (which is likely to include many of the same kids/same behavioral issues as last year).

We did a little back to school shopping today.  Princess Yakyak is easy - she's more than willing to try things on, and good about going along with modest choices.  She picked out two nice shirts today, but didn't like the pants she tried on.  I'll take her out again next week for jeans and a jacket.  Safety Guy used to be really oppositional about trying clothes on (making shopping for his jeans a real PITA), but over the past couple years he's gotten much better.  Once he realized that trying things on gave him MORE choice, not less, he decided to go along with it.  Now we pick out items together based on looks, size and price, and he tries them on in privacy, then gives me the thumbs up/down.  He has his own taste (fairly conservative/casual, with a preference for cargo jeans, T-shirts with logos and characters on them, and hoodies), which I'm okay with.  He knows I have veto power over what the shirts say/advertise.  He also got a new backpack, one of the ones with thick elastic drawstrings instead of heavy backpack straps/buckles - he's delighted.  Sometimes it's the little things, isn't it? 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Family Day Trip

 The fountain park near the Corning Inc. headquarters building.  
The tower in the background is "Little Joe," where the company 
used to draw glass tubing for thermometers.  
(There's an image of a glassblower at the top of the tower.)

Yesterday we took a day trip to visit family around Corning, NY.  We really enjoyed the trip down - all of us were in a good mood, and we talked a lot.  The kids were full of questions and comments about all sorts of stuff, and we enjoyed being together.  We never get tired of the drive down between the Seneca and Cayuga lakes.  We got to spend time with my husband's family, and squeezed in a quick visit to see my parents.

 An Impressionist view upward through the trees in the park we visited.

We had dinner out at the Atlas Pizzeria.  It was some truly awesome pizza - you can customize your own personal pizza, or choose from their large assortment of special pizzas, or get slices, calzones, lasagna, and more.  They also do their own cheesecake and cannoli (which we didn't sample this time, but I want to try it the next time we're there).  If you're ever in Corning to see the museums, it's a great place to eat.

After the meal we took a little side trip to check out the fountain in the park by the river downtown.  The fountain is a great summer gathering place, and the area around the fountain is "paved" with the same rubber foundation used for playground mats, so kids can safety play in the splashing water.  We were the only ones there late in the day, and the kids really enjoyed shucking their sandals and playing in the water.

Safety Guy and Princess Yakyak - barefoot and fancy free.

We took a short drive around town to visit my husband's old neighborhood - some nostalgia and good memories.  Someday I'd like to take my family to see where I grew up, near Cleveland, Ohio.  My husband was there with me once, a long time ago.  My kids have never seen my old home, except on Google Maps or old photos.  Someday I'd like to drive around my old town, and visit some old friends who still live there.

 Hector Falls on the way home yesterday, on Rte. 414 below Hector, NY.  
I love these falls in all seasons; they're right beside the road.

As we drove home, we knew there would be some thunderstorms about.  When we got above Watkins Glen and started to climb the hill on 414, we could see cloud-to-cloud lightning in the distance, north and west of us.  The light show went on and on; the storm was stalled in one place, so we skirted it to the east.  It was really magnificent, the sun setting behind the mass of clouds, the lightning flicking in and out of them, and to the east the clear sky and the full moon rising.  It was one of the most unusual weather scenes I've had the pleasure to see.  As darkness fell, the light show went on and on, slowly drifting our direction but never actually getting to us.  We saw not a single drop of rain, although some of the lightning was forking the ground just a handful of miles away.  As we turned east onto I-90, the lightning continued behind us  The clouds were behind us and north of us, the edge of the storm was over us, and the sky was clear with the full moon sailing to our south.  Magnificent!  I wish I could have taken video of it.  If I'd taken pictures out the two sides of the car as we drove, you wouldn't think we were in the same vehicle on the same trip.

