Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Rarely have I looked forward to a four-day weekend with relief as I have this year. I don't have to go or be anywhere except the family dinner on Thursday. I love baking, which is a middle-aged surprise for me. I don't bake anything fancy, I just feel a relief and satisfaction doing it, admiring my handiwork, and sharing it with others.

This year I baked cornbread and lemon loaf, having fun with all the tins I bought recently from Sur La Table on sale. I also made a salad and served up my simple green beans in my new casserole dish  (on a sale within a sale) with rooster designs by Jacques Pepin.

James is interested, but still says "no thanks" when I ask if he wants to try some. He had pizza for Thanksgiving, but he managed to sit at the table with us through dinner, despite all the anxiety over the animals that he might encounter at his grandparents' (dog was in his kennel, cats were snoozing in a back bedroom). He looked like he was enjoying himself.

After dessert, (he tried pumpkin mousse pie and liked it!) He found a quiet spot, periodically ambushing his cousins with "can we do Hide and Seek now?" Just before Thanksgiving wrapped, the cousins indulged him in two games. James was delighted. Thank you, cousins!

While I helped with the clean-up, James politely shut himself in the laundry room with his Kindle, so the dog could come out of his kennel and the cats reclaimed their house. We looked for deer on our way home (a new fascination for him) but found none.

The next day, I discovered three things:

  1. James likes (regular) pumpkin pie.
  2. We are both thrilled to hear Christmas music on the radio.
  3. He likes The Ramones (he came in at the end of Spider-man: Homecoming).
He likes pumpkin pie!!!! That practically counts as a vegetable, right?!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Life Skills, Home Version

At 12, James has chores to help around the house. He empties smaller trash cans into a garbage bag and then hauls the bag off to the dumpster. He can gather his far-flung dishes and stack them neatly in the sink. He knows where the snacks are if he gets hungry. He cleans his own bathroom and helps pick up around the apartment and his room. He helps me to shop and to carry groceries.

Today we started two new items:
(1) Independence at the laundromat. While James has been doing his own laundry for a while now, that was when we lived in a house, and our washer/dryer were in the garage. Now we use the little laundromat downstairs. There are stairs to navigate with the full basket. He now needs to deal with a coin box, which requires correct sorting of quarters and mastery of the coin slide mechanics. And timing -- we share the little laundromat with 4-5 other units. James has learned that if you don't quickly make a move on an empty washer on the weekends, you will need to wait another hour before trying again.

(2) Vacuuming the carpet. This is big progress. James used to scream and cry at the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Over the years we progressed to his tolerating it behind closed doors in another room. In an apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting and two cats, however, vacuuming has become more necessary. I gave James the choice between cleaning the cat box or running the vacuum cleaner. He chose the vacuum cleaner. He has learned how to plug it in, that the cord comes out of the unit and retracts if you depress a lever. He has learned which lever allows the handle to ease back and that the red button controls the on/off function. The noise still bothers him, so I will take him to try on headphones that dampen noises.

Not only does this help me, it (hopefully) shows James that everyone needs to pitch in to help keep a home going. It's also giving him life skills so he can have a more independent life.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Food Shopping Evolution

Well, the day has finally arrived: James is eating more food as he prepares to hit his main growth years. At age 12 (almost 13) he is reaching 5'6". He is still a picky eater, and his overall well being suffers when he does not eat.

Luckily, Costco has an answer for that: cheese pizzas that he asks for (4/$10 ... yay finally having an oven that works! So long, Little Caesar's!) and yogurt. I have bookend foods (dinner and breakfast) that fit in my budget!

Then there's Costco itself. I have James come with me. We get in walking time - yay, exercise. He also helps carry out to the car and returns the cart, if we take one. Of course he meets people he knows ("James! Hi!" from one of his yard duty buddies, while we wait in line).

I am starting to look at the clothes. James is now wearing mens' size 10.5 shoes and small in clothing. Pants are tricky, as he has the length, but is still in kid mode for bone size -- I can still get away with kids XL sizes there sometimes.

