Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It's that Time of Year Again ...

Batter, Batter ... by here we wander
Batter, Batter ..., a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
And that sound you hear ... that deep sigh and perhaps angry shout ... that would be the twins reaction to what time of year it is again.

Baseball. Connor LOVES it. The twins HATE it.

It's hard to believe that Spring season is already starting. But it is. Tryouts are this Saturday to help the league assemble balanced teams (and may I say what a difference from our old league which shall not be named).

Our first tag-team play will be this weekend. Grammy and Pappy will help either take Connor to tryouts or keep his brothers at home. Because trust me, the last thing any of the young players need is a hostile audience. And Sawyer and Xander, if they were taken along to the indoor facility where lots of excited other kids are either playing baseball or waiting to play baseball for the coaches, would definitely be hostile.

And so it begins again ...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Number One, Baby

Letters. It was one of his first obsessions. It was one of the first things that started coming back after his words disappeared. This picture was taken in December 2008, more than three years ago. He was three, and he was already telling us his letters.

Today he is six. He still loves letters more than anything. He knows them all - uppercase and lowercase. He even knows what sound all of them make. He can sing not only the alphabet song, but also the Letter Factory alphabet song complete with letter sounds.

And it doesn't stop there. He knows words. He loves WordWorld and SuperWhy. Any word that has ever been spelled on either of those shows, he knows. He knows them in order, by episode. The boy can spell hundreds and hundreds of words. He can out spell big brother easily. He's even starting to read on his own.

He is absolutely rocking kindergarten.

We worried so much about both of the twins starting kindergarten this year, about how they would do in the regular classroom and how much they would be able to participate in the regular curriculum. Xander wants us to know that he's got this. He's totally got this.

Back in December, all of the elementary school kids took the state standardized test. Guess who got the highest score in reading comprehension? Not only the highest score in his class, but the highest score for all of kindergarten in his school. Yes, that would be Xander. Our spell boy.

No, kindergarten is not typical for him. He has a full-time aide who works with him - and she is pretty amazing. Mostly she keeps him on task. And keeps his temper in line. She also helps regulate some of the sensory needs and breaks that he requires. And she helps him move between his many different classrooms - regular, resource and specials. Frequently, she adds tasks into his day, to give the rest of the class time to finish. Because Xander flies through everything. He is always ready to finish the work, so that he can move on to the next best thing. He hopes that will be computer or recess. He's less excited about science class or more work.

But the point is Xander is doing great. Letters. Words. Numbers (to 100). Counting by ones and twos and fives and tens. Colors. Shapes. Coloring inside the lines. Cutting and gluing. Spelling tests. Little Reader books every night. And all the other kindergarten skills.

Xander has come a long way from that picture. Letters are still an obsession, yes. But he's added so much more. Number one or number one hundred, it doesn't really matter. We are proud of him, every single moment, every single day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Breaking Point

From the moment autism entered our lives four years ago, I knew the journey was not going to be easy. I knew that there would be twists and turns, ups and downs. I knew our lives would not be the same. And for the most part, I've accepted that. It is what it is. You love your children, you do the best you can, and you just keep moving forward.

For the most part, we have been incredibly lucky. Throughout every step of our journey, there have been countless therapists, teachers, staff members and others who have taken so much time and effort to help us on this journey. They love our boys, they take the extra time and make the extra effort to reach them, to push them and move them forward. We simply could not do it without them. The boys have come as far as they have not because of us, but because of every single person who walks with them on their journey. It's a group effort.

For the first time, an issue came up this week at school. It was actually two different things, both symptomatic of something that has been going on for a little while. The first I probably would have overlooked. The second I simply could not.

And before I go on, I have to add a disclaimer. We love the school. We love the teachers and the teams in place to work with the boys. I think everyone truly cares about our boys and has their best interest at heart. But sometimes it's easier to let something small go on because you are not sure how to address it. I am as guilty as those at school when it comes to that. Part of the issue should have been addressed earlier, but this incident simply brought it to a breaking point.

This week was Valentine's Day, a made-up holiday if ever there was one. But it's still a holiday, and in elementary school it one that you celebrate with a party. All three of my boys were going to have Valentine's Day parties in their class. I only knew about two of them. All three classes were supposed to exchange Valentines with their classmates. Only two of them really did.

This was my breaking point.

Look closely. Do you see the difference? Three boys, three bags of Valentines. Two are overflowing with cards and candy. One is not. One had only four Valentines, and two of them were from his teachers.

