Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Note on Nativity

 I don't know if you can see it very well, but he has baby "Cheeses" facing the white candle to show him it.

Making our own Christmas traditions has been a really unique part of being parents.  Christmas has a new meaning to me now that we have Isaac.  I've been able to put to work some of my college education and almost-degree in Educational Ministries through thinking critically about what I want Christmas to be about for Isaac and then trying to implement my ideals into our practices.  This year it's been about introducing him to the Nativity story. 

Now three, this is the first year that I think Isaac really "gets" Christmas, or at least understands on a very base level that it is a special time of year.  Our Christmas traditions in the past two years have been simple: We don't do Santa, we give 3 presents a piece, eat the same special meal, and go to church.  This year we were able to expand a bit.  For one, I made sure we got out the Advent Wreath and bought candles (despite how late this happened), and I'm glad I did.  The candles sparked some curiosity in Isaac, and opened some very simple discussion.  He now refers to the white candle as Jesus' birthday candle- I don't think you can get much more accurate than that. Today I caught him "showing" Jesus, Mary and Joseph the candle.  He then brought all the characters and stable out to the table to have a "birthday party".  It definitely warmed this former Bible major's heart.  The whole scene had an innocence and beauty that this busy season can often lack.  At night we've been reading all of our versions of the Christmas story.  He loves it, and I'm finding myself way less critical of the details and illustrations as I was in college when studying this stuff.  I'm just concerned with him getting familiar with the story- we'll worry about whether or not Jesus had blond hair and action-figure muscles later...say when he's 6.haha  I even found myself ordering the Nativity movie off of Netflix yesterday- something this Christian-Liberal-Reformed never thought she'd be into, but now that my kid is three and I'm forming what Christmas means for him I find that I'm caring less about the vehicle and more about the message- at least for now.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Fun

 Isaac received this "monstrous nightmare" dragon from a friend yesterday.  They have been almost inseparable since.  He even insisted that the dragon needed breakfast too.

Later we listened to Christmas music and cleaned the play room.  When we came upstairs we noticed that some cardinals and one very naughty black squirrel were taking advantage of our bird feeders.  Looks like we'll need to make one to replace the one the squirrel stole.  Isaac is currently captivated by bird watching.  He keeps calling for the "red bird" to come back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cleaning/Kid Bragging

I thought it was time for a new post- one that didn't involve toddlers and screwdrivers- as I think that scared some of you. haha  Things have been busy around here, but busy in a good way.  We spent a good part of the weekend catching up on cleaning, organizing, and laundry.  The result?  Every room in the house-sans the play room is clean at the same time.  This history making moment has not happened in a very, very, very long time.  For once, I would not be embarrassed by a surprise visit from Richard Armitage should he decide to come by for tea- looking handsome and sporting his perfect English accent.  I know he wants to.  He's just very busy with the holidays and all.

It feels good to not have to think about how dirty my bathrooms are this week, and to be able to just enjoy Christmas.  And, wait for it....I owe it to Andrew.  He motivated me and did a lot of the work (easily more than half) himself which was the best Christmas present he could have given me.  (Like how I tactlessly go from talking about Richard Armitage to Andrew?  That's what 7 years together gets you. haha)  Anyway, after the boys left the mess was overwhelming and my energy was sapped leaving me, well, lazy.  I am happy to say that we're over that hurdle now.  Andrew and I even got up at 5am to EXERCISE before he went to work today.  I think we're realizing that a little discipline would do us good.  Ok, so it's more like that realization slapped me in the face via a mirror and some harsh lighting in a JCPenney dressing room yesterday.  Yikes!  Still, if it weren't for my motivated and boyishly thin husband, I definitely would have slept in today.  Living in a more intentional way feels way more like living.  A little Christmas cleaning has gone a long way for this girl.