We have already determined that the underwear is a no-go (No briefs. What the heck is this new style in mens' underpants?). He does not like the socks or shoes. But jackets, shorts and pants? Those are distinct possibilities. And a bathrobe.

This Costco addition to our weekly shopping comes at a good time, in a way. The Trader Joe's nearest us (yes, our beloved Trader Joe's, where the Crew Members all know James and miss him if I shop without him) took a hit in the Tubbs Fire last month. The building still stands but the business next to it was completely destroyed and a lot of smoke and water damage resulted in the surrounding area. It's closed for probably the next year.

This means that we now have to shop 10-15 minutes further south, at the next Trader Joe's. This one is in a big retail complex that includes a Costco and Costco gas station. If we time our runs strategically, we can hit all 3 without too much craziness at checkout or the parking lot. James grumbles about having to go with me, because he has developed this weird phobia about plants (since August) and guess what Trader Joe's sells outside their entrance? Once inside, it's okay. We see a lot of our regular Crew Members, and I think that reassures all of us.

Raley's strangely enough, still has the best prices around for cat litter (for what I can easily haul up 16 stairs) and canned cat food. They also have a good emergency sized cat food in the brand they prefer. So I still shop there, either after I drop off James at school or on our way back from Boys and Girls Club. They also have the soft wheat bread that James likes, and the lunch ham that I can use for work lunches. Occasionally they will have a good deal on berries (for James' sister) or asparagus and Peets (for me). And come birthday time, this is where the kids get to pick out the frosting and decorations for their birthday cakes (they both still like making their own cakes from scratch with a Lazy Daisy recipe). I like Raley's a lot. I am glad it's still one of my regular retail stops.

Two new local shopping establishments are being added to our routine: Berry's Market and the True Value Hardware stores down the street from us. But that's another story ...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Schoolbox Project: Disaster Relief Unsung Hero

So, there was this wildfire ... The kids and I were displaced for over a week from our new home, which we'd moved into barely a week prior to that.

View from my bedroom balcony, 3am
Schools shut down. No one knew where the fires would flare up next or when they might be stopped. For the first 3 days, the main focus was on evacuations, not containment. While the closed hospitals and schools had and used their email, phone and text systems to communicate with patients and parents, other organizations were silent.

No one answered the phone at our new apartment complex. The Boys and Girls Club never picked up, let alone posted a message or provided a recording. Nothing from the North Bay Regional Center. Roads and highways kept closing. Highway 101, the main thoroughfare, was closed periodically, with some main on/offramps closed for over 10 days. People were still trying to find staff, get a phone signal, locate the proper agency who could okay a reopening.

Some children on the spectrum lost their home and their schools (through fire or temporarily via evacuation). Regardless of the type of loss, these losses hit our kids on the spectrum especially hard. The familiar neighbourhoods and routines that helped keep the overwhelming world in patterns they could deal with were gone. Suddenly.

Many, like us, left in the middle of the night, with flames close behind them. And suddenly, they didn't have a home. The world looked, smelled, sounded, and felt totally different.
View from living room window, 3am.
While parents were faced with still having to work (if their jobs were still there and functioning), monitoring the radio for updates, trying to call insurance, or filling out assistance paperwork, our kids on the spectrum were afloat in uncertainty, stress, and trying to hold it together.

Sunrise two days later, 10 miles north of our apartment: rush hour.
For most of a week, we were thankfully able to stay with local family members. We had time to pack some clothing, our cats, and other items meaningful to us on our way to safety. After the first day, I went to work. It had power, gas, water, phones, and the internet -- a combination missing from most of our area for almost 5 days. It also allowed me a daily pilgrimage to the police lines to visually reassure myself that the apartment still appeared to be fine.

My daughter tended a house full of cats, read, and helped out a lot. She had friends to talk with. James ... had his Kindle. He was with people who loved him in a familiar place, but it wasn't HIS place. He and I slept on sofas and he had to deal with living with a dog and eating different foods. He did get to watch a little more TV than usual but he was off his orbit.

