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.