Monday, February 28, 2011

Brotherly Love

Chris and Collin cuddling!

Despite all of Caleb's quirks, Connor adores him and refers to him as his "best friend." The two brothers spend oodles of time together, even partaking in "sleepovers" in Caleb's room almost every weekend. With all this togetherness, Connor has picked up and mimicked some of Caleb's more challenging behavior. So, Chris and I decided Connor needed to know about Caleb's diagnosis. Our hope was he would understand his brother just a tad bit more and be able to separate himself behaviorally from his brother.

Tonight, I sat Connor down with the "All Cats Have Asperger's" book. We read it cover to cover, laughing at some of the silly feline photos. At the end I asked, "Connor, does anyone in this family remind you of a cat?"

With extreme confidence, he said, "Yes, Cooper!"

I started laughing, and said, "Wrong brother."

After running through all the other members of our family, Connor finally landed on Caleb. In some ways, I'm glad Connor didn't pick Caleb first. Connor sees him as his brother and his friend, and really that's all that matters in his eyes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hard Saturday

Collin fell asleep in our bed yesterday afternoon. Doesn't this just melt your heart?

Caleb and Collin showing off their newly acquired carnival trinkets. The boys and I attended Connor's school carnival.

The boys worked together to rearrange the remaining snow.

Caleb hauling a wagon full of snow.

The boys and I attended Connor's basketball game yesterday morning. It's been a challenge to take all four boys by myself (with Chris frequently working on a Saturday). To maintain my sanity, I've allowed Caleb to use a handheld electronic device during the game.

Yesterday, we followed suit. Caleb sat on the sidelines transfixed on his electronics. Knowing he has trouble with transitions, I do what I always do: give him plenty of notice of when the electronics need to be turned off. I gave him the four minute warning, then two minutes, then one minute. Finally, the game buzzer rang. I demanded Caleb turn off his game and hand me his device. Caleb continued playing. Again, I voiced my request. No response. I tried to reason. No response. By this time, Caleb was inches away from the court. Finally, I grabbed the device and turned the power off.

Caleb came unglued. He looked at me when steam rising from his ears, and daggers shooting from his eyes. In a burst of anger, he pushed me. As I tumbled, I thought what fell the hardest was my expectations of how he behaves. Caleb's always had his challenges, but violence (especially towards his mother) has not been one. Immediately, my emotions bubbled to the surface, a mixture of embarrassment, anger, and sadness. I clutched his hand and marched him out of the courts. He sat outside, until I could compose myself and retrieve his siblings. (Fortunately, my parents came to the game, so they helped with the others!)

Caleb was incorrigible. He was a bear to remove from the building. He fumed in the car. I sat in silence, completely devastated by the whole incident. After about an hour, he pranced out of his room as if the morning's activities were just an illusion. It's amazing how short his memory can be for things like this, and how long mine remains.

This week at Bible Study we discussed what sort of parental legacies we hope to leave our children. I've been thinking a lot about that this week. One I came up with is endurance. I want the boys to know things are not always easy, but we keep going and work through them (especially when you have a member of the family with a special need). I thought how this relates to yesterday morning. Some days are extremely difficult, but we keep going. We keep praying. We keep working. We keep loving. We keep hoping. We don't give up.

Yesterday, four little boys were watching me handle the situation. I hope they saw a mom that was down, but got back up, and plans to return next week (with Caleb sans electronic device, per his punishment).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter's Back

Cooper running around in morning snow. (He's still in his pajamas!)

Here's the snow removal you get for a quarter!




The boys having fun sledding!
The Maxwell kids joined my boys for a pizza/movie night. Eight kids crammed around a movie. They had a blast!

Connor raced down the stairs this morning, and gazed out the window. He scanned our backyard, covered in fresh layer of snow. He said with a mixture of surprise and disgust, "Spring's not here yet?" Amen Connor, my sentiments exactly!

After basking in sixty degree weather last week, accumulated snow and colder temps seem especially harsh and unwelcome. Evidently the school district felt the same, canceling classes for yet another snow day (Caleb's school remained open).

The three younger guys and I decided to embrace the snow, hoping it would be the last for the season. We packed up our sleds, piled on our snow gear, and headed to the premier sledding hill in Zionsville: Mulberry Fields.

The boys and I ascended the hill. It was quite a climb for me, as I was clutching Collin in one hand and two sleds in the other. Once we reached the peak, I doubled over, completed winded from the ascent. I stood up just in time to see, Connor and Cooper whizzing down the hill, clutching their snow boards, grinning from ear to ear.

