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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Festival

Mmm ... Cotton Candy, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Last Friday was the Fall Festival at Connor's elementary school. I always loved the fall festivals when I was that age, so we made plans to take him. Grandma and Grandpa from the lake came up that afternoon to keep the twins so Josh and I could take Connor to enjoy his night (instead of spending half our time chasing down his brothers or keeping them calm in a strange, busy place).

We started the evening by purchasing the tickets, of course, which were the key to doing anything and everything at the school. It is, after all, a school fundraiser. Connor got his tickets and headed off.

First he wanted a tattoo, which he had them put on top of one of his hands. He considered face painting, but decided to hold off. Then we circled the whole school, checking out our options. We stopped in the cafeteria for some food - things like cotton candy, popcorn, chili dogs, and chocolate pudding were on our menu - and to check out the baskets for the silent auction.

After we had some snacks, it was time to spend some more tickets. We went and made a sand bracelet, which will I'm sure end up dumped somewhere in the house the next few days. He decided on a face painting after all - a dolphin, which is the school mascot. It sort of looked like a dolphin anyway, as the elementary school art club kids were doing the painting.

Next we made our way outside. There were dunking booths for two different teachers, where kids could throw balls and try to dump water on their heads. There was also a big bouncy slide and a cake walk to try.

Our last stop of the night was the pumpkin patch, where Connor picked yet another pumpkin (we have about 10 this year, up from our usual three or four). He got to color on it with markers and make his own jack-o-lantern to keep.

And then it was time to go home. Mommy had to go back to work, and Connor was off on another fun adventure to the lake with Grandma and Grandpa. More on that adventure later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kindergarten Field Trip!

Happy to Be, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Today all five kindergarten classes went to a local pumpkin patch for their first annual field trip. And I was crazy enough to sign up as a chaperone.

Preschool and kindergarten are two whole different ball games. In preschool, you have to provide transportation for your kids. In kindergarten, if you want to go, you have to chaperone. Which means you drive yourself while the kids go on the bus. And then once you get there, you'll be responsible for not only your child but also three others! And you're going to be carrying around their lunches and jackets all day, too.

It actually wasn't bad. I had Connor and three of his classmates, all boys, and all kids I'd heard him talk about at home before. They were typical boys, meaning they were full of energy and into getting dirty. But we kept them together, got them fed, kept them mostly clean, and got them back on the bus at the end of the day. And that was enough.

Another difference between kindergarten and preschool are the pictures. In preschool, I knew everyone's parents. I could post pictures on the blog and not think twice about it. Not so much in public school, where you sign privacy wavers at the beginning of the school year. I posted a few with blurred out backgrounds and people on flickr, but mostly stuck to photos of just Connor. It was simpler that way. The one above is actually from a really great shot of Connor with his best classroom buddy, B. And it's a great double photo. But I don't know B's mother, and I'm sure it violates the privacy policy. So you get the good half of Connor and that's it. Just imagine another cute smiling boy beside him on the left. He was there, and they looked adorable in the photo.

It was a long but fun day. It started with the educational part, where the owners talk about the different things they grow at the orchard and the different types of products that comes from what they grow. Then you grab a bag and head to the pumpkin patch to pick out your very own pumpkin to take home. None were very big with the dry season we've had this summer, but that was just as well since each child had to pack his or her pumpkin back out. Next was the petting zoo, where you could see mostly goats on different displays. The kids even snuck into some feed bags and made that a little more interesting. After that, everyone received a sample of some cider and apple cinnamon doughnuts - yum - while waiting to take a turn on the hay ride. Then it was back to the picnic area for our sack lunches, and finally a few minutes on the playground before it was time to wrap it up and head back to school.

Connor had a big time. We've done the orchard thing a lot, with preschool and with Grammy and Pappy several times besides, but it was fun. Connor especially liked riding on the school bus - he'd never been on a bus before. Just one more thing to mark of his list. He's a big boy these days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Me Time

Sneaking Away, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Between work, school, sleep and everything else, there's sometimes not enough "me" time to keep me sane. Today I stole a little time for myself not once, but twice.

After dropping the kids off from school, I decided not to do anything productive with my two-hour window of freedom today. I stopped by the library on the way home and picked up my next book in the Dexter series that I had put on hold request.

I did feel sorry for the pitiful puppy and take him for a walk on this beautiful fall day - so that did take about 20 minutes of my freedom. But we both enjoy our walks, so that's okay.