Safety Guy played DJ with his MP3 player as we drove, so we got to listen to a really wild mix of music (including Daft Punk, The Bee Gees, The Police, Michael Jackson, Journey, Men At Work, Elvis vs. JXL, and Huey Lewis and the News). 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Weedin' - Paintin' - Talkin'

We had such a lovely, comfortable day today.  The weather was warm but not too warm, breezy but not windy, and partly sunny with low humidity.  My favorite kind of weather!  I pulled lots of weeds, trimmed lots of finished daylily scapes, mulched a little, planted a little mugo pine and a miscanthus grass, and generally did some garden tidying.  It felt good to be outside.

I've finally got a little mojo going with my art.  I had three 11x14 canvas boards that I'd started to work on last year, playing with color.  For whatever reason, I lost interest in them and they were shelved.  I pulled them out this week and finished laying the base colors - one in graduated shades of green (chartreuse through spring into forest), one in sunset russets and golds, and one going from deep blue to intense red.  I looked at them for a few days, wondering what design  to draw on them.  I hesitated to begin with the markers - why, I'm not sure.  I wanted to do something different, but spun my wheels for a while.  Heaven only knows why I didn't think of this before, but I suddenly got the idea to get a new set of squeeze bottles with fine applicator tips (the same ones I use for glaze on ceramics) and to put moderately thick acrylic paint in them.  Voila!  Instant acrylic paint "pen."  I've been working on the sunset-toned canvas board creating designs in black for a couple days, and I really like the effect of the thicker, raised acrylic paint over the vibrant, satiny background color.  It's very textural, and catches the light.  I can imagine someone visually impaired enjoying this kind of painting - it just begs to be touched and explored with the fingertips.  Best of all, I'm having fun.  I'll have to get more bottles and keep them filled with other colors.  Ah, the possibilities!

I'm trying to get my "bike legs" back after not riding for so long.  I'd promised Princess Yakyak that I'd go for a ride tonight, so we did that at our favorite time of the evening - not long before sunset.  Our excursion took us  through a couple neighborhoods, and along a field, pond, and water-filled ditch.  Something about the scent of the field and the warm, damp, slightly compost-y smell of the pond and ditch reminds me very powerfully of my childhood.  We lived near a stretch of high tension wires, underneath which were some ditches and small catch-ponds, and an access road lined with brush and grasses, and I spent untold hours there in all seasons.  I caught frogs and tadpoles, avoided crayfish (they creeped me out), picked wild strawberries and blackberries, created trails, made hideouts, played in the mud, rode my bike, had adventures, chased grasshoppers, and generally ran wild.  Good memories!  All brought back by that indefinable late summer fragrance of a field, a pond, and a ditch.

Oh, the interview this morning went very well.  I like the Vice Principal I interviewed with.  He asked the usual assortment of teaching-related questions, and asked me some good questions about how home schooling and teaching in a co-op for home schoolers differs from teaching in a public school.  After that, we spent some time talking about Safety Guy and his transition to junior high school next month.  He wanted to get some information about Safety Guy's interests, anxieties, strong points and weaknesses.  I came away feeling that our son will be in good hands.  And, I think that I have a good chance of being hired as a substitute.  I'll know for sure after the next board meeting, where they approve new hires.  Thankfully, certified subs are usually in demand.  And, this vice principal definitely valued my experience teaching my own children and teaching in the co-op - a most refreshing attitude to encounter in a public school!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

9 to 5

Finally, I've got an interview with the local school district for substitute teaching!  Tomorrow morning I can dress up nice and try to impress the Vice Principal enough to give me a chance.  It's been a looong time since I've been in the work-outside-the-home world.  Part of me is quite excited, and part of me is a bit anxious.  Oh, I know I can do the job.  It will be a big adjustment, though, for myself and my whole family.  A bit more financial flexibility will be very welcome, I have to admit.  But I'm not looking forward to juggling work and family.  Oh well, welcome to the world of Moms with paid employment.  (Because ALL Moms are WORKING Moms - raising kids is way harder than any job I've ever had.)

Safety Guy and his cousin J., 4-wheeling last summer.  
They're both even taller and more grown-up looking this year.
Where did our little boys go?

