17 January, 2011

It's Only Kindergarten


Change. The only constant in this world, and I think I might hate it. Oh I pretend to like it: time change, when we get to sleep in, or see the sunrise. I like to change the color of my hair. Really I just love a new haircut. I like to go on a road trip and get a change of scenery, or try a new cocktail at a new bar. But really, none of those things are very risky. Not at all. They have very little consequence. Even if I bleach my hair out to Gwen Stefani white I can get it back (or most of it, what hasn’t fallen out) back to a normal-ish blonde color that doesn’t make my mother gasp.

I like to joke that “apples don’t fall far from the tree” when it comes to Autism. Jake is such a combination of the people in my family, and I can see parts of his personality in each of us: his sense of humor, his lack of dexterity, his determination, his migraines, his struggle with communication, even if it is exaggerated in how he demonstrates the behavior, I can almost always get a glimpse of how Jake became Jake… including his need for things to be the same; and that he got from me.

This doesn’t mean I’m not flexible, I am, but I always have multiple threads going, so even if it looks like spontaneity, I am hopefully already prepared for that possibility. I feed the kids at the same time every day, even if it means we add in meals with other people at other times. Jake’s body clock does not alter with season, or place, or time zone, so that means he eats 5-6 meals in Hawaii, and goes to bed with hours of sunlight left in the summer. He has worn the same brand of pants for three sizes now, and I have been known to buy the same shoe in two colors if I really like them, or two pairs, for when one of them eventually wears out beyond repair.

I work hard to get things to a “steady”. It’s not settling for anything, I just want to keep the boat afloat, with everyone on it, with provisions and direction. Not to go overboard (ha!) with the metaphor, but I don’t even care sometimes if we have the sail up. I just need to know where we are headed and know that our crew is ready. We can float in one place, as long necessary, if we are together and (mostly) happy.

So Lucy is starting kindergarten in the fall, which means we need to decide now where we want her to go, and I am a wreck. Change. Again. Or maybe not. Or maybe. Aaaaghhh.

When Jake went to kinder it was sort of a surprise. I thought he was going to stay one more year in his early intervention preschool. I thought I had time to ponder the choices, visit schools and determine which disability we would try to place, autism or CP. Instead I was sort of bombarded with “Uhm, Jake is really big (tall) and don’t you think he should move on to kindergarten so he doesn’t step on any little ones who are just entering preschool?” and somehow I nodded believing that height had something to do with matriculation.

Then I visited two classrooms and picked one. I made the wrong choice, or a bad choice, because I’m not sure the other class would have been right, but I know where he went was wrong. I didn’t ask the right questions, and when I took Jake for his first day I was greeted with aides who received no direction, and a new teacher, who spoke very broken English, as it was her very-distant-second language. The class had a mix of kids with such a wide variety of disability that there was no teaching. After the first month I learned that Jake spent most of the day in a Rifton chair buckled in, and rolled from table to table. I spent the first semester in conferences every week, and the second semester trying to find another placement. I felt like a horrible mother. We got him a new placement, and two years later, when he needed a different setting again, we found him Wunderskool. Now he is happy, and healthy and thriving, and as we settle-in to the back half of his second year there I am finally breathing. I had not felt steady since Jake was three.

My close IRL friends are probably, no, I know they are done with this conversation. I keep talking about where Lucy should go to school because, while I am generally a very decisive, opinionated, independent thinker, in this case, I want someone else to have the answer, tell me it’s the right thing to do. I have at least one very close, trust-worthy friend at each possible location, so I can’t even use the “Who can care for my child if there is an earthquake and they need to take her for three weeks?” Because, yes, tragically that is how scary my brain is…

This has taken up all of my free-thought, and a lot of my previously-allocated-for-other-things thought too. I feel a bit silly being so upset by it all, but last time I did this I screwed up, and I certainly can’t handle that feeling. And I’m not having any more kids, so it’s sort of the last chance I get to do this right. And, most importantly, she is a neat kid, who is smart and funny and I don’t want to send her to the wrong place.

I know what I want: I want same. I want no change. I want to put off for another year, or two, any sort of thinking about change, but I need to really think because there are options here, and financial impacts, and logistics to consider.

So I have been on the tours. I have all the paperwork. I’ve even asked the four-year old what she wants, because, you know, that's responsible parenting. She very capably decided that she could go to at least two schools if the hours were different, and then she put her hands over her eyes and said it was “much too hard to decide."

I agree.



03 January, 2011

Fluffy Pancakes and Other Holiday Miracles

It's a new year. Shiny and bright and filled with promise, like a new school year, or a blank journal, or an empty center console in a family mini-van.

I am already ahead as this year starts. If I accomplish very little else I will feel like I have had success because...

I can make pancakes.

Now this might seem like an easily overcome obstacle for most adults who can read, have even limited physical coordination and access to the necessary ingredients for cooking. This simple task has eluded me for all of my 38 years, but I have now successfully made beautiful, fluffy, properly cooked-through and most importantly, edible, pancakes four out of the last five days (I didn't have a fail one day, I just wasn't in charge of brekkie). I can now make breakfast for the troops swiftly and easily. I fed four kids Sunday morning before 7:30am and it was a breeze. I have now mastered breakfast.

It's amazing how changing even the simplest things in life can make all the difference, to our confidence, or happiness.

On Christmas day we changed the time dinner was served. One hour earlier and Jake was able to enjoy the same, fancy, dressed-up, china, and three different wine glasses and four forks meal that everyone else had. He was able to stay the entire dinner, and finish three rounds of dessert before Descartes took him home. One hour earlier, and we had family dinner, with 14 people and Jake was able to be a part of the whole thing, and we all had a great time. Jake had a great time, because he loves being with his family.