After several days of being polite and trying to keep it together, James started verbal stims, spitting (in garbage cans, but still), and taking random things apart. I started taking him on drives to find a phone signal and let him use my phone for internet access. We spent part of a weekend afternoon bagging carrots for the local Food Bank. Anything to give my family and James a break from each other after my being at work.

Then I heard about the Schoolbox Project. A temporary setup was opening close to my work: the Skylane Project. I signed James up. He went there for a few days, until his school and Boys and Girls Club opened back up. It was wonderful. The staff were kind and patient. I could tell they loved working with kids and wanted to give them a safe place to be.

I could check on him during the day on break and pick him up after work and we'd head "home" together. James liked getting outside and being with littler kids (he was pretty much the oldest kid that I saw there). He helped them put things away. He tried sneaking out (testing) and the staff and some hockey team players took the time to talk with him about staying with the program and then engaged him. He spent time in a Quiet Tent. He jumped and skipped. They had his adored Nachos Doritos for snacks. He really liked the day that someone brought in a ukulele and let the kids take turns making sounds with it. I asked James what songs they sang and he said: Down By the Bay.

 It was a good break for James. It meant a lot to me, as a parent trying to get us back to normal. We were very lucky that our place was okay and we did get to go back. James' school reopened and all the staff and most of the students returned. We are thankful that we were able to get back to our routines in our spaces.

Looking back now, after about a month, I can see how much the community has been responding to this crisis. It is amazing and gives me hope. There are many people and organizations helping those hit with losses. I salute them all, and not least The Schoolbox Project. They heeded a need in a crisis and tended to it, and our special needs kids and families benefitted. Thank you.

Myths and Our World

Homework assignment for James: Come up with your own mythology: 3 sentences, less than 1 piece of paper. I weep.


James has been fascinated with the deer who live in the area around us. He loves to spot deer on rides through our agricultural region. Today we took our first drive along Geyser Road since the fires came through and ravaged our county a little over a month ago. It was very evident that this road served as a major firebreak.

During the hour plus-long drive, all I heard about were the deer. Did we see the deer? What did they do? What do they eat? Did they escape the fires? Do they get hit by cars and die? We did saw the deers, didn't we?

He gave the deers voices and dialog, usually "Oh no, we're on fire!" or "The deer are eating, Mother, hear them? Munch, munch, nom-nom-nom." and "Crash! The car smashed into the mommy deer and the baby deer! Aaaaah!"

We saw one deer dash across the road out of a burn zone, across the road, to the foliage on the other side. We talked about that one darned deer for 37 minutes.

All this came together for the Mythology assignment:

  1. The deer had bright colours (like purple and red).
  2. They walked into some smoke.
  3. The smoke turned their colours into camouflage.
Thank goodness, a productive outcome!


Sunday, November 05, 2017

Falling Back, and Back, and Back

So, have you set your clock back yet, all you Daylight Savers? Oh how I look forward to this: Reclaiming some lost sleep. In theory. I have learned to temper my hopes.

This year, recalling past early morning halls of OMG fame, James woke me up at 3:something, 4:30am, 5:15am, 5:35am .... and then I lost count.

The first time, he merely announced he was awake. Second time, I heard his stomach growling as he prowled the hallway. I directed him to go make himself some waffles, and he did.

Interlude.

One of the next times, I was roused to the sound of someone jumping on his bed, which has no frame. A quick knock-knock quieted that fun.

Then the pacing and marathon of door opening and shutting. I forget what time that was. Provided clear direction to go to his room and use his Kindle quietly and STAY there for at least an hour.

Turned over to try and rest some more.

Then the neighbour with the horribly effective subwoofers turned on his TV.

OMG.

The apartment is still throbbing as I type.

Sleep deprivation: always fun. Not.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

First Passenger Train Ride

James loves trains. He has been on train rides before at Disneyland:




Travel Town:


Little Steamers:



But on the West Coast, there have not been a lot of chances to experience passenger rail. That changed this weekend with the opening of SMART. We took an afternoon trip from the Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael and back. Standing room only, most of the way. Luckily, we arrived early enough and got seats.








