Saturday, December 12, 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

Maybe it's because it's the holiday season, or maybe it's because baby it's cold outside, but I've been giving a lot of thought to "home". Many people have inspired this. My aunt, after living 4 1/2 years in her paradise of Florida is returning "home" to Michigan. There are many factors to this, one being that love of her life passed away last January. I posted about this tragedy at the time. Paradise just doesn't seem so much like paradise anymore. After wanting to live there for so long, she is coming back. She has five grandchildren in the Detroit area and my two sons, who are really her grand nephews are sort of her adopted Grandsons. When I told my boys she was moving back to the Detroit area, they cheered aloud at the table. They weren't sad we wouldn't be visiting her in paradise, but thrilled to have her a quick drive away.

Many of us Michiganders walk around, especially about mid February, mumbling about why the hell we live here. It's freezing, it's slippery, it's dark at 5:00 pm. Your tired of being cold and miserable. But Michigan is sort of an ignored state. It is beautiful. The spring summer and fall could not be better. We are surrounded by the Great Lakes. Fresh water that looks like the ocean when standing on the beach. You can be at any place in Michigan and not be more than 86 miles from a Great Lake. They are magical but when you've lived here they can be taken for granted. We enjoy our lovely weather because we earn it darn it! I even hear that some people enjoy the winter?? I am not one of them, but if you snowmobile, ski or even go sledding, I'm sure these winter months have many joys that go along with them. I've never lived anywhere but here. I have lived in Grand Rapids (west side) Lansing (center) and Metro Detroit (east). They all have their pros and cons. But one thing that is a constant is we have family here. Not a lot of family, but we have it here and this is where our families roots are.

Until we moved into our current house my husband and I moved every three years. As soon as we would get the house close to what we liked we'd pack up and move again. I have owned three houses in East Lansing alone. I can't give any great reason for this, we just never felt like we were where we should be and I guess and we always found something we liked better. I wanted to move into this neighborhood before we bought the previous house but couldn't find one. One day on a whim, on the way to the pool, we went through this house. It had the extra bedroom we needed, a master bath and an awesome basement for all the kid stuff. We were sold. What I didn't know that I would get with this house is the most amazing support, friendship and love. This neighborhood has become my family in East Lansing. There is always someone to cover for you at the bus stop, to borrow something from while in the middle of a recipe, to go play with at the park, or take a walk and chat. We have parties, we socialize, we support each other. I have felt more at home here than anywhere ever.

When I allowed myself to let Daniel walk home from the bus stop (which they walk over a 45 mile an hour street on a pedestrian overpass and walk several blocks) with his peers I was so nervous. It's gone very well and I have people who aren't even in my circle say when they see me, "I see Daniel walking with the kids, he looks so happy." There are always people watching. That is nice to know.

Last week a neighbor had some people over to make gingerbread houses. She hasn't been here as long as we have. Three years now. She baked all the gingerbread herself and built the houses so we could decorate them. She had maybe 15 people doing this. It was amazing. The day after she posted on facebook that she felt it took 3 years to feel settled and comfortable somewhere and having her "new" friends over and watching us make our houses she felt "home" for the first time. I can't tell you how much that warmed my heart. The next day I watched Daniel staring at the house I decorated. He could stare at it forever. He loves the details. He was pretending to knock on the door and saying, "I can't go in there?" I told him he couldn't fit. He then said he could "pretend to be inside" (he wanted to 'pretend'? Wow.) It just looks like such a nice place to be, inside a gingerbread house....It's nice to look at that little house and the smell of the gingerbread fills the kitchen. Who knew that a little gingerbread house could represent the coziness, the friendship and the love of home itself. Happy Holidays. I hope you feel as at home as we do. I can't imagine being anywhere else.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland.....

