Monday, March 31, 2008
Spiderman ukulele boy is now three!
And he goes everywhere with us. Yesterday he delivered birthday cake to all our friends and neighbors on the street. Today he went with us to the photography shop where we had our passport photos taken. He returned Sami to us at the critical moment but then morphed back into our favorite strumming superhero when we hit the sidewalk. He joined us at Lowe's where we hunted for seeds for our garden (more on that in a minute) and at the grocery store. He ate dinner with us and is now sleeping with his arms wrapped tightly around the ukulele. Oliver used to wear a one gallon potting container on his head every where he went. He even wore it to bed. That was at about the same time he was diagnosed so I thought it was a sign of pathology. Now I see it was the pathology of Three!
Today, ukulele boy and the other one walked with me through the fine rain to measure the growth in our garden since yesterday. I love this time of year because every day looks a bit different out there. And this year we have a new gardening adventure on our horizon: vegetables. A neighbor up the block got permission to turn a vacant lot into a community garden and we all got to work this past weekend. As everyone was busy turning the lot into a garden, hauling topsoil, manure and mulch, my two boys joined right in. It was an amazing day. Oliver showed a great interest in the building of a rabbit hutch and our neighborhood bob the builder was such a fantastic and patient guide, helping him to saw and measure and hammer nails. I stood back some distance, trying not to intrude, but inside I was dancing. And it was all I could do not to give this guy a big slobbery kiss at the end of the day. It is so rare to find people who genuinely treat Oliver like just another five year old boy.
A couple of times when I was working I looked over into the neighboring yard where all the kids were corralled and marveled. They were all dirty and digging, or walking around with sticks or buckets or whatever. A string of dark clothes was hanging between two trees, one of which housed the funkiest looking tree house you ever saw. Chickens wandered around at the feet of the kids. There was a giant ditch in the middle of the yard filled with muddy water. And Oliver was just part of the milieu. At one point I saw him chasing another little boy and, growing tense, I stopped to see what was going on. Later, the other boy explained that Oliver was trying to get his apple. He had tried to give Oliver an apple of his own but Oliver wanted the one that the boy was eating. Then, my good friend and neighbor explained to the boy that he needed to first take a bite out of the apple he was offering Oliver (for some reason Oliver cannot bring himself to take that first bite). Now, let me just say that this is kind of a strange thing about my boy. And I was too far away to navigate the situation for him, which always makes me feel uneasy. But watching all this transpire and hearing the boy tell me about it later, with a great deal of pride and humor, I felt immeasurably better. Somehow we have found ourselves in a community of people who are willing to help Oliver navigate without making us feel that he is so very strange or different. Sometimes, when I think of the school situation, I find myself thinking: there is just no place for my boy. But after this day of fresh air, blue skies and a couple of apples, I'm beginning to believe that might not be true after all and I am oh, so grateful.
This is the vacant lot that will soon be our garden!
And here it is underway!
The start of a rabbit hutch (portable fertilizer!).
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Anyway, so, he says hello and tells me that he wanted to buy some flowers for his wife but he left work a bit late and all the downtown florists were closed. ...
He didn't even have to finish his thought because at the moment nature has blessed my yard with the colors of Spring. "Oh, cut some of my daffodils for her, please!" I told him. "Is it a special occasion?" Under the circumstances I felt I could be a bit nosey.
"No," he said, "I like to take her flowers when it isn't a special occasion because I usually forget when it is."
Kind of restores your faith in romance, doesn't it?
Monday, March 24, 2008
That was Mr. Oliver's first telephone conversation. When I put the phone back to my ear, Nik asked: "Was that Oliver?"
And later tonight, after swimming, Nik prepared to make a quick trip to the pharmacy. Sami and RT were tagging along but I thought I'd keep Oliver home with me. Having none of it, Oliver stood at the top of the steps in the hallway and loudly said: "Let's Go!! Let's Go!!"
Naturally, he went.