And then I took a blanket out to the back yard for a little R & R time. I started in the shade, but eventually moved to the sun. My good puppy came to lay down beside me and keep me company. I rubbed him with my feet while I read. We both enjoyed our down time.

I stole a few minutes again later in the afternoon. The drive home from school was eventful - what with Sawyer throwing up all over himself, the car seat, and the entire back half of the truck while we were driving - and the afternoon quickly slipped away. I had thought maybe another walk with the kids or even a short trip to the park before dinner to enjoy the last of the warm weather, but no such luck. Instead I got everyone inside, cleaned up the sick baby and put him on the couch with a movie and a blanket, and then headed back outside to clean up.

It took nearly two hours.

Car seats had to be unbuckled and carefully removed. Did you notice the plural on that? That would be because my other twin decided to pee in his car seat on the way home. Potty training for Sawyer - score. Potty training for Xander - still very much a work in progress.

But, I digress. Car seats removed, completely hosed off, scrubbed and sanitized. Third row seats carefully removed, completely hosed off, scrubbed and sanitized. Floor mats to be carefully removed, completed hosed off, scrubbed and sanitized. Carpet inside the truck to be sprayed, wiped, sprayed again, wiped again.

And then the doors had to stay open for another hour just to get rid of the lingering smell. Yes, it was that bad.

Last but not least, I also had to do a little damage control on something my oldest son pulled this afternoon. There was bubblegum stuck to the inside of his window. That was not fun. And Connor certainly heard about that. He was near tears when we talked about how any kind of gum or candy or anything ever smeared on that window or seat again will result in complete loss of food or drink in Mommy's truck for him - no drinks, not even a sip of Mommy's drink, no suckers, no snacks, no nothing. The mess was that bad, and that annoying to remove. But I think he got the point.

So that was my afternoon. And when I did come back inside, I decided it was time for another break. Connor's teacher had forgotten to put homework in their take-home folder, so we considered it a free pass night (that part he liked). Sawyer was sound asleep in front of the credits on his movie. Xander was begging for the computer. I put a movie on for Connor - his choice - and let Xander have the computer. I stole a few more minutes with Dexter.

Ah, peace ... you know, reading about a serial killer. To each his own, right?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Adventures of a Big Boy

Sleepy Big Boy, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Friday was a big day in the world of Connor. He went to his very first sleepover at a friend's house. Connor's good friend B was in both of his preschool classes and also goes to the same elementary school that he does (though in a different kindergarten classroom).

B's mom and I became good friends during their last year of preschool together, arranging quite a few playdates and get togethers before all-day school took over our lives. We did a little planning to make the first one a success. I packed his clothes a day early and dropped them by his friend's house, including a car rider tag for school. B's mom was going to pick the boys up straight from school and take them back to their house. I did manage to forget to pack a toothbrush, but I just dropped one in his school backpack with a little note to his teacher about why it was in there and also about the change in pick-up plans (Connor's teacher is one of those who direct car line in the afternoons, so she knows our vehicles and would recognize Connor was getting into a different car).

They boys had a big time. Lots of playing and eating and watching movies and just being boys. B's parents were even very complimentary of Connor, telling us how well he behaved and how polite he was during his stay. And it seemed to be a big hit with the boys, so we'll have to try to plan another one soon at our house! Connor can't wait to show off his room and his toys to his friend.

Connor is our well-traveled child, so I wasn't terribly worried about his first night away with friends. He knows B and his mom very well, so I was hopeful we wouldn't get a middle of the night call wanting to go home.

What we did have happen, though, is that one tired little boy came home. He went to bed about 6 o'clock Saturday afternoon and slept all night long. He's been complaining about a headache and also a little on the whiny side here at home.

It's hard to be five (almost six). Even when you get to do fun things, it's still hard.

And just for the record, he doesn't want to go to school tomorrow. It's still too early.

Reason No. 1

Cookie Monster, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Reason No. 2

Cookie Monster, originally uploaded by cheryl.

... why the teachers and staff at the twins' school didn't get as many chocolate chip cookies as normal. We had a little problem with what should have been the second batch of trays.

Sawyer kept stealing the entire bowl of cookie dough and eating it. I had to wash off the ice cream / cookie scoop about five times to keep his germs out.

