Friday, December 30, 2011

. . . . Or Else! (Again)

 This is MUCH more fun than cleaning my bedroom!

Tonight, if you hear loud angst and drama coming from our direction, you can blame it on Princess Yakyak, who has put off cleaning her room for so long, after several requests, that Tech Guy and I are going to "help" her.  With garbage bags.

I have great sympathy for PYY - after all, like mother-like daughter.  But, just like my own long-suffering mother, enough is enough, and something has to get done.  If it's outgrown (by age or by size), it will be donated.  If it's junk, it will be trashed.  If it's special, it can stay but get put away.  If it hasn't been used in over a year, it's gone one way or the other.  No anger, no insults, no drama, no put-downs - just a simple statement of fact has preceded this evening's cleaning (excavating?) spree:  if you don't do something about cleaning your bedroom, your father and I will do it our way, and you may not like what gets trashed or donated.  But in spite of several reminders, she's done next to nothing except bring her laundry down this week.  If she's like I was as a kid, the room-cleaning task got away from her and became overwhelming to the point of paralysis.  She could start everywhere, so she started nowhere.

Now, I know she really can do this herself, given enough time and guidance.  I've given her a checklist before, breaking the project down into smaller tasks, and she's gotten it done.  I gave her a checklist a couple weeks ago, and she did part of it, then stopped.  But this has gone on long enough, and she's  made her choice.  And, she'll still have to help us (she's not going to play Wii or DS while we work!).  Let the cleaning begin, and hopefully with a fresh start she will be more successful in maintaining her room.

Life skills - a work in progress.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's Outta Here

I took the Christmas tree down yesterday.  Usually I leave it up until after New Year's, but this year I just couldn't stand looking at it any longer.  Most years I enjoy relaxing and looking at the tree in the evening, with all the memories and pretty lights, but this year the darn thing just got on my nerves.  It kept falling over, and was cockeyed in spite of our best efforts.  It's gone now, and the family room returned to normal.  (That is, with Wii games and DVDs and Princess Yakyak's socks and Safety Guy's cars scattered around.)

My sweet husband cut me loose for the day so I could go get some space.  I was actually in and out of the house a couple times, running errands and getting my hair cut and going shopping.  Tech Guy is under the weather (he has the flu, the achy-run down-headachy-sore throat kind), but he didn't mind hanging out with the kids for the day. The kids were happy to have a day to flake out with their new stuff and the TV, but they did do some chores, and PYY got to play in the snow at long last.

It was nice to just motor around at my own pace, doing my own errands, playing my own tunes.  Going to a spa for a day sounds nice, but sometimes all I want is the freedom to move around and set my own schedule - something parents get in short supply when their kids are young.  As ours get older, I find myself having more freedom and flexibility.  I'm liking it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry - New Year?

 Princess Yakyak all dressed up 
for Christmas Spirit Day at school.
I'm sure her teacher loved me 
for letting her wear four big jingle bells all day. . . .

The past week just blew right past me.  I was so focused on getting through the last week of school, everything else fell by the wayside.  Making it through the last five days was tough, and early in that week my students were off the wall.  It actually got better as the week went on, which I was pathetically grateful for.

 I love eating frosted sugar cookies.
I don't like making them AT ALL.
So, I make them once a year - and here they are.
They didn't last long.

It has taken me a handful of days to unwind since the last day of school.  We went right from school ending into Christmas Eve (visiting my sister's family), and Christmas Day (and going to church), which still didn't feel like any kind of "day off" for me.  It wasn't until Monday that I started to relax.  Yesterday I was unfocused and mellow for the first time in heaven only knows when.  It felt good, too.  Today I think I'll have a little more on the ball, so I can tackle dismantling the Christmas tree.

 One of my favorite ornaments - 
a casualty of the 
Great Christmas Tree Crash of 2011 (Part 1).

We had a great Christmas Eve.  Visiting my sister T. is always a pleasure, and the cousins enjoyed being together.  We used to live quite near them, and we got together often, which we really miss.  Now it's a rare treat.  Christmas Day was laid back and fun.  Princess Yakyak was up waaaay too early, and crawled in bed with us at 5AM.  Thankfully she fell back asleep (plastered up against my back like an octopus, snoring in time with my husband) until around 6:30.  The kids loved their presents and had a good attitude all day (which was better than any physical present to my husband and I).  We each got some things we'd wanted, and had some nice surprises too.