This morning as I arrived back home after two trips to bus stops an hour apart, in blustery winds, snow that has blanketed our city, and school advisories running across our television screen, I grabbed my cup of coffee, made a bowl of oatmeal and thought about what had just transpired. Daniel, unlike most kids was bouncing off the walls with excitement this morning. Most were probably whining that our school district did not close and the promises of the HUGE storm never made it to us. Daniel, and actually Zachary too, were happy we got some snow and still got to go to school. If school closes, which only happens a few times a year, it is met by Daniel with anger, frustration and occasionally tears. After a bit of time he recovers and realizes he gets to stay home and play on the computer, listen to music and play the Wii and he somehow recovers. Zachary loves to put on his snow pants and go to his bus stop, which happens to be our neighborhood park, and fly down the snowy slide a million miles per hour into a bank of snow. Many of the kids race to the park because the one who gets there first gets the first run on the snowy slide which is the fastest slide of the morning. The only reason Daniel likes snow is because he likes to eat it. Yeah yeah, "all kids eat snow". But not like this kid. He consumes it, constantly. I gave up on that battle years ago. I try to keep him away from areas that have been salted and the "yellow" snow but otherwise I pretend it isn't happening. People constantly say, "look Daniel's eating snow!" and if they aren't really close to me I'll give him instruction to put it down, all for show. Or they'll say, "you should tell him to stop that" as if I hadn't already done that 2 million times. If I'm feeling snarky I might say, "YOU try to get him to stop, I dare you!"

(I just saw a weather update and the windchill is -4) Ahh Michigan.

The most glaring thing this morning came while I was sitting at the kitchen table and he was headed upstairs to get dressed. He usually wears Skecher's similar to this...which, I think, are actually quite stylish and you notice have no ties. An excellent choice for those on the autism spectrum. But I didn't think they'd be great for tromping through the snow. Todd had suggested a few days ago that I get Daniel some boots to wear to and from school. I was realizing as he said that, no middle schooler in their right mind would be wearing boots to school and carrying shoes with them to wear inside. Would they? Am I wrong here? I reminded him that Daniel wears size 11 men's shoes and that isn't super easy to just toss in your backpack. It would be heavy and unwieldy to carry (not good for Daniel while walking home). Todd didn't seem pleased with my assessment, but then suggested the shoes I had bought him (at DSW in the clearance section but were still $45 dollars) for his concert when he needed black shoes.

These are very similar to the shoes. They are much more substantial, heavier, with a thicker sole than the brown ones. I thought it was a good idea so this morning as I was sitting at the kitchen table and I casually mentioned that with the snow, I thought that his black shoes might be more appropriate. He looked at me smiled and said, "oh, ok, good idea" and bounded up the stairs while asking me if they were in his closet. I sat there stunned. It has been a very very long slow progression, but we have apparently gotten there. I have memories of it taking weeks and weeks to transition him into winter coats, pants, and out of crocs. There would be tears, yelling, screaming and when he was little hitting. Switching into the winter coat sent his body into sensory overload. Maybe I was wrong to force it, I know some who do not, but I could not send him into -4 degree weather not properly protected. Once the transition was done he was always fine with it. It was just that transition, it took a lot of work and energy. Apparently I am almost as obstinate as he is. In my opinion the fight was worth it. He no longer struggles with the clothes transitions.

He happily brought down his black heavier shoes, to get ready for the walks today. He had a silly little smile on his face and I could see how excited he was. I didn't ask, but I knew what he was excited for, eating the snow while walking, the whole way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


As I think everyone who comes to this blog knows, loudness and autism do not go together very well. We are always trying to get Daniel to try new things because I think it is very empowering to him. As he has grown it seems he is more scared of the "idea" of loudness than the loudness itself. This didn't used to be the case, but he is 13 now. He has matured a LOT. I am so proud of him. But trying to get him to do something that he is scared to do, simply takes years. There have been times that we dragged him kicking and screaming into a situation, knowing he'd be fine when he got there (and he always was) but when it comes to most things, we go about it slow and steady. It may take years, but once he does something, he is usually there and will do it again and again.

As you may have guessed by now, we did something today that we have been trying to do again for, I'm guessing, 8 years. Last time we went we didn't get past the concourse of the stadium. He wouldn't even go to the area by the seats. Today we managed to go to an entire, women's college basketball game.