The other helping factor in all of this is that it is a whole lot easier to get stuff done around here now that Isaac is three and has a predictable schedule and can entertain himself more.  This is one of those things I am VERY grateful for.  Anyone who tells you that having a baby/toddler isn't hard is either lying or very lucky.  I remember a time with Isaac at 2 when I would show up to morning play group already EXHAUSTED from lack of sleep, chasing him, and just trying to get through a very basic morning routine without meltdowns.  Or when we just could not take him to the grocery store without him getting overwhelmed and having a meltdown.  I was always- that mom with the kid when Isaac was two, and today he was complimented by a couple strangers on his behavior in the grocery store.  I almost kissed those strangers.  It's not that we don't have rough days now, they just aren't every day.  Getting to this point took a change of diet, patience, acceptance, and time.  This time last year I was freaking out about the "A" word and if things would ever get better.  One year later, the "A" word doesn't seem so scary and things are much, much, MUCH better.  

Also, I'm having a lot of fun these days.  This weekend we did the pine cone bird feeder project.  This is a great sensory activity for kids.  They can smell the peanut butter and feel the fun texture of the birdseed.  Not to mention, they look pretty hanging from your trees outside.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Drama Club Kid

I came out of the bathroom this morning to find the following scene taking place in my bedroom.  Andrew was laying on the bed and Isaac was standing over him, a screwdriver grasped by both hands above his head like a dagger, chest heaving, saying "I'm a bikic (viking)!  I'm a bikic (viking)!"  He then throws the screw driver onto the bed next to him and says, "I'm not going to hurt you, Daddy."  Then he kneels down next to Andrew and pets him.  He repeated this scene 5 times- each time adding another detail from the identical two scenes from How to Train Your Dragon that he was combining here.  Including bending down to pretend to cut the ropes off the dragon (Andrew) with his knife (screwdriver) and then throwing them off to the side.  His posture, emotion, and even breathing was just like in the movie.  A proud moment for this former theater mama.  More than that, it was the perfect start to our day.  How can you not have a good day when you just saw the cutest reenactment ever?  This kid crack me up, and amazes me a little more every day.

It just goes to show that we have no idea how much or how little he's really soaking in.  This morning while putting on his shoes Isaac started talking about things from the version of A Christmas Carol that I read to him last night before bed.  And here I was thinking that the book was too long and too much of a narrative for him to get into.  Way to underestimate your kid, Libby.  Things seem to be clicking for Isaac lately.  He answers questions more often and more readily.  He asks us what we're doing or why we're doing something.  He may not wait for an answer, but he's definitely practicing language and conversation.  He wanted to call my sister, Jessica, the other night during dinner.  When he got on the phone he said, "Hello, I'm eating lunch.  Goodbye!" Then handed the phone back to me.  Then he would take the phone back and say, "Hello, Jessica.  I'm eating dinner.  Bye!"  He did this a few times.  This is a scene from Muzzy, but used in an appropriate context as practice conversation.  I'm counting all of this as PROGRESS.  And I am always grateful for any degree of progress- even if it is something as small as calling Andrew "Daddy" instead of "Toothless" when reenacting a movie scene.  It means he's learning to pretend without mixing up reality and fiction- a common thing for spectrum kids.  It also means that the way Isaac learns things-visually- is working for him, and that he's becoming more successful when transposing things from his movies into every day life.  Although, he did call our cashier at Hobby Lobby "Hiccup" yesterday.  This is the main character from the dragon movie.  I know the movie was on his mind, because he and Andrew had just been playing with foam swords and shields in one of the aisles only minutes before.  But who knows- maybe he wasn't meaning to call her Hiccup, but trying to tell her about Hiccup.  But "Hiccup" is all that came out.

I'm realizing this probably makes it sound like he watches a ton of tv.  He doesn't- especially now that he has a mom that isn't worn out all the time.  He watches one movie per day for "rest time" since he does not nap.  He might watch more than that on weekends if we have a project to get done, but it's rare.  Just thought I'd cover my butt here. haha  We've been doing crafts lately- which makes me feel like a stereotypical SAHM- in a good way. ; )  I even bought some bird seed today so that we can make pine cone bird feeders to hang on our trees out front.  Now to find some non-cinnamon scented pine cones.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Getting Rid of Superwoman