 My youngest sister and her husband found this book 
about the history of fire alarms for Safety Guy.  
You can see he's quite delighted with it.

Today it is snowing and blowing - the lake effect snow machine is tuning up for the winter after a long, warm fall.  It looks more like winter today than it has since sometime late last March.  I'm glad I don't have to drive anywhere.  It's a good day to hibernate indoors.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stop The World NOW - Part 3

Sunday was actually better than the previous two days, for which I was very, very grateful.  We still had a few go-rounds of BSS (Bratty Sibling Syndrome), but over all we did okay.  In fact, I could even see some serious progress with Safety Guy dealing with new situations.

We were invited to go to a Christmas party by one of my husband's coworkers.  The kids were included in the invitation, so later in the afternoon we all got ready to go.  Safety Guy was a bit nervous about going to the house of someone he's never met.  In the past that's been a tough sell, since he'd really rather NOT go to new social situations, especially where he doesn't know anyone.  Years ago we risked him having meltdowns every time we tried putting him in a new situation.  New things that involved bright lights and lots of strange people were even more difficult for him.  But yesterday we were able to go to a part at a new friend's house and Safety Guy actually enjoyed it, once he got past a few moments initial nervousness.  It helped that there were some much younger boys there who immediately took a liking to Safety Guy.  He loves kids, and is a total kid magnet.  It didn't take long before the little boys were enjoying the attention from one very big boy - mock wrestling, play fighting, and eventually playing on the Wii.  Add in holiday food and Safety Guy was just dandy.  I left that party counting my blessings that Safety Guy has come so very far in his social skills. 

It was a wild, up and down weekend.  I'm still not on an even keel, but I'm hanging on.  School today was rough, really rough.  Only four more days, only four more days, only four more days. . . .

Stop the World NOW - Part Two

To continue my "Help, I'm losing my Christmas spirit (and my mind!)" post:  Saturday I actually got to sleep in a bit - oh happy day!  I had a leisurely breakfast, then went out to do some Christmas shopping.  It was so pleasant to get a couple hours to myself, and I thought I was back to some semblance of "life is going okay" emotional balance.  Friday had faded to the point of being an "Oh well, we might as well laugh at it" memory. 

Sadly, I had grossly overestimated my capacity to deal with my kids' relationship and autism issues on Saturday.  In plain English, that means that after lunch the kids were bickering and snarky, selfish and rude, overtired and obnoxious, controlling and annoying, and I lost my patience and gave them a piece of my mind.  (In even plainer English, I did a pretty good Sybil imitation.)

So what did we decide to do with the rest of our day?  Why, we decided that some family time would be a good idea.  (Cue the "I've got a bad feeling about this" Star Wars references.)  Let's go shopping, we thought.  We can finish some Christmas shopping at Target, Safety Guy can spend that GameStop gift card that's been burning a hole in his pocket, and we can see the Christmas decorations at Lights on the Lake.  Sounds like fun, right?  We decided to do the lights first, since it was early.

Good heavens.  I should have stopped while I was behind, had a wine cooler, and gone to bed at 5PM.  The line for Lights on the Lake (a big thing in the Syracuse area) was insanely long and slow.  We crawled along for an hour and a half BEFORE we even got into the park where the light displays are staged.   After the first hour Safety Guy got bored and cramped, and Princess Yakyak started tossing out snarky comments and baiting her brother.  Tech Guy did a manful job of being patient, and I did my best to not say something I'd regret for the rest of my kids' (probably very SHORT at that point) lives. 

We waited and waited.  We talked.  We tried to keep it light.  We cycled through several radio stations looking for Christmas music that actually alluded to Christ (and finally found one).  Once we got into the park and paid to go through the light display, there weren't any turnoffs to get out of the line of cars.  We'd passed the point of no return.  Right after that point (of course) Safety Guy started to get upset and wanted to get out of the car and walk, because it looked like by the time we got out of there we were going to be too late to make our planned trip to GameStop - it would be closed.   Unhappiness of the perseverating kind erupted every 5 minutes or so after that.

