Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Roller Coaster Autism Day

Today started out as a delightful day for me. The last really warm day for the season, most likely, I joined a friend at the park so our kids could play. We both had a lot on our to-do lists but snow is in the forecast this week so seizing the moment seemed a good idea. After getting home, I worked my way through that list and was feeling on top of things.

Then the phone rang. It was Michele, my son’s special education teacher, and immediate I could hear it in her voice. Something was wrong. I asked, as I often do, “Is he having a tough day?” With autism there are sometimes just days when his emotions are closer to the surface or his odd behaviors more prevalent. She said he was and started to tell me about the two, very different events that had impacted Ryan’s day, both connected by one thing—autism.

In Ryan’s reading class, his teacher had been reading aloud. Now, you need to understand that kids with autism have difficulty understanding figures of speech. Say, “it rained cats and dogs” and they look for pets. Today it was his teacher reading the sentence, “He was a god in high school.” Ryan freaked out. He interrupted, loudly, saying that he could not listen to this story. He declared, getting more and more agitated, “I am a Christian and there is only one God!” The teacher tried to explain but he could not let it go. “There is only one God!” They had to take him to the special ed room to calm down. Michele patiently explained to him the non-literal nature of what the sentence meant.

This story made me laugh. It made me feel that Ryan was getting the essentials of our faith firmly grounded enough in his mind and his heart that he protested heresy. And yes, I knew that his disruption was not appropriate and that he needed to understand what the sentence meant. But in this outburst was the truth he knew was worth arguing over—my faith is important enough to defend and there is only one God. Both of those are huge.

But next Michele went on to tell me about the second incident that disrupted Ryan’s day. At lunch time, Ryan eats and then goes outside into the courtyard to walk around. He gets lost in his own imagination and paces while enjoying the sunshine. That’s always made me a little sad for him. He has no friends. But since he has autism, that fact doesn’t bother him. It bothers me more. But nevertheless, this is his routine and what helps him cope with a day full of sensory input and noise and kids who do not function in the world like he does. The solitude helps him reset to take on the rest of the day.

Today, he was followed out by four boys, one of whom already had been in trouble for picking on Ryan in math class. They picked up his lunch sack and began a cruel game of keep-away. At that moment, Michele just happened to walk out into the hall by a window. She says it was luck. I know it was God. She saw Ryan yelling at them to stop and give him the sack and them laughing as he got more upset. As she told me this part of the story, her voice cracked and we both began to cry at the same time. She said she went out and put a stop to it and took all four boys to the office. She got Ryan calmed down in her room and left the troublemakers to the principal.

The principal is new this year. I’m still getting to know him. What I found out about him today earned him 
some respect. When he found out about this bullying behavior, he was incensed. Michele told me when she left the office he was threatening to have them arrested for harassment. I called to make sure that wasn’t the punishment. While I was hurt for my son and angry at these thoughtless kids, I wanted to voice my opinion that the punishment should fit the crime.

I had a nice talk with the principal and I heard from the secretary that he had indeed put the fear of God in the boys as there were some tears. The boys were not arrested but were made to apologize to Ryan, individually and given some consequences along with the promise should it happen again, handcuffs and the school police officer would be involved.

As the day ended, I walked up to school to walk Ryan home. I had spent some time that afternoon crying for my son. I hurt for him. And I was struggling with my fears for his future, always near the back of my mind. My friend, Chelsea so wisely reminded me that Jeremiah 29:11 applies to Ryan too. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” NIV

Ryan was fine when I got there. He was calm as we walked home and I asked him about his day and the lunch incident. Sometimes his autism means he can’t let things go. This was not one of those times. He was fine with the boys apologizing to him the next day. He said he wanted to make sure their parents knew what they had done. We talked too about the reading class moment. He said, “I forgot to take my break in the squeeze machine before class. I think that’s why I got upset.” Sometimes he is very self-aware. I explained figures of speech again and he seemed ok with it.

At dinner, Ryan prayed and thanked God for a good day and asked that tomorrow would be a little better. It was all I could do not to cry. In my heart I thanked God that the day’s events hadn’t wounded my special son more. Life can be cruel. But Ryan and my friend are both right—there is one God and He holds the future in His hands…even with autism.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Adventures in Gluten-Free Baking

Since my son, Ryan, is on a gluten-free diet to help with the symptoms of his autism, I have spent a lot of time baking a second version of whatever the rest of us are eating. You see, I love to bake. I don't just like it--I love it! I love creating something comforting and delicious to give to my family and friends. Yes, I know, food is not love. But isn't there something delightful in being able to enjoy something tasty with good company?