I could not stop the tears. Or the anger. And I could not stop thinking about it. Not knowing about the class party was one thing, perhaps a simple oversight, further evidence that the communication between one of his classrooms was a little lacking. The fact that only two classmates gave Sawyer a Valentine was more than that. It meant that his name was not on the list sent home to his classmates, a list we also never received. The only reason Sawyer had Valentines to deliver was that I had sent them in, because I could not bring myself to do something for two of my boys and not for the other.

That omission meant so much more. It was no longer just about communication, but also about inclusion. Was this classroom receptive to him, did they treat him as a member of the classroom? Or was he merely tolerated.

I thought about the issue long and hard. I tried to be rational about it, to be objective and fair. But when someone does something that excludes one of your children, whether intentional or not, it hurts. And it makes you angry.

The following day I drafted an email. I must have rewritten it five or six times. I tried to be objective, I tried not to let the emotion take over. But I couldn't. In the end, I simply asked several teachers and administrators to put themselves in my place. How would it make them feel? Three boys at one school. Two with more than 25 Valentines, one with only four. How would they respond?

My tears were not the only ones. I immediately had a phone call and several responses from the people involved in the situation. It never should have happened and they were incredibly sorry. More importantly, they were taking immediate steps to address the issue.

This came home the very next day.

It's a Valentine for Sawyer signed by every single classmate. As you can see, it's hanging up on the wall in his bedroom.

And we also received a new folder in his backpack, one that included a weekly newsletter and a daily activity and behavior chart. Ironically enough, this lists the Valentine party we did not know about as well as a reminder to send in your Valentines. Again, just a reminder that communication has not been what it should be.

Of our two boys, Sawyer is more severely affected by autism. His ability to stay in the regular classroom is limited right now. His sensory issues and his communication level require a different educational setting than the regular classroom can provide. We all agree that he does better spending most of his day in the resource classroom. And because of that agreement, I think that all of us - myself included - have settled for less communication from the regular classroom, because Sawyer does not spend a great deal of time in that classroom.

But this issue made it clear to me, and to the school, that communication from all of the classrooms is important. It is even more important for children like Sawyer and even Xander, who have limited verbal communication skills. I cannot ask them how their day went, whether they were happy or sad at school. I cannot ask if their classmates are nice to them, or if they feel welcome in their classrooms. My boys cannot tell me. Which makes communication from school even more important. For classrooms to be truly inclusive, we all have to know what is going on, regardless of whether they spend five minutes or five hours in that classroom.

Today I drafted another email. This time I wanted to thank everyone, for their quick and compassionate response, for the immediate actions taken to improve communications. Like I said, we love the school. We think everyone there wants what's best for our boys. Sometimes we all need reminders that our actions (or lack of them) have consequences, or that our words (or lack of them) have meaning.

No, this journey is not always easy. Every decision you make, every action you decide to take or not take, has far-reaching consequences for our boys. Sometimes it's incredibly hard to make those decisions, to figure out when and how to act, to know how best to help them and advocate for them. But you do what you have to do. You love your children, you do the best you can, and you just keep moving forward.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Once in a Lifetime


It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. It all happened rather suddenly. We'd talked about it for as long as I can remember as our tenth anniversary trip. For a lot of reasons, that didn't work out. But with a lot of help from Grammy and Pappy, it happened this year, just after our eleventh anniversary.

We left on a Tuesday afternoon. It was a long, long day of travel. Our flight left around 1 o'clock our time, and we didn't arrive in Hawaii until nearly five o'clock in the morning our time. We had very brief stops in Dallas and Los Angeles before our final arrival in Honolulu.

Our first stop was Waikiki, which is only about 20 minutes from the Honolulu airport. It was a massive hotel in the heart of the shopping district, which meant there was plenty of shopping and restaurants within walking distance. That first night we crashed into our room on the fourteenth floor. We woke up early, before the sun, to get ready for our orientation breakfast. We booked through a travel group, so it was a free breakfast and discounted offers for local attractions. We enjoyed the breakfast, then we also purchased the token picture above before cutting out early.

Our first day was dedicated to nothing other than relaxing. We dropped our towels on some chairs by the "adults only" infinity pool, and then headed for a stroll down the beach. The beach in Waikiki (and most of Hawaii, for that matter) is not what you expect if your used to places like Florida. The beaches are small, and interrupted by rocks and reefs and ledges. They almost look man made in their perfection, and you can only walk about 10 or 15 minutes before you reach the end. So we explored a little, then headed back to our chairs by the pool to relax and soak up the sun.