This is my goal for the new year.  After going through all of our books, papers, and notebooks in the guest room this weekend I realized that I have a propensity for making plans.  Now making plans is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.  However, when your planning and idealism throws you into a cycle of stress for years, it's time to EVALUATE some things.  If you know me at all, then you know I also have a propensity for psychoanalyzing myself (and others).  So after spending a couple weeks processing the past year this is what I've come up with:  Almost every big decision I've made in the past 5 years has stemmed from the need to plan out and control and jam pack each season of my life.  Why?  And this is so typical, so bear with me... my mom.  She was so young when she died, and I can't help but feel like I want to "fit in" EVERYTHING I have the slightest inkling that I MIGHT want to accomplish in a lifetime into the next 5 years.  So this is what life has looked like: Married at 21.  Deathly pregnant at 21.  Drop out of college at 21.  Move to Michigan at 22.  Baby at 22.  House at 23.  Tubes tied at 23.  Become licensed to foster/adopt at 24.  Foster two kids at 25.  Throw in house projects, church commitments, work commitments, social commitments, and kid surprise issues and you have a recipe for a whole lot of chaos but not a whole lot of living and enjoying life for what it is right now.  Well, no more.

The past two weeks have been wonderful.  We've had more good days than bad days.  I've done only what I want and am able to do and no more than that.  My shoulders aren't tense.  I feel married.  All of this has lead me to realize that it's OK to have ideas, but that I don't need to do ALL of them at once- or even at all.  Re-doing that nursery made me realize that I can let go of some ideas and still enjoy life.  Perhaps enjoy it a little more than when I had a death-grip on the "ideal".  I'm very grateful to be living the ideal life for my family right now.  Just the three of us enjoying each other- relaxed.  I can't do it all, and if I'm honest with myself- I don't want to.  I have a full life without stuffing it with whatever whim I have at that moment.  So I'm getting rid of superwoman and spending some time in reality.  And I'm loving it.

Today I stayed home from church.  It was really snowy and I just wanted to have some family time before Andrew started another busy work week- starting this afternoon.  We listened to Christmas hymns all day, did some cleaning, ate together, played in the snow, made Isaac his first hot chocolate, and cut the boys' hair.  I got to talk to Isaac more about Advent candles, make pictures of Christmas trees and snowmen, watch his favorite movie with him, play trains with him, and just move about the day with an ease that my being really needs right now.  I feel more like the mom I want to be, and that is worth getting rid of just about anything.  Even superwoman.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Little Joys

...on an otherwise gray day yesterday.

1)  A good report from school on an early release day.  Many of you know the mayhem that ensues on a day where Isaac has an hour early dismissal at school.  Everything is different and usually throws him for a loop.  He's even been known to tell his speech therapist "not yet, close door!" meaning she had gotten there too early because the schedule is condensed on days like this.  Not so yesterday.  Even though he was upset when I came to pick him up, his teacher and report sheet told me that he coped just fine with the off schedule.

2)  Watching Shilo become Isaac's best friend again now that he's back to being an only child.  "Shilo! Come on! Go in the blanket house!  Mommy, where's Shilo?  I can't find him.  Shilo, play blanket house?"  He talks to Shilo like he really expects the dog to answer him back.  And he probably does.  I've said it before, this kid has an incredible imagination.  He is always blurring the lines between reality and fiction.  Yesterday afternoon he was sitting on my lap while I ate grapes.  (Ok, that was weird. I just typed that sentence in silence and at the same time Isaac just said, "eating grapes that are round".)  Anyway, he ripped off a grape, held it up to my nose and said "steady...go!" and popped the grape into my mouth.  He did this over and over while I laughed.  Anyone know what Disney movie this is from?  Lady and the Tramp.  The scene where Lady and Jim Dear are on the front porch and he holds up a red, round treat for her and says "steady..." while she balances on her back legs.  The small, round, red grapes must have reminded Isaac of that treat and so he quoted a movie he hasn't seen in at least a month.  I got the reference immediately as it has been my job to catalog movies in my brain the same way he does.  Otherwise I'd rarely know what he is talking about.  Quotes from movies lace almost all of his conversation and play.  Also, Lady and the Tramp is one of my favorite Disney movies.  Later, while upstairs looking for Shilo, Isaac starts calling "Shadooooowwww, where are youuu?" a quote from Bear in the Big Blue House.  These are the quirks that make my day.  They are clever and irresistible- which is how I would sum up Isaac.