I soon realized sledding is the absolute perfect sport for Cooper. Sledding allows him to channel his daredevil persona into something quite impressive to watch. At the top of the hill, Cooper would grasp his sled with both hands and then position himself like a gymnast would before leaping into a round of handsprings. He'd race to the edge of the slope, and then surge his body onto the board. His newly fused board and body would fly through the air and land with a thud on the decline. As gravity kicked in, Cooper plunged to the bottom in a whirl of snow. He'd get up, smile, brush the snow off his face, return to the top. Repeat and repeat.

Collin approached sledding very differently. By default, we ended up with the saucer sled. I sat with him on my lap, and clutched his body. We'd travel down the hill at a more modest pace with much less theatrics. At the bottom, he looked petrified and gripped my side. As I imagined, he wanted to be a spectator, and not a sport today.

So, Collin and I spent most of our time at the top of hill, content to take in the activity in a sedentary manner. As I surveyed the scenery, I realized the utter beauty in my surroundings. A church steeple peeked out to the North, a vintage barn lay directly next to the hill, and a playground stood in the horizon barren and covered in snow. Amid all the beauty, the squeals and laughter of little children, basking in winter play, formed a pleasant soundtrack to the ivory landscape.

Although I desperately crave spring and its accompanied warmer weather, I'm realizing winter can stay a little longer too.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Boys being boys

Collin wearing his beloved Batman shirt and hat!

A friend of mine sent one of those forwarded e-mails. The subject: What would happen if boys didn't have parents. The e-mail contained a slew of pictures featuring boys behaving badly (getting too close to alligators, climbing refrigerator walls, high diving into a pile of leaves, and on and on). I chuckled at all the pictures, and then thought about how my boys would behave without their parents.

Here's my list of how my boys would act without us:

1) Wearing the same well-loved shirt and pants day after day,

2) Showing up to school sans underwear (ok, I haven't been able to adequately explain why they have to wear underwear to school, but they just do),

3) Wiping vegetables out of their diet completely,

4) Removing all seat belts from the car,

5) Keeping every electronic device operating 24 hours a day,

6) Using a fellow brother as a personal punching bag,

7) What homework?,

8) Not worrying about aim or upright toilet lids when using the restroom,

9) Using electrical cords as teething devices (caught one doing this!), and

10) What utensils?

I'm sure I could go on, but I'm thinking they might need us...just a little.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Talking to Caleb

Last night, the three of us sat at the kitchen table. Caleb sat in the middle, cradling a bowl of ice cream smothered in chocolate syrup (per his request). Chris and I sat on either side, watching him as he spooned bite after bite into his eager mouth.

Chris and I had a purpose to our assembly: we were ready to inform Caleb he had Asperger's Syndrome. Chris spearheaded the discussion, and handled the conversation with delicacy and kindness. First, he rattled off some of the services Caleb received. He then followed up with the question: "Caleb, do you know why you see those individuals?" Caleb look a slight bit perplexed and shook his head in the negative.

Then, Chris flipped through a book recommended by several friends and professionals, All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome. For those unfamiliar, the pages feature photographs of adorable felines accompanied by words that explain Asperger's in simplistic terms.

The pages said things like (of the Asperger child):

"He likes to be near those he loves, but doesn't want them to hold him"

"When things get too much for him, he may tantrum"

"Daily rituals comfort him, and he likes a good routine and gets worried if the schedule is changed."

Of course, the part that brought tears to my eyes was..

"Other kids make friends but don't invite him to play, and he may be bullied."

Surprisingly, that was the only passage of the book Caleb commented upon. He regaled some playground incidents where a couple of classmates refused to include him in play. Sadness filled my heart, and anger burned in my core.

After we finished the book, Chris expanded on the book and divulged his diagnosis. Caleb reacted to it with little fanfare and few words. He seemed more anxious about deviating from his bedtime routine, than soaking in all that was said.

Despite Caleb's stoic reaction, I was tearful. I wished every obstacle in Caleb's life could be removed. I wished we didn't have to impart such difficult news. I wished we knew what was to come in Caleb's life.

Wanting all words to end, Caleb scampered up the steps. Chris and I sat, relieved the news had been taken so well, but curious to know all that sunk into his skull.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Overnight Date

Chris standing by the Indiana University Sample Gates.

Chris and I reminisced at the Wells House (where Chris proposed eleven years ago!).

Enjoying a dinner out without a children's menu in sight!

Chris dining on a cafe breakfast.

