Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow Fun

Snow Fun, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Earlier this week, the boys and I packed up and headed down to visit Grandma and Grandpa at the lake for a few days. A work meeting yesterday brought me and the twins back, but Connor opted to stay and spend the week with Grandma and Grandpa. It's hard to pass up an opportunity to be an only (and very spoiled) child for a few days!

Yesterday they played in the snow (before it melted away). Connor LOVED that. They even made a small snowman.
Today they ran errands in town - picking up groceries, looking through the toy department for future presents and then stopping by a McDonald's play land for lunch and play time.

Who knows what the rest of the week will bring. More fun stuff, you can be sure.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Genius – With a Hint of Malice

The computer wars rage in our house. Everyone wants screen time, and they want it ALL the time. You think I’m kidding …

Mommy, of course, is no exception. Beyond my musings here and my photography here, I also have legitimate claims to the computer. Accounting software keeps tabs of the family business as well as personal finances. Freelance work requires my Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office. And, of course, the occasional web browsing and social networking.

But it takes something important for me to force the issue during daylight hours. It’s simply easier to wait until the kids are in bed and stay up working on whatever needs to be done. Or squeeze it into the few hours when everyone is in school during the week.

So the boys are left to fight it out.

Sawyer is perhaps the easiest to pacify. He simply likes to watch other people play games or watch videos. He can be content to sit beside Xander or Connor as they manipulate the controls.

Xander is the die-hard addict. It was something we had to forewarn his new Early Start teachers about at the beginning of the school year. He is obsessed. He will even go out of his way to ask – politely and correctly – for permission.

“I … want … computer please!” He drags out the first two words, and then throws the other two hastily at the end. But he makes the request ALL the time.

At first, we wanted to reward him for making an appropriate request. But it quickly turned into an issue of larger evil. If you let him, he will stay on there for hours and hours and hours. Not kidding at all.

Connor is more reasonable. He likes the computer, and will occasionally spend an hour or so playing games. He requests it often, too, but more in response to the fact that his brothers are constantly perched at the desk playing (or watching, in Sawyer’s case) games.

But he will willingly turn it off. Or do rational things like stop to go to the bathroom or perhaps eat a meal. And he will do so without screaming and throwing himself in the floor (unlike a certain unnamed twin who is a little more obsessed).

But this weekend Connor proved a little too smart (and a little too malicious) for his own good. Connor had just gotten a turn on the computer, after Xander (who of course thought his turn was too short). He realized he needed to do one of those rational things – go to the bathroom.

That was a problem. That persistent, unnamed twin circles the computer waiting for a sign of weakness (or abandonment). You can simply turn your head to talk to someone, and he will sneak in behind you and take over the mouse. It doesn’t take much.

Connor knows this. And he was determined to keep his spot.

What, you ask, is a boy to do?

Well, if you’re Connor, apparently you lead your little brother into his bedroom (perhaps with a little pushing and shoving). You do this because you know that little brothers still have the locks reversed on their rooms, just in case they need to be kept contained (during one of their all-night wake fests). So you shove your brother in his room, pull the door closed and lock it. Then you proceed to the bathroom knowing your computer will be safe.

Except that Mommy catches you. And while she applauds your critical thinking and problem solving skills, she cannot exactly tolerate your methods. Forcing little brother into his room is a problem, especially since he was protesting. Locking the door and leaving him there is even more so.

The computer was simply turned off. Connor was sent to his room for a little timeout, followed by a discussion about appropriate behavior toward his little brothers and better ways of achieving his goal. You know, the kind that doesn’t involve locking people in their rooms.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Comes Early ...

Santa's Visit, originally uploaded by cheryl.

The good thing about having young kids is that you can fudge the rules. Mommy has to work this weekend, as she does every weekend, and that meant Christmas could have been tricky. But Daddy had time off from the fire academy today, so we improvised. Santa came to visit us last night, and the boys had their Christmas this morning.

Our tree didn't have a single present under it until very late last night. That was by design. Do you think three little boys would leave wrapped presents alone? Or that Sawyer could resist pulling off every single bow and lining it up? So Connor helped me put the wrapped presents under the tree late last night, just before the boys went to bed.

Mommy and Daddy also had a little work to do. With new toys surely on the way, the toy closet was already overflowing. We had to weed through the stuff the boys don't really play with any more to make room for the new stuff. So we have a big stack of toys in our garage awaiting distribution to some younger cousins who might enjoy them.

And that brings us back to our boys ...

Sawyer was up at 6, which is later than sometimes and earlier than others. He was led past the tree and the gifts into the sun room to wait for brothers to wake up. He went pretty willingly once dry cereal and milk were produced. Xander followed about 7:30 or so, and he went kicking and screaming. He could see the balloons - his gift from Santa - as he walked past. And he WANTED them. You know, RIGHT NOW. He also was given dry cereal and milk, so that we could get everyone up and ready. I had to wake Connor up a little after 8.

Both cameras were charged, so I started with the video camera (video later, perhaps). And then I switched back to the digital snapshots.

The twins could only see the balloons. Both of them were dancing underneath the fan, arms outstretched, begging to have them. We hesitated, knowing that nothing else would matter once they came down. We attempted to engage them in opening a few presents first. They were unimpressed.

Sawyer did bounce on his new exercise ball for a little while. Xander could not be persuaded with anything - not even finger paints or a new TAG book. He half-way looked at the alphabet cards - something included within another gift - but still wanted his balloons.

We gave in. And the twins disappeared.

Connor was still thrilled to open all of his presents and dig into his stocking. He also eventually helped open the last of the twins' presents, as they could not be enticed to open more than one or so apiece. Connor gleefully took over.

And it was over in a matter of minutes. The twins had their balloons, Connor was exploring a little bit of everything, and Mommy and Daddy were busy cleaning up the mess and starting on Christmas breakfast.

The boys are still playing - sometimes with different things - but mostly fighting over the balloons. They each want ALL of the balloons, you see. One or two or even three will not do. ALL or nothing. And nothing involves a lot of screaming.

Three brothers ... and not nearly enough balloons apparently. Just look at all the money that we - and Santa - could have saved!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Break

It's felt longer than normal, what with all the snow days the last week of school, but Christmas Break is nearly half over already. Ours has been a quiet one at home for the most part.

I wish I could say the boys have enjoyed sleeping in, but we all know that just isn't the case in our house. Connor, on certain days, has enjoyed the luxury. Today it was nearly 10 o'clock when he rolled out of bed. The twins haven't varied from their 4:30ish routine in a while, though we do get the occasional 6:30 or 7 morning.

There have been lots of toys (and rotating of toys). The Hot Wheels cars are the disaster, I mean play choice, of the moment. All hundred plus of them are scattered across the play room floor, along with tracks stretching the length of the room. It's a minefield in there at the moment. Last week it was Lincoln Logs and Legos. I'm sure it will be something else next week (you know, after Santa and the family deliver their presents to the boys).

There have also been lots of movies and computer games. What else are you going to do when it's freezing outside and covered in snow and ice? We snuggle on the couch under warm blankets and take turns picking movies. Or we fight over using the computer (I've won for the moment, but Xander is circling).

And we've also managed to attract quite a few visitors this week, too.

On Monday, I had a work meeting to attend for a few hours. Aunt Kelly and her stepdaughter Jayden came over to keep the twins company. Connor was on his overnight adventure with Grammy, so he missed out on that one. But not to worry, he had other things to keep him entertained. And Grammy, Pappy and Louie also joined us for dinner Monday night when they brought Connor back home.

Connor's friend B came over Tuesday afternoon and stayed the night with us. The boys had a big time playing. I think they were ready for a little break by the end of the second day, but they did well for the most part. It's hard sharing your stuff and being expected to do the same things for that long in a row, so I had to keep reminding them that they could choose to play different games at the same time.

Yesterday Grandma and Grandpa from the lake came up for a visit. We all met up with Uncle Brian and Cousins Austin and Kyndal for dinner at the old Cracker Barrel, our family favorite. The three amigos (Austin, Kyndal and Connor) had a big time drinking their Cherry Cokes and acting like big kids together. The twins surprised us by eating an entire meal in relative calm (there were a few loud "buzz-a-bees" by an unnamed twin). Daddy stayed home to study for his last fire test before the holiday break, so we took him something back for a study break.