3)  A very out of the blue, "I love you, mommy"  accompanied with a hug and kiss. This may have been the first time he's done this.  He has said it back to me before, but never first that I can remember.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter Blahs and Christmas Cuteness

Does anyone else feel like hibernating right now?  Andrew and I have been noticing a general malaise about ourselves.  Ok, it's more like we both want to eat a big bowl of pasta, wash it down with hot chocolate, and then curl up inside our Christmas stocking for the next three months.  I suspect we aren't the only ones.  Isaac has been going to bed by 7:30pm most nights and not getting up until after 8am.  Very strange for my usual early bird.  This is great for a mom with a major sleep debt, but not so great when school starts at 9am.  Also, these winter blahs aren't helping much in the way of finishing these house projects.  Oh well, that is why God made coffee.  So I'm sitting here drinking my coffee and waiting for the caffeine to kick in.

As much as I hate the winter blahs, I love this season.  I love snow.  I love Advent.  And I LOVE having a three year old boy who loves Christmas.  Saturday we went to Home Depot to get paint and Isaac walked around saying "Merry Chrimmas" or "It's Chrimmas!" to everyone.  We didn't teach him to do this (that I know of), so I can't take credit.  But I wish I could, because it definitely lit up some strangers' faces.  We put up the tree yesterday and he was in a word, adorable.  He got right into helping decorate it.  Andrew even lifted him up to put the star on top of the tree.  We were very Leave it to Beaver for about 10 minutes.  After school today we opened up his new Little People Nativity set- complete with a little blond haired baby Jesus.  Hey, beggars can't be choosers and it was the LAST ONE and ON SALE.  Isaac loved it.  We named all the characters and read his kid's version nativity stories from our three books/Bibles.  It was very impromptu on our living room floor, but also very perfect.  He was in the mood to listen and talk.  He then staged a chasing scene involving the camel, Joseph, and Jesus.  "Run Jesus run!"  This is more biblical than either of us realized at the time, but Jesus did have to run from Herod for awhile.  Anyway, after that we went downstairs to draw pictures with some new paint brush markers we received from a friend.  Isaac wanted to draw trees- which I have to brag that he is pretty good at.  This turned into drawing Christmas trees and presents.  "Mommy, you draw! Draw a BIG present!"  This eventually morphed into what is often on his mind lately- dragons. 

He is obsessed with the new How to Train Your Dragon movie.  He quotes it when I am trying to get him to tell me what he wants to eat or what he did at school.  He pretends that his little animals and insects are the "small dragons" and he has them fly around and look for the cave or castle.  SCORE one for this mom who bought him a play castle for Christmas back in October.  I love his imagination- even if he seems to get lost in it sometimes.  When we're drawing pictures together it's like he is telling me a story- or answering questions I ask him everyday that he can't seem to answer any other way.  Today he had me draw a sad face, mad face, and happy face pumpkin- an activity they did in school in October.  He drew rainbows, faces, trees, etc. and named them all today.  (In fact, his talking was better than usual today.)  These are all things he's done in school.  He can't always tell me, but he can rein-act it for me when we draw together, and with the pictures come the words.  All this made me re-realize why having one on one time together is so vital for us.  Today has been a good day, and for that I'm grateful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

It takes a village

...and we were blessed enough to end up in the RIGHT village.  Okemos has so much to offer families of kids with special needs.  There is Early On, free special education pre-k, stores that sell gluten free/dairy free food (even a pizza place!), and an educated population that "gets it".  In addition to this, we were blessed with making friends with some great and very supportive people.  My friend, Erin, who we "happened" to share a wall with in our duplex when we first moved here has been one of my greatest champions.  She is a family therapist at STVCC Children's Home in Lansing.  She gets it.  And she goes out of her way to let me know that she does.  But she isn't the only one.  In general, we have just been plopped in the perfect community to raise Isaac.  All our friends, church family, and co-workers have been beyond helpful and supportive whether they know it or not.  We appreciate you.  I want you to know that.  If you are reading this blog (or not), this applies to you.