And later still, after pjs and after teeth brushing, Oliver stood at the top of the steps again and told me: I want cheese.
"Cheese?" I asked. "Really?"
To which our boy answered: "Yes." then quickly, "I want to eat."
Something is definitely going on around here.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Oliver didn't sleep well. I didn't sleep well. I have a looming deadline for my certification and am dealing with an unexpected setback that made me feel startlingly vulnerable emotionally. The kids were needy. I was tired. Sami and Oliver were both ignoring me for different reasons. All of the progress that I saw in Oliver yesterday wasn't enough to outshine all the room for progress I saw today. Nik literally did a song and dance to try and cheer me up and I wanted to smack him for not letting me have my black, black day in peace. I just really, really wanted everyone to go away and leave me alone. I think I may have even said some version of those words out loud.
But I did consent to go to the track with my three guys for a couple of laps after dinner. We left the house and I smelled snow in the air, but Oliver had a wicked smile on his face, tempting me to chase him up the block towards the track. I gave in and felt something good and warming start to flood my body as we raced up the sidewalk. At the light we waited and when the walk sign appeared I nudged Oliver forward and then followed him at a jog across the intersection, his smile so bright and happy that I left my bad mood firmly behind. But then Oliver unexpectedly veered off the crosswalk and edged over into the lane of moving traffic. I stood, frozen. I screamed and the first car slowed and stopped just in time. But there were two lanes of traffic and I could see another car coming just as Oliver, confused now, crossed into that lane, directly into the path of the on-coming car. I screamed again, that horrible sound that you can't believe comes from your own body. And somehow, the Gods that I thought had been cursing me all day, let my boy return safely to the sidewalk.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
First, Oliver is sleeping. Every night. All night long. The only exceptions have been when one of the kids has had a nightmare or an accident. I guess I really should consider putting them in separate beds, but I love seeing them curled up around each other each morning when I peek in at them. Plus, they have been so separate for so long, you know? Watching them together now -- day and night -- is like a little gift. After a couple of weeks of prompting Sami to talk directly to Oliver he has now decided that it is his mission to communicate with his brother. He will stand patiently in doorway, shouting: "C'mon Oliver! I want to play with you!" until Oliver reluctantly goes to join him. Today, as the kids and I were at the counter making granola, Oliver reached out and tenderly hugged Sami twice and all three of us were standing there with drippy smiles on our faces.
The other pretty remarkable thing is how communication seems to be happening. Today when Nik came home from swimming with the boys I was rushing around the kitchen heating up leftover chicken and rice for them -- they are always ravenous when they get home. Before dishing up I decided to ask Oliver if he wanted some. His reply: "No! I want a bagel!" Said just like that. Alrighty then, I said, you shall have a bagel! And when we go someplace, Oliver always walks around the car and opens the door for his brother, then waves his arm and says: "C'mon, Sami!" He sometimes gets his words confused: he'll say tv instead of music, water instead of honey, candy instead of carrot (yes, my crazy kid really wants the carrot, not the candy), raisins instead of nuts. But he is still using words and gestures to communicate in a more meaningful way. And he is finally starting to be able to answer the question: What do you want? In the past he would always just repeat the question back to me, which doesn't help anyone. Parallel to this -- which shouldn't surprise me -- is that his receptive language is skyrocketing. There are hardly any moments during the day when I wonder if he is really understanding me.
I'm not sure exactly what all this amounts to, but there is a subtle shift going on inside of my boy. Or maybe the shift is inside our home. I started really noticing these things -- well, the sleep thing was hard to miss -- at almost the same time that I started staying home with the kids. For the last couple of months it has just been me, and Sami and Oliver -- all day, every day. And it has been wonderful. Honestly, I couldn't imagine that I would love being with them so much. So I can't help but wonder if one has something to do with the other. Or maybe he is functioning better because he is sleeping better and he is sleeping better because he is now night-time potty trained. Sometimes life feels a little bit like alchemy to me: you mix together a bunch of ingredients and hope for gold. I wish it were a more exact science. I wish the lines were straighter; that A=B. I wish I didn't still grind my teeth at night. I wish my husband wouldn't bring home ice cream on Friday nights, and that Bryers would quit offering those buy one get one free deals. But for now anyway, we all seem to be blossoming in new and unexpected ways (no cracks about my butt, please**). It seems we are really ready for a change of seasons in this house.