Today Connor got a surprise visit from his friend P who lives next door. They've been happily playing in the play room for a while now. Connor's brothers are not always the best play friends for him, so we're happy to have his friends over any chance we get.

And that's been our break so far. The holiday - and my work week - are fast approaching. I won't tell Connor that school will follow close behind!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

As Promised, Pictures with Santa

And, as promised, the twins were NOT thrilled to be subjected to such a thing. They expect gifts without having to sit on some strange man's lap, thank you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Obsessions & Interests

Colors, originally uploaded by cheryl.

This photo made me smile. Xander actually looking (and smiling) for the camera. That's been a long time coming. He usually is too interested in the camera, or looking at the letters on the front of the camera, to allow for a decent shot. His nose is usually pressed up to the lens. But here he was, sitting at the computer, smiling and looking up at me with his big brown eyes. I LOVE it!

Of course, I also love that he has connectible toys on each of his fingers. That's imaginative play, right? You're supposed to connect them into long trains of cars, boats and ... well ... trains. He opted for something different. And he even attempted to play computer games with them on his fingers. And actually managed it quite well, considering. Seeing those fingers (and those toys) work the mouse was entertaining, to say the least.

With Sawyer and Xander, there are phases that they go through. Certain toys or certain behaviors that dominate their days. They change from time to time, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily, sometimes after a few months. Xander often spells. That's his thing. Lately, he's been picking up on some new things at school and those are carrying over at home.

He's a bit of a show off, actually.

He counts to 31, with a little help. Can you imagine why he does that? He LOVES calendar at school. We count the days of the month. He also knows the days of the week. And the months of the year. In order, of course.

He still spells. All the time.

He also sings. That's relatively new. He loves the songs from his favorite children's shows - Special Agent Oso and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are two of his all-time favorites. He also sings a bunch that I don't know, which are probably from school. And he knows them all, word for word, and runs through them faster than even I could if I tried.

And last, but not least, he knows his colors. He is obsessed with colors lately. And that's what his connectible toys are to him - constantly changing and rearranging colors. He puts them on his fingers, then comes to you and tells you all the colors in order (and you must repeat each one back to him, or he will keep saying it until you do). And after he's gone through it, he quickly goes and gets more. And the process starts all over again.

So many new things lately, all coming one after the other. And so fun to watch as the world opens up for him. There are still obsessions, still struggles. But the words are multiplying, the speech (even though often scripted) is being used effectively and appropriately. Progress ... slowly but surely ... progress.

It's a Rough Life ...

It's a Rough Life ..., originally uploaded by cheryl.

Between school, work and the holidays, I haven't had much free time. I also have a wounded camera - my main lens attachment is broken (it was knocked around a little bit, on accident, by a certain little boy). You can still take pictures, but you have to be careful to hold the lens connected to the camera, because it will fall off if you don't. It makes it hard to zoom and focus while you're making sure it doesn't fall, so my pictures have been fewer and farther in between than normal.

But Buster laying on the couch was too much to pass up. He's done it before, but usually only after the boys had pulled the cushions off the couch to use in pillow forts (it's lower and easier for him to climb onto then). But today he decided he would climb up there cushions and all.

It's a rough life, he says, but someone has to live it ...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Getting Out

It’s been a long time coming. And it still takes something that’s either really important or something we think the boys will really enjoy, but we’re making more of an effort to get the boys out of the house and into the world a little more.

With most things, it’s simple logistics. Three kids with one parent is rare, unless it’s a relatively closed environment or short duration. Three kids with two parents is better, though it can still be a challenge.

Wednesday night, the local fire department hosted the annual Christmas party for families. Even as a new recruit (one year of training and probationary status), Daddy is now a local firefighter. The event centers around kids – with kid-friendly food (hot dogs and chips and soda), a big bouncy slide, and pictures with Santa Claus.

We braved the snow and ice and cold to take the boys. We had very mild expectations of how it would go. Strange place, lots of strange people, loud noises, and a posed picture with an odd looking man they didn’t know.

The food went over well for Sawyer. He enjoyed chips and bread (no hot dog, of course) and Mountain Dew. Xander ate a few chips, but quickly discovered he would rather “slide” than eat. Connor had discovered the slide as soon as we walked in the doors – and eating went completely out of his head until hours later, when he told us at home how hungry he suddenly felt.

All three boys actually really enjoyed the slide, each in his own way. There were also some small toys for each child (think children’s party type prizes). Our kids picked the most annoying – a plastic horn (Connor) and two plastic flutes (Sawyer and Xander).

Oh. My. Goodness. Annoying does not even begin to cover these toys. They’re in the closet. And they might get accidentally placed in the recycling bin one day very soon.

The final event was pictures with Santa. Our number was one of the last ones in the group. At some point we will get copies, which we don’t have yet, and I will post them. They are going to be priceless.

We were, of course, the last in our group of 10. The boys had to sit in the Santa room, waiting as all 9 other families did their picture with Santa. Connor and Xander were bored. Sawyer wanted very much to escape. We corralled them and waited our turn.

And then the screaming and crying began. Xander started with the screaming, quickly followed by Sawyer tearing up and trying to hide. We took one family photo that way. Connor was perfectly willing, so we put him in Santa’s lap and let him take another one by himself. That one will probably turn out pretty well.

And that was our Christmas party night. The boys wanted to slide some more, but it was getting late and it was a school night (though school would later end up being cancelled). And we were kind of exhausted from the whole event.

Small steps … getting the boys out a little more, forcing them out of their comfort zones and into normal, everyday interactions with the world. It’s not always fun, but it’s certainly necessary. And it gets a little bit easier – for them and for us – every single time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Early Holiday Break

Ice Storm, originally uploaded by cheryl.

A little snow, a little ice, a little rain. A big mess. And no school for three of the five days this week, counting tomorrow which is already cancelled.

Connor will now have 15 whole days off from school. Can you hear his excitement? He's probably still in his room dreaming the rest of that "Yeeeessssss!" - his response when I told him he did not have school tomorrow after all.

After two snow days in a row, I might be ready to go to work tomorrow afternoon. For a little while anyway!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Little (Okay, A LOT) Late

Apparently staying up until 2 a.m. baking cookies and getting up in time for school don't exactly coincide.

And maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't have given Daddy such a hard time when Connor got those tardies earlier this year (you know, two in as many weeks). His tardies were only a few minutes late, so that should count for something. But I digress ...

Last night after the kids went to bed, I turned into Santa's helper - preparing all the Christmas gifts for the people who support our boys during the school year. It turned into a late-night, early morning affair before it was all said and done. Making cookies is not something I can do with three little boys running around - they tend to pinch cookies off the baking sheets (Sawyer) or borrow the bowl of cookie dough (Xander) or lick the mixing spoon (Connor). It can be a problem, so I usually wait until they're down for the night. So it's round after round of baking, cooling, packaging, labeling, and so on.

Five hours later, around 2 this morning, I finally climbed into bed.

And the alarm should have gone off just a few (much too few) short hours later. And it did, sort of. The red light came on, which means the alarm is on. But it's a clock radio, you see, and there was no music. None. No sound at all. Just a red light. Which isn't exactly likely to wake anyone up.

Station off the air? Tuner knob moved off the usual station? Volume turned off? Xander does like to line things up on our foot board of late, so he has access and he does love buttons. But I digress again ...

The hows or whys don't really matter. What matters is that the alarm simply didn't make a sound, and I quite simply didn't wake up on time.

I'm not sure how I managed to wake myself up at all - because a morning person I am not - but I knew the moment I woke up that something was wrong. The house was quiet, much too quiet. And it just felt wrong. That would be because I was getting up just before Connor's school was about to start - at 7:35, instead of 6:35, which is when the alarm should have gone off.

And, of course, the irony is that my usual alarm clocks - aka Sawyer and Xander - were also still sound asleep in their beds. That happens maybe once a month at this time of the morning. It would be this morning. No 4 or 5 a.m. wake up calls today. Of course not.

So I get up, rush to get dressed (because I can't drive through car line in my pajamas today - it's already over), get everyone else dressed (because the twins will also not just be driving through car line today), get everyone fed, presentable and out the door. We made it to school by 7:25, which is nothing short of miraculous in and of itself given how late we woke up and how not awake the entire house was at the time.

No measly few minutes late for me. Nope, we were 40 minutes late. And I still had to drag (literally drag) Connor out of bed and force him to get dressed. He ate in the car. I was that mother today.