And Xander has discovered his love of cookie dough. He kept pinching cookies off the sheets waiting to go into the oven.

Clearly we need to make the cookies after the boys have gone to bed from now on!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cousins & Friends

Cousins & Friends, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Three cousins, taking a hike in the Smoky Mountain National Park last weekend on their Fall Break with Grandma and Grandpa. They were heading to Laurel Falls for the afternoon, and clearly enjoying each other's company.

Special thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for the photo, and also for inviting the cousins for a fun trip away while they were off from school!

Beautiful Fall Day

Fall at the Park, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in our part of the world. The perfect day to procrastinate on homework (trust me, Connor agreed) or any other mundane household chores (the floors and the laundry will wait, I'm sure).

The boys and I packed up a few essentials - a cooler with Capri Suns for them and an extra Gatorade bottle just in case they ran out, a snack bag with crackers and cheese (though the cheese would only be for Connor) and fruit snacks and suckers, and the camera, of course! The twins climbed into the double stroller and Connor got his helmet and his bike, and we were on our way.

We LOVE that the city park is so close. This kind of weather, it just calls to us. So off we went.

Connor crunched through all the falling leaves (there are a lots, since it's an older neighborhood with giant trees everywhere). Xander kept saying "slide" which is his code word for the park. It's how I got him outside to the stroller in the first place. And Sawyer was just happy to be out, though occasionally sticking a hand under the stroller to try to get into the snacks a little early (clearly that's his favorite part of any trip).

We parked, and we played. Swings, slides, spinning in circles. We watched the brightly colored leaves fall (and sometimes tossed them ourselves just to watch them fall). Xander took a turn on Connor's bike. He even mastered the rings for the first time by himself (using a bit of ingenuity and climbing in the process). Connor made friends, young and old, talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. Sawyer kept pulling me back over to the swings, over and over again.

It was a fun afternoon. We were there for hours. No cares, no worries. Just a fun fall day at the park with the boys. Well, mostly ...


Bruise Brother, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Some of us have trouble paying attention, clearly.

Xander was busy doing what he always does at the local park, running along different points of the sidewalk between signs - you know, where he can look at letters. It's his favorite past time, once the initial swinging and sliding are out of the way.

This time, as he ran he was so intent on the next sign that he didn't bother to watch where he was going. And he tripped. Over the dog leash. With the dog still attached. And went face down on the sidewalk.

He caught himself, mostly, with his hands and knees. There were two small scrapes, one on top of each knee. His hands took the worst of it, though they weren't really scratched, just red from impact. But his head had a little too much momentum, and it brushed the sidewalk, too.

So now he looks like a little bruiser. Scrapes on the corner of his mouth, the side of his nose, and a big one on the top of his forehead.

It's hard to be him.

He cried for a minute, making the other mom (who was there with her two kids and the dog, which was tied up to a park bench) feel horrible. She practically dropped her child in her haste to run over to where he fell. But I picked him up and let him scream for a minute (which is his way, whether it really hurts or not).

Then I did what any parent would do. I offered him a sucker.

He screamed a little more, then sniffled, and said, "Sucker?"

And that was the end of it. He fingered the scrapes, probably more of a texture issue than anything, but never complained about them again.

All better. Suckers are good that way.


Right Now!, originally uploaded by cheryl.

It's something you should know about Sawyer. If he wants something, he's going to keep coming back to it over and over again. The boy understands that you're telling him no, of course. He's just refusing to hear you. And he will attempt to wear you down, time after time after time, until you finally give in.

It's simply his way.

If he thinks he wants something in the pantry, he will walk into the kitchen every few minutes and rattle the (locked) pantry door knob. Surely someone will have gotten into it at some point and maybe, just maybe, forgotten to lock it back.

And the refrigerator, well it's usually not locked. Eventually, if he looks often enough, he's going to find an opened can of Mountain Dew sitting on the top shelf (and he will absolutely climb the shelves to get it down). And sneaky little thing will creep back into the sun room and drink every last drop before you've even noticed it's gone.

Persistence is just one of his things.

Yesterday at the park, he desperately wanted someone else's Gatorade bottle.It's not uncommon. One of the biggest challenges for me, taking all three boys places, is keeping tabs on all of them and making sure they behave.

With Connor, that means playing nice and not talking an adult's ear off, which he is quite likely to do. With Xander, it's not wandering off too far in his search of letters on signs or not stealing another child's bike (or ride along toy). And with Sawyer, it's keeping him away from other people's food and drinks.