Happy Spring, Everyone!
** that one was for you Niksmom because I know you love a good play on words.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I mean, why do people think that all those with autism are visual learners? Because Temple Grandin is? What about OLIVER ever made her think he was a visual learner? Why is OK to generalize about a whole population of people? And what? he won't pay attention to her stupid book so he suddenly has an inability to attend? What about her own ability to make it interesting or meaningful to him? Why isn't that ever questioned?! Maybe if I typed this in all caps you would get a better sense of my outrage. And my outrage isn't directed at her (well, she is a convenient target but actually, she is a nice person -- just incompetent). My outrage is directed at the whole friggin professional world that allows so-called experts to make these kind of generalities and to have these kinds of low-expectations and just get away with it and then look at me like I'm some kind of nutcase for pointing out that, gee, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. I'm so sick of it I could just spit. In fact, I think I will. Wait a minute.
Ok. I'm back now. I feel better. But only slightly.
After she left that day I turned to my lovely boy and said: Oliver, can you get me the eggs? I think we should make some cookies. Without missing a beat, Oliver went to the fridge, got out the eggs and put them on the counter. Then he moved the stool over, climbed up and started reaching for the sugar.
I mean, how's THAT for receptive language ability?
But of course, just interacting with my boy, you know, the one who just happens to have autism but who also makes a mean chocolate chip cookie -- well, that would call for a bit of creativity, wouldn't it?
No matter. More cookies for us!
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
We've got ducks, folks! These three have been spending a lot of time in our yard this week. We live pretty close to a small creek but it is rare for them to venture this far. Between the ducks and the daffodils and the flock of birds visiting our bird feeder it is really starting to feel like spring around here.
Oh, and while we were out taking pictures of the ducks I thought I would snap a few of Sami as well to document his big fall the other day. And do you know? That boy will NOT smile for the camera! And I thought taking pictures of Oliver was hard.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Oh, and have I mentioned that this boy can talk? And manipulate? and Charm? Yesterday I told him that he was too big for me to piggy-back down the stairs and he looked up at me and said: "But you said I would always be your baby, Mom." So naturally, you know, I gave in. This boy won't have any trouble in life but might keep me up a night or two.
And he was right to remind me: he will always be my baby. And so, thinking these thoughts so close to his birthday I dug out the birth story that I wrote a few days after he was born three years ago. If I could have ten children I would hope every birth was as wonderful as his!
Sami's Birth Story:
After deciding mid-way through my pregnancy that I would give birth at home, I set about making all of the necessary preparations. I found a midwife who would attend my birth and a doctor who would act as the back-up physician in case I needed to transfer to the hospital. I bought all of the supplies I would need and sat on a birth ball several hours a day determined that this baby would not be posterior as Oliver had been.
My pregnancy was smooth and easy and I was looking forward to giving birth. I had borrowed a copy of Ina May Gaskin’s book on Childbirth and read and re-read it several times over. I found the birth stories to be very inspiring and the theoretical part of it made me even more determined to have the birth I wanted: free of intervention and on my own terms.
As my due date drew closer I started to have very regular contractions that became more insistent every evening around 7pm and continuing through the night not allowing me to rest well. Also, the fact that they were so regular made me wonder every night if this would be the night that they would build to meaningful contractions. But every morning I woke up disappointed and tired. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and made an appointment for acupuncture on my due date. After receiving the treatment, the acupuncturist told me that his next open appointment was for eleven days later and that he would reserve it for me if I needed it. I remember laughing and telling him that if I was still pregnant 11 days later that he should just shoot me!
