Monthly Archives: June 2012

Summer School

Things my children have recently taught me:

A) “Clean” is relative. My standards have changed regarding cleanliness, and I’m okay with this. I suspect if other people aren’t, they will just not come over here much.

B) There will be poo.

C) Swimming pools in the summertime NEVER get old, and are SO MUCH FUN!

D) Walking outside is less preferable to simply standing in the doorway with the door wide open, with nary a thought for flies, bees, or cool air-conditioned air entering or escaping.

E) Summer evenings in the backyard NEVER get old, and are peacefully satisfying.

F) Dinosaur-themed birthday parties with balloons, cake, and treat bags are wildly pleasure-inducing for four-year-olds.

G) Summertime is really, really strenuous for moms.

H) Sometimes getting a mid-day babysitter for Jack and baby so Mom can take the other boys to an afternoon movie is totally worth it.

I) When someone pours water in the sink of the toy kitchen and adds Swedish fish, the results are not appealing.

J) Driving through at Arctic Circle for cones of an afternoon NEVER gets old.

K) Date night is life-sustaining.

L) Janet the bus driver is a welcome sight for both Jack and Mom during four precious weeks of Jack’s summer school program.

M) Everybody needs a break sometimes: Henry at Grandma’s, Charlie with a friend, Jack at school, Truman during nap time. Mom and Dad wherever and whenever they can finagle it.

N) There is something very physically and psychologically refreshing about venturing into the mountains and away from the valleys.

O) Febreze’s Hawaiian-scented sprays are making the post-poop house a little nicer to live in.

P) Shop-vacs are sort of destroying my sanity, even while they boost Jack’s mood infinitely.

Q) Kindly neighbors who notice Jack streaking through their houses and then attempting to leave with their shop-vacs, but who don’t let him actually make off with said appliances and who don’t really get all bent out of shape over it are really SO FABULOUS.

R) Having a ten-year-old is lots of fun. I’m getting excited to see my kids get bigger.

S) Pancakes and bacon in the morning (every morning) are the key to one kid’s heart.

T) Capri Suns and SpongeBob GoGurts in the fridge are the key to another kid’s heart.

U) Chips, chips, chips, and Dino nuggets are yet another boy’s joie de vivre.

V) Littlest brother wants every food, except rice cereal, and he wants it NOW people!

W) Savory moments, like that lovely interval between children falling asleep and my reluctant bedtime, are really so nice.

X) Summer reads are really so enjoyable. This week: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Dandelion Wine.

Y) Hoses in the hands of young children NEVER get old.

Z) I can do this. Particularly, if I have a big soda within reach.

Fire Sale

My neighbors and I had a big adventure last weekend when a wildfire burned across the hills next to our neighborhood. We did not fall within the evacuation zone, but a neighboring community did, and as the day wore on and the black smoke rolled closer and closer to us, we entertained the idea that we might be required to evacuate.

As we watched the hills and tracked the flames, most of us began to gather a few things which we could quickly put into our cars should we be asked to leave. My son assembled a giant garbage bag filled with his clothes (he values a well-rounded wardrobe), his iPod, and his baby book. I piled four tubs of scrapbooks, photo albums, and journals by the back door before removing my grandma’s quilts from the walls where they hang and folding them on top. “Irreplaceable” was the standard by which I determined what I would kick myself for not taking with me later, should our house succumb.

Jeff thought I was decidedly over-doing it. Especially when I began stacking framed family portraits and the framed embroidered pictures my mom has made for each of my babies. Maybe I was over-reacting. But I rationalized that if anything sentimental was going to come with us, it would be my task to bring it along. Jeff’s prepared supplies consisted of a tidy fanny-pack sized bag containing essentially a toothbrush and a change of clothes, as well as a Manila folder with everyone’s birth certificates and other essential documents.

Together, we assembled another sizable pile of diapers, formula, a port-a-crib, and foods which the morbidly picky eaters known as our sons find acceptable. My adrenaline spiked at bedtime as I lay visualizing how quickly I could rouse my boys and get them into the car in the event of evacuation. Every car that drove up the street had me imagining that this was it–they were sending in volunteer firefighters to mobilize us. It made for a not very restful night.