We finished our first day by going out for dinner at a nearby restaurant and walking down the main shopping district where we looked but didn't buy much (Chanel, Louis Vitton and Tiffany's are a little out of our league). We did get a little spend-happy at Quicksilver and Roxy. I might be a surfer girl at heart, as I could have bought just about everything in the store.

Our next day began early at Pearl Harbor. We purchased our tickets, strolled around the grounds until it was time to watch the brief documentary and board the shuttle out to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. Though a bit commercialized, it's still a must-see. It definitely makes you stop and think and appreciate the sacrifices of so many. We also toured the U.S.S. Missouri warship where the war ended, and the U.S.S. Bowfin submarine.

The rest of day two was spent on a drive around the island. Oahu is relatively small in size (though not in population). I think we put about 300 hundred miles on our rental car in three days, and there were days we didn't drive much if any at all.

After Pearl Harbor, our first stop was the Dole Plantation. We shared the largest ice cream I have ever seen at the gift shop. Next was the North Shore, where we lucked into a parking spot at a busy local park. We walked on the beach and watched the huge waves crashing down. There were a few people trying to surf that day, but the waves were breaking early and it wasn't good surfing water. And then we just kept driving around. We stopped at a local boat dock and a few other local parks to take some pictures. Every where that you went it was picture-perfect and absolutely beautiful. My favorite spot was a local park on the northeast side of the island. There was a beautiful beach that went on for quite a while, small chain islands just off the beach on one side and mountains behind the park. It was something I could not have imagined.

Our third day we planned to hike to Diamond Head. We ended up hiking a lot longer than we imagined, because the parking lot at the base of the trail was full and we had to park down the mountain at a local community college parking lot. We also had to pause on the way up both times (driving the first time, walking the second) to allow for unforeseen circumstances. The television show Hawaii 5-0 was filming on the road to Diamond Head that day. We got a sneak peak of some car chase scenes (silver Camaro, no less) going around an amazing curve and also a quick view of Scott Caan driving. The hike up wasn't too bad, but there were a lot of stairs at the top. The panoramic views were stunning. It was well worth the extra effort we ended up having to make.

Because we started early, we also got to spend the last half of our last day relaxing at the infinity pool. It was a little piece of heaven on earth. The water of the pool was freezing, which made it acceptable after you'd baked in the sun for a few hours, but you cannot imagine hanging on the edge of the infinity pool, looking straight down into the crashing Pacific Ocean. So amazing.

Saturday morning it was time to pack up and head to the Big Island (or Hawaii Island, as the locals call it). Since our initial arrival was in the middle of the night, this flight gave us the chance to see the beautiful blue waters from the sky. This was the Hawaii I had always imagined - those bright turquoise waters, interrupted with white sand beaches and black volcanic rock ledges. We arrived at Kona less than an hour after we left.

The Big Island was a step back. Waikiki had been busy, urban and full of people who spoke more languages than we could identify. The Big Island was very different. We de-planed down a ramp onto the actual runway. The airport itself was a series of canopies and walkways that was entirely open-air. It. Was. Amazing.

We picked up our rental car and headed toward Kona Town, which is where we were staying for the rest of the week. We arrived early, but the hotel let us do a pre-check-in and park our car so we could do some exploring. Kona Town is more like a Florida beach town, with lots of shops and restaurants on the edge of the coast. There were places where you could get wet walking on the sidewalk, because the sea wall was right next to you.

We did quite a bit of walking and a little bit of shopping. Then we checked into our hotel and settled in for the week. Our room here was on the ground floor, which wasn't our first pick. We did have a balcony twice the size of everyone else, so that was a plus. But everyone walking by had a view of the balcony and the room, and the nightly festivities got kind of loud at ground level.

Again our first day was spent lounging by the pool. Well, the pool and the ocean. They were side by side after all. It was a nice lazy introduction to the island. We walked into Kona Town for dinner again that night.

Monday was our first day of adventure. We drove down the coast, stopping first at a black sand beach and then making our way to the Volcanoes National Park. This was the only day it rained on us, which was kind of disappointing, but the southern end of the island seems to get more unpredictable weather than the rest. And mother nature gave us a break in a few places, like when we hiked through the Thurston Lava Tubes and when we reached the end of the Chain of Craters Road. After driving and wandering around through a place that literally looked like the end of the earth in places, we ended up continuing our journey around the southern tip of the island. We stopped at a local place for some amazing Thai food for lunch, then kept driving. Our next stop was the Lava Trees State Park. It was interesting, but small. It could theoretically be skipped if you're pressed for time. Our last stop of the day was essentially the other side of the Chain of Craters Road, you know, before the lava flowed directly over the road for several miles and made it impassible. It was a two-hour drive from the other end of the road.