We live in East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. Basketball is BIG here. We have a Big Ten university within walking distance from our house. Along with that comes certain advantages, such has having great sports, arts, concerts and a beautiful campus all at your fingertips. There can be downsides. I don't think there is a resident who doesn't breathe a bit of a sigh of relief every summer when the area empties and all of us 40 somethings and families can reclaim downtown for ourselves for a few short months.

Todd and I have always been huge college basketball fans. It's something we love. Zachary, our 9 year old, is following suit. We are properly brainwashing him. We are both MSU graduates ourselves and except for one rogue member of our families, we all went to MSU. That person went to that other Big Ten university in our state. . . Zachary has no idea how great he has it. He has been to countless men's basketball games and has never sat any higher than about row 11. We have connections, good ones. The tickets usually come and either Todd and I go if I can scramble up a babysitter, or more than likely lately, Todd just brings Zachary and I stay home with Daniel. It's easier that way. I have to say, I'm getting a bit jealous of Zach taking over my tickets, but he loves it too. We ask Daniel if he'll go, we give him reasons why, the things he'll enjoy, like Sparty, the pep band, popcorn (always our bribe). But no. He remembers. He remembers forever.

We tried it once when he was maybe 5. I think it was a woman's game, which are MUCH quieter than the men's but by no means quiet. We walked in the doors of the Breslin Student events center with Daniel 5 and that would make Zach 2. We pretty much turned around and walked out. Daniel's hands were over his ears and he was screaming and crying. That wall of noise hit him and there was NO WAY he was going in. That was the last time he went for a Big Ten Basketball game. He has been in there for a circus. Which I find to be the biggest sensory overload ever, but he was fine for that. If it's something he loves he seems to find a way to power through it. So the key is finding something he'll love about can be tricky but I can find a way. Along with 8 years of patience, a plan, and popcorn (my 3 p plan!)

We had been discussing it again. We had finally got Daniel to say that MAYBE he'd go. This is the opening. Once he allows the possibility, you have an opening. We both thought he was ready. We already decided to try a women's game. If we had to leave it wasn't a big deal, we'd just leave! Todd and I were planning it. Then Thursday I walked into Daniel's swimming and the sign that it was time to proceed came, my friend Amy said, "I have 4 tickets to the women's game on Sunday can you go?" and the deal was done. It was time to launch the plan.

Thursday at dinner I casually said to Daniel that Dad had told me he might be ready to try a game. "yea, maybe". I left it at that.

Saturday, we said that we had tickets and could go. He wasn't so sure. "It's too loud, I can't do it". Yes you can Daniel, it will be fun!!! "It's too loud" So we gave him the list of "things I can do if it's too loud". 1. cover my ears 2. go out to the concourse 3. go to the men's room and take a break (just like at school) 4. go get a drink 5. Last but not least LEAVE . He has to have an option to leave and you have to agree to it if it's requested. Otherwise he'll never try it again and he won't trust you again, and the next thing will be twice as difficult.

So off we went to the game yesterday. Here is a little montage of our afternoon.

He did PERFECTLY. You want to know the kicker? At one point the BELLE TIRE GUY came on the big screen! I didn't even see it! Todd told me after we got home. Daniel just hid behind his popcorn box and Todd was reassuring him that it wouldn't come back? AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW ABOUT IT! That is incredible progress! What a great outing. Thanks for the tickets Amy! He's growing up! Isn't it amazing?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Decorating

Every year after Thanksgiving people start decorating their houses for Christmas, well, unless that is a holiday your family doesn't observe or you are insane and start after Halloween. Facebook has allowed me to peek into the lives of others who's status say things like "I'm so excited to start decorating for Christmas" or "only 5 more trees to put up now" or from a relative by marriage of mine, who I adore, "I'm taking a break from decorating to paint my laundry room". Yes, you heard me right.

This has made me feel even more guilt than usual, because, while I LOVE how my home looks when it is completely decorated for the holidays I really really hate doing it. Really hate doing it. One of my Facebook status's read on the Sunday after Thanksgiving something like, "I am in the place of knowing I have to start decorating but really don't want to start, because if I start then I have to finish and I don't want to start". There were a few kind soles who felt my pain. But mostly everyone is jolly and (at least making us think) they are merrily singing Christmas songs while hanging the mistletoe.