I also know that gluten-free diets are two things--1) expensive and 2) a lot of trial and error. Whenever I have made something for the rest of the family, I have had to search for a comparable alternative for Ryan. Some things he doesn't miss. But things like zucchini bread make his mouth water. And really, zucchini bread isn't such a bad treat, what with all the vegetables involved. ;-)

So, for all my friends out there needing a great gluten-free recipe to tackle the bounty in your garden, here ya go. It was so good, my husband accidently ate several slices before Ryan got mad at him and told him this was HIS treat. Kraig didn't even realize it was gluten-free. This is Kraig's great-grandmother's zucchini bread recipe, easily altered. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread (with regular recipe notation for the non-gluten-free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3 eggs
1 c. oil
2 c. sugar
2 c. raw zucchini, shredded (I include the peels and seeds but that's up to you)
2 tsp. vanilla

3 c. Mama's Almond Blend All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour (or regular all purpose flour)
1 tsp. Xanthan Gum (omit this if doing a regular recipe with regular flour)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder

Mix well. Pour into 2 loaf pans OR 5 mini-loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour for the loaf pans OR 50 min. for the mini-loaf pans. They are done when a toothpick comes out clean.

NOTE: I usually double this recipe and freeze the extra loaves. They make a great treat to have available when company comes over. And you feel very Martha-Stewart to be able to set out a warm (from thawing in the microwave) loaf of zucchini bread.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Musings on Highway 1

Sign near a rare patch of trees
I've never encountered a Highway 1 before. It felt kinda odd. I always thought road and highway numbers were like checks--they just jumped to bigger numbers so the other highways would be impressed. But here we are on a sweltering July Saturday rolling along on ND Highway 1. It seems a tad surreal. But then again any road trips in North Dakota seem surreal to me.

I was born and raised, for the most part, in the great state of Ohio. There a drive involves changes of scenery and terrain. There you will find rolling hills with dense trees breaking open on to lush farmland. Even the farms seem to spring up between tree lines that are thick and tall with old growth. And the farmland will break into cities if you drive for a bit.

Did you know Ohio has more cities over 100,000 population than any other state? At least it used to. My useless facts about my home state are kinda dated since I haven't called it home since 1990. But suffice it to say I'm a city girl and I like even my country well covered in beautiful trees and rolling terrain.

But here in the plains state of North Dakota you'll find flat. Lots and lots of flat farms and grassland dotted by short trees only when water is nearby and only when they've been planted by man. Occasionally a tiny town will break up the flat expanse. And I do mean occasionally. The last number I heard had the entire state's population matching that of my home town of Columbus, Ohio.

My husband finds comfort in the flat surroundings. He likes being able to see what's on the horizon. I feel exposed and a little hopeless that our destination will ever get any closer. When we visit Ohio, he feels claustrophobic--scared the close trees by each twisting road moving up and down the rolling landscape hides a deer waiting to jump out and meet our bumper. I feel calm; nestled in a green blanket of God's beauty.

Time to stop now. We've encountered some modicum of civilization here in the great expanse of Highway 1. Better take advantage of bathrooms and cold drinks while we can. I wonder if they have Frappaccinos?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lump in my Throat

The Special Olympics is a wonderful thing. In case you don't know me, you should know my son, Ryan, has high-functioning autism. Through the Special Olympics he has discovered his love for participating, competing, and learning new sports. It has provided fantastic opportunities that we could not have afforded on our budget with four kids. With this great organization he’s become a bowler, a snow skier, a swimmer, and, this summer, a golfer.

Yet sometimes when I take him to a public event like a swim meet or the recent Torch Run, I have found myself struggling with an emotion that until now I could not name. It brought a lump to my throat and raised an instinct of protection.  Today, watching proudly as he enjoyed swimming in the State Swim Meet, I figured it out—it’s grief.

By participating in something so wonderful and yet so public, I am admitting my son is different. My son has a disability.  He’s not like most of the other kids.

I’ve had this conversation with myself before—many times in fact.  A long time ago I realized grief was a normal part of the roller coaster ride of having a child with autism. I think when you are raising a special needs child, life is a process of joy and grief; of encouraging them to reach for more and accepting limitations; of hoping for miracles and finding joy in the present reality.