Drama and growing pains are the order of the day here.  Safety Guy is growing.  Again.  He's the size of a grown man now - he could stop, and be just fine for the rest of his life, lol.  But he's been falling all over himself for the past two weeks.  Every time he takes a growth spurt he gets clumsy, and he's growing at full speed right now.  Unfortunately that's led to some knocks and bruises, and today he fell off a chair (while adjusting the rope on his pulley in the basement - he uses it for experiments lifting stuff).  He's hurt the outside of his foot - bruised and sprained, but I don't think it's broken.  (He was convinced he'd never walk again for a little while.)  It does mean he won't be helping with the drama production at the Summer Enrichment Program he's been going to this week - he's part of the stage crew.  He's half relieved, and half annoyed, at not being able to do his part.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

. . . . Or Else!

Summer vacation is slowly grinding to its end, and the lax habits of vacation are catching up with the kids.  Specifically, with their rooms.  Usually I'm the one to crack the whip, telling them that it's time to get on the ball and find their floors and desks and beds.  This week, however, it got on their Dad's nerves before it got on mine.   That's not a good thing.  Tech Guy gave the kids a generous warning, and an ultimatum:  they have until Friday night to clean their rooms, OR ELSE he will clean them himself on Saturday.

That threat strikes fear into their messy little souls.  Because Dad cleans with a garbage bag and a ruthless thoroughness.  But five whole days to get it done!  Wow, he must be feeling really good this week.  Each day I've reminded the kids that they need to get started - I'm not suffering through a last-minute cleaning frenzy/meltdown/pity-party/dirt-fest Friday night half an hour before bed.  Both say they've started, although you would need before/after pictures to tell which few items have been put away, or at least moved out of their previous position among the debris field.

Princess Yakyak likes me to make her a checklist for cleaning, so I did - a very SPECIFIC one.   "Clean up your room" is too broad.  It gets broken out something like this:

     Take the sheets, pillowcases and blankets off your bed.  
Bring them down to the laundry room to be washed.  
Put new sheets and pillowcases on the bed, 
and bring up the clean blankets when they're done.

     Put away all the books in your room - from the bed, the floor, the desk.  
Put them neatly upright
         on the shelves, not stacked all over.

     Clean off the top of your desk, and look through the drawers.  
Throw out anything that is garbage,
          and bag up anything that you're not going to use 
that could be donated.

And so on, for another five or six bullet points.  If she does a few each day now, she'll meet the deadline.  She likes checking things off the list as she's done.  (She's also my kid who's highly motivated by prizes or rewards in school.)

Safety Guy, on the other hand, thinks he doesn't need a checklist, or reminders, or supervision.  He believes in freestyle cleaning (which often amounts to the last-minute chucking of stuff willy-nilly into his closet, and cramming the rest into a drawer or under the bed).  I might make him a checklist anyhow.  He might use it if he thinks I'm not looking.  Just the idea that his Dad might go into his room creeps him out, let alone the thought that his Dad might get rid of something.  (Ack!!  Getting him to part with his stuff is worse than separating a big dog from a meaty bone, or liberals from entitlements.)  I'll ask him several times each day until Saturday what he's done to get his room tidied.  If I phrase my inquiries on his progress as offers to help ("If you bring your sheets down, I'll wash them for you."  "Here's your folded laundry - why don't you put it away in the drawers now.") we'll get much farther, with less hassle.  Still, it will be a race against time for Safety Guy to pull his room together before Tech Guy starts up the stairs with the dreaded garbage bag.

If you hear howling and yelling and angry words from our direction on Saturday morning, you'll know someone didn't clean their room and is suffering "cleanliness by garbage bag."  Maybe I'll go out for the day. . . .

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rainy Weekend Blahs

We've started a daily rain/thunderstorm pattern that's supposed to last most of the week.  Yesterday I had a persistent, uncomfortable sinus headache (better than The Weather Channel at forecasting a big change in the weather patterns) which left me feeling rather out of it for most of the day.  No headache today, but I've got a plugged ear - everything sounds like it's coming through a big seashell on my left, lol.  No big deal, and hopefully it will clear up without getting infected. 