I am not a total Scrooge. I put on the best face that I can for my children. I don't want them to see me muttering about the damn lights on my "prelit" tree that is 4 years old and only 1/32 of the them still light. It is maddening to me. I am choking down my complaining and smiling and turning on the Christmas music on the tv music channel. Most of this is all self inflicted, I know that. Which is why I am dealing with it myself. Todd even said he doesn't want to hear me complain. Which he hasn't. So I'm complaining to all of YOU. Of course he hasn't helped with anything, except carrying boxes for me. I don't blame him on this either, because you see as I was starting to explain, I'm nuts and I self inflict holiday pain. It starts because of my perfectionism. I don't WANT to be that way, but I am and Todd knows that whatever he does, I'll probably just redo because it's not "right". So he (smartly) stays out of my way. Of course I then start to resent him for not helping, but I know deep down if he was helping I'd probably tell him to stop. It's a lose/lose for him.

If there is a dark spot in the tree, I'll redo all the lights that just took me an hour to do. If the kids hang all the ornaments in one spot, I can't stand it and try, try, try, as nicely as I can to explain how they need to be spread out and evenly placed. Because if they aren't I CAN NOT FUNCTION. This is partially what led me to getting the second tree I referenced. The prelit tree that is no longer prelit. This is the "kids" tree. MY tree is the "big" tree in the formal living room. It is entirely decorated with only gold, and clear glass and white. It has approximately 8 million clear lights on it with a lighted star (Daniel for some reason insists on only a star at the top of a tree, no angels). And it's amazing. The kids kept wanting to put their adorable ornaments on it, which I could not do because it doesn't "go" together. (As I mentioned I'm nuts). So I got a second tree for all of their stuff. It is appropriately in the family room and covered in Peanuts ornaments, homemade things, trains, superheros etc. It's adorable, because these things go together. Keep them far away from my masterpiece in the living room!
Daniel comes into play here because I know that once I start with the decorations he wants them finished RIGHT AWAY. Hmmmmm, I don't know where he gets this from?? ahem... Anyway, he pesters me, constantly. As soon as I proudly finish one thing he says, "that looks great! When are you doing to start _____ ?"(fill in the blank) It's never ending.

Yesterday I started putting up my Department 56 houses. The kids love these houses. I USED to love them, but am really loving them no more. I now have 27 of them plus many of the small characters and set ups that go around them, like "The Town Tinker" and "Puppet Theater" That doesn't sound like a whole lot, but if you have ever put them up you know what a pain it is.

If you throw in my insanity and it is just ridiculous. I don't want to be this way, but when it's wrong, it honestly hurts me and I can't stand it. I clear off all of the books from my shelves along with the clay projects from school. This takes about 4,000 trips up and down my basement stairs to accomplish. Then I have to dust those shelves (eek). Then I start bringing up all of the boxes for these houses. It makes a mess. Which makes me crazy. ESPECIALLY when you start opening them and little pieces of Styrofoam are EVERYWHERE. I was arranging and rearranging yesterday because I have North Pole houses and the Dickens Village and they can't be intermingled and you can't have Dickens, Dickens, North Pole, Dickens. That just wouldn't be right. Then I have to get them to fit, then I have to clean it all up and put it all away. I finished cleaning up after hours and hours yesterday, sat down on the couch. Ok I laid down. Daniel came in from school, and still in his coat looked at me and said, "are you just laying on the couch?" I said, "look what I did Daniel"

Daniel GASPS and says, "oh mom it looks beautiful! That is a lot of hard work"
Me- Yes it is Daniel, it took me a long time to do.

Daniel-"the family room looks GREAT!"

He is so happy. It makes me happy that he is so happy, and you know what I realized last night? He didn't ask me about the living room. He accepted what I did happily and didn't start riding me about the other tree! What progress! I guess I need to take some lessons from Daniel, don't I!?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All I Want for Christmas....