PYY lived up to her nickname - and oh, was she annoying all of us with her commentary.  I dug my fingernails into my palm to keep from going ballistic as I repeatedly had to intervene between the kids to keep/restore the peace.  We hadn't bargained on such a crazy wait, and the car was low on gas when we started, so by that point I was wondering what would happen if we ran out of gas and had to call AAA from the middle of the display.  I could imagine us pushed off to the side of the road, parked in the glow of a bunch of holiday lights in the shape of a candy cane, while my husband or I walked back to the entrance to find some gas.  We finally got to the main section of lights ("Look, something shiny!") and drove through the display, which is a couple miles long.  Oh. So. Slowly.  I swear, some people had to take pictures of every single candy cane, elf, snowflake, and reindeer.  It went on and on and on and on - Christmas music and lights with a background patter of incipient autism meltdown and sibling baiting and parental angst.

We got in line to see the lights at 5:30.  We drove out of the display at 9:30.

FOUR HOURS in the car.  No bathroom.  No drinks.  The two packs of TicTacs I had given to the kids around 7PM didn't do much to divert them. Nothing but pure, unrelieved TOGETHERNESS.  It sounds like the plot of another Chevy Chase movie.  ("Look kids - Big Ben!")

The first thing we did when we finally got out of the park was find a gas station.  (Gas - check.  Drinks - check.  Getting more than two feet away from everyone else before someone got seriously hurt - check.   Bathroom - NOT.)  Then we went over to the shopping plaza, and by some miracle we made it to GameStop 10 minutes before it closed, and we found a bathroom.  All was right in Safety Guy's world again.  Eventually (after doing our long-delayed Christmas shopping at Target), we made it home. 

I stayed up much too late after we made it back from the Lights on the Lake expedition, just puttering on the computer and enjoying being LEFT ALONE. (I see a pattern here. . . .)

And that was it for Saturday night.

Stop the World - NOW

Holiday stress.  I thought I'd dodged the worst of it, and was feeling pretty good about dealing with the kids at home and the kids at school.  I thought I had myself mostly together, pretty organized, and almost caught up with the important house stuff (kids clean and fed, not too much clutter, laundry monster almost tamed).  Starting late last week, my semi-peaceful world started to unravel.

Nothing big or awful happened.  Nobody is sick, there's no financial emergency, and the house hasn't descended into fodder for a reality TV show (yet).  But suddenly I'm not coping as well as I was, and the holiday stress is really getting to me.

My students have been getting flakier by the day.  Honestly, I really like them, but I was imagining doing a Three Stooges maneuver on four of them on Friday (i.e. clunking their heads together in sequence - bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk).  Our classroom is RIGHT by the high school front door, with windows looking at it from the outside.  I could keep the blinds closed all the time, but that's too stifling for me.  (Not to mention I have to keep a window cracked open or we'll roast to death when the heat kicks on.)  So the kids see everything and everyone coming or going.  Teaching while ANYTHING happens outside the window is like having a class full of dogs like Dug from "Up":  "SQUIRREL!" and everyone rubbernecks.   So, back to my story:  on Friday one of the kids was looking out the window, and noticed that someone had dropped a five dollar bill on the ground right outside our classroomOh.  My. Goodness.  I should have stopped trying to teach right then and there, because they were totally useless after that.  All of them had to go look at it.  All of them wanted to go outside and get it.  None of them would focus on the homework we'd just started working on.  They were all in a swivet and chattering like magpies in spite of my firm injunction to SIT DOWN AND FORGET ABOUT IT until my classroom aide actually went outside, picked it up, and turned it in to the office.  THEN they all gabbled about us not letting them go out to get it, and one bright soul suddenly remembered that he needed to go to the office to make a phone call (and incidentally ask if anyone had turned in their "missing" $5).  The school day couldn't end quickly enough for me that day.

Then, at home, my own kids were in my face all evening long while my husband had to work late.  And, to make things even better, I swear the phone rang every time I tried to sit down and get a few minutes to myself.  I finally shuffled them off to bed.  After that I stayed up (too, too) late on the computer, trying to unwind and get my nerves to settle.  It took a while.