The rain held off until lunch time today, so my husband and kids went out with the Boy Scouts on a community service project - clearing a section of the Link Trail (a hiking trail between the Erie Canal Trail and the Finger Lakes Trail).  I had a counseling appointment, so they were on their own, and I got some space that I badly needed after a long, stressful week.   It was nice to drive with just my music for company.  Sometime this fall I want to do a day trip on my own, just for the pleasure of driving and seeing the scenery.

My husband, being a brave soul, also took the kids and Princess Yakyak's friend T. to the local animal shelter this afternoon.  PYY is determined to volunteer there as soon as she's old enough (in a couple years).  No, they didn't come home with a new pet, but I did think it was amusing that my husband was drawn to the exact same pets I was when I visited there earlier in the week with PYY - the same black and white young male cat with mannerisms so much like my Bad Cat, and the same medium-sized young black/tan mixed hound/lab dog with the pleading, soulful eyes.  My husband - what a softy. . . .

I had vague notions of cooking out for dinner tonight, but the radar turned solid green around noon and the rain settled in for a long soaking.  I had to go for Plan B:  hot Italian poultry sausage with peppers and onions in sauce, with spaghetti.  The house smells so good right now!  And in a little while I need to bake cookies for church tomorrow - oatmeal-chocolate chip-walnut, my husband's favorite.  I don't bake as much over the summer, so this will be a real treat. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Roller Coaster Life

One more month until school starts for our kids.  The anticipation is building in our house, and with it the anxiety, especially on Safety Guy's part.  He had about one month of summer vacation where he wasn't anxious or overstimulated, bullied or out of his depth socially and emotionally.  One month between the last day of school, and the first day of Boy Scout camp. 

It was nice.

He was generally calm, mostly easygoing, pretty agreeable.  He had more patience for variations in routine, and was able to go with the flow more easily.  He had time to decompress, flake out, read, listen to music, ride his bike, watch videos, play with his vintage video games, and be alone to his heart's content.

It was VERY nice.  For all of us.

Boy Scout camp was the end of that easygoing summer reverie.  Camp was a week-long exercise in too much togetherness, huge over-stimulation, sensory overload, dietary unhappiness, disillusionment (some of his money was stolen), and homesickness.  Sure, he enjoyed earning his badges in meteorology, geology, and Indian lore, and working on his badges for camping and wilderness survival.  He got a kick out of trying the rock wall.  He liked the sing-alongs, the silly games, and hanging out with his friends at the camp fires.  But his margins were shot to heck by the end of the week.  He had HAD IT. We knew that would be the case.  He made it through with some meltdowns, and he might even go again next year.  But, it was the end of his summer vacation mentally.

Now he's anticipating the beginning of seventh grade.  Junior high school.  His anxiety has started increasing, and he's been perseverating on the transition.  New teachers, new classrooms, new routines and transitions, new principal, new EVERYTHING - except for the prospect of having the same old bullies in many of his classes.  That got old real fast last year, and he's not looking forward to that again this year.  He's seen some of the bullies at the pool this summer, and when the bullies know I'm there they don't go too far with Safety Guy.  Still, Safety Guy doesn't like seeing them AT ALL, anywhere.  (I had to explain to him that it's a public pool - anyone can go there.  Safety Guy wasn't impressed with our civic freedoms in this case.)  As far as he's concerned, it's still summer, but it's not quite as relaxed as it was early in the season.  Now he's anticipating September - and most of what he's anticipating about it will be stressful for him.  There's no way around it.

