Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Spark Ignites for the Flaming Dragons

I have a confession to make.

I bribed him.

If there's anything I've learned from a decade of parenting is that bribery works..

every time...

like a charm.

Today was no exception.

I suppose I got to the point of bribery after two weeks of watching the Flaming Dragons lack any hint of a flame.  Cooper was certainly no exception.  He spent more time inspecting blades of grass than watching the ball.  In my mind, something was wrong.  The thing is, Cooper loves soccer.  He's good at soccer.  And, he has an inner competitiveness that flows through his veins and pops up all the time at home.  Why couldn't he tap into that on the soccer field?

So as I was lacing up his cleats, I mentioned his new favorite yogurt place.

"I'll take you there if you score a goal," I whispered.

He beamed.

Minutes later, I planted my folding chair on the soccer field's sidelines.  Cooper whizzed by me with the game ball dribbled between his feet and his signature grin plastered on his face.  He raced past his competitors and shot the ball into the goal.  Score.  Once.  Twice.  Then Six.  Cooper was back and a spark was reignited for the Flaming Dragons.

I'm sure you could attribute Cooper's stellar performance to other things.  Of course, Chris is a fantastic coach who's worked hard to develop Cooper's skills, and today's match up seemed a little more equal.  But I still think dangling a bowl of frozen yogurt over Cooper's head certainly lit a fire.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Becoming Fluent in Mime

The boys took a spectator posture at the end of our driveway, as if they were ready to watch a parade.  Still not sure what they were waiting for on our sleepy street.

Last night, the boys and I sat around the dinner table.  I broached the subject of foreign languages and asked the boys if they'd like to study one.  They all sat and contemplated my question before Connor piped up.  "I'd like to speak mime," he announced.  His three brothers spun around and shot him looks of adoration.  Just like that, Connor began to "practice" his language skills.  He started with a few impromptu hand and facial gestures.  Then, he began accepting requests.  The boys shouted out:

Be a bird.

Now, a lizard.

Connor twisted his torso and worked his hands to comply with each request.  His brothers watched in giddy amazement.  

Then, they amplified their requests, choosing more complicated appeals.  

Act like a runner caught in a tornado.

Be a rock climber racing a shark.

By this time, three brothers howled as they watch Connor's body contort and his expressions fluctuate.

As Connor's dinner theater came to a close, ideas were tossed around about bringing Connor's act to the street (end of our driveway).  They plan to place Connor on the sidewalk with a homemade sign and a hat for tips.

I'm not so sure about the profitability of the act, but I have to say the dinner performance was priceless.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Accepting Asperger's

Enjoyed a beautiful brunch with my Bible Study friends.

My tummy twisted in knots and my knees knocked as I plopped down on the doctor's sofa.  We exchanged pleasantries and exchanged book recommendations.  Finally, she cleared her throat.  I know you want the test results, she announced.  Did I ever.  I moved to the front of my seat and eagerly gazed into her eyes.

"After an extensive amount of testing he's official diagnosis comes back as Asperger's," she said.

 As I calmly listened to her explain percentiles and dissect test results, a peace washed over me.  I can't explain it really.  I suppose I felt like I finally landed at a place of acceptance.  Years back, when a swim teacher first referred to my son as an "autistic child" I greeted her words with a mixture of terror and shock.  And a few months after that, when the school district threw out the "Asperger's" word, I spiraled into hysterics.  The truth was words like "autism" and "Asperger's" were foreign to me.  The limited knowledge I had of those terms conjured up scary images and lifetime challenges.

The next couple of years were spent learning about those words, living those terms, accepting those labels.  What I learned was Asperger's doesn't define a child, but helps explain them just a little bit.

He has Asperger's and that's OK.  

I wouldn't want him any other way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Flaming Dragons Go Down in Flames

We arrived at the game a little late.  The Flaming Dragons were already on the field.  The sidelines were flanked with parents and siblings bundled under blankets and nestled onto folding chairs.  Chris was the coach and he raced along the field bellowing out shrewd commands such as "Cooper, quit chasing that butterfly and watch the ball" and "Owen, wrong goal."  As Chris ran in our direction, I tried to catch his eye and flash him a smile.  He replied with a scowl.  Oh boy.

Just then, Caleb yelled from the sideline, "Hey Dad, what's the score?"

The parents around us erupted into laughter.

As Chris raced past us, he replied, "Don't worry about it."

The crowd let out a second wave of howls.

Right at that moment, Connor (who had been acting as an assistant coach) screamed, "It's zero to twenty."

Guess who was the zero.

Chris would later describe their five-year-old opponents as a "well-oiled machine."  Their competitors dribbled, passed, scored, and defended as if they played on some fancy European soccer league.  I kept glancing at the players desperately trying to see if one of them had a five o'clock shadow or looked like they possibly owned a learner's permit.  But if height was any indicator they were indeed five-year-old boys that possessed some freakishly good soccer ability and all got thrown on the same team. 