Unfortunately the acupuncture treatment didn’t get my labor started but it did allow the contractions that had been keeping me from sleep to subside. I later joked with the doctor that he had given me the anti-induction!
The days came and went, and as anyone who has gone past their due date knows, those days are longer than any days that have come before. I was downright miserable. After seven days I went to my midwife’s house for a non-stress test that showed the baby was doing just fine. On the tenth day past my due date she decided to strip my membranes to see if that would get things going. We left her house and headed straight for our favorite Indian food restaurant for a spicy meal, hoping that something would work!
That evening I started having regular contractions again around 7pm. I said to Nik that he should try and get some sleep because hopefully these would amount to something. Neither one of us were feeling hopeful though. I had said the same thing so many times before. I went to sleep around 10pm after reading a few more birth stories from Ina May’s book. Then, around midnight I woke up knowing that it was time. I was still only having mild cramps but I somehow knew that this was really it. So I took a quick shower and then went downstairs to make some muffins so that the birth crew would have something to eat in the morning. I concentrated on making the muffins but had to stop a few times to brace myself on the counter for contractions that were a bit stronger. For some reason a phrase from Ina May’s book popped into my head and I kept repeating it to myself: “You have the wisdom of ages in your body.” I said this to myself with each contraction. Wondering how much longer I had I decided not to make the streusel topping that the recipe called for and just put them in to bake. I cleaned the kitchen and when the muffins were done 30 minutes later decided that I should wake Nik so he could shower while things were still under control. At this point my contractions still weren’t very painful and I kept waiting for them to get worse although I could tell they were getting closer together. I also wanted to re-make the bed with the plastic sheets and organize all of the supplies I had gathered.
When I woke up Nik he immediately fell back asleep. I did what I could for the next 20 minutes or so and then pushed him towards the shower. When he was finished we timed the contractions so that we could determine if it was time to call the midwife. A really funny thing happened then: with Nik sitting nearby with a tablet and the stop watch he waited for me to tell him that it was time to start timing the contractions. But by this time the contractions were painful enough that I was kind of leaning over the bed and moaning to work through them. After the first two he waited politely until I was finished moaning and said: “Just let me know when you have a contraction, okay?” But eventually we timed them and found that my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and about a minute long. I still wasn’t worried because this is the way my first birth began and that one lasted 22 hours! Besides, the contractions just weren’t that painful. At about 3:30 am we called the midwife and she sounded worried that we had waited so long to call her but I explained that they really didn’t hurt that much and that they had only just started about an hour ago. Surely I had a long way to go. At any rate she had a forty-minute drive so she said she would leave immediately.
After we hung up my water broke and my contractions immediately became much more intense. I suddenly became worried that the baby really was coming fast and that Marla, the mid-wife, wouldn’t be here for the delivery. Luckily, my friend Melaine had agreed to be the birth assistant and she lives very close by. I told Nik that he had better call her and tell her to come. We had hoped to wait to call her until a more reasonable hour but I was really feeling like I needed someone other than just Nik with me when the baby was born! Unfortunately Nik must not have realized that I began to think the baby was coming very fast and he told Melaine to take her time!! While we were waiting for the birth team to arrive I was doing my best to cope with the contractions and Nik helped my mother who had come to get Oliver, by carrying him to her car.
Marla arrived then and immediately checked me. I was already dilated to 8 cm! I couldn’t believe it. Even with the intensity of these contractions I was still worried that I would have trouble progressing as I did with my first. I felt most comfortable laboring while kneeling at the foot of the bed and relaxing my upper body onto the mattress during contractions. I made loud moaning-chanting noises through each contraction and “worried” the beads given to me at my blessing way a few weeks earlier. I also kept mentally repeating my mantra: “I have the wisdom of ages in my body.”