Monday was by far our longest day. We started early and got home really late. We were exhausted. So of course we got up early on Tuesday and started around the north side of the island. I like to call this our waterfall day. We stopped at a few other places, but most of our destinations were waterfalls. And Josh was kind of tired of my picture-taking obsession, so many of our pictures were taken while driving down the road. We started at Akaka Falls, just outside Hilo. And then we went to Rainbow Falls, also near Hilo. We ended the day by stopping at Waipi'o Valley overlook. And this was one of the more stunning views you could find on the island. A huge drop into the valley, a black sand beach, and tall cliffs dropping straight down into the ocean. Amazing.

Wednesday we drove an hour or so north again, this time stopping at Hapuna Beach State Park, one of the larger white sand beaches on Oahu. We spent a few hours catching some sun, and Josh even spent some time actually getting into the ocean. I took my pleasure in walking along the beach for a few minutes - about fifteen total and you could walk up and down the whole thing.

Wednesday night we had made reservations at our hotel for the luau. It was definitely an interesting experience. Josh and I were not huge fans of the local food, but I for one enjoyed the local mai tais. And the show was impressive, lots of different cultural dancing styles and one of the island's best fire dancers had a two-part act. It was a fun, festive way to experience local culture. 

On Thursday, we took another lazy day relaxing by the pool. For me, that's an important part of a Hawaiian vacation. Enjoying the downtime, with a beautiful view, the sound of crashing waves, and lots of sun and water. Josh had a little too much sun from our beach adventure the day before, so he opted to read in the shade of our balcony most of that day.

And Friday we checked out of our hotel around lunch time, and then had the whole day to finish exploring. Our flight didn't leave until 10:35 that night, so we once again drove north to do a little more exploring. We went to the northwest tip of the island, to visit Pololu Valley. It was equally stunning to Waipio Valley, with the same basic elements. We also drove down a narrow, one-lane road to check out an impressive windmill farm just above a smaller airport. There were stunning views from here to nearby Maui island.

We ended our day back at Kona International Airport. And it was a fitting end to an amazing 10 days in Hawaii. We checked our luggage, then waited in the open air courtyard for our flight. Even when we moved back to our terminal, it, too, was open air.

It was a long trip back. It got progressively worse. We left sunny and 80 degree open air terminals for rain in Los Angeles and Snow in Chicago. It was 20 degrees when we made it back home.

It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. At times it went by way to quickly, and at times it felt like we had been there for weeks instead of just days. It was incredibly sunny and warm. Every where that you looked was a picture-perfect view of something, whether it was crystal clear waters, white or black sand beaches, valleys and mountains, or something else altogether. I took countless pictures, and while beautiful, most of them do not even do it justice. The Flickr album is HERE, and it's only a fraction of the pictures I actually took.

Special thanks to Grammy and Pappy. They kept our boys at home, keeping their routine as close to normal as anyone could do. They took care of the boys and spoiled them, the way only grandparents can do. They helped us use Facetime to talk to the boys several nights while we were away. They went above and beyond, making sure we not only took the trip, but that we could really, really enjoy it. Mahalo, Grammy and Pappy, mahalo.

It was amazing. Once-in-a-lifetime. Magical. Worth every penny. Worth waiting for. Something we will always, always remember.

Snapshot Sunday

Not Looking by here we wander
Not Looking, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.

Still Here ...

Winter and I don't get along all that well. It's cold. And dark. And I'm just not a fan. It's much easier to sneak back into bed after the kids have gone to school, or to sink into the couch with a blanket and a good book or movie. I am prone to getting repeated colds, which only makes it that much more inviting to hide out. And that means that I tend to be a lot less productive this time of year.

For that, and a few other reasons, posting has been light of late. We're still here, and things are going well. I even have a few posts in the back of my mind that I will eventually get around to writing, hopefully sooner rather than later.

The big boy is all healed up from his misadventure a few weeks ago. Sawyer is throwing a few words around (minus a few ending sounds, but we'll take them). Xander is his usual feisty self. And Daddy is about to start a new chapter of his firefighting job.

Lots of good things ...