Here's hoping tomorrow goes a little better. Annoying buzzer alarm set - check. Cell phone alarm also set - check. Early bedtime for Mommy - working on it. Or maybe mother nature will take it's course - they're calling for snow and freezing rain. Maybe we'll all be sleeping in tomorrow ...

Santa's Helper

Santa's Helper, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Eight teachers (plus one who was with Xander for the two previous years, so make it nine). Two therapists. Two support staffs. A whole lot of cookies. As in six batches (of about 36 each) and nearly five hours of baking and packaging.

With so many people who have day-to-day contact with the boys, it's hard to come up with an appropriate (and affordable) gift to say "thank you" for all that they do. The boys are all having great school years, and the twins continue to show remarkable progress in their third year of Early Start.

That means I fall back to my usual holiday gift - cookies. Homemade chocolate chip.

It's the very least I can do for people who go out of their way to help our boys succeed.

Traditions ...

Keepsake Ornaments, originally uploaded by cheryl.

A simple little tradition we started years ago. Every year, we pick up a Keepsake ornament for the boys, one that represents a little piece of who they are that year (or attempts to anyway).

For Connor, I considered two characters that he absolutely loves - Scooby Doo and Curious George. I ended up with Curious George - it seems to be an all-around favorite for him. Sometimes he likes Scooby Doo, but always - whether books or television or movies - he loves Curious George. His last three or four library books from school have been Curious George, even though he owns the treasury collection that has most of them already in it. Still, that's what he picks to bring home.

For Sawyer, the choice was easy. He's been obsessing over the Shrek 2 movie, which happens to be my favorite of the series. It's the only one he ever wants to watch. And no, it's not lost on me that it involves a green character - his least favorite color. Truth be told, I think he might be reversing himself. He's been sorting out all the green states in Connor's new wooden puzzle map of the United States. He still won't touch the green Crunch Berries though.

For Xander, the choice was also easy. We'd done a Crayola one for him before, but art is still one of his greatest loves. He's always begging to pull the art supplies out of the closet. He brings home more "artwork" than both of his brothers combined. He simply loves it. Besides, it's not like they have a Hallmark ornament dedicated to playing computer games. Not even a laptop ornament. So really, what choice did I have?

Three boys, three ornaments. A favorite tradition.

Silly Sentences

Silly Sentences, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Homework. It's the bane of our existence sometimes. Connor hates it. HATES it. He apparently is over his fascination with big kid school. He complains every single day about going to school. He really complains when we have to do homework after he's already been at school all day long.

Kindergarten is pretty hard core these days. I remember nap time and play time, and it doesn't really sound like Connor gets much (if any) of that in his day. The poor kid is being asked to learn Chinese, for goodness sake.

And he's also expected to read by the end of the school year.

Most of his homework focuses on that. A large part of it is sight words - flash cards of sorts that help him learn to recognize words on sight (rather than sounding them out). He has about 50 words we're working with (five new ones come home every week). He knows most - between 35 and 40 depending on the day. He struggles with a few that look similar, or have similar endings. But overall, he does pretty well.

Except when he's tired. And then he just starts naming any word he can think of, regardless of whether it has any of the same letters in it as the one you're showing him. Today he told me "do" for "but," because clearly those are similar. But there was a pattern, and the pattern was he was done. We'd worked on them for about 30 minutes, and he was simply tired.

So we took a break, or so he thought. We got out the new game that Uncle Brian and Cousins Austin and Kyndal got him for Christmas over the weekend. It's called Silly Sentences. It's basically sight words. Despite that fact, he was enthused. We played for an hour. We even had to leave the finished ones on his desk "to study later" or so I was told.

"A ball ate a green banana."

"A thin hero jumped on a squirrel."

Silly. But sentences. And using sight words, capital letters, and punctuation. He had fun, and he had no idea he was still doing his homework.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas at the Lake

Christmas at the Lake, originally uploaded by cheryl.

For the first time in months (like eight, if you want to count), I had a weekend off. And even better, it was a paid weekend off. This past weekend was the one we worked out to spend at the lake with my family. Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Brian and his kids Austin and Kyndal, and our family all got together to celebrate the holiday.

Our family drove down Friday night after Daddy got home from his job at the fire academy. Uncle Brian and his kids followed us on Saturday morning (cousin Kyndal had a dance recital on Friday night). We spent the day hanging out, catching up and enjoying some down time from work and school and the general chaos of our lives. The boys also enjoyed Grandpa's new flat screen television on the loft, especially around basketball game time.

Grandma made a big holiday dinner - two actually, since Brian and I can't agree on a favorite. She made roast beef and noodles for me, complete with white beans and yeast rolls, and turkey and gravy with green beans, corn and cranberry sauce for Brian. Everyone sampled a little bit of it all.

After dinner, the kids waited restlessly for present time. We did manage to let Grandma clean up the kitchen a little before the attacked. Grandpa even lit a fire in the fireplace, which the twins were fascinated by for quite some time. And then it was time to start ...

Youngest to oldest was the order. Xander, by all of three minutes, started. Then Sawyer. And then Connor. Next was Kyndal. Last was Austin. They all got a lot of great presents. The little guys had some texture toys (which of course made them happy) and some puzzles and motion books. Connor got a really BIG Lincoln Logs set with a train, a book and a sight word game, Kyndal got some art supplies, some Zoo Pets, and some clothes from her favorite store - Justice, and Austin got some clothes, the Percy Jackson book series, and some candy.

Before the night was over, the rain that had started to fall turned to snow. And that meant we all left a little earlier than planned on Sunday morning. Cousin Kyndal has another dance recital Sunday afternoon, and they had to be there in time for dress rehearsals.

Grandma sent us all off with a big country breakfast - sausage, country ham, bacon, biscuits, gravy and scrambled eggs (last minute switch, as there wasn't time to fry that many eggs - sorry Grandpa)!

It was a nice chance to take a break from the sometimes chaos of the holiday season. No school, no work, no rushing around. The lake is a great place for that. Special thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for a wonderful holiday weekend!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things I Did Yesterday

Got up at the crack of dawn - as usual - to get Connor up and dressed and fed before school. We leave the house just after 7 every morning.

Pretended to watch a few minutes of the Today just before 8 when the twins and I got back from Connor's car line drop off. Actually, I'm pretty sure I fell asleep. Normally I would have just gone back to bed for an hour or so, but the Christmas tree is a bit too much temptation for two little boys. I was on guard duty, even if I was dozing.

Got the twins dressed and fed and ready to school. We leave around 10:15 for their drop off.

I also managed to sort through the pantry, create a grocery list and organize coupons before heading out the door. Because that was stop number two.

But first, I had to drive to one of our rental properties, pick up a rent check, deposit that into our bank account, so I could pay for said groceries. It was a BIG list. It was the Wal-Mart list, which I haven't done in months. I purposefully put it off.

Next, rush through the store and try to find everything on the list, make sure I give the clerk the coupons (I'm notorious for forgetting this part), load it all into the truck, rush home, put it all away, and take a breath.

But only one, because then it's time to start school pick ups. I was actually running a few minutes late, but normally I leave at 1:15 to head over to the twins' school. They dismiss at 1:35 (sometimes earlier, because you know the teachers are ready to end their day by then - the first session, which we of course don't do, starts at 7 in the morning).

Now it's hurry up and wait time. We drive the back ways to get to Connor's school - there's less traffic and it kills a little time. We have an hour between the twins' dismissal and Connor's dismissal.

"French fries!" pipes up from the back seat. Xander cannot pass this stretch of fast food heaven without making at least one request. Usually it's multiple requests, followed by kicking and screaming when it's denied (we stop one day, the other four are not so pleasant for him).

And, I am hungry. Starving, actually, since I forgot about breakfast for me and didn't really have time for lunch. So we stop for the second time this week (bad, I know, but it's been a crazy, busy holiday filled week).

We go through the drive-thru today, pick up Arby's, and then head on over to get our spot in line. We're always one of the first 10 or so cars at Connor's school. We get a spot along the sidewalk, which means Connor will come out with the very first group of car line kids.

And we eat. And drink. And wait. And wait and wait and wait. Those 40 minutes take forever some days. Especially when the twins are not in a good mood. Sawyer had fallen asleep at school again yesterday, and he was crabby. He stopped being pitiful just long enough to eat his french fries and drink some of my Mountain Dew, and then it was back to pitiful. Because I wouldn't let him have ALL of my Mountain Dew. Mean Mommy, clearly.