He's still giving me occasional grief about sending him back to public school.  We've been over the reasons for that decision many times:  that he needed more help than I was able to give him on my own, that he works well with different teachers and has made a lot of progress, that I had a lot of health issues over the past 5 years and I was burnt out, that I need to go back to work soon.  He sometimes says he feels like I don't want him around as much as I used to, which is NOT the case at all.  But, I think hidden in his frustration with me is a kernel of awareness that living with him and teaching him and dealing with his autism 24/7 was difficult for me and eventually became too much for me to handle effectively.  I want the best for him.  My flagging energy and decreasing focus on teaching the kids were a huge reason for our decision to stop home schooling.  (I've been SO careful to not make it sound like his Aspergers was the primary reason for sending him and his sister back to school - but it was a large part of that decision.  He's not stupid.)

You can probably read more than a little Mom Guilt between the lines here.  It's true.  But sending the kids back to public school has still been the best decision we've made for him as he's gotten older, and for me as well.  I'm hopeful that we can work with the school as the demands of his education grow, and the social/emotional issues of being in junior high put increasing pressure on him.  It's going to be an interesting year.  A real roller coaster, if I'm any judge of things.

Might as well hop in the front car and enjoy the ride - it's too late to get off now.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Loving, Losing, Praying, Thankful

The past month has been a merry-go-round of emotions in my family and with my friends.  There have been illnesses, accidents, and deaths; fun times, victories, and grace.  Tears and anger and frustration, joy and contentment.  Confusion and clarity.  Some days too much emotional input, some days just enough.

My father suffered a leg injury early last month while mowing the yard - his leg got caught between the riding mower and the guy wire for a power line pole, resulting in a deep bone bruise and laceration to his shin.  (Being my Dad, he finished mowing the yard before limping into the house to tell my mother what had happened.)  The injury still hasn't healed inside after a couple courses of antibiotics, so the wound will likely have to be opened, cleaned out, and packed, possibly multiple times.  Just the idea sounds gross, and my Dad hasn't been pain-free in weeks now.

A good friend of my father's, the president of his model airplane club, passed away unexpectedly a couple weeks ago.  That hit my father very hard.

A long-time friend of our family, my "Uncle" Bill, has been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.  Uncle Bill and his wife, my "Aunt" Bea, have been friends with my parents for over 40 years.  The prognosis isn't very good.  My parents are understandably upset on their behalf, as am I.

My 13 year old niece had open heart surgery last week, to insert a valve to fix a congenital heart defect.  While this surgery has been anticipated and planned for a long time, it was not without risk and stress.  My niece has been dreading this operation for months, and suffering great anxiety.  Thankfully the procedure went very well last week, and she'll be coming home tonight.  My parents have been staying with my other niece and nephew while my sister and her husband were at the hospital with their older daughter.  Everyone has been out of their comfort zone/home/routine during the surgery/recovery period, so it will be good for Mom and Dad to get back to their home, and my sister, her husband, and my niece to be home from the hospital to their other kids and their own home.  Let the new normal begin!

Just this morning, my mother called me and told me that my Uncle Chris (my Dad's sister's husband) has been admitted to the hospital with Guillain-Barre syndrome.  It's very serious, and while they hope for eventual recovery, it will be a long process, and he may not regain full function in the muscles in his arms for months (and he may have some permanent damage).  The syndrome has affected his arms the most, although he also has severe weakness in his core muscles and will need a breathing tube for a while.  It's a frightening situation, and my aunt is (understandably) beside herself.  My cousin Michael, their son, is with them, and he's a steady man to have at Aunt Beth's side to field questions and keep on top of things, so I'm glad he happens to live near the hospital Uncle Chris was transferred to. 

Our neighbors across the street went through a terrible time last year, when the husband (a State Trooper) was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma.  He went through a long summer of treatments and has been in remission.  This afternoon, his wife told me that they just found out that the cancer is back.  Their daughter is a very good friend of Princess Yakyak, and Safety Guy and their little 3 year old son are good buddies.  I am so very sad to hear that their trial is starting all over again.

Not within my family, but still local and touching the family of a friend, was the murder of a six year old girl by her mother's live-in boyfriend almost two weeks ago.  It's a terribly sad situation, and I can't imagine the mother's agony.  Thinking of little Lauren, I have to look at my own kids and be so thankful for them, and hug them a bit tighter every day and treasure them even more, even when they're making me crazy.