The Flaming Dragons, well, that's another story.  They tended to run from the ball more than to it.  They preferred to pepper their play with waves to the fans and small talk with their teammates.  They didn't really see the need to exert much energy until the post-game snacks were distributed.  (It's amazing how they all got a second wind at snack time.)

Chris came home defeated and collapsed onto the coach.  He announced to the ceiling, "I'm never coaching again."

But, I know him.  He'll coach again because one Flaming Dragon is over the moon that he's dad is the coach.  


Tonight, after Cooper said the dinner prayer, his older brother said, "Cooper, your prayers sound like the Pledge of Allegiance."  Indeed, Cooper merged his prayer with the Pledge of Allegiance.  He thanked God for Liberty and Justice for all.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dr. Dad

Chris treated Connor for his scooter injury.

Last year, Cooper tumbled out of a wagon and smacked his head on the pavement.  Within seconds a goose-egg size bump emerged on his forehead.  I scooped Cooper up and dialed Chris in the ER.  The ER receptionist answered and I tried to shout my concerns over Cooper's wails.

Chris told me later that the receptionist got him out of a patient room and announced, "I don't know what's going on at your house, but it doesn't sound good."

This weekend was similar.

It started on Friday night when Cooper nosediving off his brother's top bunk head-first.  He howled in pain.  I panicked and dialed Chris at work.  I imagine the ER staff rolls their eyes when they see our phone number pop up on caller ID.  I'm surprised they don't answer in a limp voice (with a lot of attitude), "What is it now Mrs. Wood?"  Instead, they quickly hand over the phone to Chris who has learned over the years patience with his non-medical wife.  He'll listen and then typically lets out the perfunctory "He's fine."  Which he is, but I just need to hear it from him.

On Saturday, Connor flipped off his scooter and landed in a heap on the concrete.  He ran into the house in tears and lifted up his arm to display his exposed, blood-soaked flesh.  I wanted to pass out.  Chris doctored him at home and took him to the ER to wrap the wound in gauze.  Connor soaked up the attention.  His brothers dug into the lollipop bin.

When Chris works on the weekend we miss him dearly, but with four active boys it seems we're always in touch.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Minivan Mediation

The boys clowned around with friend Kevin Henkle.

Way back when I was in law school, I took a mediation course.  A practicing mediator taught the class.  He peppered his lectures with his personal mediation stories, tales of ex-spouses fighting tooth and nail over marital assets and heartbreaking medical malpractice  disagreements.  We read our text book, listened to his lectures, and reenacted scenarios.  I walked out of the course prepared to mediate practically any conflict....or so I thought.

Today, as I was riding in my minivan with my four boys and their carpool friend, I started to think about that mediation course.  I thought how law students taking such a mediation course should really practice those skills in a minivan filled with five kids (four of them siblings). 

I imagine it would go like this...

Law student jumps into the driver's seat of the minivan.  She checks her rear-view mirror and adjusts the seats.  She feels confident this should be a piece of cake, merely transporting six "angelic" children from school to home.  She pulls out of the school parking lot.  As the car veers onto the road, the disagreements begin.  Two children want the car windows down.  Three vote for windows up.  A scuffle ensues.  Said law student decides allowing half the windows down is fair.  Problem solved.  She settles in again, feeling smug in her mediation abilities.  

The children that voted for windows up start begging for the air conditioning to be turned on.  The other kids agree.  She rolls all the windows up and turns on the air.  Disagreements flow about the temperature of the air and the volume of the fan.  She turns the dial to a middle temperature.  Some children begin to beg for the windows down again.  The law student begins to sweat.

Just then, one child asked for the radio to be turned on.  Three want the radio off.  The law student flips on the radio.  Two kids want pop music.  Three want a kid's music CD.  The law student begins to panic.  She flips off the radio and starts to rock and hum.

A child from the back seat asked for snacks.  The law student sees a stash of snack bags in the passenger seat.  Granola bars or goldfish, she asked.  Five different requests ring out.  Chocolate or peanut butter?  Cheddar or pretzel?  Two want the same snack.  There's only one of those snacks left.  Those two children react as if the world is about to end.

Said law student pulls the car over.  She calls her instructor and begs to mediate something less cumbersome.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stifling the Runner's High

The boys and their neighbor friend decided to make flags out of sticks and construction paper.  Friend Annika made the Japanese and Russian flags.  Collin made a Batman flag.  I'm still not sure about Cooper's flag.  

Of course, the boys felt the "oppressive" heat (in the 60s) meant shirt-shedding weather.  (Rest assured, I do require them to wear pants.) 