Finally, Connor came out. We waited for traffic to clear, then headed home.

I had work to finish - a design project for a friend who helps with her local holiday home tour. I also needed to put the finishing touches on Grammy's birthday present - as in assembling it and wrapping it. And then there were some other design projects to work on - two calendar projects for Grammy and Pappy for Christmas gifts (tick, tick - right?).

I spent a lot of the afternoon working on the computer, much to my children's annoyance. Especially Xander's. It is his computer, you know.

We were also running out of time for the family photo that goes on the annual Christmas card. The tree just went up Tuesday night, so we haven't had many days. Why not throw that in to yesterday's chaos, too. We changed the boys into "nice" clothes, posed for pictures, and made everyone miserable (that's what pictures do to people, right?). After about a hundred takes (literally), we salvaged a few to merge together. Love my Photoshop, even if it was more time on the computer. Xander really didn't like me at this point. was waiting for him.

And then it was time for Grammy's birthday dinner. Aunt Kelly and Uncle Aaron, and Grammy and Pappy all came over to enjoy take-out (P.F. Chang's, which Grammy and I both LOVE). We ate, we opened gifts, and we enjoyed the night.

Then it was time to review the calendar projects, and make some minor changes. And then some more edits to the home tour project.

And then bake some cookies for Josh to take to fire school today for their weekly fundraiser (the recruits make lunch for the academy, which instructors and others purchase to help them raise money).

I made it to bed about 3 this morning. And rolled out again three and a half short hours later.

Today has been much the same. The holidays ... they can be fun at times, but they can also wear you out.

Is it bed time yet? (Oh, and we still have to drive two hours to the lake tonight for early Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa ... did I mention that?)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tree!

All Lit Up, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Connor has been waiting (anything but patiently) to get to this point. Daddy took him yesterday afternoon to the little tree farm down the road from our old house that we've been going to for years (before kids, even). He could not have been more excited to go, or to bring it inside, or to see it the next morning. We are not brave enough to decorate with three wild little boys underfoot, not yet anyway.

So the boys woke up to this sight. Only one ornament has been sacrificed at this point, but it was just day one. Between Connor's fascination with touching them all to ask where each one came from, the twins trying to play with them all, and Buster's need to sit between the tree and the front windows, it may all come crashing down before Santa even thinks about gracing our chimney top.

Different Worlds

Sometimes I feel like I live in two very different worlds. I have three little boys, and all of them are individuals – with their own tastes, their own interests and their own quirks. But two of them have one thing in common, they both have autism. And that puts the boys into two different groups, and I have to be two different mothers, often at the very same time.

People often ask me what the hardest thing is about having children with autism. I never know what to answer. Part of that is simply me, my nature. It is what it is. They are your children, you love them, you do everything you can for them. In that way, it’s absolutely no different than any other child.

Balancing the very different needs of those children is the hard part. I’m sure it’s a problem for every parent with more than one child. You always wonder if you’re doing enough for one or too much for another. At what point does helping one become an inconvenience or sacrifice of the other.

That is the hard part.

There are so many experiences that Connor has missed out on, or that have been different or later for him, simply because of his brothers. T-ball came in the fall, at almost six years old instead of four, when many kids start. Not because Connor wasn’t ready or wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Because we weren’t sure how to make it work with two brothers who never enjoyed sitting through one of their cousin Austin’s baseball games – a once or twice a season occurrence. If that was too much for them, what would weekly games and practice sessions do for them. Or even if we took them, what kind of distraction would they be for Connor, his teammates or his coaches. I can tell you, even this year, it was hard. They screamed and cried and were not at all fans of t-ball. And while I was thrilled for Connor to have the experience, it was not always a fun one for the rest of us.

That’s just one example. There are birthday parties – friends and family alike – that we have avoided. Play dates with other friends, because venues were too open or too much for the twins to handle. Dinners out at a restaurant, whether just as our family or with others. Trips to the zoo or the pool or the aquarium or any other place you could imagine. They have been few and far between. Connor would like them, but there was always the question of how the twins would react, how they would behave, and simply whether or not we could manage it.

More often than not, we take the divide and conquer approach. One parent stays with the twins in a more manageable environment. Connor goes with the other on limited adventures. Or, more frequently, another outside family member takes Connor on a fun adventure. Without that, he would not have nearly the experiences that he has in his six years. He’s been to the zoo, the aquarium, movies, parks, museums, the beach, the mountains, overnight visits with out-of-town family members. He’s actually well-traveled. And we are so extremely grateful to our family members who have helped him have that life. It’s simply not something we can give him right now – not with his twin brothers and their needs.

And that’s hard, too. Wondering, worrying about how it affects him. Will he come to resent his brothers, their ever-present and all-consuming needs that often overshadow his own? Are the separate adventures enough to make up for the typical, everyday family stuff that is missing?

Christmas, or any holiday, always puts it into sharp focus. Connor is excited about Christmas. He couldn’t wait to go with Daddy to cut down the tree and put up Christmas decorations at the house. He’s even begging for outside lights this year. He constantly wants to know how many days until Christmas and often wonders aloud what Santa will bring him this year. He looks forward to dinner with the extended family – and even more presents. And time off from school.

All typical, everyday things.

With the twins, none of those things matter. With their limited communication, what they understand is hard to gauge. Maybe they know the holiday is coming, maybe they don’t. They certainly like to open presents, but their joy seems to come more from pulling the paper off or playing with boxes than the actual toys. The tree is fascinating, because they like to play with the ornaments. But the anticipation, the excitement, simply is not there. If they knew to anticipate dinner with the family, it would not be a happy anticipation. It would mean all day in someone else’s house, with a lot of different people and lots of strange noises that may or may not make them happy.

It is, quite simply, different.

The holidays are both happy and sad. It’s fun to watch Connor get excited for the season, to see his anticipation slowly build all month long. It’s harder to see it side-by-side with his brothers, so unconcerned and unimpressed by what should be a magical time of year. It’s sad not only for them, but for their big brother, who probably is already starting to wonder why his little brothers are so different, why they do not share any of his interests or his excitements.

Three boys, two entirely different worlds …

Monday, December 6, 2010

Changes ...

Daddy's New Job, originally uploaded by cheryl.

When people tell you kids change everything, you don’t always believe them. But it’s true. Just look at us.

I never thought I’d be working part-time in the health-care industry, but I am. It allows me to be at home with the kids during the school week and make some extra money on the weekends. My old job was getting paid for 40 hours a week but putting in 60 or 70. It wasn’t conducive to kids. At least not when there was more than one. And it was stressful, full of late nights and last minute deadlines. With my part-time job, you have a set schedule and you leave your job at the door with the next person who comes in to take over. I LOVE that part. Work stays where it belongs – at work. And I still pick up the odd freelance job here and there, keeping my hand in my old career, just in case I ever want to go back. But marketing and graphic design will always have those deadlines and crazy hours, and I honestly don’t know that I ever will. Kids changed that for me.

And I’m pretty sure that Josh probably never thought he’d be going to “fire school,” as Connor calls it, but that’s what he’s doing for the next 14 weeks. About a year ago he started the application process for the local fire department. He made it through several rounds of testing and interviews and is now a “recruit” and going through training. He even made it through a long and hard EMT certification class before this process even started! Construction has its ups and downs, but with three kids – two with special needs – a steady paycheck and benefits finally tipped the scale. He’ll still do construction and build houses, but not as his full-time job. And not for the next 14 weeks! Right now he’s busy going to class, studying for quizzes and exams, and getting back in shape for the tough physical exam at the end of training!

It’s funny how kids can change so many things about your life. Neither one of us is working in the field of our college degrees. But it works for us right now. It fits with the priorities we have as parents to three amazing little boys.

And how much are they going to love it when Daddy is a firefighter? Coolest Dad job ever.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hint, Hint

Hmm ... Wonder What He's Thinking About, originally uploaded by cheryl.

For the last week or so, Connor has been a little bit obsessed. You see, other people have started putting up their Christmas trees. He's seen them at stores, in other people's windows, on top of people's cars. He sees them everywhere. And he never hesitates to point them out.

"There's one. Another one. Aw, man! Why do they have their tree already? When are we going to go get our tree? How much longer do I have to wait? Can we go today? How about tomorrow? Please, come on, please."

