Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sensory Seekers

Happy by here we wander
Happy, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Every year about this time, people start asking us what to get the boys. Our holidays are all jumbled together - Connor's birthday in November, Christmas and then the twins' birthday in January.

Connor is pretty easy. He likes everything. He's partial to Hot Wheels, Nerf guns and Legos at the moment, but he truly likes just about anything.

Sawyer and Xander are anything but easy. They don't play. Not in the traditional sense. Give them a screen, and they will play for hours. Give them some toys, and they will just look at you like you're crazy.

Over the years, we've found a few things to interest them. Wooden puzzles work, for a while. Hot Wheels cars on tracks work, for a while. Books work, for a while.

Are you seeing the pattern? They will play with a few things, here and there, but only for short periods of time. And after a while, they lose complete interest. It might come back in a week or a month, or it might not. You just never know.

We've discovered a few things that keep them coming back. Most of them are therapy items - things used to work with kids with autism in either occupational or other type therapies. This year, there were three such gifts.

The first was a body sock. You put it over your head and let its resistance work its magic. Sawyer enjoys this more than Xander, but all three boys will actually put it on and enjoy it for a while.

Next was the new stretchy swing. The one in Sawyer's room was cotton and had lost most of it's elasticity and bounce after a year of abuse. The new one is higher-quality nylon material, recommended by the OTs at the boys' therapy group. It's gotten a lot of use since Christmas night.

And last is the tunnel. Similar to the body sock, but with an opening and handles on each end. It stretches almost the entire length of the sun room (some twenty odd feet) and the boys climb through it. Sawyer actually likes to lay in the very center of it, and his brothers like to crawl over and under him from end to end.

Welcome to an autism house. We have lots of toys that no one really plays with (except maybe Connor, and usually only if a friend is over to visit). And we have a variety of stretchy, sensory toys that two little boys cannot live without.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Morning

Three Boys by here we wander
Three Boys, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Our "Christmas" morning was actually on Christmas Eve, as Daddy had to work at the fire station on the Christmas Day. But the boys were okay with that.

In fact, only two of them really seemed to care.

And really, when you get right down to it, one of them not nearly as much as the other.

There isn't a single photo of all three boys by the tree that morning. Sawyer kept wandering off. He didn't care about opening presents or looking in his stocking. He was angry when we tried to make him join us. Xander would open presents, but then he too would wander off to do something else.

Connor had the true Christmas experience. He tore into each present, barely taking time to process it, before tossing it aside and searching for the next one.

It's always a little bittersweet. One child enjoying the moment and doing things you remember doing as a child. The other two, quite simply, don't care. Presents or no presents. It doesn't really matter. To them, it's just another day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays. From two of the three brothers anyway.

Sawyer was having none of the holiday photos this year. And he was really not happy with Connor's impromptu decision to grab each of his brothers around the neck to wrangle the group shot. Mommy just went with it. Two out of three is not bad, especially considering it only took about 50 photos to get two of them smiling.

So happy holidays from two of the brothers. I'm pretty sure the third brother would tell the holidays where they could go. He was not much of a fan this year, for the card or anything else.

The card is slightly modified to make it blog-friendly, and they were mailed out last Monday, so hopefully everyone received their card before the actual holiday!

A Favorite

One of Many Great Gifts by here we wander
One of Many Great Gifts, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
The boys back packs were incredibly heavy on the last day of school before winter break. Turns out they were carrying home lots of gifts from teachers and classmates.

This one is one of my favorite gifts. Ever.

Do you see Xander's letters? The entire alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, are inside. And so is his name and the date.

It's something completely and uniquely Xander. He routinely carries around a page of letters just like this one. We have stacks and stacks of them in our house. He even sleeps with them sometimes.

Now he has his letters on his own cup. I love it. Special thanks to Mrs. B, his resource teacher, for finding, making and sending such a great personalized gift.

Brotherly Love

Brotherly Love by here we wander
Brotherly Love, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Every once in a while, you see it. Two brothers. Playing. Laughing. Enjoying their childhood together.

Now don't get me wrong. It usually deteriorates pretty rapidly into tears and screaming and maybe even a little hitting or biting.

They are little boys, after all.