When Caleb was three months old, Chris insisted we do an overnight date to Louisville, Kentucky. He lined up the sitters (my parents), made reservations at a gorgeous historic bed and breakfast, and organized an array of fun activities. The minute I left my baby boy, I began to worry. I talked about him, a lot. I called, a lot. I fretted, a lot. The next morning, after the last drop of breakfast was consumed, my bags were packed and I was bound and determined on retrieving my baby..right away. Chris didn't even bother to put up a fight. I'm sure prolonging the date would have been pure misery for the poor guy.

Fast forward eight years and four children and my approach to an overnight date has changed drastically. Yesterday, we had reservations for an overnight stay in Bloomington. Again, my parents were booked as the sitters. When my parents arrived around lunch, our bags were packed and already stashed in the car trunk. We parceled out a few instructions, and then we were off. We wore big smiles as we sped out of the driveway, not looking back even once.

We spent the next 26 hours completely happy. We did things we don't normally do (go to a movie, eat a nice dinner, wander around the stacks in a bookstore). We talked about things we don't normally talk about. (Our conversation drifted from a recap of the days events, to deeper subjects.) We relaxed and remembered why we married our very favorite person.

As we headed home, I thought about the difference eight years make. Why was I able to so easily separate from my children now? Did I care about them any less? Did I worry about them any less? Of course, my affection for my children is the same, if not more. But truthfully, we've become tired and busy. As the children have multiplied, personal and couple time has decreased. We realized making time for each other (and ourselves) is pertinent to sustaining the relationship that began it all.

(One more thing: We saw William Shatner at the Zionsville, Indiana Starbucks!!)


Mom and Dad bought the kids a 3-D Garfield video. This is how we found the kids when we arrived home.

My Mom and Dad served as our overnight babysitters. We are extremely grateful for their willingness to take on our brood of boys! We appreciate that they want to assist their children, and build memories and relationships with their grandsons! Thanks!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recap of Yesterday

After working an overnight shift, Chris watched Connor's basketball game. Connor actually TOUCHED the ball during the game. We're making progress!

After basketball, Connor's kindergarten friend and fellow basketball player, Ian, came over to play. Ian is a total riot. He has a giant vocabulary coupled with a quick wit trapped inside a pint size body.

When Ian entered our minivan, he scanned his surroundings with cracker crumbs smashed into the ground and stickers on the car seats. He looked at me and announced, "Wow, you really can tell you have four boys." So true.

******************************************************************************

We're off for our overnight date this afternoon. We're praying that rain and sleet won't hold back our plans. Pray for our babysitters: grandma and grandpa!


Friday, February 18, 2011

Where Babies Come From

Connor (center) surrounded by his kindergarten friends at movie night.

Cooper (right) hung out with other younger siblings at movie night.

Even Collin grabbed a bag of popcorn and a drink, ready to enjoy the show.

Connor had his school pal, Nick, over for a play date after school. I listened as the boys conversed.

Connor: My Dad's a doctor.

Nick: My Dad's a doctor too.

Connor: My Dad's held a brain before.

Nick: My Dad pulls babies out of people's private parts.
(He's an OBGYN!)

Connor (pausing and then looking extremely confused): Babies come from where? No, babies come from stomachs.

Me (acting quickly and wishing Connor had made friends with a dermatologist's child): Connor, let's hear about Dad holding that brain, again.

Then, the conversation turned to brains. Whew!





Thursday, February 17, 2011

Answered Prayers

The Hermacinski girls joined the Wood boys for a few hours of play.

Chris calmed Caleb by reading a few books to him.

I heard a speaker discuss aspergers' children yesterday. She indicated they have difficulty shifting. Now who does that sound like? So, it didn't come as any surprise, that Caleb greeted a day off school (teacher professional development day) with its accompanied shift in routine with extreme distaste (to say the least).

From the minute he awoke, he teetered on the edge of losing it, several times letting his emotions get the best of him. I tried to maintain my composure. I took a lot of deep breaths, said a lot of prayers, and left the room when needed.

By the time bedtime rolled around, I was grateful he could find some peace among his sheets. I was exhausted, feeling like every ounce of my emotional health was sapped. I took a few minutes on the couch, watching mindless TV while I downed handfuls of chocolate....my version of therapy!

This morning at MOPS, the speaker discussed how we shouldn't compare ourselves to others. We moms are who God made us to be, and so are our children. I couldn't help but think about Caleb. God made Caleb, crafting his unique personality with all the challenges and blessings that come along. Then, He gave him to us. He knew what challenges we'd face, but trusted us with him nonetheless. On days like today, I just pray, "Equip me" and "Don't give me more than I can handle."