Happily, we didn’t have to go. Our neighbors returned safely to their homes and the fire burned across the mountain and away from populated areas. The entire experience was an exercise in evaluating what is meaningful and irreplaceable. During the 24 hours or so when things were uncertain, I found myself repeatedly walking through the rooms of my house pondering if any of it meant anything, ultimately. If it burned, would I be heartbroken?

For almost everything, I felt confident that I could let it go and move forward, replacing what was lost with something else–perhaps even something completely different, but just as effective. I attribute this sense of detachment solely to Jack, who constantly schools me in the futility of getting attached to material possessions. With Jack around, things break. Constantly. Useful things, pretty things, electronic things, random things, cheap things, expensive things–Jack is no respecter of monetary value or aesthetic appeal.

The fire reinforced what my son has been non-verbally telling me for years: things don’t matter, people do. And my people are safe, whole, and happily going about the business of shredding, disassembling, smashing, and otherwise tactilely exploring the things which fill our lives.

Don’t Read This Post While You Are Eating

My house smells like someone has smeared poop all over the place. Someone, in fact, has.

Summer school has begun for Jack, and it seems that this transition, while it is a positive one which he is quite happy about, has triggered the need to Code Brown.

Our approach to the indoor poopapalooza trend is to respond with complete neutrality. Open the door to Jack’s grotto to find a stinking, smeared mess? Poker face. Silence.

Strip the bed. Sanitize the floor, walls, and window. Isolate the perp away from the crime scene, thus NOT reinforcing the behavior by allowing him the fun of watching the janitorial response.

It’s a nasty job, and it still makes my blood boil when it happens. And yes, it still happens, despite the advice of experts and our best efforts in prevention. But I am fairly certain that the way I respond to the Code Brown says more about my parenting efforts than does my inability to eradicate it.

I live in Poo City, and that is just the way it is. I am weary of talking about futile solutions with experts. I am tired of trying to catch Jack in the act, or just before. I am not loving the barnyard stench which ubiquitously wafts through my house.

Perhaps I am reaching the acceptance phase in the grieving process of having a chronic poo-casso in my life. I am too tired to deny that it’s a problem, or to try to bargain with the universe to make it stop, or even to feel perpetual anger that it still happens.

I’m at peace with the smelly veneer of crap in my house. Okay, not really, but I do find solace in the hard-working Kirkland Signature Household cleaning wipes, which really help to get the job done.

And I appreciate my husband, who is my partner in restoration.

Summer Thanksgiving

This week I feel a surge in gratitude for the following:

A) Girls’ Night Out with good friends. The relentlessness of summertime parenting at my house makes a GNO outing to Zupas and the Megaplex make me feel like I’ve sampled manna and briefly experienced nirvana. I didn’t even need that wacky milky/waxy spa treatment-thing Charlize Theron demonstrated in SWATH to feel renewed and rejuvenated (but not exfoliated). Conversation with two darling friends effectively hit the reset button for me to go home and try again at this child-rearing business.

B) My parents, who every summer take Henry to Yellowstone so that he can join in on the fun and memory-making of campfires, hikes, geyser-viewing, and wildlife-watching with his cousins. One of these summers, when we have effectively solved the toileting issues and the other behavior problems which currently beset us, we are going to be able to take all of our children on a full-fledged family road-trip to our nation’s oldest and best national park. Until that happens, thank heavens for Lynn and Shirley for including our eldest child in the good times.

C) A handful of wonderful therapists and sitters. I alternately think of these sweet young ladies as “support staff,” “adoptive family members,” “angels,” and “tender mercies.” They fill all these rolls, and they effectively enable our family to function. Best of all, they do it with enthusiasm and love for our boys. They don’t realize how much I love them for the cheerful service they render to my family.