My favorite is that Xander has now started to yell "Connor!" in that tone of complete disapproval whenever his big brother is doing something mean or hateful (which is, of course, pretty often).

Connor HATES it. He always screams at Xander to "Stop saying my name!" It makes him a little crazy, because Xander just keeps saying it over and over until Connor really does leave him alone.

Ah, brotherly love ... or something like that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Three Brothers

Engrossed by here we wander
Engrossed, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Just give the boys a little popcorn and put in Cars 2, and look how nice and well behaved they can be. It happens ... sometimes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Going, Going, Gone ...

Every year it seems the holidays get busier and busier. They are not my favorite time of year. There is simply too much to do and not nearly enough time to get it done. And now that winter break has officially begun for the kids (as of 3:15 this afternoon she says with a little sigh), my free time just disappeared.

So here are a few of the moments I've been trying really hard not to forget but that I simply haven't had time to write about ...

The Falling Tree. Do you see where this one is going? Oh, yes, it is. We put our Christmas tree up in our family room, right in front of the three big picture windows that face the street. Seems like a good place, away from the main activity of the house but still in view most of the day. Except that it's not a good place. Because that's the exact spot Buster likes to sit during the day, watching over his yard and the neighborhood, barking like a crazy dog at anyone who dares to set foot on the public sidewalk or actually just walk into view. Did I mention Buster is a 180-pound English Mastiff? Or that we put the tree in his spot? Because one day while we were out, he decided the four inches between the tree and the picture window was a big enough space for him to walk. And bark like a crazy dog at some passerby or perhaps even a squirrel (also a dreaded nemesis). Yeah, the tree went over. The water - because it's a real tree - went all over the wood floors (though thankfully most of it was soaked up by the tree runner). Ornaments came crashing and shattering down. There were three total losses, and about ten that required super glue. Good times.

Three School Parties in One Day. Yes. Two of them - the two kindergartners, of course - at nearly the same time. Sawyer's class play started at 11:00 o'clock, Xander's at 11:10. I managed to stay in Sawyer's classroom long enough for his aide to lead him through his part in the gingerbread man, then ducked out early to head into Xander's class. I ran into them marching down the hall for their grand entrance, and had to run in ahead of them. I watched as Xander pretty much ignored the production in favor of drawing letters, though he did say his line with prompting from his aide - "Yum, yum, you smell good, I want to eat you!" - and then go back to drawing more letters on his page. He also may or may not have said several other people's lines for them when the notion struck him. His memory is an amazing thing to behold sometimes, though the other parents might not have thought so. I got to have lunch with both twins, and even see Connor in the lunch line before taking Xander back to his class and then heading upstairs to Connor's holiday party.

The Early Christmas Present. Daddy swears part of this one is for the boys, but I think it's for him with the added benefit of the boys most likely enjoying it too. We now have an xbox kinect. Call of Duty is definitely not for the boys. The other games probably more so. And we may or may not have bought a new 60-inch big screen television and sound bar to go with it. In fairness, it does replace the nine-year old version that we bought when we moved into our first house many, many years ago. And it also makes room for a desk in our bedroom (our dresser was moved into the family room as a base for all the gadgets and storage for the things that go with the gadgets). Which brings us to another bit of news ...

Probation is Over. Daddy took his final fire test earlier this month and got to trade in his orange "probationary" fireman hat in for the real deal. He's an official fireman. And he also tested into and was accepted into the next paramedic class. It's an accelerated class during his work hours, so he's going to be very busy next year working, studying and doing clinicals. Which is one reason we moved the dresser out of our room (see above story) to make way for a new desk (which we're still currently shopping for). Go ahead and consider me a single parent for the next year. I already do.

Finding Words. Sawyer has made some exciting steps in speech lately. We are hearing a few more random words here and there - "hi" and "bye" during greetings, "want" and "bear" for wanting gummy bear treats, and a few other things. But more exciting is his increasing willingness to mimic beginning sounds of words. For instance, when he wants to play his iPad, when say "p" for "pad" and he will repeat it. He will frequently come to me unprompted and say "p" and attempt to get his iPad from it's resting spot (on the top of the refrigerator). We are getting lots of different sounds, many of them on the first try, and some of them beginning to show up spontaneously. He is also offering true greetings to people, often prompted, but sometimes completely spontaneous. He responded to a little girl in his kindergarten class when she waved and said "hi" to him. She frequently tries to interact with him, and his aide told me she was completely surprised to see him respond.

