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.