Saturday was another adventure. . . .

Saturday, December 17, 2011


 This little stocking was on my parents' tree when I was little.  
When my Mom divided up their ornaments 
among my sisters and I a number of years ago, 
I asked for this little one especially.  
It's on my tree now.

Christmas, it seems to me, is the most nostalgia-inducing time of the year.  I suppose that's because I've been blessed with good memories of pleasant times with family and friends during this time of year.  I know many people find this season to be painful, even unbearable, for a multitude of reasons.  My heart goes out to them.  Still, I'm glad to enjoy the memories the Christmas season brings.

I remember being little, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and going to bed on Christmas Eve.  It was a very cold, very clear night, and I could lay with my head near the foot of my bed and look at the sky and see the stars.  It was very beautiful.  Suddenly I saw a red light, blinking, very high up and moving along on its own.  I was sure it was Rudolph, pulling Santa's sleigh, and I drifted off to sleep knowing that in the morning there would be presents under the tree.

I remember visiting both of my grandmothers at Christmas (they lived in the same city), and my grandpa.  Grandma and Grandma Thompson's house was small, but always warm and neat.  They had a small artificial tree with the usual pretties on it.  What I really remember was the love I felt there, and Grandma's sugar cookies.  Grandma Fast and my (great) Aunt Liz's house was a little bigger, and a little chillier in the winter, but still warm with love.  When we visited, my sister and I slept upstairs in a long, narrow room under the eaves.  Grandma Fast's house always smelled of old wood floors, the musty-damp smell of an old basement, and of strong, dark percolated coffee.  Then Aunt Liz would bake, and the house would smell of pies - apple or pumpkin usually - and sometimes various sorts of cookies.  Their tree had old painted glass ornaments on it.  My mother still has one of those old, battered ornaments left, the last decoration standing from Grandma Fast's house after years of Christmases, kids, cats, and moves.  It's near the top of her tree today.

When I was young, we lived near Cleveland, Ohio.  A couple times we visited the big Higbees department store downtown at Christmas, so my sister and could go through their "kids only" Santa shop to pick out presents for Mom and Dad.  That store seemed so huge and so far away to us then, it was like traveling to the North Pole.  It had huge columns, high ceilings, sparkly chandeliers, and was decorated with what seemed like miles of red and gold ribbon and acres of Christmas trees.  Funny, but I don't remember seeing Santa there, although we probably did after making the special trek into the city.  But years and years later I finally watched "A Christmas Story" and recognized the old Higbees right away.  Deja vu!

One Christmas my parents gave me a guitar.  I had begged to be allowed to change instruments, from the organ to the guitar.  I had no interest in the organ (which must have been a bit of a disappointment to my mother, who was a very proficient organist and took great pleasure in her music).  But my parents decided that a guitar was better than no musical instrument at all, so that Christmas when I was 12 or 13 or so they gave me a guitar.  It was a basic beginner's instrument, with steel strings.  And to my eyes it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL.  The finish on it was a deep cherry red that faded to a lighter red around the pick guard, which was black and had a design of a dove and roses on it.  I took lessons for a couple years, and played that guitar until I went to college, when I bought a somewhat better (and less gaudy) guitar.  That cherry red guitar is long gone, sold at a garage sale to another budding musician.  I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

The Christmas after Safety Guy was born he was still quite tiny, so one night we put him under the Christmas tree with a couple little Winnie The Pooh stuffed toys we'd given him.  He goggled at the lights and flailed his little arms, and I took a picture.  That was a wonderful Christmas.

When Princess Yakyak had her first Christmas, she was scooting across the floor on her fanny to get around.  And OH did she want that brightly decorated tree so BADLY!  We had to put the tree in the family room and block the door with a baby gate to keep her away from it.  She'd scootch over to the gate and stare at the tree, and if we forgot to put the gate up she'd motor right over to the tree, making little happy "ooh ooh ooh" noises, and reach for the low-hanging ornaments.  Naturally, I have pictures of that too.  More good memories.