What an exciting was to spend a Monday. Here's to more train trips!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Airport Run

"Can we go somewhere?" is a common James question these days.

On early evenings like tonight, this is still our go-to spot:





For those of you at home who answered "Airport" - you win!

Santa Rosa still has a pretty sleepy little airport, despite recent growth. The REACH helicopters continue to be fascinating. The blinking blue and red lights are fun, and when the sun goes down, the colours in the sky and surroundings are magnificent.

We watch the planes take off and wonder where they are going. We wave them goodbye and tell them we hope they have a good trip. It feels like our family airport.

Then we take the back roads for the short trip home.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Golden of Age Summer Ballooning

Last month, James came with me again to the annual balloon festival. It's become our local, early riser, early Summer activity to do together.

This year, crowds were more manageable. Prices were up slightly. No Star Wars balloons, but there was a hand painted map of the Earth, brand new this year.

Pictures, saying 1,000 words:











Thursday, July 27, 2017

Flies

We are cleaning and moving house. The worst part for James was not the disorganization and tossing of items, as I'd feared, but FLIES in the house.

Oh, James and FLIES.

His reactions are much calmer, but FLIES stop everything for him. Unfortunately for him, it is high summer, and many FLIES are out and about. They come inside as people, boxes, and furniture go in and out.

For many years, I have been chief arachnid and insect wrangler in the household. James therefore would get a roll of newspaper and hand it to me reverently, telling me: "You can get that FLY over there. Look, come and see. It's right HERE." And I would be taken by the hand and led to said FLY.

After the first day, I was DONE with FLIES.

James rose to the occasion. He got strategy, and slammed a window shut, trapping several FLIES between the pane and the screen. He became best buds with Bueller, the FLY-eating wonder cat. He Chased them down patiently and quietly with wads of paper towels in his hand, and GOT the FLIES!!!!

Every day, there are new FLIES to discover, hunt, and eradicate. We will be so happy when there are no more FLIES in the house.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More About Summer Camps at BGC

Our local Boys and Girls Club has an ideal location, in between a park I used to take the kids to and James' current school. This means he can walk there after school and they can use the park so the kids can run around outside. James can even sign himself in. The staff is great with all the kids. I like what I've seen about reinforcing safety, respect, and caring. While I've received a couple of phone calls and requests to talk with the director when picking up James, any issues regarding behaviours are dealt with as calmly as possible, and they include James in the process, which is great.


Homework time and loud levels in the Teen Room can trigger behaviours. We are working on addressing this with James being more mature in requesting a break and the Staff doing what they can to accommodate us while keeping track of all the kids present. 

Summer camp is fun time! While I'd love to drop James off for a full day, so far it seems to work best to give him some quiet time before hitting camp. Every week has a theme. This week they are making films on an iPad with a partner. I can hardly wait to see what he's done.

One week they focused on cooking, and James made his own pizza and ate it for lunch. Wow. My picky eater, making and eating his own lunch! I swoon. James is eating lunch with his group! Again, I swoon. I hear tales (albeit brief and a bit garbled) about touch football games, goofy friends, and club staff nicknames and news on our ride home. It feels so good.

It makes me feel happy that James is not missing out on summer, fun things his peers are enjoying, and opportunities to learn new things. James seems pretty happy too!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Field Trip: Driven Raceway

Towards the middle of Spring, I began to plan for summer. Thanks to Friends of the North Bay Regional Center, I was able to sign James up for summer camp sessions at the local Boys and Girls Club. I told him I could afford two field trips during summer camp, which he could choose.

Without hesitation, James said he wanted to go to the dance field trip and go cart racing. The dance was a huge hit. When I picked him up he was glowing. The go cart trip was today.

Because James has never driven anything, except a video game, I thought it would be good to to a pre-field trip the night before and show James where he'd be going, and prepare him for go cart noises.