Yesterday he wanted that Gatorade. He made three passes at it, always with me close on his heels, before the other parent said something to him. I don't remember the exact words, something to the effect of he should know better than that and he would smack that hand if he kept reaching for it.

I didn't like it.

It shouldn't have mattered, of course. It was a perfectly reasonable request. My son is old enough to know better. He does, in fact, know that he's not supposed to take other people's things. Or at least that he will not be allowed to do so. We work hard with him on concepts like sharing and keeping our hands to ourselves. We work on things like that all the time.

And if the other parent had said that to Connor, I wouldn't have given it another thought. I might not have liked the tone, but it probably wouldn't have bothered me. Maybe because I knew my typical five-year old did know better, and would not have been doing something like that anyway.

But it wasn't Connor. It was one of my four-year olds. With autism. Who is stubbornly persistent about anything he wants. And he wanted that Gatorade.

As I was right behind him anyway, I simply redirected him back to the swings. And I looked at that other parent for a moment after I did so, deciding. The tone had bothered me, especially directed at someone else's child.

Finally, I simply told him.

My son has autism. Though I hope he knows better than to take someone else's drink, he is not going to understand words or threats like those. That's why you see me following him around, why I have been one step behind him just close enough to keep his hands away from your son's drink this whole time. I know better, and I try to teach him to know better, but sometimes I simply have to redirect him to something else. All he sees is there is a drink sitting on that table, that no one else is drinking, and that he wants to drink. That's how autism works sometimes.

The parent didn't say anything else. And the next time Sawyer made a pass around the table, the drink was no longer sitting on the table. Even when Sawyer looked around (he knew it was there somewhere), the parent didn't say anything to him, just kind of smiled at him and continued talking to other people in their group.

And that, I suppose is enough.

I hate feeling the need to explain to everyone, even complete strangers, that my children have autism. That sometimes their behaviors are not simply poor manners. I hate the label, the stereotype and so many of the perceptions that go with it. But at the same time, I also know that if someone doesn't explain it, they might not ever understand it.

And maybe, just maybe, next time that parent will see that a persistent little boy may not necessarily be a bad little boy. At the very least, perhaps it will make that parent stop and think before using that kind of tone with someone else's child.

Monday, October 11, 2010

To Sleep ... Or Not To Sleep

To Sleep ... Or Not To Sleep, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Sleep issues. They come and go in our house. And lately there have been more and more of them.

For as long as we can remember, Sawyer has required less sleep than any child we know. Somewhere around 8 hours on an average day. Sometimes less, hardly more. It's been that way since he was a toddler. And it doesn't matter when you put him to bed - early or late - he always wakes up between 5 and 6 in the morning. Always.

The last few months we've seen a return of the sleepless night, where he is quite simply wide awake after only a few hours sleep. Somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning, he wakes up and stays up. For hours and hours. Sometimes he reads and scatters his book collection all across his room. Sometimes he dances across the floor in that ever constant need of motion. Sometimes he simply laughs and laughs, usually at something we cannot see or understand. He is simply awake, at a time when the rest of the world is sound asleep (or trying to be).

Last night he was awake from at least 2 to 4, after that I finally fell into my deep sleep and didn't notice if he was awake any more or not. Josh said he got him up shortly after 5, because at that point he was banging on the his door wanting out.

And now he's sound asleep in the sun room floor. He will be for several hours. And then we will start the merry-go-round again. He won't want to go to bed tonight. He will try to wake up in the early morning hours and stay up. And then he will crash at school.

Round and round we go ...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sneaking Away

Great Smokies, originally uploaded by cheryl.

Last week Mommy and Daddy snuck away for a few days or R & R. It was our first vacation in two years, even if it was only four days! That’s what having three boys in school and two working parents will do for you. Grammy and Pappy were nice enough to treat us to a few days away while Grammy was off from work and while the boys were on fall break.

On Monday morning, we got the kids off to school and then started packing the truck. Grammy came over that afternoon about lunch to pick up car seats and car rider tags for the afternoon school pick-ups. She also got instruction lists – mostly school details for Monday and Tuesday – and the emergency medical release forms and insurance cards for all three boys. And then we were off …

Our favorite vacation spot – because it’s relatively close and we have some lodging connections – is the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. We got there Monday night and stayed until Thursday afternoon (I did have to come back to work on Thursday night, after all).