Ryan with his former babysitter and Miss Sturgis (SD), Lexi.
I am so proud of my son. Ryan is an amazing boy. His autism does not define him but it is part of who he is. As a mom perhaps this is something I will always struggle with. For now, I will continue to help him find exciting opportunities like Special Olympics that make accommodations for him while pushing him to be his best. And perhaps when I feel that lump in my throat at one of these events and feel like shedding a few tears, I just will.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Road Trip Conversations of a Random Nature

On a recent drive to our favorite spot in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, I decided to do a little experiment. We had to run a few errands on our way out of town. As I sat in the car with the kids, trying to have some teachable conversations, I realized my kid talk…a LOT in the car.  Perhaps, I should jot down where the conversation goes on our trip to Sylvan Lake.
What began as a possible blog on what great parents we were in conversing with our kids turned into a lesson in humility and hilarity that explained a few things. First, now I totally understand why road trips with our kids give my husband a headache. Second, they talk as much as me. And third, their thoughts change tracks just as often and as randomly as mine. Pride goes before a fall, right?
In the hour and 15 minutes we were in the car, here is just a sampling of the EIGHT pages of notes I took on what was discussed by my four kids with some help from us. I seriously could not make this up:
  •   Money: it’s characteristics, who is on it and why, and how to spot the real deal
  •  The downfall of civilizations through history
    • Contributing factors such as rampant sin accepted openly, bloody wars and bloody religious practices, and self-absorbed lifestyles
    • Examples including the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, and more
  •  The Statue of Liberty: it’s original color and why it changed; who made it and why we got it; and what else the designer is known for (The Eifel Tower)
  •    A rumored “Wall of Gum” located somewhere in CA
  • o   Side jokes about some kid getting stuck in it and being removed by crane
  •    Ryan’s desire to learn to make Sunny Side Up eggs this summer
  •  A partially overheard conversation between Jarod and Ryan about the history of coffee and its secrets being kept on pain of death.
  •   The beginning of the State License Plate Game
  • What mom’s maiden name is and what that means
  • 50s diners and why the one Kati remembers couldn’t be a 90s diner; the differences in design influences of the two decades.
  • Why mom stopped working at the jewelry store we passed five years ago
 This was all before we left town.
  • How the song “Ships in the Night” makes Jarod crave chips
  • The difference between tattling vs. telling for 3 yo Lucy’s benefit
  •  Kati (to mom & dad): You two look like tourists with your sunglasses, shorts, and cool shirts. Jarod: Who’s Doris?    Us: TOURISTS not Doris
  • The historical significance of Sitting Bull (we passed the cave named after him)
  •  Several minutes spent on how to pop your ears in an elevator
  •  How Kati’s friend who lives near our destination has the potential to be a crazy cat lady with 7 cats, 6 dogs, 8 goldfish, and a goat. And how another friend has 18 pets with 2 chinchillas promised her this summer. (No, we’re not getting chinchillas)
  •  Dream d├ęcor in our future dream house in their bedrooms: Kati – rainforest with cheetahs (a side trip on how cheetahs don’t live in rainforests so a change to a leopard); Ryan – a beach; and Jarod’s not sure. No input from Lucy.
  •  How the current Direct TV and Mayhem commercials are THE best and Jarod’s explanation to all that “a good commercial is not only funny but you remember what its advertising.”
  • How badly we need to fix the brakes
  • The History of Facebook and Jarod’s prediction that Mark Zuckerberg will one day conquer the world
  •  Whether or not Lucy actually farted or just made a sound with her lips
  • The idea to summon huge eagles a la Lord of the Rings to carry us up Harney Peak
  •  “Did you flick a booger on me?” “No (giggle)”
  •  Kraig’s quiet declaration that the kids’ constant talking can almost drive him to swear.
  • Why free-climbing the rocks outside Hill City isn’t a safe idea and Why lemmings run off cliffs
  • Why Ryan’s water bottle is sweating so badly
  • The desperate need for a trash can in our van like my friend, Amber
  •  Jarod’s Time Travel Bucket List (this was revisited several times) in case a Delorian ever crosses his path:
    • Watch the 1st movie, the one with the train that made the audience run out in terror
    • Ride a steam engine
    •  Be there for MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech
    • See the Signing of the Declaration of Independence
    •  See how slow the first car drove
    • Watch the transitions between eras/decades
  • Dad’s Mad Snacking Skills and Mom’s Mad Snack Stealing Skills
  • Jarod: “Hey, I just thought of something really random.”  Kraig: “Seriously?! Not YOU!”
  •  Ryan: What’s kerosene?  Kraig explains then asks where that came from. Ryan: The Muppets.
  • The historical facts surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence and how Mom won a scholarship for giving a speech on it in High School.
  • Kati: “Is that a mine shaft or a bomb shelter?”   Jarod: “Different eras, Kati.”
  •   Jarod: I once saw a move on the Cuban missile crisis.
  •   How the war of 1812 ended months before the final battle, the Battle of New Orleans, took place.
  • Why the original actor playing the Tin Man had to quit due to the metal in his make-up nearly killing him.
  • Was Michael Jackson in The Wizard of Oz? No, he was in The Wiz.
  • Driving Dad crazy chanting, “I think I can” up a steep incline
  • “Quite is the opposite of Jarod.” – Kraig
  •   Pine beetles and their resulting devastation and chaos to the Black Hills
  • Lucy: Do braces hurt?   Kati: “I’m strong so not that much.”
We’re here! If you ever want a fun experiment, give this a try. Though I’m pretty sure mine might have the market cornered on non-stop chatter of a random variety. I guess I understand why Kraig invested in DVD player for longer trips.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tea & Conversations