The morning started so nicely.  An early morning jog pumped me with runner's endorphins and started me off in a stellar mood.  At 6:45 a.m., not a peep could be heard from the boys' rooms.  How rare!  How delightful!  I crept into Caleb's room and massaged his back and stroked his hair.  Caleb jerked up and with eyes barely opened announced, "I'm not going to school."  O boy.  I tried to remain positive.  I touted all the benefits of school.  Remember recess?  Isn't lunch fun?  He treated me like a snake oil salesman trying to sell him the rights to the Brooklyn Bridge.  And so his "no school" mantra continued throughout the morning, varying only in tone and intensity.

During Caleb's rant, Connor approached me with a panicked expression.  "It's stuck," he cried as he held up his index finger with a plastic purple toy contraption (my best description) lodged under the knuckle.  I tugged and pulled and even plunged the finger in cold water.  No dice.  The finger started to turn a shade of purplish-red.  I panicked and called Chris in the ER announcing his son would be his next patient.  He laughed.  Doctors, I muttered.

At that moment, an open jar of peanut butter plummeted to the floor, splattering a brown oozy substance over the floors and counters.  

I wanted to cry.

But then....

Caleb got into the carpool car, semi-willingly.

As we walked out of the house to go to the ER, the plastic ring, clasped on Connor's finger, flung free.

The peanut butter was cleaned.

I realized a "runner's high" can only withstand so much and last so long.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Baby Questions

Caleb's class went on a field trip to the Simmons School in Hope, Indiana. He spent the day in a restored one room school house learning how students a century ago went to school.

The little boys and I drove home from the library. Both sat glued to their new books. Cooper flipped through the pages and suddenly stropped and raised his head.

"Mom," I heard Cooper ask from the backseat. "When Collin turns four you need to have another baby."

Collin stopped glancing at his book and a concerned expression flashed upon his face. His eyebrows furled in puzzlement as if he never considered another baby was a possibility.

"Cooper, I don't think we're going to have any more babies," I announced.

He listened to my words and seemed to meditate on them for a moment. Finally, he asked, "So, you can just stop having babies?"

"Yes," I answered, trying desperately not to giggle.

I could almost hear Collin let out a huge sigh of relief. I imagined he was grateful to have his position as baby of the family intact.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lessons Learned by a School Mom

Collin decided today was perfect swimsuit weather.

During the evening hustle and bustle, Chris stopped me. He asked, "Do you have Caleb's 1902 costume ready for Tuesday?"

"What?" I asked in complete shock.

He eyed me with concern, "You know, the one he's going to wear on his field trip."

No, the costume was not completed. In fact, it wasn't even started as I didn't have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. I raced downstairs and flipped through the mounds of paperwork he brought home from school. Sure enough, a canary yellow paper titled "Field Trip Reminders" sat amid the pile. I scanned the sheet; it outlined all the expectations for the field trip that included a costume and a 1902 appropriate lunch (think corn muffins over Uncrustables). Silently I cursed the school. Since when did field trips become so complicated?

And, so I began to bemoan my position as a mother of school age children. The 1902 costume is just the latest in a long line of "little" things needed for school. My preschooler needs to bring half-dozen egg cartons, cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and pictures from every milestone of his childhood. The first grader must bring in a picture of George Washington made from macaroni, toilet paper sculpted into the Eiffel Tower, and a realistic looking red-eyed tree frog costume. Even my three-year old comes home with calendars and little reminders for beach, Green, and pajama days.

I try my darnedest to be on top of it all, but with four little ones it doesn't always happen. For example, Cooper told me (after the fact) that it was season's day at preschool. I'm sure some children arrived in beach wear or maybe hats and gloves. Cooper wore his regular attire: sweats and a t-shirt. He waited for my reaction; I put my hand on Cooper's shoulder and reminded him that he came as spring.

And, so I've realized one of the most important skills a mom of four acquires: improvisation.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning to Love, Apserger's style

Caleb clad in his beloved lizard shirt.

My sister-in-law clutched her two-year-old son. She unleashed her grip and placed the little boy on the floor. The minute his feet hit the ground, he wailed and thrust his arms upward begging to be placed back in her embrace. Inches away, Caleb gazed at the scene with bewilderment and intrigue as if he was a scientist studying wildlife in its native habits. As he processed the images, he walked over in my direction.

In a stoic, professor-like fashion, he asked, "I've always wanted to know why children are so attached to their mothers. Do you know why?" He stood by me, waiting for my reply.

The question seems harsh, I know. If asked by another child, I would be heartbroken. But, Caleb's not like other children. He's an Asperger's child where emotions and social interactions don't appear to be as ingrained as learned. It's a puzzlement to me that he learns some things so quickly while other concepts prove to be difficult. He taught himself to read at two and was discussing the malaria crisis in Africa while still in preschool, but when it comes to emotions, well, those he just can't get.