Our first day was mostly spent traveling and getting settled in. We got to our rental cabin (a nice treat thanks to a builder buddy of Josh’s), put our things away, and tried out the hot tub. Then it was back to town for dinner at one of our favorite places in the Smokies – Calhoun’s – steak, mashed potatoes and the best white chicken chili ever. We also picked up some groceries to get us through the next few days.

Day two was a day in the mountains. We slept in, packed our day bag and our cooler, and headed to the national park. We hiked the Chimney Tops trail head that day – a 4-mile round trip hike to one of the highest points in the Smokies. You get to scale a large rock face to actually get to the top – a part some people skip. I might have been one of them, but Josh insisted the view was worth it. It’s funny how having children changes your perspective. I always climbed to the top as a kid, would never have dreamed of NOT climbing it. This time, I could have passed and been fine. But I will give it to Josh, the view was amazing once I did a little rock climbing to the top.

We ended day two with another dip in the hot tub and then back to town for dinner – this time a favorite chain restaurant – Johnny Carino’s. My new favorite meal to fix at home is something called Chicken Scallopini – and the original recipe comes from this restaurant. I order it, and of course, loved it. It was nice to enjoy it without having to put all the effort in to actually make it.

Day three was another day in the mountains. We slept in a little, but did set our alarm this time. We had set our sights on one of our usual trails – Alum Cave Bluffs. It’s only about 5 miles round trip, and it’s a huge rock overhang about halfway up the mountains. It also is a stopping point on a longer trail – one that leads all the way up to Mount LeConte – which is the highest point in the Smokies. There’s also a primitive lodge on top where you can, for a fee and once you make your reservations years in advance, spend the night. We weren’t going to be doing that, but we thought it might be nice to see a different trail for a change. It’s another 2 or so miles – pretty much straight up – to get there.

You see, my family has been going to the Smokies since I was a little kid. I’ve hiked all the major trails at least 15 or 20 times in my lifetime. Abrams Falls, check. Laurel Falls, check. Alum Cave Bluffs, check. Chimney Tops, check.

But Mount LeConte, no check. It’s a little over 5 miles one way. It’s also considered a relatively difficult hike in terms of elevation and trail quality. There were places where the trail was maybe a foot-and-a-half wide with a really, really long, steep drop off the side. There were safety cables, but there was also water and snow that could have easily turned to ice. It had it’s moments, let me tell you. Especially for people not used to hiking every day.

We packed a lunch (meaning we picked up Subway the night before) and we packed plenty of Gatorade. We had some snacks and the camera, and we made a day of it. We started at 11 that morning and didn’t make it back to our truck until almost 7 that night. We also hiked just over 12 miles – most of it straight up – in a single day.

We made it to Alum Cave Bluffs about 1 o’clock, enjoyed a little break and lunch under the arch, then headed on up. We made it to the lodge area around 4 that afternoon, then spent another hour or two hiking on two different trails from the lodge – a short few tenths of a mile to the Cliff View trail and another one just over a mile long to Myrtle Point. The views were amazing, and it was totally worth it.

It was also exhausting. And it hurt to walk the next day. And the day after that. But we have some amazing pictures to show for it. And we can also say that we’ve now been to the highest point in the Smokies!

That night we stopped in to visit with Grandma and Grandpa at their condo. They brought three of the grandkids – Connor plus cousins Austin and Kyndal – down for a few days of fall break. We met up with them at the condo swimming pool, got a much-needed hug from the oldest son, and then headed out for a very late dinner – breakfast actually – at the IHOP.

Our last day was uneventful. We slept in, packed up and then headed into town for a few last minute stops. We made the required visit to the local candy maker’s shop – dark chocolate raspberry jellies and made-right-there taffy. We also picked up some fudge for our babysitters back home. We did a little outlet shopping. Next was lunch with the family, and then watching the kids race around the go-cart tracks for a little while before heading back home.

It was nice to sneak away, but it was time to head back to reality. Two little boys were waiting at home for Mommy and Daddy. Work on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for Mommy. Connor will come home this afternoon. And then the work and school week starts all over again …

At Home ...

While Mommy and Daddy were away, three little boys got to play. Monday and Tuesday were normal school days, and then fall break began. Grammy and Pappy and Cousin Louie came over to the house to take care of the boys and Buster while we were gone.