Finally--my blog! I've been meaning to do this, wanting to do this, and trying to get time to do this for a long time. And here it is. My first post was written this spring. I've already got several more written so I'll space them out a bit. Hope you enjoy.

Recently I was given an invitation I just couldn’t refuse.  As I was sitting at the computer, trying to wake up and feeling as though I’m fighting off a cold, my little Lucy came in. “Come have tea with me,” she said with a smile. I tried to tell her that mommy had gotten up early to go to Walmart for groceries and that I had a cold and just wanted to sit at the computer for a while and wake up. But she would have none of that. She tried again. “Come have tea at the table with me,” she smiled. “And we can talk about stuff.”

Well that did it.

Since my first daughter, Kati, was about four years old, I have had a tradition with my girls of trying to do tea time. It started younger with Lucy as she has a big sister to witness enjoying a cup of tea with mom. When Kati was young, I went to a tea room with my sisters and my mom and watched with delighted fascination as a mom and her young daughter arrived for their special tea time. Both were dressed in their finest and the little girl looked so pleased to be there. I decided then and there this would be something I would do with my Kati and then again when Lucy arrived.
Tea time first happened with my daughter in a posh tea room outside Cincinnati with my sisters and their girls during a holiday visit. Kati loved the hats and feather boas and the little sandwiches. Soon after, we moved to Rapid City, SD and I made it a priority to see if there was anywhere to do tea with my girl. Though Rapid City does not have a posh English-style tea room, there was a more rustic place in town. This place had wood floors and eclectic tables and chairs. But what they do have is stainless steel pots and trays to bring you a brewing pot of tea at your table. Sold!

Every few months, Kati and I would go for tea. I’d get a two-cup pot of Irish Breakfast (my favorite) and two cups—one regular-size and one espresso cup with a tiny spoon. We’d get a scone or a cookie to share and I would let her choose a table. I would pour the tea but she could add her own cream and sugar. And we would talk.

What a delightful way to lay a foundation for manners and the give and take of polite conversation. She would ask me about my day and I would do the same. I would ask her questions about what she wanted to be when she grew up and her friends now. And inside my heart, I prayed we would be able to continue this tradition as she grew older and opening up became more difficult.

Just this week, at another tea time, I was so amused by Lucy, age 3 and half, talking about her husband and her home someday. When I told her I prayed for him, she very quickly asked, “What’s his name?” I smiled and told her I didn’t know but God did. She seemed to like that answer. And she asked me if someday I would rock her babies. Of course I agreed.

Tea time with my girls sometimes gets lost in the busyness of having four kids and a household and a crafting business. It is missed when it is. This weekend we are making time for tea and each other. We will get dressed up and head out to our rustic tea shop and order a treat or two and a pot of tea or two since there are now three of us. It will be Lucy’s first official tea, after all. I wonder if Kati and Lucy will wear hats. Whatever they decide to wear, I’m looking forward to the delighted looks on their faces and the interesting conversation that always seems to accompany girls and a pot of tea.