Isaac's pre-k teacher is one of the "villagers" that has joined the ranks of those who help raise Isaac on a daily basis.  She listens readily to all my concerns, questions, and joys.  Today Isaac was sent home with one of the best daily report sheets he's had in a long time.  I confess I was pleasantly surprised that he did not require several verbal and physical prompts today at school.  When I reached the bottom of the sheet I discovered the reason why.  They decided to try having Isaac wear a weighted vest during school today to see if it would help him focus better.  Looks like it worked pretty well.  So just like that- another piece of my puzzle has been solved for me.  (Thanks, Minda!) I am not surprised that it had a positive affect on him as I've noticed that Isaac loves his tight pj's the most- the ones that fit closest to his skin.  After I put these on him, he very clearly says "Mommy, I love jammies!"  Something about that "hug" feeling helps balance him out.  So guess what was added to the Amazon shopping list tonight?  That's right, a weighted vest.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Things We Obsess About

And by "we" I mean moms of spectrum kids.  Every once in awhile I find myself caught in the inevitable vicious cycle of questions: How did he get this?  Was he always like this?  Could I have prevented it?  Will it get easier?  What can I do to help him function better?  What key am I missing?  The only answer to the first three questions is that it is what it is and we can only look forward.  I do a lot of looking forward these days.  I admit I have literally spent hours researching theories, books to buy, therapies, and diets some nights.  It's usually after a night like tonight.  A night where it is SO blatantly obvious that some things just don't add up.  Like how some moments he seems so clear and focused and, well...typical.  And other moments I just want to yell, "IS ANYBODY IN THERE?!?! Hello!  I've asked you 10 times if you are hungry and by the look on your face I can't tell if you even realize that I am asking you a question."  Fast forward to reading books before bed tonight.  He is animated, alert.  He follows along and names objects in the pictures.  After we read the book he summarizes what happened in the story using decent short sentences.  There is a disconnect here.  A puzzle that I can't quite figure out.  In school they use picture schedules to help with transitions.  A couple weeks ago Isaac didn't like the picture schedule his teacher put up, so he searched in his folder of pictures and brought her his own picture schedule of what he'd rather be doing.  Needless to say Miss Minda and I had a good laugh over this. 

Books and movies seem to really speak to Isaac- open him up.  I've even started making him picture books on Snapfish to help him learn simple concepts like saying, "My name is Isaac.  Her name is mommy.  His name is Cory.", etc.  I can't tell you how much I long for the day when someone asks my son what his name is and how old he is and for Isaac to be able to understand and answer.  I OBSESS over how I can help him learn this.  It keeps me up at night.  I've often thought that maybe books are going to be how I communicate with him.  I'd script out conversations between our two characters.  Mommy and Isaac would be driving home from school.  Mommy would ask Isaac how school was and what he did.  Isaac would answer-even with just one word.  I can count on one hand how many times this scenario has happened in real life.  Three.  Usually he just stares out the window and sips his beloved sippy cup.  So here I am.  Looking forward.  Looking for pieces to the puzzle of what works and what doesn't.  How can I not?  One year after realizing we had a quirky kid, I can honestly say and praise God that he has come a long way.  Being able to say that took a lot of prayer and, yes, a lot of obsessing.  I look forward to being able to say the same thing one year from now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random Recent Observations

We found Isaac like this today.  This kid cracks me up.  And yes, he is pooping here which makes this picture perfect!

He's got personality- that's for sure.  One thing I love about Isaac is that he is easily amused and easily delighted.  Last night we went to McDonald's for dinner during Andrew's break from work.  On the way in we noticed a sign advertising $1.99 Happy Meals.  Isaac had never had a happy meal before.  For one, we never used to eat at McDonald's, but now that Isaac is on a gluten free/dairy free diet we've found it to be one of the easiest and cheapest places to find him food out.  Their fries and meat are gluten free.  We usually just get him a small fry and a grilled chicken patty, but last night felt like the right time to christen him a true American toddler and get him his first Happy Meal.  Plus, $2 is what the chicken patty costs all by itself and I can't pass up a deal.  So we got him a hamburger happy meal sans the bun.  When our order was taking a few minutes to make, Isaac stood at the counter waving his hands, explaining "small fry! water!" to the McDonald's workers.  I think it took 3 of them to figure out how to make a hamburger without a bun.  Anyway, we were at the doubledecker McD's on campus which meant we also got to eat UPSTAIRS.  Judging by his excitement, you would have thought we just bought him Disney World or all of the coconut ice cream in the world.  "Come on, daddy! Upstairs!"  I honestly don't know what thrilled him most; sitting upstairs, the personal cup of ketchup, a hamburger instead of the usual chicken, the toy that came in the happy meal, or the fact that we got to eat dinner with daddy.  All I know is, biased or not, I am blessed with a little boy that truly appreciates the littlest of things.