Finally, some good friends are moving to Austin, Texas. We've known Tamara and her husband Brian since we started going to Union Center Christian Church in 2002.  Brian has accepted the position of Executive Pastor at a church in Austin, and they'll be moving in the next week or so.  It's an exciting opportunity for them, but I also remember how difficult it was for us to make our own move two years ago.  I'm hoping and praying that their move goes smoothly, and they and their kids fit into their new church and community quickly.  I'll miss knowing that they're nearby, but with Facebook we'll still be in touch whenever we want.  And, in Christ, we're never more than a prayer away.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hopeful Things

 Daylily 'Jambalaya' in a clump - very cheerful.

Sometimes a boost of hope comes at the most unexpected time, in a most unanticipated way.  This weekend, while helping to set up for our church's VBS program, I got talking with the other volunteers.  I knew that one of the ladies there works for our local BOCES program as an administrator of some sort.  (For those outside of New York state, that's Board of Cooperative Educational Services.  They do all sorts of things, from high school vocational ed programs and adult continuing ed opportunities, to ESL, and all sorts of special ed services, including self-contained 12:1:1 and 8:1:1 classrooms.)  Talking with the ladies as we assembled patio lanterns for decorations, I mentioned casually that I was hoping to start subbing this fall in our school district for special ed or middle/high school, and one of them asked if I'd applied at BOCES.  I said I hadn't yet, that I was still trying to figure out their website application process (which isn't very straightforward), but I planned to.  Carla spoke up and asked me if I'd like to interview there later this week, if she could work it out in her schedule.  (!!!!)  Of course, I said yes.  Turns out she's an administrator in the department that hires teachers, aides, and subs.  How's that for serendipity/blessing? 

 Daylily 'Totally Southern'

We had a long weekend, with my husband's sister and her family visiting.  We had a very good time going to the Great American Irish Festival in Herkimer, NY, on Saturday afternoon.  I wish we could have stayed longer - the music was fantastic, but we had to rush home by 5PM.  We grabbed a quick dinner, then we went back out to our church to help with the annual Family Fun Night.   My husband helped with a couple of the huge inflatable games, and I did face painting for two hours. (It's a big to-do in town.  Hundreds and hundreds of people attend each year for the fire department BBQ, a concert, street vendors, and the church's family activities.)  After the sun set, the town capped off the evening with their annual fireworks display, which is set off from the baseball field right next to our church.  (It was AMAZING, better than a lot of cities many times the size of little old Sherrill.)  It was a very fun, but very long and overstimulating day.  We were all in bed quite late, then up the next morning for church.  After church, we had a cookout with my husband's sister's family.  Soon after that, we had THE MELTDOWN.

It seems to be a natural law that after every exciting/busy day with our kids, there will be a day immediately afterward where one or both kids will totally melt down.  Right after lunch Sunday the inevitable happened, triggered by an argument over whose water gun was whose, and who had to share.  It was no fun, it involved a lot of yelling between our kids, and it culminated with a punch thrown (that didn't connect) and a self-defense kick administered where it would hurt the most (and it DID connect).  The end of the story:  two kids in time out for the afternoon.

So, what's hopeful about that, you ask?  Well, after both kids calmed down, Safety Guy asked if he could apologize to his sister.  HE INITIATED AND MADE A GENUINE APOLOGY.  With no poor grace or bad attitude or qualifications.  In spite of the aggravation beforehand, I was pleased to see him make that step on his own.  And Princess Yakyak accepted his apology without any 'tude, and apologized nicely in return.  In my book, that's a victory, a very big sign of hope indeed.

And a much smaller hopeful thing:  my watermelon plants are setting fruit!  Hooray!  And I got enough tomatoes from the garden to make salsa, using my homegrown jalapenos and garlic too.  Sweet.  Life's little things are sometimes the best.