We got to Driven Raceway about 30 minutes to closing time. The place was empty and the staff hanging out. When James and I entered, they asked if they could be of help. I asked how noisy the carts were, explaining that my son had a field trip tomorrow but had never driven a go cart. They immediately offered to drive a cart around, so James could get used to the speed and sounds.

Wow, can they zip!! And thankfully they are much quieter than I thought they'd be. The staff was so friendly and courteous. They asked James his name and told him they'd look out for him the next day.

Result: another great field trip for James! James says he is glad we did the pre-field trip, so he could look forward to the real field trip even more.

Monday, July 24, 2017

So Close ....

We are sitting in an air conditioned Starbucks near our house. Yard workers surprised us at said house with weed whackers and loud trimmers and leaf blowers. James quietly lost it. It's not the yells and screams of yore, but a quiet, constant, relentless "Mother, Mother, Mother ... please. Can we go drive on Chalk Hill Road?" ... "Mother, why are they here?" Over and over, shifting restlessly through the house, until I can feel my blood pressure rise and I can't think.

Bad time for that because I am trying to tie up loose ends, keep paying bills on time, and research finding a new home for us.

So ... plans out the window (again) and we are at Starbucks, where it's cool, free wifi is available for our Kindles, and I can try to make a couple calls. Also, there is iced tea, with lime slices.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Don't Panic.

Thank goodness I hit the gym before all this hit me. I did not work out very much, but I did get a very calming 15 minutes of Elsewhere and nice shower.

James is holding up remarkably well, with the divorce and breakup of our family. People coming and going in his life. Starting junior high and spending more time at Boys and Girls Club. He is doing a great job of letting me know what he needs.

Yes, these setbacks are frustrating as all get out. But we are still moving forward. I am proud of how far he's come.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Autism Awareness - With Us 365

April 2 is International Autism Awareness Day. It's the 9th year of observing the effects autism has for an individual, family, and our communities. The international agenda includes this topic, which is of interest to James and I this year: The Road to Independent Living: From Early Intervention through College

At school, home, and the after school program, a gradual shift from therapy and intervention toward life skills and independent living has begun. James is 12, it's only 6 more years until he is 18. I am so used to thinking of him as 6 years old. Time to shift the horizon.

James is getting life skills for living alone, phone etiquette, cooking, and laundry. I've started handing him money and talking through transactions, such as paying for pizza at Little Caesar's or the grocery store. I have started a program of writing letters to family and texting, using my phone.

He is rocking the hygiene chart the O/T helped set up for him. His math program was enhanced and he is now bringing home chapter books to read. He is doing all this new homework independently now. Often all I need to do is double-check what he has done.

 The Boys and Girls Club have started to help support discussions about hobbies and joining socially with others. James is able to complete homework during the time for that. He is using a calculator correctly. He has started to "get" their talks about work he can do and enjoy to support himself when he is older.

I am thankful James has services, and a good team working with us this year. While not much is known for sure about autism, it has been a constant companion to me, 365 days a year, since 2007, starting with uneasiness when James did not hit milestones at age 18 months in 2006. Where we are right now is so much better than I'd feared when we started out. We still have a long way to go.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

About That Autism Conference ...

I am still processing the experience of being in a sizable audience and hearing parents talk about their lives with their autistic children, followed by Templin Grandin's mother and Temple Grandin herself.

Amazing and well-worth it, are the two thoughts that keep recurring for me. I laughed along with the speakers, because you have to laugh or your heart will break with some of the things you will have to deal with for your autistic kids ... and the rest of the world.

I kept crying too, more than I have in a while. Because so much just gets squeezed into a "don't think about it, just get through it" closet, papered over with "la-la-la-la's". I just kept leaking. But you know what? I had a lot of company. And it was dark. It was therapeutic. So there.

I had renewed appreciation for James' strengths, as well as his overall good health.

I felt more hopeful, among all the threats to my family from our current federal government, about the support and strength in numbers of parents and professionals dealing with autism and the resulting fall-outs.