'Tis the season! At our house, as Thanksgiving approaches, it seems to be the signal for the children to sit down at our kitchen table, pull out a piece of paper and a pencil and start making their Christmas list. Zachary worked very diligently on his, the "big" item being a video camera. My artsy creative 9 year old would like his own camera to film and edit his own movies. That is his #1 choice of gift. He spent a considerable amount of time last summer making a movie with his friend Ethan. They had a BLAST and spent days working on it. I thought, what a great way for them to be creative and be independent. The more I think of it, I have this underlying fear that I will be the "victim" of his "movie making" which in the hands of a 9 year old could easily morph into spying. So IF he gets this video camera from Santa, there may have to be some rules to go along with it!

Daniel wandered upstairs and saw Zachary's completed list. Zachary offered to help Daniel (by doing the writing for him or in IEP words be his "scribe") which was greeted with great enthusiasm.

Zachary- "ok Daniel what do you want for Christmas?"

Daniel- "A Vtech Little Smart Alphabet Picture Desk"

Zachary- "What?"

Daniel- "A Vtech Little Smart Alphabet Picture Desk"

The list then continued, Toy Story Mania Wii game, The Peanuts Holiday DVD get the idea. But number one is the "V tech Little Smart Alphabet Picture Desk". Then he says, "I really want that, I already know my alphabet (yeah, since his was 1 1/2 years old) but I want that". You see, he has a thing about the alphabet. He loves the order of all of the letters, how they always are said in order, he LOVES letters. He knows this is for little kids, but oh how he wants it. And whenever anyone asks "Daniel, what do you want for Christmas?" he says "A Vtech Little Smart Alphabet Picture Desk, I really want that", in a way that is reminiscent of Ralphie from a Christmas Story saying, I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!

There is an excitement and a joy as he rattles it off, just like Ralphie does. It makes your heart go out to him. He has his mind SET. Although no one can respond, "you'll shoot your eye out kid" as everyone did to poor Ralphie. Most people just say ooooooohhhhhhhhhhh and nod politely.

How did he find this toy you ask? I do not know for sure. As much as I can figure he was googling the alphabet and stumbled across it on the internet. I have asked him many varieties of questions, such as, "did you see this toy at someone's house?" "Have you played with it before?" To which I get the answer, "I want that, I really want it". I guess it doesn't really matter HOW he found it. He did find it, and he really wants it. This much is clear. And here it all it's glory!
The only place I have found it, however, is in online auctions. So here I am again. Having flashbacks to when he wanted a "Little Pinocchio carved out of wood with strings and joints" and me searching on the web endlessly trying to find this "toy" that is not a toy, until I finally found one on ebay, beat them down in an auction and took it home. I was willing to pay an astronomical amount of money for that damn Pinocchio, I mean, it is practically a one of a kind, literally carved out of wood, but I believe I got it for like $35.00. Or how about last year when he wanted MAN SIZED BUNNY SLIPPERS, and I FOUND them? It seems that every year there is one interesting item on his list that he has stuck in his head and it becomes my mission to find it.

I bid on 4 different auctions for the "V tech little Smart Alphabet picture desk" and lost them all. Granted, I wasn't willing to pay a very high price for it, so I kept getting beat out in the last second. Unlike Pinocchio there seem to be millions of them on Ebay. Why? I do not know. Is there some reason everyone is rushing to put the Vtech Little Smart Alphabet Picture desk onto online auctions? Is it so annoying that they want it out of their house at any cost? Do people not just give crap like that to Goodwill? Why go through the bother of selling something for $4.99? Which by the way is what I purchased this coveted gift for, $4.99 plus $6.95 shipping and handling. I have a feeling that the $50 Wii games, train tracks, $59.99 robot that will also be under the tree, will be second fiddle to the $4.99 used, "Vtech little smart alphabet picture desk". But I'll have made him very happy because I have again found the random item that he asked for and Daniel RARELY asks for anything. Let's face it, at least he won't shoot his eye out, and maybe, Zachary can film him playing with it!