D) Jack’s excellent car behavior. He is buckling his own seatbelt and keeping it on, my friends, which means that he is no longer dancing around the van whilst we streak down the freeway or mooning other drivers when he decides to remove his pants.

E) Truman’s overall demeanor. My sister Sarah once said that my family is like a puzzle with each family member possessing different strengths and qualities, which nevertheless fit together perfectly. I love this analogy, not only because it references the autism/puzzle piece connection, but because it really sweetly recognizes that while we are all over the place in terms of age, personalities, and abilities, we are all in this together and somehow it is working. Thankfully, baby Truman fulfills the peacefully sweet and tolerantly flexible piece of our family puzzle.

Walking on Broken Glass

There is a picture I copied several months back on facebook which has really been bugging me lately. I liked it at the time. Now, I find it totally irritating. It says something like, “Are you happy? If yes, keep doing what you’re doing. If no, change something.”

I’ve been thinking about it with annoyance quite a bit this first week of summer. I thought about it yesterday when Jack smashed a glass bowl and a glass candle jar. I consequently put him in his room for a time out, and the dumb picture again popped into my mind when Jack immediately dismantled his room (I had to drag the bed frame into the hallway when he upended it). I thought about it when he later pooped in his bedroom and then tantrumed because I simply wiped him down and skipped the reinforcing bath “reward” he was banking on.

What exactly should I change, I feel like asking the creator of this annoying, simplistic, bossy picture? What do you recommend? Should I rid my house of any form of glass? Should I forbid bathing ever again? Should bed frames be verboten? What’s the magic bullet of a change which is going to do the trick?

The irony with this scenario is that up until the smashing and smearing began, Jack had been having a really terrific day. He had a happy therapy session, an outing to explore the lovely gardens at Thanksgiving Point, and a good share of trampoline/hose/Otter Pop time in the backyard.

Tragically, today followed a similar pattern of a stellar therapy session, a fun outing with mom and brothers, some peaceful outdoor playtime, and then: Jack pushed over a glass-fronted cabinet, destroying it when the panes shattered everywhere.

Jack’s child psychiatrist weighed in on our rocky transition to summer by noting that this is another instance of Jack struggling to find his footing in a transition period. Transitions are completely brutal for him. Always. So we shouldn’t be surprised. I felt a vague sense of relief and validation knowing that it isn’t something I am failing to do that is sending him into this tailspin, but rather it’s something he inevitably has to work through.

In the midst of yestereve’s broken glass and poop extravaganza, someone knocked at the door. It was my neighbors Kara and Karleen who had chosen really the most terrifically perfect time to bring me a “Summer Survival Kit” which includes but is not limited to: Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate Squares and a bit of light escapist reading, among other treasures. Fantastically, this afternoon Jeff’s sister and stepmom also popped in for a serendipitous visit, and also came bearing Lindt 70% Dark Chocolate Squares.

Interestingly, after the destruction died down this afternoon, Jack approached me quietly and calmly and gave me a long hug. He has never done this before. Later in the evening as I bounced with him on the trampoline, he again gave me a peaceful, intentional hug. Maybe he was apologizing. Maybe he was saying he loves me.

As I have pondered Jack’s hugs, stowed my chocolate in the cupboard, unpacked my survival kit, and tearfully read the tag penned in Kara’s lovely handwriting, I have felt gratitude for compassionate people. I have also felt like God loves me. And I’m thankful He found a really lovely way to show me.

Backyard Bonanza

It has become an annual ritual of sorts for me to keep a record, each summer, of things for which I am grateful–a gratitude journal, I guess. In an effort to stay positive amid the insanity, I count my blessings and then get on with wrangling the chaos.

Today I am grateful for my backyard. It’s absolutely a summertime staple for my boys and for me, as well. It may be strewn with dog poop (wait, we don’t have a dog!), and it may have a trashy layer of soda cans and plastic toys lying about, but here is the good news: it’s big, it’s shady, it’s green, and it’s fully fenced. As all moms of special kids know, the fully-fenced yard is a gateway drug which leads to compulsive feelings of peace and addictive sensations of hope that one can go the bathroom and still find the children playing in the yard upon your return.