It's a running commentary in our house.

And now it's a reoccurring theme in Connor's artwork. He brought this one home from school today. Clearly he's trying to give us a hint.

I'm one of those people who doesn't like to rush the season. I like Christmas, but if it starts too early, then I get tired of it. I also happen to really like Thanksgiving, and want to enjoy it for what it is all about, rather than skipping from Halloween to Christmas as most of the stores did this year. But that's just me.

Not to worry, Connor won't have to suffer too much longer. We're planning to go either this weekend or one day next week to get the tree. After Josh and I built our first house together (many, many years ago), we discovered a small, locally owned and operated tree farm just down the road from that first house. We've gone there every year since 2003.

Connor has been taken every year of his life, though he only started to be interested last year (and of course, is even more interested this year). If you happen to visit the same farm, you will see pictures of him and Josh up on the photo wall (they take a photo with everyone if they're willing).

Soon ... one day soon ... Connor will get his first Christmas wish!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rituals & Routines

The twins have a lot of those - things they like to do a certain way, things they don't like to do at all. And Sawyer and Xander are both very different in their likes and dislikes.

If Xander's in the mood for affection, he likes to kiss. A lot. If Sawyer's in an affectionate mood, he likes to squeeze, or hit (think love tap, only really, really hard).

One of my favorite routines is bed time. And it just goes to show you how different my identical twins really are from one another. Xander will accept a quick snuggle or kiss (even making the "Mmm .... ma" sound of a pretend kiss just to speed the process along. A cuddler he is not ...

But Sawyer is my cuddle buddy, especially at bed time. The poor kid is never really ready to go to bed, but one thing is for certain. If it's bed time, he wants Mommy there. We hop in bed, ready a book, and snuggle. I always read, sometimes he listens for minute, sometimes he pays attention to the flip of every single page, and sometimes he just dances around the room with that boundless energy and motion that is, quite simply, my boy.

But after the book is put back away, the lights go out and it's time for bed. We climb in together. He always lays in the same place - horizontally, on his belly and stretched on top of both his pillows, wedged up between the headboard and the mattress. Tight spaces, pressure - both things he loves and craves.

Sometimes he jabbers in that language we don't yet understand. Sometimes he giggles. Always he reaches out his little arm and hooks it around my neck, pulling me down hard and close to him. We stay that way for a while, snuggled close. Even if I have a million other things I need to be doing after bedtime, I always stay for a while.

You see, there was a time when Sawyer didn't like to be touched at all. When he would arch away, pull away and cringe at even the barest touch from other people. It never stopped me, of course. He learned to tolerate quick, hard hugs somewhere along the way. But now, now he reaches out and holds on tight.

If he's not at all sleepy, I "look" into his eyes. He doesn't like direct eye contact, of course, but he will let me "look" at him if I keep my eyes closed. He will actually giggle at me, and reach his hands up to hold onto my face, to hold me there just inches above his own. It's one of our moments together.

Yes, I stay for a while. We cuddle and laugh and hold on tight.

Routines and rituals can change, sometimes without the slightest hint or warning. I don't want to miss these moments ... not a single one. So much of his day is spent in his own world, doing what he wants just the way he wants, without wanting or needing help or interaction from anyone else.

But these moments, the ones where he's actually reaching out and holding on, those are priceless.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Communication 101

Communication 101, originally uploaded by cheryl.

People are often surprised when I tell them that my four-year old twins don't talk much, especially when I tell them that Sawyer does not have any functional speech at all. Not yet, anyway.

But just because he does not have the words yet, does not mean that he doesn't communicate. He does. His way, in this and so many others, is merely different. It's his own.

Most four-year olds would probably say "Juice, please" or "I want some juice" or something else along those lines. Sawyer doesn't have any of those words just yet.

But his way is just as effective.

Get the juice you want out of the refrigerator. Get your specific juice cup (the boys all have two cups each in the same color - one for milk and one for juice - that stay in our refrigerator at all times). Set both of them on the counter together, and then go find Mommy and pull her into the kitchen.

Sometimes he skips that last step. He just waits for me to notice. But I just take that to mean he's only a little thirsty. If he really wants it now, he'll drag me in there to it. Or he'll pick up the juice and the cup and bring them to me wherever I happen to be.

One thing Sawyer certainly is not, is bashful. If he wants something, he's going to find a way to let you know about it. Trust me.

Turkey Day

Three Turkeys, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Thanksgiving is our travel holiday. We circle the state, or so it seems, every year to visit two different sides of the family.

But let's back up a moment. Thanksgiving week is a good one. There are only two days of school. Connor was ecstatic about this part. The bad news is we were home all day on Wednesday together. For hours and hours and hours. Boredom quickly ensued, even after we rotated toys around (the boys have way too many, half are kept in the large hall closet, half are out in the play room).

Wednesday night was prep time. I baked. And baked and baked. Or maybe it only felt that way because I didn't start until 9 o'clock that night, after the kids went to bed. Could be. Anyway, I was up until after midnight baking the two batches of cookies (two Thanksgiving dinners, remember).

I certainly didn't want to be up doing it in the morning. To make it to our first Thanksgiving dinner on time (about three hours away), we had to leave around 9 o'clock in the morning. Getting everyone up, dressed and fed was enough of a challenge for the morning.

Josh complained about forgetting his sunglasses about 10 minutes into the ride. Another 20 minutes or so, and that was no longer an issue. It was a very wet Thanksgiving in our part of the world. It stormed and rained and stormed some more, all day long.

Our first Thanksgiving dinner was bittersweet. It was at my grandmother's house, the one who passed away last weekend. All the food had already been bought and plans had already been made. My two aunts and one cousin, the ladies who always host and prepare holiday meals, decided to go ahead. It was good, of course, to see the extended family again. It was sad, to think of holidays past when my Grandmother was there with us.

The boys did fairly well here. They were a bit noisy, put their faces on too many glass panes for Grandma (to the boys, meaning my mother)'s taste. And they didn't touch very much food at all. But it was a pretty typical outing for them. Grandma was prepared with toys for them to play with, and snacks, too.

Connor had a great time. Uncle Brian and Cousins Austin and Kyndal were also there. The three amigos made a day of it, laughing and joking (see here for proof).

And then we were back on the road. A little longer than was planned, actually, because about 20 minutes after we left I realized I'd left my camera behind. It was still in the very crafty hiding place I had found to keep the kids from bothering it, tucked away on the side of the television stand. So back we went, adding a 40 minute detour to our original journey. The trip should have been a little over an hour. It may have been closer to two.

Another house full of people awaited. This one was hosted by Josh's aunt and uncle, and included Grammy (Josh's mother)'s extended family as well as the uncle's extended family. It really was a house FULL. The boys do better here. There's a basement with toys (and this year, a computer that was left on and quickly discovered by Xander). They ate a little, played a lot, and the evening passed quickly.

Twelve long hours after we left our house, we were headed back toward it. It would be well after 10 o'clock when we made it home. A long day, but a good one. It's not often you get to visit with that much family, or enjoy that much good food, on a random Thursday!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Little Moments ...

Life ... it keeps moving much too quickly these days.

Sometimes I feel like there's no time left in any of the days, and if there is, sitting down in front of the computer is the last thing on my list. Or perhaps, more accurately, fighting Xander and Connor for the computer is the last thing on my list. It's just not worth it, and by the time I get everyone in bed, sometimes I'm ready for bed.

Here are the little moments, those things I don't want to get lost in chaos of our lives right now ...

Xander is a chatterbox. Who knew? You can't always understand every word he's saying, but the truth is, he's always saying something. He also loves to sing. His teachers tell me he loves to sing the months of the year - and guess what - he actually knows which one is which. I learned that the other day during story time, when he wasn't really paying attention to the story and was lining up the calendar months from the classroom calendar. In order. He's also a fan of Special Agent Oso, so if you hear "Three special steps..." this is where it's coming from.

Connor loves his new scooter. He wants to ride it all the time. And take it with him everywhere he goes. It doesn't matter if it's cold or raining outside, he still wants to ride. And secretly, I think he likes to ride in hopes he can catch our neighbor and his play friend, P, outside again. He loved the afternoon a few weeks back when the boys got to play outside for a few hours after school!