The contractions were coming fast and strong now and I heard Marla wonder aloud where Melaine was. But she arrived moments later and I guess I was in transition because the contractions seemed to reach their peak and I found myself telling everyone that I just needed a break. It was all too much and I really just needed a break.
And then I got one. My next contraction was noticeably easier to manage and Marla explained that sometimes this happened with transition. “Transition?” I thought: “How can this be transition so soon?” And as soon as that thought occurred I felt the urge to push. “Well, if you feel like pushing then push!” Marla told me. And I did. Three pushes and there he was, my little Samuel. And one by one we welcomed him into the arms of our family. Then all of us crowded together in my room and enjoyed a breakfast of fresh blueberry/peach muffins. Even the struesel topping could not have made it more perfect!
Sammy was born at the foot of our bed at 5:26 am, after just three and a half hours of labor, and weighed 7lbs, 6oz.
Two hours later I called the acupuncturist and told him that I would not make my 8am appointment that morning for another try at induction!
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Well, my friend Sam is just like that. She kept up our friendship even when I was just a limp rag prone to melting into uncontrollable sobs without notice. She is the one who asks just the right questions and really listens to my answers even when I'm pretty sure I don't make any sense. She looks at Oliver and talks to him like she would any other little boy. There are only two people I feel safe leaving Oliver with and she is one of them. She confesses her mothering shortcomings to me and helps me to not feel like such a freak for my own. If I ever need to get out of the house with the boys she is always up for a trip to the park or the river. She drops by with her kids just to hang out if she sees my car parked out front and then lets me feed her kids crappy frozen pizza for lunch so we can hang out talking in the kitchen for another forty-five minutes. She always has a positive word and a smile for everyone.
And most memorably -- and what has surely earned her a place in heaven if she didn't already have one -- she brought me Panera chicken soup and grilled cheese for the boys one day at lunch after we had a 4-night no-sleep bender and I was very close to the edge.
So what am I going to do without her? And, can you believe how selfish she is being, moving with her kids and her husband and everything to a completely new town? One that is an hour away?
Sucks. Sucks. Sucks.
That's all I can say.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
What Galileo and Columbus both knew is pretty remarkable, isn't it? What they proved is that none of us are really standing still even when it seems that we are. We are all making a journey through time and space that literally changes our perspectives and enables us to see the sun every morning. But the danger is in forgetting that it is we who are moving and not the sun. The danger is in waiting and watching the horizon for a time when things will be different.
In the past few years since Oliver was diagnosed with autism I have struggled with acceptance. This was not the life I envisioned stretched out before me. And even while I came to understand and accept the nature of his challenges, I had a hard time looking too far down the road. The draft of our Will that we had revised upon Sami's birth and that we unknowingly retrieved from the lawyers office three days before Oliver's diagnosis still sits in an envelope in our important papers file un-reviewed. Part of me still wants to believe that someday we will look back and laugh at how much we worried that Oliver would never learn to communicate. Or at how much we worried, period. Without even realizing it, a part of me has been waiting and hoping for a time when things will be different. A part of me was always looking towards the horizon.
But the miracle of life is that time and movement, imperceptible though they may be, still change us. It's why the beautiful blossoms of daffodils, about to awaken in my garden, orient themselves to to the sun each day. It isn't the sun that is moving, it's the flower changing its perspective. And so it has been with my journey of acceptance. All this time and I haven't really understood that I've been moving even when it seemed that I wasn't going anywhere. Every day my perspective was changing so incrementally that I wasn't even aware of it. And then one day I woke up, saw that sun shining through my windows, reflected on the darkest nights past, my incredible joy at the morning, and realized that I am undertaking a journey that Columbus would envy.
My journey is one full of adventure, risk-taking and discovery and is certainly not one I would have mapped out for myself. But everyday I am learning to embrace what I once feared and to find my own bearings. I've been lost on my travels and there are many times when I've looked searchingly towards the horizon. I have no doubt that I will many times again. But there is a certain comfort for me in this revelation -- however fleeting -- that the sun never rises.