Today, I'm grateful for answered prayers.



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Receiving Red Carnations

Chris read my blog yesterday. When I came home this afternoon, these red carnations were sitting on our bed with a handwritten note. The note said, "I hope these carnations tell you that you are my special, dear, loved valentine." I love the carnations, and it was worth waiting almost twenty years to receive them from my very favorite sender.

The temperatures hit the 50s, perfect weather for all sorts of outdoor play. The boys attempted a bike ride, but most of the sidewalks still held icy remnants. Hoping tomorrow's 60 degree forecast will melt the remaining patches!

Our neighbor, Sam, joined the boys for some warm weather snow play. Notice Sam's wearing shorts surrounded by snow!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflecting on Valentine's Day

Collin slept with his football, and insisted on clutching it during breakfast.

A dentist visited Cooper's preschool class. Chris was encouraging Cooper to consider dentistry over medicine.

Today I was reflecting on Valentine's Day. My memories flashed back to high school. On Valentine's Day at my high school, students could purchase carnations to support a school fundraiser. The carnations would then be delivered to the recipient students during the school day. The carnations came in three colors: pink, white, and red. Each color symbolized an emotion. I think white symbolized friendship, and I know red represented love.

Each year, I'd receive a few white carnations from a couple of thoughtful friends. Never having a significant love interest during the Valentine's season, I didn't know what it felt like to receive a red carnation. I'd sit in class, and look longingly at those holding rosy flowers with big smiles plastered on their faces. My white carnations were nice and all, but they weren't red.

As Chris pondered what to get me for Valentine's Day, I realized I want the red carnation. I don't want an actual red carnation (does anyone even like carnations?). I want the feeling of receiving a red carnation. The feeling that someone cares deeply, spent a little time and effort (not money...carnations are cheap) to demonstrate their affections, and was willing to designate me as their one special recipient.

It's the feeling I want boxed up, gift wrapped, and held on to forever.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Collin holding his Valentine's present. He was so excited. He even slept with it tonight.


(Below and right) Connor's kindergarten Valentine's party. Thanks for my mom and grandmother watching my two little ones so I could attend!



(Above) Caleb's second grade Valentine's party. I was able to serve as a party helper for Caleb's afternoon party.

We ate dinner at home, but tried to make it a little more festive for the holiday. We sat in the dining room, added a tablecloth, and ate family style. The boys even traded in their regular plastic dinner plates, for the real breakable kind.

The boys and I watched the Charlie Brown Valentine's special tonight (prerecorded from the weekend). Midway through the show, Caleb says, "Charlie Brown sure isn't having a good Valentine's Day."

"Did you have a good Valentine's Day," I asked.

He nodded and rattled off several highlights from the day.

I inquired, "Caleb, what was the best part of your Valentine's Day?"

"Having Mom at my Valentine's Party," he responded.

I was shocked, but I knew hearing those six little words was the very best Valentine's gift of all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Discovering the World

Cooper and his pal, Annika, enjoying the International Fair at the library.

My sweet neighbor, Sy, manned the Japanese booth.

Connor cuddles his new husky dog (an afternoon party favor).

It hit 50 today! Fifty! The temperature soared a mere sixty degrees in a matter of days. Hallelujah! My ice rink of a neighborhood has transformed into a big wet, slushy mess with patches of cement poking through. The warmer temps, brought all kinds of neighbors outside. Some were playing basketball. Others were maneuvering the slush from their driveways. Several I saw jogging (some I've never even seen slide into sneakers!). I think collectively, we were ready for our winter hibernation to end, and 50 degrees is just enough to bring us past our doorsteps.

Unfortunately, the Woods didn't spend a lot of time outdoors. We had indoor plans today that included:

1) A birthday party Connor attended; and

2) The international fair at the library (thanks to an invite from our neighbor, Sy).

The boys discovered two things at the International Fair:

1) All their favorite toys originate from Japan (Pokemon, in particular); and

2) The best countries to visit distributed chocolate samples (wait.... that was me!).

Looking forward to a beautiful, warm week!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Champions

My sweet little baby cuddling with his mother.

Caleb, Connor, and another boy scout friend at the Pinewood Derby.

Caleb's car!
Caleb walked away with a plaque and a special certificate.

Caleb participated in the boy scout's pinewood derby. For male scouts, it's a big deal. They construct a car out of a wooden block, and then compete against their friends for fastest car down a ramp.