French fries are the bane of my existence. Xander wants them every single day after school. You know, as we drive past all the fast-food places on the way to the car line at Connor's school. We stop about once a week, just for a little snack. But that's not nearly enough. I hear "French fries?" every single day. Every. Single. Day.

Sawyer is obsessed with Mountain Dew. Or any carbonated drink. Or any drink, really. He will drink you out of house and home if you let him. He will sneak into the refrigerator if you leave it unlocked, climb up to the very top shelf (where we tend to set our open drinks) and sneak it back into the play room. And it will disappear. You'll find empty cans scattered around the house if you're not careful.

Xander is no longer content to sit in the back seat of my truck. If Connor is not with us (like when I'm taking the twins to their school) or if Connor is simply too slow to get in, Xander will hop up in his car seat and stake his claim. Screaming and hitting quickly follow. It's funny how similar these two are in personality. It's not funny how much they constantly butt heads.

Connor is big on telling stories. I couldn't tell you half of them, but sometimes I seriously wonder what really goes on at his school from what he tells me. Sometimes it's that his friends eat all his lunch, or that they simply don't serve lunch. Other days it's how someone ripped his art project, or how his friends talk too much and get him in trouble. His teacher swears he's good in class, listens and doesn't talk any more than any of the other kindergartners. Perhaps he just has a big imagination these days.

Sleep. Also the bane of our existence. The twins have never had what you would call regular sleep patterns. Lately, they've been worse than normal. Xander has been up much earlier than he ever has before. He averages about 6 a.m. - sometimes earlier, hardly ever later. Sawyer is all over the place. It depends on when he falls asleep. He really only requires about 6 to 8 hours a day. And if he falls asleep at 6 p.m. after a hard day, he's going to be awake at 1 a.m. for the day. Good times.

And those are the things I can think of right now. Perhaps I will think of more later. I need to do a better job of writing them down, or writing about them in the moment - instead of waiting for more time (which never seems to come) or for the perfect photo to go along with it. Such is life ...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Loving Memory ...

Funerals are hard. They're even worse around the holidays.

My grandmother passed away over the weekend. This particular illness only lasted a few weeks, but her health had been declining in recent years. She was 94, and her body and her mind had not been her own for some time.

On Monday, the boys and I made our way across the state to say our good-byes. We traveled with my brother, Uncle Brian, and his son Austin (Kyndal was sick with the stomach bug and stayed home in bed).

The more I think about it, the more I tend to agree with my grandmother that funerals aren't necessary. She didn't want one. And she didn't have one, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Immediate family gathered together at the funeral home for a very brief viewing, immediate family made the procession to the cemetery for an even briefer service, and she was laid to rest next to other family members who have passed before her.

With three kids along, I spent most of my time keeping my twins at a safe distance from the others. Social skills are not their strong suit, and understanding sadness and solemness is not something they have just yet. Connor, though not fully understanding the event, was calm and quiet with Uncle Brian and Austin. I was not sorry to be otherwise occupied with the twins. It was a welcome distraction from a sad day. We stood at the edge, enjoying abnormally warm weather, the strong winds and watching the sun peak out from behind the fast-moving clouds. The cold and the rain stayed away this day.

This final chapter is not how I will remember my grandmother.

No. I will remember her as she was - strong and kind, selfless and devoted to her family. I will remember Sunday dinners around her table, her house filled with family every single weekend of my life (at least until I started a family of my own). I will remember holidays, when the house was packed from one end to the other with several generations and branches of the family. I will remember five-gallon jugs of lemonade and fresh strawberries and pot roast nearly every week, because she knew how much I liked it. I will remember sitting under the shade trees in her front yard, spending lazy Sunday afternoons surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins. I will remember her smile and her laugh and how she was always the center, the heart, of our family.

I will think of all the stories I remember being told. I will remember how she was up before the dawn every single day, making not one but two different breakfasts for her family - one for a son who worked first shift at a factory more than an hour away and one for the other children still at home. I will remember how much of the food, so lovingly prepared by her hands, also grew and was harvested by those same hands in their family fields. I will remember her drawer full of flour in the kitchen, for biscuits and baking and so many other goodies she made. I will remember how even as she got older and was attacked by a fox on her farm, how she grabbed a nearby tobacco stick and beat that fox to death. Yes, really.

I will remember her love, her spirit and her presence in my life. That's the grandmother I will always remember.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Just Because ...

That would be Xander, enjoying recess his way. Just because.

Special thanks to Mrs. D, the boys' speech therapist at school, for sharing the photo!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Obsession

Balloons!, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Balloons. Xander LOVES them. He is actually a little obsessed with them. It's the only thing he cares about in the Goodnight Moon book. Pages that don't have that red balloon are flipped through without a glance. He constantly says "Balloons?" and "There he is!" when it comes to his favorite object.

These balloons actually came home with Connor yesterday afternoon. He was invited to a birthday party at Monkey Joe's across town (think big inflatables and games). Daddy took him while Mommy finished catching up on her sleep from working all night long all weekend long. When he came home, these balloons were an instant hit.

And an instant fight. Because everyone wanted not one, but ALL of them, at the same time. Of course.

You can see that the most determined child eventually won. Sawyer likes them, and will bounce them up in the air and watch them fall (the motion, not the balloon is his obsession). Connor likes them as much as any toy for a few minutes, but usually only wants them because others do (if you can imagine).

But Xander covets them. And, in the end, he usually ends up with them. They travelled with him early this morning as we dropped Connor off. I had to fight with him to leave them at home when it was time to drop them off at their school. I may take them with me as the car line diversion for this afternoon.

Yes, they're that good. At least to some of us.

Cousins Come to Visit

Okay, Fine, originally uploaded by cheryl.

So this post is just a few days late. Things stay pretty busy in our house right between work and school and life.

Last Wednesday, our cousins Katie and Josh and their new little boy Xavier came up for a visit. We made lasagna and chocolate chip cookies, and enjoyed a quiet night of catching up and watching the baby.

The boys were not terribly impressed. Connor was interested in the baby at first, but quickly saw he was getting all the attention. He jumped right in to claim his fair share, trying to help cousin Josh as he bottle fed and then burped the baby. He was a good little helper.

The other two you have to watch. Sawyer likes pressure, and loves to squeeze things. It's his version of a kiss at times, and he kept wanting to walk up and squeeze the baby's face. Not a good thing, because Sawyer is quite strong and the baby would not appreciate that, I'm sure. Xander on the other hand, is fascinated by naming the parts of your face. So he kept walking up to the baby and naming the nose, eyes, mouth and ears. Did I mention he feels the need to jab each body part as he names it? Because he does. That was interesting, too.

It was a good visit, although much too short. Our cousins live a few hours away, and now that they've graduated from school both have jobs in their hometown. Even though we don't get to see them as often, we still love keeping in touch!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Day in the Life

There are a lot of things that are difficult about this school year. Timing is the big one. Never more so than in the last few weeks.

Daddy has started training for a new job, and that training lasts Monday through Friday from 7 o'clock in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon. He leaves the house by 6:35 or so. Connor has to be at school by 7:35 in the morning, but can't be dropped off any earlier than 7:15. Guess who's now on morning drop off duty?

Everyone's day starts between 6 and 6:30 in the morning. Sawyer, of course, is perfectly fine with this. He's generally been up anywhere from an hour to two hours already anyway. Xander is usually okay with this, as he's generally up about that time if not before. Today was a random fluke, and for the first time in literally months I had to wake him up to leave. Daddy leaves first, and the twins and I take Connor just after 7 o'clock. We're usually back home by 7:45 or so.

And then the twins don't have school until 10:35. Sometimes I sneak a nap in, especially if it's a work night, and other times I just stay up and am amazed at the amount of things I can actually accomplish (you know, before I crash about 6 o'clock that afternoon from lack of sleep).

Everyone is in school from 10:35 to 1:35. That's when I run errands. Or walk the dog. Or both. Or none of the above. It depends on the day. And my mood. And what else is already scheduled for the week at any given point in time.

Around1:15, I leave the house to do the first pick-up. The twins get out at 1:35, but it does me no good to be first in line. That just means we'll be that much earlier to Connor's school. It let's out at 2:35, which is just long enough to make it not worth our while to go back home (because we would literally maybe get a drink, potty, and be back out the door again - and our house is in the total opposite direction of Connor's school).