Quirky and Cool. Sawyer's newest sensory seeking issue is that he feels the constant need to chew on his sleeves. It's one of the more annoying habits he's developed, because it largely means that I don't put him in long sleeve shirts. Even on days like today, when it was 30 degrees and snowing outside. Even his jackets are not safe, though I do put those on him and just resign myself to saying "hand down" about a thousand times a day. Xander's newest sensory seeking habit is equally annoying. And it's also painful. He craves deep pressure under his very pointy chin. Know how I know his chin is pointy? Because the back of my hands have bruises to prove it. He likes to take your hand and press his chin hard over the bones, rubbing it back and forth. And surprise, it will leave a bruise after a few days of this. I learned the hard way. Who knew you could actually bruise the back of your hand? So here's hoping these are short phases in our quirky and cool diaries. Because I'm ready for them both to go.

There is probably a lot more that I should write about. I do have a list (of course she does), and I will eventually get back to writing more frequently. After I plan, shop for and coordinate the family holiday party that's happening at our house on Christmas Eve. Or wrap the presents that will not be placed under the tree until Santa arrives (see above story about puppy and then add three nosy little boys if you're not sure why). Or finish baking cookies for a few remaining recipients. And after I label and stamp the 90 Christmas cards that just arrived (you know, after I design and print the invitations for above family holiday party).

The holidays can't last forever .... can they?

Hey, Charlie Brown!

Here You Go by here we wander
Here You Go, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
When I snapped this picture, I could not get Charlie Brown and Lucy out of my head. It's the classic Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown, waiting until the last second to pull the ball and watch Charlie Brown go flying up as he kicks pure air.

Luckily for all involved, Connor played nice. He really did hold the ball while Xander ran up to kick it. With his left foot, of course. He is our true lefty. And also with his letters in hand. You use your feet to play soccer, after all, so why shouldn't he keep his trusty letters in his hand - the whole time we played.

The boys and I spent Wednesday afternoon out in the yard, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather by kicking and tossing a few balls around. We started with soccer, which both Connor and Xander loved. Daddy may have some hope after all of getting the boys to play his preferred sport.

But while Connor likes engage Xander in play, he doesn't enjoy Xander joining in when Mommy is playing with him. So he quickly abandoned soccer for football, which he didn't think little brother could do.

Just goes to show you how wrong assumptions can be. Xander has proven himself quite athletic over the years. He's a climber, to be sure. But he also has ridiculous coordination and strength for such a little guy. He can toss a football as well as big brother, and he can catch it better. But don't tell big brother that, he would not appreciate it at all.

Just another day in the life ...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saying Thanks

The Result by here we wander
The Result, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
There really isn't any way to truly say thank you to all of the people who work with our boys on a daily basis.

School is hard for them on so many levels. The noise. The sitting still and listening. The people and expected interactions. It requires a lot of patience and skill to not only reach them, but to help them move forward.

For the second time, we find ourselves at a school that is beyond impressive. We have a group of people who care so much and work so hard to help our boys on their journey. Every single day we feel lucky to know that they are going to a place that they enjoy, and that they are in good and loving hands.

You cannot truly say thank you for that. There is no gift great enough to convey how much it means to us.

But still we try. We do little things that we hope are small indications of how great they are and how much we appreciate and value them.

So yesterday I baked. And baked and baked and baked. All told, there were more than 24 dozen cookies made, packaged and delivered to school. Big trays for the office and one of the rooms that has several different aides throughout the week. Ten individual teachers, aides, therapists and coordinators. And I'm sure there should have been many more. But these are the ones I know, who send me emails and texts and call me about progress and setbacks and just to check in. These are the people who give so much of their time to my boys. One day of baking is small in comparison.

And nothing says love like homemade chocolate chip cookies, right?

We hope so. Because we love them. Each one is like a part of our family. Day in and day out, they are right there beside us, working with our boys, helping them learn and move forward.