Today, Chris took Caleb and two brothers to watch the competition. A few hours later, Chris called. "He got third," he exclaimed, with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Just hearing the news brought tears to my eyes. Caleb has had many challenges in the last few years, and those victories (big and small) mean the world to me and to him!

********************************************************************************

Connor has been participating in Upward Bound basketball every Saturday. Connor has many gifts, but basketball doesn't seem like one at this point. He's definitely made progress, but it appears his main goal during the game is to stay as far away from the ball as possible. Nevertheless, he loves it and we spend out Saturday mornings watching Connor prance up and down the court with a smile plastered on his face.

This Saturday was no different. Connor touched the ball maybe once, but spent plenty of time "guarding" his opponent even when he was on offense.

After the game, the designated snack parent gave every player FOUR snacks each (how do you follow that?). Connor stood clutching a bag of all sorts of sweet and fattening goodies. As you can imagine, Connor's three brothers enviously eyeballed the snacks, and I began to fear a mutiny may be on my hands. Connor looked at his brothers and their gloomy expressions. Then, he grabbed his snacks and distributed one snack to each brother (at least she gave him four snacks!). I was so incredibly touched by his actions. I praised Connor up and down for his generosity.

Connor may not have scored twenty points in the game today, but he walked out of the gym a champion in my eyes. I couldn't be prouder of his actions on the court!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Transforming into a Toddler

The boys and I visited the new Dora and Diego exhibit at the Children's Museum. Of course, the older boys fussed all the way too the museum, bemoaning the fact Dora and Diego was way too juvenile for males of their age.

As I imagined, the older boys adored the exhibit just as much as the little ones.

It's funny, within the last couple of months I've become keenly aware that Collin has transformed into a toddler. He's no longer a voiceless blob I merely carry here and there. He now has words, opinions, and oodles of personality.

Today, I noticed he's discovered just what buttons to push with his brothers. As we're all riding in the car, he begins to call his brothers the one sure fire word that incite lots of emotion: baby.

Collin: "Cooper's a baby."

Cooper: In tears, "Mom, Collin's calling me names."

Collin: "Cooper's a baby."

Cooper: "Collin's mean."

And on and on.

Oh boy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bad Words

Collin gazing out at the winter wildlife.

Caleb and I went to see his doctor this week. Caleb began to discuss another little boy they both knew.

Caleb said, "He's nice, but he says bad words."

I waited for him to continue.

He whispered, "He uses the F word."

I turned red and held my breathe anticipating just what Caleb would say next.

The doctor interjected, "The F word?"

With a look of bewilderment, Caleb said, "You know....fart."

I exhaled and let out a laugh, following by giggles from the doctor.

Whew!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Changes and Mommy Guilt

About a year ago, we began transforming our bedroom from dorm room chic to a sophisticated 30-something parents' oasis. We repainted the carrot colored walls with a soothing shade of blue-gray. Our intention was to continue the transformation. Who knew our little project would stand dormant for almost another year?

Today, we jump started our renovation by selecting new bedding and matching twin lamps. Our former khaki colored duvet and shams have been replaced by sunshine yellow toile bedding paired with a white (yes, WHITE) duvet. Two new crystal lamps, crowned with charcoal shades, flank the bed. It's as if an iota of femininity and hint of charm has infused the room.

What's next?

The boys and I had a dinner on the go due to a super hectic night!

Caleb clutching his science fair certificate.

Today, I was thinking about mommy guilt....something I can relate to just a little bit. I think mommy guilt began when each boy was just an embryo. I fretted over all the usual stuff:

1) Am I eating the right things?
2) Did I get enough rest?
3) Should I really be shoveling snow/ mowing the yard/ doing pilates/ and on and on.

I thought this anxiety would go away once I laid eyes on each beautiful baby. But, it only intensified.

I think once I had four children, the biggest source of mommy guilt is not having the time I wanted for each and every child. If only I had more than one lap, multiplying hands, unlimited time. But, the reality is, one mom to four boys means time and attention has to been rationed and divided by four.

Today that guilt swept over me. The battery died in my car this morning, thanks to my sweet neighbor (Jay Hermacinski!) the car was up and running within the half an hour. While I was aiding the car jump, Collin clutched my side and shivered in the freezing outdoor temps (he refused to go inside!). He began to cry and continued to wail until we got to school. I handed him to his teacher as he was still weeping.

I left the class, then glanced through the window. His teacher clutched him in her lap, rocking him back and forth as he cuddled her chest. I knew I couldn't stay, but I felt that mommy guilt...leaving him in tears, not having enough time to console him and rock him in my arms, wishing I had attention to spare.