So we leave the twins school and then make our way to Connor's school, in no hurry of course, because we're going to get there by about 2 o'clock and just have to wait. And wait and wait and wait.

The twins hate this. Normal children would hate this. Children with autism, well, it's enough to drive them (and therefore me) crazy. We've tried videos, books, toys and have finally resorted to the only bribe that works with any consistency. Food. And drinks. But you have to be careful with that last part, or you'll have a potty issue on your hands. You can't exactly take a potty break in car line.

Once a week or so, I stop and get the twins some good food. We've tried McDonald's - nuggets and fries for them, Coke for all, Arby's - fries for them, and even Wendy's - Frosties for all. They work at times, but at other times buy only a few minutes of peace. And I always feel guilty, like I should pick up something for Connor, too. But what would last for 40 minutes in the car and still be worth eating? And, truth be told, he probably has had many, many more lunches out than the twins could ever dream about. Last year during preschool, we averaged at least one a week just with us. Not to mention aunts, uncles and grandparents.

But, I digress. Back to the car line. Fast food one day, and usually we resort to some sort of candy or fruit snacks from home and a shared bottle of Gatorade on the rest.

Connor eventually comes out of school and we make our way home around 3 o'clock. Next is a little downtime, followed by homework, then dinner, then maybe some more play time before bath and bed.

Sometimes it feels like a never-ending merry-go-round.

Though in many ways I am not ready to send my twins to kindergarten (another post about that some other time), part of me very much looks forward to next school year - one school, one drop-off and one pick-up.

The end. What a refreshing concept.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Birthday Boy

Down the Driveway, originally uploaded by cheryl.

November birthdays are hard. Connor got a bike last year (from Grammy and Pappy) and this year a scooter (from Mommy and Daddy). Sometimes it means he has to wait a while to actually enjoy his new toys. But not this year.

Today, his actual birthday, he got to enjoy his new scooter. We celebrated with family yesterday, simply because we didn't figure it would be a good idea on the first school night of the week. Cake and presents came late yesterday afternoon, and with the time change, it was dark outside.

After school, we took advantage of the near 70-degree weather to break in his new toy. He had fun, learning to balance and push and ride. He was already wanting to try the wheelie bar on the back, but I told him to save that for another day. Being able to balance and break are a little more important, don't you think?

We wrapped up his big day with a trip to McDonald's for dinner (his pick). Nothing says birthday dinner like chicken nuggets, french fries and Dr. Pepper, apparently. Happy sixth birthday, big boy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Enjoying the Presents

Cousins & Friends, originally uploaded by cheryl.

What better way to spend your (almost) birthday than with family. Connor loves spending time with his cousins Austin and Kyndal, and the three of them had a great time being together today.

This was the biggest of Connor's presents today - a battery-powered Hot Wheels race track that sends cars flying around the edges (and often off the track across the room) and crashing into one another. The kids loved it.

They also had fun with lots of other presents. They simply had fun, being together. Cousins and friends.

Making a Wish

Cake Time, originally uploaded by cheryl.

You wonder what he's wishing for, concentrating so hard, as he blows out his number six candle. It's hard to tell at this age. Sometimes I think he wants everything he sees.

Grandma and Grandpa drove up early this afternoon to pick up Connor so they could go to the store and pick up this cake. He had picked it out weeks ago on another trip with them. In true Connor fashion, it had been a difficult decision. He wanted every single cake he saw as he flipped through the order book - Hot Wheels, Lightning McQueen, sports, baseball, more Hot Wheels. Each one was better than the last.

Eventually, he settled on the one you see. It's a partial baseball diamond with players that he (with the help of cousin Kyndal) assembled just before the picture.

We almost had a little mishap with the cake before the day even started. As soon as Grandma and Grandpa and Connor came home with the cake, the put it on the kitchen counter.

And then walked off to do other things. Leaving the cake unattended. And tempting another little boy.

Guess who came walking into the living room holding the cake by the top of it's plastic container? Good thing it was a strong plastic container. Connor would have been crushed. And Sawyer might have gone running for his life because Grandma and Grandpa would have been after him. Little stinker.

But it was a strong container, and it made it through to the end of the day. Only about half of it remains, so we'll be enjoying it again the next few days. Birthdays should last longer anyway, Connor says. He's already asking what we're going to do tomorrow. You know, for his real birthday.

(Almost) Birthday Boy!

Hey, Dad!, originally uploaded by cheryl.

In years past, we've had all the kids' birthdays at home.

It is, quite simply, easier that way. The twins don't always do well in other places. Especially loud ones. With lots of other people. And strange food that they most likely won't touch. And confined spaces where they have to sit for long periods of time. And other people who look at them for every loud noise or odd movement.

This year we decided to try something different. A while back, Connor was invited to a school friend's party at a children's restaurant. He couldn't go simply because of a fall t-ball issue. But it made me think about doing something fun for his birthday this year. He's getting older, and his other friends talk about doing other kinds of birthdays - like parties at children's restaurants.

I didn't want to go through the hassle or the expense of a party with other kids, but I did want to try something different. I compromised. We had the family meet us at a large children's restaurant with no reservations or large party restrictions. We went to GattiTown. We were joined by Grandma, Grandpa, Grammy, Pappy, Uncle Brian, Cousins Austin and Kyndal, Aunt Kelly and Great Grandma JoAnn. We were a big table of fourteen! There was pizza and pasta and soft drinks and games and prizes.

There were also balloons. And unfortunately, that derailed Xander for most of the day. He ran away once, scaring us half to death, only to find him in a private party room trying to steal another child's balloons. He also desperately wanted to untie the balloons Uncle Brian (and Cousins Austin and Kyndal) had put on their gift for Connor. We tried to put them on his chair, but that wasn't good enough. He wanted to hold them. And we didn't want him to, because the ceiling was much too high and they would have been lost forever in a matter of seconds. It was struggle all day long. He wasn't happy until hours later when we got back to the house and he was, indeed, given one of the balloons (Uncle Brian had gotten three - smart guy that he is).

Sawyer did great. He ate lots of bread, drank lots of Mountain Dew (yes we know this is not a great thing), and rode the carousel many, many times. He had a good day. He may have swatted at Uncle Brian's balloons a time or two, but only because he loves to watch things in motion. He wasn't trying to take them or hold them, he just wanted to pull on them and watch them float back up. Overall, he was a model citizen.

And Connor was in heaven. He had pizza and pasta and Cherry Coke. He was with his two cousins who he worships, and got to spend the afternoon playing all kinds of fun and silly games, winning tickets that they would eventually cash in on cheap trinket prizes (his is already broken after an hour's play).

Food. Family. Fun. That's what birthdays are all about.

First Sleepover!

Play Friends, originally uploaded by cheryl.

A few weeks back, Connor had his first ever sleepover at a friend's house. He went home after school with his friend B (two years of preschool together, and now at the same school though not the same class). He had a great time then, and has been begging to have B over to our house from the minute he got back home last time.

Friday it finally happened. We picked up B (and his older brother H, who we dropped off at their house) from school and headed back to our house. The boys played, we fixed an early dinner - pizza, french fries and macaroni and cheese - and then the boys played some more. They took turns playing computer games, making Hot Wheels race tracks from Connor's many different sets, and even picking out movies to watch and munching on popcorn. They had a busy afternoon and evening.

Saturday they spent the morning playing again, enjoyed Daddy's pancake breakfast, and then took B back to his house around lunchtime. The boys might have liked more time, but at their age, we don't want them to grow tired of sharing or each other's company, so we cut it short on the second day. It seems to be working well for now.

Connor had a great time, and we hope B did, too!

Hard Days Play

Hard Days Play, originally uploaded by cheryl.

The days run together lately, but this was taken one day late last week. It was a rough week all the way around.

School is always a little bit exhausting for Connor, even more so when you add in things like play dates with friends (Hi J and P!) and child-led teacher conferences. It was a long week. And he was simply worn out.

And poor Buster has it even worse. In our old house, he was used to sleeping in as long as he wanted (he had his own room) and going in and out of the house whenever he wanted. Now he sleeps in the sun room - which is also the boys' play room - by his choice. We tried to put him in the over-sized laundry / mud room, but he moved himself out there and we let him.

That was before Sawyer started getting up at 4:30 in the morning. Not once, but three different times last week. Oy! Buster is also exhausted. He says you try sleeping with a bouncy, noisy, wide-awake little boy in your bedroom at that ungodly hour of the day.