Our backyard is scruffy and a bit ragged at the edges since Jack mauled and incapacitated our weed-whacker. The deck looks worse for wear since the day Charlie and one of his pals excitedly tore off the lattice which covered the posts below the deck (punk toddlers). Our barbeque grill looks like it survived Vietnam. In reality, it is has thus far survived a boy who is prone to wheeling it all over the place, sometimes knocking it over in the process. The handle is long gone, which merely adds to the ghetto aesthetic.

I do not claim that this backyard it is a showplace. But it’s pretty ideal for sensory outdoor playtime. We’ve got grass, gravel, trees, shrubs, swings, dirt, tetherball, slides, tire swings, dump trucks, a sandbox, a kid-sized excavator, a hose, a trampoline, a playset, a frog pool for filling and splashing, at least a dozen balls, and a window-well for throwing things in (Jack’s cache of treasures).

Last fall we picked up a few sturdy and decent-looking chairs on clearance, so now we also have a comfortable place to sit. This is a good thing, as my tush is parked here for the duration of the summer.

Suddenly it’s Summer

School’s out for the summer, peeps. It’s here, and I’m dealing with it. I’m actually glad that it is finally here, because I am tired of dreading it and ready to simply get on with it already. This is a run-down of the first three days of my summer “vacation.”

If the events of Thursday could be distilled down into a single word, it might be “poo” or possibly a nastier variation of that word. Jack finished up school at 10:15 in the morning and we spent the next several hours running a couple of errands, visiting the library, and playing in the backyard. Henry and I began our summer reading together in the shade of the cottonwood trees, marred only briefly when the football he insisted on tossing around as I read missed his catch and smacked square into my face.

When therapy time rolled around that evening, I had managed to handle a backyard pooping episode, a fussy baby with a cold, and a four-year-old’s nonstop comings and goings in and out of the house for many more hours than I am accustomed. But the real excitement began when during therapy, Jack got quite irate at being asked to poop in the potty and began smashing things, and we discovered a day-old cowpie in the therapy room.

It felt like an inauspicious start to a season which every year threatens to unhinge me. I had a meltdown. Jeff got home late-ish from work and encouraged me to get out of the house. I went on a long drive and wracked my befuddled brain for better poo outcomes. Nothing was forthcoming, so I simply drove home in the cooling dusk (really quite lovely) and went to bed fast before anyone could invent a reason to stop me.

Friday came and with it, my fresh resolve to plod onward. We planned a morning therapy session for Jack, and by a stroke of great heavenly benevolence and mercy, pudge baby slept during the entire thing. I cleaned up messes like a madwoman, read scriptures with Henry, cooked breakfast, moved laundry, and managed to brush my teeth.

We lunched (at the table, with each boy actually eating and not tantruming–look how normal we are starting to be!) and then piled in the car for a jaunt to the new natural history museum. It’s my new favorite place to take my boys. It’s completely marvelous and beautiful and interactive and fun. I handled five boys (my four + one friend) including one with special-needs, one who refuses to hold my hand in parking lots and insisted on carrying along three spin toothbrushes which he periodically used to “brush” the museum floor (okay nevermind, we’re not that normal), and one little baby.

We spent two delightful hours scoping out the place. I was so proud of those five little dudes and their stellar behavior that we spent the elevator ride back down to the first floor giving each other high fives and fist bumps. The other best part of Friday: Jack waltzed into the bathroom and deuced in the potty, no fuss. Then he dashed my glorious moment of hope when he pooped messily outside and whizzed next to the table after the prayer during dinner.

Saturday brought Jack’s weekly attempt to single-handedly dismantle our garage. But we managed to get a gospel doctrine lesson prepared, some sprinklers and the air conditioner fixed, the lawn mowed, and the sheets changed. Jack tried to cut his hair again but I was one step ahead of him and averted it. And blissfully, date night got us out of the house, and kept us out of any sort of inpatient mental health facilities.

It’s here, folks. This is happening. Bring. It. On.