Many of you have asked me how Isaac is doing now that our foster children have moved to a different home.  I guess the answer to that question is two-fold.  He has not asked for or about the boys once- which surprised me a little.  However, he was with me when I took the boys to respite care the day before Thanksgiving.  I explained to him that the boys were going to Nancy's house and that we were going to grandpa's house.  I think being with me when I dropped off the boys, and saying a quick goodbye really did do the trick for him.  He seemed to really understand that we were going in different directions.  Also, going right to my parent's house for a few days instead of going back to our house with no Isaiah and Jycear probably helped.  Out of sight, out of mind as they say.  While he hasn't asked about the boys or even said their names, he has gone back to some of his quirks from before the boys came to live with us.  He is back to carrying little plastic toy animals EVERYWHERE with him and asking about certain ones when he can't find them.  Do I think he misses having a play mate?  Yes, but I think he likes being able to play by himself without being bothered too.  He's definitely calmer now.  Imagine having sensory processing disorder and having a very high energy, very strong two year old chasing you around all day and constantly touching you, pushing you, and practically being on top of you.  Fight or flight, indeed.  Isaac's routine is more lax now, partially because it can be and partially because there is no Isaiah to lead the way.  Monkey see, monkey do definitely had it's advantages. 

While we all miss the boys, life is more simple now which I think we all needed.  On our way into McDonald's last night Andrew commented on how much he missed "being able to do this."  Meaning, calling me up last minute to do dinner and me being able to pack up and go right then.  Pretty easy to do with one kid, not so easy with three under the age of three.  The fact is, having a kid like Isaac (as good as he is), takes some extra.  Some days he feels like having three different kids, all at different ages.  For example, while I was dressing him this morning I noticed a big ugly scrape on his shoulder.  Neither Andrew or I knew how it got there.  Isaac looked at it and said "owwie" and was visibly upset, but that was about all he could say about it.  His teacher also didn't know if it was from school as she isn't there when he goes to gym class.  What's heartbreaking to me is that even if Isaac remembers how he hurt his shoulder, he can't get the words out to tell me.  This is an every day struggle for us.  Sometimes his language is very clear and he surprises us, but usually verbal interactions take effort on both ends.  Sometimes he cries and says "owwie" or just "ah! ah!" when what he means to say is "I have to go potty".  I often feel like I am a translator in a country where only he and I speak the language.

For our first two days of Thanksgiving break this year Isaac spoke mostly jibberish all due to accidentally getting a hold of some cheerios the day before (Isaiah was good at sharing some things!).  He spun in circles, woke up in the night, was hyper, impulsive, and on edge.  He couldn't look at my aunt when she talked to him.  It felt like traveling back in time to a year ago, before putting him on the diet.  My grandma quipped that no wonder I was tired.  After having talked up all his progress on the phone to my relatives and parents, I felt deflated.  Luckily, nature called via one massive bathroom visit and after that he was back to talking and acting like 3 year old Isaac again.  It's crazy, but even grandma noticed the change in him- "like night and day".

Isaac's teacher and I discussed his mood today when I dropped him off at school.  I found out that she had laid several books on the table and let them pick which one they wanted to take home so he aptly picked out the Just be nice...and say you're sorry! book.  I asked if he was grumpy during school yesterday.  She said his mood changes a lot throughout the day- something I have also been noticing.  Lately, I'll ask him a question like "do you want mac and cheese for dinner?" and he'll answer me in a low, mean, gravely voice that isn't his own, "no, mommy, stop it!".  He accompanies the voice with his brows furrowed over intense, angry eyes.  Sometimes he'll even take my hands and squeeze his nails into them for added effect.  He'll do this even if he ends up wanting and being fine with having mac and cheese for dinner.  Who is this?  A character of his? A 13 year old moody character whose voice is changing? Is he just frustrated?  I have no idea...