I didn't feel alone. I was surrounded by others who had to fight for simple things for our kids and ourselves. Who found themselves cut off from friends and family members despite the best of everyone's intentions. Who could hear the weirdest stuff and just nod heads in solidarity.

It helped, to hear that autism tears families apart, as mine has. It still hurts, but it's being talked about. Confronting problems goes a long way to finding solutions and a measure of prevention. Hearing Temple Grandin's mother talk about her family ... well let's just say her story is so much more true than a certain former Playboy bunny's story and I appreciate Eustacia's sharing her story with us.

I felt a sense of accomplishment, in the simple act of following through on a long-standing wish to see and hear Temple Grandin in person. It was symbolic of breaking a depression of years of denial of simple things like driving 65 miles to visit my familiar stomping grounds because "gas is too expensive".

I picked up two books, feeding my inner Heroine Granger: A Thorn in My Pocket, by Eustacia Cutler, and The Loving Push,  by Debra Moore and Temple Grandin. They have helped me refocus to deal with some long-standing challenges. Hence working with the school for James' chart and his taking showers on his own.

I got to meet and talk briefly with three amazing women: Regina Stoops, Feda Almaliti, and Temple Grandin. Those encounters will be whole other posts.

This was a great boost, emotionally and logistically, to get me going again to tackle my current challenges. I sure am going to need it.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Matisse Appreciation

James has been enjoying art as an elective this year. I used to like doing crafts with both kids when they were younger, including cut outs with construction paper to make cards and collages. It's nice to see him enjoy it as he grows older.

James brought home a portfolio of art work from this recent semester of school. He wanted to share this with me:


It's inspired by Matisse, who is also once of my first and perennial favorite artists. When I was in college, I painted a huge mural from an odalisque painting by Matisse. I never expected being able to share something like this with my son. It makes me feel very close to him.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Careers, Hobbies, and Social Stuff

I have been working with James on the idea of developing a hobby or hobbies, so he can become more independent and directed with his free time, while engaging more with others with similar interests.

Tonight was Career Night at his school, so we went to keep pursuing this goal. It's also a good idea to get James thinking about work and what kind of life he wants to have. He wore a nice polo shirt, clean pants, and his regular shoes. I dressed up a bit.

Well, we got there and made the rounds. I tried to not lead James too much at the tables for social interactions, but his questions tended to sound like:

  •  "Do you know about the high school?" (high school teachers and random tables after that) 
  • "Why do you like the government?" and "What was the other country you saw?" (for the Marines representative)
  • "Yeah" (lady with the cute Tutu table)
  • "Do you know where the food is?" (local market representative).
That's okay, we are practicing our social interactions and learning about classes and job opportunities. 

We brought back schwag.

I found out the local market starts hiring at age 16. That's only four years away. Hmmmmm ...


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Breakthrough

So, for years it has been a nerve-wracking prospect to get James bathed or swimming. While he was fascinated with water (as is typical for many kids on the spectrum), both he and his sister hated water on their head, on their faces, and especially in their ears. It really distressed them.

James kept screaming and shrieking (and he has great lungs) and fighting bath time until fairly recently. The fussing and whining and "ow-ow-OWWWW" continued to make bath time the equivalent of a forced march. Up hill. In the cold mud.

Not a lot of bathing was done.

Enter a fine combination of being able to hear Temple Grandin talk and James' team at school. I cannot tell you what exactly shifted, but my approach to bathing went from "omg, how long can I the put off" to "this needs to happen and here are your choices." James' OT gave James a bag of hygiene products for guys. James' teacher and OT came up with a chart that looks like a combination of PECs schedule and a hygiene chart. It's additional homework.

James does not want to come to school with his homework undone, which - yay -  works in our favour.

After about a month of this, James has asked to and started to handle all bathing aspects on his own. After testing to see if Mom really notices if he uses bathing water or not, he has committed to the schedule - to the extent that he now initiates bathing and prefers to shower.

Remember James and the shower? Yeah. This is happening.

Growing up, being responsible, being independent. So proud of him. So thankful it finally happened!