It's not a lot ... but it's just a little way of saying thanks, that we see and we know just how much they do every single day, and that it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas at the Lake

Christmas at the Lake by here we wander
Christmas at the Lake, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Between finishing up the school week, work schedules, and balancing numerous extended family obligations, getting together for the Christmas holidays can be hectic. Usually, we also have to throw in the fact that one family heads south for a beach vacation. And that leads to what we call early Christmas at the lake.

This year it was even earlier than usual, but it worked out just fine. Josh and I took our boys (and Cousin Austin) down to the lake on Friday night. Uncle Brian and Cousin Kyndal came down Saturday morning, following a late Friday dance rehearsal. And that meant we had a whole weekend to relax and enjoy good food and good times with close family.

Saturday Grandma essentially fixed two dinners - turkey and the trimmings from Uncle Brian and roast and noodles for Aunt Cheryl. We all have our favorites, right?

We had an early dinner, then had our Christmas at the lake just as it got dark. The kids were all bouncing off the walls with excitement, waiting to tear into those presents.

Youngest to oldest means that Xander goes first (by all of three minutes, of course, but still the youngest). For the first time ever, both of the twins actually opened most of their presents on their own. They weren't necessarily that interested in the contents, at least not until it was completely removed from the packaging, but they took off the bows and tore off the paper by themselves.

The older three are old pros, ripping into packages, then popping up for a photo op with their gift. And then they semi-patiently waited for their turn to roll around again.

The kids got lots of great gifts, and spent the rest of the night and most of the next day trying out their new toys. Connor's Nerf Dart Tag game was a big hit, though with only two guns there were a few issues. Kyndal's old school Spirograph was a big hit with young and old. There were lots of other great gifts, too.

And Sunday night we had to pack up and come back home. Back to school and work and reality.

Just one more week of school, and then the next Christmas countdown will begin. Connor is certainly going to be ready. And we're even a little optimistic that Sawyer and Xander might enjoy it a little more this year, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Keepsake Ornaments by here we wander
Keepsake Ornaments, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
The holidays mean so many different things to different people. For me, many holidays that I remember were spent on the white sandy beaches of Florida, the result of having parents who worked in the school system and who enjoyed winter vacations on their break.

The early years are kind of a blur. I do remember Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, one of the few times my brother and I went to church (the result of one Catholic parent, and one decidedly non-Catholic parent).

We would leave the house hours before the service, and drive through a few of the nicer neighborhoods in town to look at the Christmas light displays. I remember tape on the door, to keep me and my brother from ruining the surprise on Christmas morning before Grandpa was in place with his camera. And I remember turkey dinners in the middle of the day, after the presents had all been unwrapped and explored.

When Josh and I became parents, we had to figure out our own version of Christmas. We still spend parts of the holiday with our extended families, but some things belong to our family alone.

Every year since Connor was born, we go to the same little tree farm and cut down our real Christmas tree. If you look closely, Connor's picture will be on their photo wall for every year of his life, even that first year when he was a month old and he went bundled inside his carseat carrier.

Another is the family Christmas card - which I certainly need to be working on this week, as it's getting pretty late in the game to be ordering those and getting those in the mail.

And one of the really fun traditions we have with our boys is their Keepsake ornaments.

It started several years back when Grammy brought over a box of ornaments for Josh - some that had been bought for him, but mostly ornaments that he had made over the years. You know, the kind made with colored pasta, buttons, yarn and all kinds of homemade stuff.

I like seeing those on our tree. Past and present blended together. So I decided we would do that for our boys - pick an ornament each year that represents an interest or snapshot of the boys in that year.

There are a lot of Pixar moments for our boys. But there are divergent interests, too. Xander, our artist, has several Crayola ornaments. Connor likes to be different, so there are a few Hot Wheels (his personal favorite) and even Curious George, which the other boys wouldn't like at all. And there are even Little People. Last year Xander had the yellow bus, because he is slightly obsessed with buses. This year Sawyer got the fire truck - a nod to Daddy's new job and his still love of lining up his Little People when he plays.

There are homemade ornaments in the mix, too. Sawyer made a foam penguin last year with his picture in it. Connor has a very heavy ceramic hand print from preschool.