So my two big boys were tired, and decided to nap together. How I wish I could join them some days!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Day at the Park with Friends

Friends, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Today was election day, and beyond going to the polls, that meant all three boys were off from school on a random weekday. We made plans to meet up with some friends (and distant cousins) at the local neighborhood park.

Connor was so excited as soon as I told him about our plans. I told him the night before, at bedtime, as we were going through our day and talking about things that were coming up for the next day. His concept of time is still a little sketchy, so we try to give him short lead times for things he's looking forward to.

It didn't matter. He was so excited he could hardly sleep that night.

And the next morning. He kept asking if it was one o'clock yet (our set time to meet). When that didn't work, I told him he would have to get past breakfast and lunch before we could even think about going to the park. About five minutes after breakfast he wanted to have lunch.

Are you seeing the pattern? He was SO excited to see his friends.

We had lunch at the last possible minute, just to avoid the annoying questions of can we go yet. He got up from the table, wiped his hands and mouth, and went straight for his socks and shoes. The twins took a little more coaxing than that, but the mere mention of slides and swing is enough to make Xander come running. Sawyer sees the snacks being packed and he, too, is ready to go.

So off we went to the park. Connor rode his bike, and I pushed the twins in the stroller. Connor wanted to drive today, for some reason, but I told him no. It was close, it was a nice day, and we were walking.

It turned out for the best. When we got there, Miss S and her boys J and P were already at the park playing. Both boys were impressed with Connor's bike, and he felt like the king of the play date. They all took turns at various times sharing his helmet and riding it around. It kept them occupied.

Not that they needed a lot of help. They were fast friends and quickly all over the park. Riding the bike, playing tag, playing (or attempting to get the big boys to let them play) basketball, exploring the far reaches of our supervision, swinging, sliding, and well, you get the idea. They had a blast.

For two and a half hours.

It was a great day. A little cool at times with the breeze, but lots of sunshine and with the boys running around so much I'm sure they were fine. I stuck closer to the play set, talking to Miss S and helping the twins in their chosen amusements - usually the swings or the rings.

All in all, a fun way to spend our day off from school. The boys were out of the house and away from the screens. We got to be social and see friends that it's hard to see when school is taking up so much of our regular days. And we enjoyed the afternoon. Good friends, good times.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Time for Trick-or-Treat!

Party of Five, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Halloween - a day of tricks and treats and costumes and candy. We weren't sure what to expect. Connor was, of course, excited. The twins, well, it's hard to tell. It's not something you can explain in advance, at least not at this stage. You just have to dress them up and hope for the best.

Grammy and Pappy came over for the day to help. We had an early dinner outside after Daddy grilled some steaks and baked potatoes. The boys played in the yard since they'd already had pizza earlier in the afternoon. Connor, of course, ate again. He doesn't pass up steak. Ever.

After dinner, it was time to get the boys dressed. Connor was eager and ready. The twins had to be coaxed inside. They were having too much fun in the back yard, and they weren't ready to come in at all.

Connor was first. His costume was easy. He had long ago decided on being a baseball player, and was doing nothing more than dressing up in his fall t-ball uniform. We did a long sleeve shirt under his t-shirt jersey, then his baseball pants, his cleats and his BlueJays hat. He was ready to go.

Xander was next. He was going to be Dash, from the Incredibles movie. It's a thin costume, so we needed something underneath to keep him warm. We opted, as usual, for those tight fitting winter pajamas that are often our "long underwear" layer in the winter when we're playing in the snow. It fit perfectly under the costume, and it also kept the scratchy velcro closures away from his back - win, win.

Last was Sawyer. We simply dressed him in black - sweatpants and his light-up Halloween shirt that Grammy got for all the boys last year - and then put his Tow Mater costume over the top. It's a three-dimensional costume with shoulder straps.

Each boy was given his McDonald's Happy Meal Halloween bucket, and it was time to go. We did a few pictures in the house, on the way down the sidewalk, and then it was time to go.

I took the first round at the house, passing out candy to the other trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood. Grammy, Pappy, and Daddy took the boys down our street and back up. Then Pappy and I switched places, with him handing out candy at our house while I joined the boys down the rest of the street and back (we live dead in the middle, so it worked out well).

Toward the end of that second loop, Xander was getting cranky. He was kind of limping (probably from his love of jumping off anything and everything, including a mishap on Saturday off of a bed). He also just wanted the very large blue sucker and nothing short of holding it would make him happy.

Grammy took the twins back to the house with Pappy, where they all stayed in the front yard handing out candy. Josh and I took Connor down another street in the neighborhood. He was ready and willing, but complained about being tired and needing to rest before it was all over.

It was a good night. The boys did surprisingly well. Sawyer in particular did great for his first time out. He walked up, took one piece of candy from the offered bowls, and turned to walk on. Of course, he didn't say trick-or-treat or thank-you, but he also didn't try to grab the whole bowl and dump it in his bucket either. He did great. Xander said trick-or-treat a time or two, but was mostly quiet, too. Connor wasn't so great on the trick-or-treat part, but was at least pretty good with the thank-you part.

All in all, a good Halloween in our new neighborhood. Here's hoping everyone else had a fun night of trick-or-treating in their part of the world!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weekend Away

Watering, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Last weekend, after Connor's school fall festival was over, Connor packed his overnight bag and headed back to the lake with Grandma and Grandpa for a fun weekend away.

Connor has always been our "have suitcase, will travel" child. In fact, he tried to sneak and extra night in on the deal. He knows that with school going on, he only has two free nights to do anything. But when we asked him how long he wanted to stay at the lake, he said quite definitively, "I stay three nights."

Nice try, kid. School will come awfully early on Monday morning and you have to be home on Sunday night.

Connor spent Saturday helping Grandpa finish up some work for the neighborhood association. The lakeside community where Grandma and Grandpa live recently purchased and planted some pretty extensive landscaping near the front entrance.

New landscaping needs water, and Connor likes to help water things. He especially liked doing it with the big water tanks that one of the neighbors loaded into the back of Grandpa's Ranger. Connor loves to ride in the Ranger. And he loves to help. He was in heaven.

It was a short weekend, but a good one. Connor always comes home full of stories of what they played and what they had to eat (they grill out a lot, and he thinks we should do that more at home). He also keeps asking when he can go back. He wouldn't mind skipping school to do it, either. Just in case you were wondering.

To Sleep or Not To Sleep ...

Once the boys gave up naps (you know, a really, really long time ago), I foolishly thought we were done with our sleep issues. The boys were getting older, surely they would figure out a pattern that works and stick with it. Right?

Not so much.

If you can say he has a schedule at all, Sawyer has been off of it this week. He's normally up somewhere between 5 and 6 o'clock every morning. He's also taken to stripping down and peeing down the vent, so that means we have to actually get him up at that ungodly hour.

Xander usually follows an hour or so behind him, although our once late sleeper is now sometimes one of the first ones up these days, too. He's still in a pull-up at night, but you have to watch him or it will soak all the way through. You have to get up as soon as you hear him moving around, too.

Connor, unfortunately, doesn't have a choice anymore. He's up at 6:45 for school whether he wants to be or not. He usually doesn't. In fact, he often burrows back under the covers or has to be dressed while laying flat on his back practically still asleep.

There haven't been naps in our house in years. And bedtime usually runs anywhere from 8 to 9 o'clock on a school night. The boys are up and out early, awake all day, and still usually resisting bed.

Which brings us back to Sawyer, who always resists being put to bed and who is really and truly off schedule. Contrary to what you might think, you don't want him to take a nap. Even getting up that early, it's still a bad idea. Because he doesn't know how to nap. He knows how to be awake or asleep, and there's no middle ground. He's either wide awake or falling asleep (whether sitting, standing or doing whatever, with the blink of an eye, he will fall deeply and soundly asleep).

Yesterday he fell asleep on the car ride home from Connor's school. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon. He slept until just after 8 o'clock last night. No amount of noise or light or rubbing on him (or his brothers jumping on him) could wake him back up. He was down for the count.

And I'm sure you see where this is going ...

He was wide awake at 8 o'clock. He stayed that way. All. Night. Long. And he stayed that way all morning, all afternoon, and all the way up until about 15 minutes ago when he finally gave it up again (he's been in his room since 8 o'clock, and just now fell asleep).

It makes me tired just thinking about it.