Our holidays were lovely. Changing a few simple things made each visit with each family go smoothly, even successfully. In fact, I can't actually think of any major drama, aside from our "typical" daughter throwing a no-nap induced fit on Christmas Eve, but she's four, and it's been documented, and when she's a mommy we will pull out this photo, and remind her of all of her drama and cuteness.

The trip to Southern California for Christmas was one of the most successful we have had in years. We felt taken care of, accepted, welcomed and for the first time in a long time, I think we could have stayed a few more days. My family is filled with loving, kind people, really. I'm not even writing that just because they read this blog (Hi Mom!) They really are wonderful people, and we have had visits go okay before, but Jake is a different boy now. He's matured so much in the past two years, and it makes travel and visits much easier. He is calmer overall, and if he does get upset, he's able to calm down faster once his needs are met. And of course, we have grown up too. I worry less about what other people think, and more about how to take care of my family. I also focus more on my family, rather than my family of origin. It's hard not to fall back in to family systems when you go home, but I know that if I take care of Descartes, Jake and Lucy first, it will work out for everyone.

It really went so smoothly. My mother had everything ready to go at her house. We had the right milk, snacks and help each morning with breakfast. Our beds were all set up and the kid toys were available. And guess what my mom bought? A bin filled with smooth rocks and little army guys and small (plastic) sea creatures; Jake had his very own sensory box. It was easy for her to get done (with the help of my sister-in-law, Pinky) and the kindest gesture. Such a small thing that Jake loved, and shows just how hard every one is trying to make sure that we get to be a part of things.

Christmas eve we went to my brother's new house. It is in a very cute neighborhood, that reminds me a little bit of Toon Town at Disneyland, but it is a house filled with toys and non-breakable joy. Aside from Jake cracking off the manifold
in my brother's backyard, it was an easy, fun, family dinner.  The backyard was all set, and available for him to play in, for hours. We just moved one piece of furniture to block off some mud, and when it came time for Jake to turn in, he was able to sleep in his little cousin's pretty pink princess room, snuggled into all of those cozy rosy-hued pillows. Keeping doors closed, and breakables off the side of the table where our long-arm Larry walks through the kitchen, I didn't even have to make those requests because they know my kid now. Even the what-we-thought-was-major-but-turned-out-not-to-be-so-bad, plumbing issue was made to be no big deal, and certainly no one was angry with Jake.  We have a running joke in the family to guess who's going to ruin Christmas each year. One year my brother Gerard asked for the receipts to all of his gifts so he could return them and get what he "really wanted." Another year, my youngest brother Albert threw a little fit about how we "don't even know him" because we guessed the wrong size sweater for him, and I sort of tried to top that ruin by being upset that Descartes had not proposed to me (he proposed the next day). My sister fell into the Christmas tree one year, and missed another year entirely. So Jake tried to ruin Christmas this year, but we found the sprinkler shut-off so I'm not sure he can claim the title.

Christmas day with the other part of my family, has been troublesome for us in the past. The mix of Jake with china, glassware, and expectations led to many of us being sad. My parents have valiantly tried so many different ways to accomodate us, and this year was no exception. Their perseverance has paid off; this year it was fantastic. This was the dinner we moved one hour earlier. The other thing they did was to get a private room for our large party, which was perfect. This way the house was not "set-up" and breakable by Jake, and the mess of dinner was taken care of by a very nice waitstaff. The private room gave us some breathing space, and the patio we could access meant that we could take breaks between courses. The little kids got to wiggle and dance and we all laughed and enjoyed the very, very delicious food. It was such a luxury, and I am so grateful.

Our drive back to the SF Peninsula was easy. We left before anyone was too grumpy, packed food in the car, and were able to avoid drive-thru food for the duration. We stopped for dinner before we got home to avoid that horrible let-down of post vacation combined with an empty fridge. Then we washed some clothes and packed the car again and went to Tahoe for the week and New Year.

The gloves are 80's rocker-girl, but they are on!

What a fantastic week we had there! Beautiful snow, perfect accommodations, doting grandparents and little children who got along. I got to sneak out with the girls, and spend time chatting and sipping while gazing out at the icy lake, and later in the week, I went snowshoeing. The guys went ice fishing, and we all played in the snow.
Jake wore a hat and gloves. Jake wore gloves, and a hat! And he kept them on. Whooooooooo Hoooooooo! This is the first year he has ever kept them on. We cheered and laughed and he smiled, and all the little kids congratulated him! Perhaps it was the 20 degrees outside, or the fact that they've been working with hats at Wunderskool, or maybe Jake is growing up, and recognizes that he can tolerate some things for short periods of time. I know he heard us say that he would have to go back inside if he wouldn't wear gloves...and that boy loves to be outdoors. My sister got some great photos, and while he's not smiling in this one, he really did have a great time, which means we all got to have a good time.

We're back at home now, and I have almost finished unpacking. Jake had school on Monday, and Lucy goes back tomorrow. It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks filled with little things that have made all the difference: pancakes, room to breathe, gloves.

What a great way to start the year, grateful for these small things. I must remember that nothing in our life is static; there is room to grow and change, and even the smallest of changes can transform our family.

just in case you need a little bit of Happy Change, here's the recipe for those pancakes:

Favorite Mountain House Pancakes
sift together:
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons of table sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

add to:
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1 cup of milk
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