I could go on.  Maybe I'll share a few more memories later this week.  Today I've got some Christmas shopping to finish and some wrapping to do, cookie dough to make and refrigerate for tomorrow, and some cleaning.  (Somehow cleaning doesn't seem to fit with the litany of pleasant holiday activities, but laundry and housework wait for no one, even at Christmas.)

Merry Christmas, friends, and Happy Holidays as well if you celebrate from a different tradition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Friends In High (School) Places

 Safety Guy, age 4.

I had a great conversation with another special ed teacher at school today.  We had a conference day, so the kids were only there until mid-morning.  After that was a round of meetings.  Usually I don't have to stay for those, but I was asked to this time.  After the bureaucratic stuff, another resource teacher and I worked on some details for upcoming state testing:  accommodating the needs of the resource students who are supposed to receive extra time to take tests, or have the questions read to them.  After we waded through that task, we began talking about our students, and our own kids.

It was the first time I've had an extended period of time to talk with this veteran resource teacher.  Our duties don't bring us together often.   I found out today that her kids are almost all grown, and that her youngest son is in high school and has issues very similar to Safety Guy's Aspergers.

It was good to talk to another teacher about how our own kids have grown and learned over the years with their different needs and sensory issues.  It was even better to talk with another mom who really understands what it's like shepherding a son with special needs through junior high and high school.  The educational issues, the school bureaucracy stuff, the social hurdles the boys face, the typical teen boy crap, the mom-guilt over doing too much/too little/too quickly/too late, the second guessing our parenting choices, the "how much do I let them screw up before I intervene so they learn the life lessons without hurting themselves too badly" issues - she gets all of it.

It was pleasant to talk to her, just to get to know her and to share our burdens.  It was also a relief to know we have an ally in our son's education.  You see, she's going to be one of the teachers on the team who will be working with Safety Guy next year, and probably in the years to come.  She's been teaching for a long time and is very good at what she does.  More than that, she really cares for the kids she teaches.  Best of all, she understands how I feel as a mother dealing with the school as we try to work together to help Safety Guy.  She's been on the receiving end of less-than-tactful comments about her son's needs from education professionals (she shared one story, and I was immediately offended on her behalf that a teacher would put down a student in the way she related).  She's had to fight for services from a tight-fisted school district.  She put in hours and hours of work with her son after school to review and reteach things he worked on during the day.  She helped him overcome or work around his sensory issues.  Now that he's older, she's letting her son test his independence while helping him make good choices, which is never an easy balancing act for any parent, but is even more tricky with kids with Aspergers or similar psychological and character traits.  I think I can learn a lot from her.

It's good to know I'm not alone.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This Is What Happens. . . .

. . . .when you don't write on your blog for a week.  Lots of stuff, all jumbled up on your mind, tries to get out all at once.  It's like pouring alphabet soup on paper, and looking to see what great ideas turn up.  Here's a few quick snapshots of the past week, and maybe I'll be able to string together a more coherent post tomorrow.

- Safety Guy visited a fitness center to see if he'd be interested in joining their wrestling program.  I know the owners, and they're familiar with Safety Guy's quirks.  In fact, they've trained other athletes with Aspergers, so if anyone can work with him, they can.  There were about 30 kids there for practice, ranging from about 6 to about 17, and quite a few coaches (a few employed by the fitness center, the others interested parents and former wrestlers), so the ratio was something like one coach for every 3 kids.  Safety Guy was initially wary, but he watched closely, and by the end he decided he'd like to try it himself.  I'm hoping that this activity will give him a regular physical outlet through the winter at the very least.  But I'd be even happier if he continued with this year-round for the fitness and self-confidence benefits.  He'll start with the wrestlers after the holidays.  I imagine it will be a tough routine for him to get used to, and I'm sure it won't be without its rough spots.  But, two of his friends are in the program, so that should help him fit in.  He's so big, he'll have to spar with the oldest teens and the coaches even as a beginner.

- We had a Christmas tree emergency last week:  it fell over.  Crunch!  Glass ornaments smashed into berber carpet was quite a mess to clean up.  Thank God for shop vacs.  Sadly, two of Safety Guy's ornaments were broken, so I'll have to see if I can find two new ones for him this week.  (I give the kids each a special ornament every year.  Two of Safety Guy's favorites were among the casualties.)