Through the years, I've tried to teach Caleb how to love or show me love. I've showered him with kisses, but rarely received any in return. I've pulled him into hugs while he stiffens. I've said "I love you" ad nauseam and he'll reply "OK." But after his recent question, it finally dawned on me: maybe I'm the one that needs to learn about love. The truth is love isn't always expressed the same way and like so many other things, Aspies demonstrate love differently.

Deep in my heart I know Caleb loves me, but the way he expresses it isn't conventional. Caleb shows me love when he compliments my chocolate chip cookies and regards me as "the best cookie maker in the world." Caleb demonstrates love when he shares his latest lizard fact and shows me a picture in one of his favorite books. When he asked us to go to his school performances and grins when he sees us in the seats, my love tank runs over.

I'll continue to lavish Caleb with kisses, hugs, and "I love yous" because that's the way I know how to love. But, I'll learn to love his way too and cherish every one of his tender gestures.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflections on Florida

It was the last day of our Florida vacation. We had a few hours to kill before boarding our evening flight back to the Midwest. Caleb discovered a nature preserve minutes from the airport and so we spent those hours gazing at albino raccoons, bald eagles, and ball pythons. As we meandered among the displays, I noticed a white-haired gentleman eyeing our brood. He seemed amused by the boys and finally used his cane to hobble over to our family.

"Are all these boys yours?" he asked.

"Yes," I smiled, noticing the twinkle in his eyes that burst through his leathery skin.

He beamed, "I was one of four boys too." Then, he recounted a litany of childhood antics and memories of his brothers, never once losing his smile.

I asked, "Are you still close to your brothers?"

His face still glowed even as he admitted being the only surviving brother. He then divulged that two of his children had passed away as well. My heart broke for this man. How much heartache he must have endured! I wondered how he kept his glow after so much loss.

It got me thinking about my boys and about our trip. The vacation was amazing but not without hiccups. As the week progressed sibling bickering and pre-adolescent whining rose as my frustration level and patience waned. Chris and I began to question whether a vacation with kids was truly a vacation for the parents. We concluded it was a "working vacation" but that the benefits always outweighed the challenges and hurdles.

During our vacation week, I watched the boys work together to erect elaborate sand castles. I gazed at their "sleepovers" where three little boys slept on the floor inches away from their brother. I listened in on their stuffed animal parties. I watched them frolic in the pool and splash each other senseless.

I wonder one day how they'll look back on their childhood and brothers. Will they smile as they remember those memories? Will they share with a stranger about their vacations to Florida? Will their eyes twinkle as they reminisce?

Someday, I can't wait to hear what they say.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Florida in Pictures

Warning: This blog contains a plethora of pictures from our Naples, Florida spring break vacation. I had trouble keeping even one precious photo off the blog...too many good memories, too many wonderful family members.

Chris's parents took our family and cousin Grace on a pirate ship. I had serious reservations about the excursion before the ride. I imagined multiple kids dangling from the boat and plunging into the ocean. My fears washed away when we entered the boat. The "pirates" did an excellent job entertaining the kiddos during the two hour ride.

Thanks to the Woods for their generosity.

My brother Matt and his family joined us for some of the trip. I snuggled with my niece Caroline and caught up with my sister-in-law, Heather.

We took all the kids to the beach. Lesson learned from this picture: swimsuits are not meant to be handed down four times. Looks like the elastic lost its zing!

I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with my Dad and brother Matt. We took all the kids to Fujiyama for dinner. So fun! Of course, Cooper LOVED the fire!

We visited the newly opened Children's Museum of Naples (CMON). We waited in line for an hour, but the boys found it well worth the wait.

When we had too much water play, we'd hit the park. The boys also enjoyed their individual dates with Memaw and Papa.

The boys participated in an Easter egg hunt in Bonita Springs hosted by an ice cream shop and church. The flyers said 18,000 eggs were strewn on the ground. All 18,000 eggs were collected in three minutes!

Of course, Chris and I left Easter basket purchases until Saturday night. The Target Easter shelves were completely bare. We scrounged together a few drug store finds and stuffed them into a basket.

My mom and I modeled our Easter dresses.
(Still trying to find good shoes to match the dress, not loving the ones in the picture.)

With some time to kill before we entered a plane back to Indiana, we toured a nature preserve. Caleb was in heaven as the place was packed with reptiles. We did take the 1 1/2 mile nature hike through Florida brush where the boys saw a snake slithering near the path. I was definitely out of my comfort zone!

We had a wonderful time in Florida. So grateful for the wonderful family (Memaw, Papa, Grandparents Wood, Uncle Matt, Aunt Heather and the cousins) that accompanied us on the trip and helped with the boys!