Lots of tasty treats (milkshakes are their favorite) and fun play time followed. There was a day at one of the local parks with lots of swinging and sliding. There was lots of backyard play set fun. And even a little computer time for our little addict (hello, Xander, we’re talking about you).

On Tuesday, Grandma and Grandpa came up to pick up Connor. He was going to divide his fall break between a few days in the Smoky Mountains and a few days at the lake. He was also in for some fun with cousins, as Austin and Kyndal were down for the week, too.

While we were away, the house also got some fall decorations courtesy of Grammy. There are now ghosts and scarecrows and bright twinkle lights on the landscaping in front of the house. Connor will appreciate that when he gets home.

And that is the week that was …

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Afternoons

Sweet, Sleepy Baby, originally uploaded by cheryl.

With my new work schedule these days, Sunday afternoons are my new favorite. It means I am done for the work week, that I can enjoy four days at home with all my boys doing everyday things. Going to and from school. Homework. Play time. All that fun stuff.

Sunday afternoons are the best, though. There's no rush to do anything. It's pretty much a lazy day around the house watching football (my favorite) and just hanging out with the family.

Today we had some extra visitors. Our good cousins Katie and Josh (our once a week babysitters back when they were in college here) brought their new baby boy Xavier up for a little visit. We did our mini-Thanksgiving meal (boneless turkey breast in the crock pot), had some cream cheese and chips desert, and got to hold a sweet, sleepy baby boy all afternoon.

Connor was cute, playing the big brother role to the hilt. He wanted to help feed the baby, burp the baby and do just about anything that was being done to or near the baby. The twins were curious, in their own way. Xander kept pointing to different facial parts and waiting for me to name them. Sawyer kept walking up and trying to squeeze him (hey, he likes pressure, so he assumes everyone does). We had to keep that to a minimum, but it was cute to watch him pay any kind of attention to someone else. Grammy even stopped by after work to see the little visitor and the boys.

The funniest reaction was, of course, Buster. We kept him out most of the night, because he's hyper and big and probably scary to most people who aren't used to him - like a newborn baby. But he was funny when we finally did let him in at the end of the night - sniffing the car seat carrier (which used to be Connor's a long time ago) and all of the baby's things. The look on his puppy face was priceless - like, oh no they did not bring another one of those things into my house! Too cute. He says no more babies, please. Three are more than enough!

It was a fun afternoon with family, food and football - and a sweet little boy to cuddle. They're so cute at that age - just sleeping and eating and wanting to be held. And since he was just here to visit, he won't be keeping us up tonight. He's saving that for his Mommy and Daddy!


Here and there, you hear them. A sound that is almost a word. Or a word mixed into a jumble of other random sounds. They're not consistent, they come when you least expect them and so infrequently that you often think you're just hearing things.

But they are there.

Slowly but surely, Sawyer is beginning to say a few things. For the longest time, I've been so jealous of his teachers and therapists at school. They swear they hear actual words coming from his mouth. Bread. One. Two. Three. Animal. Random things. Usually appropriate, either a repetition of something you've just said or an identification of something he sees or wants.

Today, I heard one.

It was early this morning. I had just come in from my night shift at work. The boys were in the sun room with their cereal and milk, watching cartoons. I tried to switch to Disney, which the twins like better, but Connor complained because he wanted to watch the new Cat in the Hat show on PBS. We switched it back. And then Connor complained again when it went off just a few minutes later and they started previewing the next show - Super Why! That's one the twins have always loved, and it's one that helped Xander start his spelling obsession.

And that was the word.


Quick, all together like one word. And right out of Sawyer's little mouth. One minute he was dancing and making his usual vocalizations, the next he stopped and that one word emerged.


It's so exciting. There are so many things you don't know about autism. It effects every single child differently. Some kids talk from the beginning. Some never do. Others, like both of our boys, lose language. Some are just late talkers. Some will go on to regain lost language. Some regain language but always have very scripted language. You just never know.

With Sawyer's diagnosis of classic autism, speech was not, and still is not, a total guarantee. These few words here and there may be all there ever are. They may disappear again.

But they offer hope. And it's so reminiscent of Xander a year or so ago, when those one or two words would be sprinkled in so infrequently and inconsistently (but always appropriately). I still remember them. Garage. Applesauce. Apple juice. One, two, three, four.

Words. Such simple little things. But sometimes, so much more.