And there are even ornaments that the boys have outgrown - Connor's once love of Ratatouille is long-since over. But there was a moment in time when he loved it - two years ago when we bought that ornament.

This year there is another artist for Xander who still loves colored letters more than anything - we have pages and pages of multi-colored letters he has drawn himself. For Connor there is a baseball snowman, because his whole life has been about baseball the last few seasons. And for Sawyer there is the Little People fire truck - a toy we actually had and something he still likes to pull out and line up when he plays.

It's a timeline of sorts ... about our boys, who they are and what they love in a particular moment in time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

On the Mend ...

Last night Sawyer slept for nearly 12 hours.

I probably should have known it was too good to be true. He NEVER sleeps that much. But after staying up late myself to work on a project, I was thankful that he slept in (you know, to 7 o'clock, on a school morning).

Yes, that's sleeping in. I promise. It's much better than 4 or 5 o'clock, which are closer to his normal. The last two or three days were right around 5 o'clock.

So this morning it was a little after 7 o'clock when he came crawling under my covers and into my bed. Daddy was still on shift at the fire station, and he's gotten used to climbing in and claiming his side of the bed on those mornings. He was happy and snuggly and fine.

Or so he seemed.

Just after lunch I got the first text message. Sawyer didn't seem like himself, was crying a little and trying to lay down. One of his classmates had already gone home this week with strep, so his teacher just wanted to give me a heads up. I texted her back that I could come get him anytime, if she thought it was necessary. We've let him sleep it off at school before, especially after a rough couple of sleep nights.

The phone call came shortly after. He was now crying, holding onto his ears for dear life, and nothing seemed to make it better.

These are not good signs. Sawyer rarely, if ever, cries, and certainly not uncontrollably. The kid has put his hand on a hot stove, suffered second-degree burns that blistered ridiculously in a matter of minutes, and not even blinked an eye. Pain tolerance is off the charts.

For him to cry like that, and not stop, means something is seriously wrong.

My work project got put on hold. I packed up a few things and headed off to school to sign him out. I went ahead and called our pediatrician, who is great with the boys and who always makes time to see you, even late on a Friday afternoon. Our appointment was in an hour.

We came back to the house for a quick stop. I rounded up a few things for our office visit, made arrangements for Daddy to pick up the other two boys from school, and we headed on our way.

From the moment I picked him up from school, he never stopped crying.

We made it in to see our pediatrician. She did a quick exam. I explained the symptoms, we made some educated guesses. A quick look into his ears confirmed it. The left ear was really bad. The right one wasn't much better. Double ear infection, both bad. No sign of strep, which was good news.

Next came the treatment. If it had been Connor, we would have done an oral medication. But the twins don't do oral medication. We're lucky to get Tylenol into their systems every once in a while. Today Sawyer fought even that, and he normally likes it.

So it was shots. Two, one in each leg. And honestly, he didn't even really cry about it. He cried more just being at the office and being examined than he did when the shots were administered.

He was asleep in his booster seat before I ever pulled out of the parking space. The combination of the little Tylenol I managed to get into him, and the big dose of medication, were working their magic.

He slept the rest of the day. And woke up about 10 minutes ago.

At least he's not crying. He still looks sad and pitiful, and he can't seem to find a comfortable position to lay down and play his iPad at the same time. But he's not crying.

There is nothing worse for me than hearing one of the twins cry. Nothing makes you feel more helpless. They cannot tell you what's wrong. And they don't cry - not the real cry - very often. So when they do, it's usually something pretty important.

You know, like a double ear infection. A really bad one.

And while I don't know how much sleep any of us are going to get tonight, I think the worst of it is over. Sawyer isn't crying anymore, and that's the most important thing. He is not himself yet, but he doesn't seem to be in pain. And if he wakes up tomorrow and still doesn't feel well, the pediatrician told us to call. They will get him in tomorrow morning for some more medicine if he needs it.

Thank goodness for a good pediatrician. She makes time to see you regardless of the day or time, and she knows the standard treatment isn't going to work with my boys.

And thank goodness for great teachers. They know when something is not right with your baby, and they have your number in their phone and call you the minute they can't make it better.

No, this life is not always easy.

But there are so many people in our lives who help make it easier.