- We had my husband's family's big Christmas party last Saturday.  It was good to see everyone, and we had a fun time exchanging gifts (and watching Princess Yakyak and her cousin M. pelt each other with wadded-up tissue paper).  Adding to the good time was some absolutely gorgeous, moonlit weather for the drive home.  I feel like I can relax for the holiday now, since I got the presents done for them, and also the ones for my parents and my sister dropped off the same day.  I've only got a handful of presents to get now, and some baking for fun and sharing.

- Only two more weeks for me to teach this resource class!  That's bittersweet, since I've enjoyed working with them for the most part, and I'm into the routine now.  It will seem strange to not be there after the new year.  But, it will be a relief to go back to day by day subbing for a while, since there's less responsibility and no prep work.

- It's been a real eye-opener talking with some of my students about what they watch, play and do at home.  All I can say is, oh. my goodness.  I can hardly believe what some parents let their kids watch at a young age, and let them do unsupervised on computers.  I am both appalled and saddened, and usually the kids don't see anything wrong with what they're watching or doing.  Some of them don't seem to have much in the way of parental guidance (and I'm being mild in my comments, because this is a public blog, after all, and I can't and won't be specific about any of my students or their families).  Also, I knew that some of the kids have very difficult family background issues, but I had no idea some of them had SO much to overcome.  My heart breaks for them, and although I can't mention my faith in school, I can (and do) pray for them on my own, and offer them general guidance where I can.  Sometimes it seems like so little I can do to be a positive influence in their lives.

I think I need to go process my thoughts a little more - I can see several future posts percolating in the randomness I just tossed out.  Stay tuned, I may get some posts pulled together as the week goes on.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It Isn't Fair - Get Over It

Where, oh where did my kids ever get the idea that life would be fair?  I am sick of living with two little legalists who keep a mental checklist of everything "owed" to them.  Tonight was the last straw, as they were arguing yet again over who had had more time on the "good" computer (the Mac, which is faster than our Dell), and over whose turn it would be next.  I have HAD IT with this nonsense!  Since when do I need to be Jimmy Carter to broker peace between my children?  I'm not going to stand over them with a stopwatch to make sure they get the exact same amount of time on the computer.  Just like I'm not going to measure out snacks so they get the precise same amount, and watch to make sure someone doesn't eat more than their fair share (another complaint when someone eats the last of something someone else wanted but didn't tell anyone about until it was too late).


Yes, they're making me crazy tonight.  And it mystifies me as to where this jealous desire for equality is coming from.  (Well, no, it doesn't, really - human nature being what it is, which is broken and selfish and sinful.)  We haven't raised them to compete against each other, and I don't compare them to each other.  That would be like comparing dogs and cats, or pineapples and strawberries.  It's pointless.  Dare I say, fruitless?  So it makes me truly bonkers when they act like this.

Yes, I have tried to make sure things don't get too unbalanced one way or the other.  That's part of parenthood.  But yes, I've also had to spend more time tiptoeing around our son's Aspergers and trying to stretch his boundaries to be more flexible and patient than any sane parent would like.  (And boy, is that a whole 'nother blog post!)  Safety Guy likes rules and to keep things going his way in his comfort zone.  Princess Yakyak is very jealous of her rights and resents the attention Safety Guy has needed over the years.  To keep some semblance of peace in the house I've had to intervene between them time and again.  But once more I realize I've done too much for them, and they've become too dependent on me to solve their problems for them.  This has happened before, but each time when we reset the balance it starts to creep eventually back toward the buck stopping on my desk.  Somehow, I find myself once more in the position of Ultimate Arbiter of Fair.  And you know what?  I refuse to be the household equivalent of a U. N. Peacekeeping Force any longer.

I quit.

I told them tonight that if they couldn't share time on the computer without arguing and bickering and fussing for my husband or I to referee, then they'd both be off the computer for an entire week.  I hope they took me seriously, because I am DONE with this balancing act.  They can talk their differences out - I know they can when it suits them.  Well, it had better suit them now, or I'll have a lot of time on the "good" computer to myself very soon.