Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Favorite Books

Chris reading to Cooper before bed.
I'm in a purging sort of mood.  I've spent my last few days rummaging through drawers and closets, tugging out old clothes and unused toys and placing them in donation piles.

This isn't my first purge.  The last couple of years, I've purged plenty, especially the baby items.  I donated our crib and gave away pastel blue baby blankets and tiny onesies.  With each donation, I anticipated an emotional response that never really came to pass.  But today's purge was different, my emotions bubbled.

Today I tackled the stacks of baby and children's books accumulated throughout the house.  I ogled the covers and skimmed through the pages.  Each book brought back memories.    I vividly recalled which boy loved which book and during what stage.  Brown Bear was Caleb's favorite and his faithful companion during our potty training months.  Connor adored Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail.  He wanted to hear it every night (even on Christmas Eve).  Cooper loved Richard Scary's books.  He memorized the location of every single gold bug on every single page.  Collin favored anything remotely related to Batman and his cronies.  

Those were their favorite books.  But they listened to them all.  From the time they could sit, I pulled them onto my lap and we would mold into their nursery rocker.  I clutched a book with one hand and cradled a baby boy in another.  They sat still listening to my voice as we flipped the pages. Those bedtime moments were absolutely precious.

  We still do books at bedtime, but the books have changed.  Now they favor comic books and tween chapter books.  Some boys can read and prefer reading alone.  The bedtime routine is quicker but certainly not as sweet.

I know the books they once loved merely collect dust and so it's time for those books to find a new home where they'll be appreciated as much as they once were with my boys.  That's what I know.  It's the saying goodbye that's the hard part.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cincinnati Visit

 At the Cincinnati Zoo with my brother Matt and his adorable family.
 Cuddling my nephew Will.
 Enjoying a moment of rest with my brother, Chris, and niece Caroline.
 The boys and Will strike a pose.

There are moments I simply can't help but think God has a sense of humor.  This weekend had those moments.  

We visited my brother and his family in Cincinnati.  In preparation for the visit (and specifically for my Aspie's need to know the schedule), my sister in law and I made scrupulous plans for the weekend.  I prepped the boys on the details and carefully packed for all planned activities.

We arrived in Cincinnati as scheduled and the boys quickly made themselves at home by mingling with their cousins and invading their toys.  Just as we were settling in, the skies opened up and buckets of rain descended on their yard accompanied by thunder booms and lightning crashes (oh how we hoped our yard was getting just a little of that!).  The power flashed off and there we all sat in a darkened home.

Minutes went by.  Then an hour.  The pizza we ordered didn't come (their power was out too).  The scheduled movie couldn't be played.  I couldn't help but think about the expression, "We make plans and God laughs."

We went to Plan B:  hunt for food by driving around and looking for lights.  Miles away, we spotted a lit Panera.  The ten of us huddled around a table, devouring salads and sandwiches.  And so the evening was different, but good (even for my Aspie who amazingly rolled well with the change).

The rest of our visit went according to plan.  My sister in law and I went for a long run where jogging played second to a much needed "catch up" season.  When we arrived home, Matt was whipping up chocolate chip pancakes. Breakfast was followed by a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo.  To put it mildly, the boys were in heaven among the scaly reptiles and safari creatures.

We bid Matt and his family goodbye from the zoo.  Happy for the memories, sad to see them go.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Today in Pictures

 Cooper found all kinds of fun things to do with the camp suitcases.

The boys thoroughly enjoyed Emma Hermacinski's Pokemon Tournament party.  They had a ball playing the game and trading Pokemon cards with friends.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Skinny on Camp

Cooper was SO excited to lose his first tooth.

The boys arrived home from camp last night.  Chris and Caleb staggered in first.  They tossed their luggage and sleeping bags onto the floor and we exchanged hugs and kisses.  Several minutes passed before I started to ask about Connor.  Chris motioned to the car.

I strolled outside and approached the open car door.  I could hear Connor weeping.  When he saw me, he started to wail.  In between sobs, I could make out his words.

"I.  Want.  To.  Go.  Back.  To. Camp."  sob.  sob.  

I fluctuated between being offended that he wasn't eager to jump into his mother's arms and being elated that he was SO very happy at camp.

I escorted Connor out of the car and the boys settled back into home life.  I got the skinny on their camp experiences.  All of the boys seemed pleased with the last couple of days.  Water slides and lake play topped the list of favorites.

I also heard about Caleb's transitions to camp.  Evidently, the first night was rough.  I imagine the whole camp experience was quite overwhelming to my Aspie: new routine, sensory overload, constant social interactions.  The camp quickly assigned him a buddy (and Chris helped when he could) and by the next day he fell into the routine and acclimated nicely to camp life (even apologized to his buddy and counselor for his behavior...what a HUGE step).

As we unpacked the suitcases, I picked up awards the boys had received at camp.

Connor earned the joyful award.

Caleb received the tenacity award.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Camp Envy

 Some of the fun lake activities offered at Camp Springhill.

Campers are transported to their cabins in old fire trucks with sirens blaring. 
 Caleb and Connor (and little brother Collin) in front of their tent with their camp counselor.
 Chris's accommodations are far from rustic.  He sleeps in a cabin with air conditioning and indoor plumbing. 
Chris, the camp doctor.

Reflecting back on my own childhood, some of my favorite memories centered on summers at church camp.  Precious images flash through my mind: meals over the campfire, silly songs, canoe rides, lake swims, night games, and most importantly time with dear friends.

As I dropped my boys off at camp yesterday, I sounded a bit like an old football player reliving his glory days.  I'm sure I bored my kids silly reciting those memories and reminding them over and over just how much fun they would have over the next several days.

I eyed their camp with a mixture of appreciation and envy.  It was like the camp in my memory, but better.  Gone are the days when campers merely splashed in the lake.  Now, they can jump off a huge floating trampoline or plunge down twisty slides into the water.  They climb up rock climbing walls and glide along zip lines.

Even though the environment has changed, the heart of camp remains the same: spiritual growth, deep friendships, and treasured experiences.  I can't wait to hear the stories.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Arriving at the Next Stage

 Getting ready to embark upon our first family canoe ride on Sugar Creek.

 Halfway through the ride, we snagged a place on shore to eat lunch.
 After lunch, the boys and I climbed up and across a suspension bridge.
 The highlight of the day for some of the boys was seeing raccoons up close.
 After the canoe ride, we took a walk around Turkey Run State Park.  
 Cooper finally found an appropriate place to climb.
The trail was certainly not what I expected.  It cut through bluffs and over streams.  The boys were mud-caked and drenched.

When I see a sweet, sleepy newborn or a swollen pregnant tummy, I grow a little sad.  I certainly miss those days.  A tiny little part of my brain thinks, "It's not too late; you can always have another."

Then there's days like today when I'm so grateful we've moved onto the next stage in our parenting journey.  We've arrived at the stage where the boys are independent enough that we can all enjoy many activities together.  Gone are the days when I'm lugging around a diaper bag or nursing a baby while pushing a stroller.  This summer, I have four potty trained, independently walking children.  That means, this summer we've engaged in activities we never attempted before, like taking the boys on a three mile canoe ride.

All four boys (and two adults) adored the trip.  The big boys enjoyed paddling and the little boys spent their time searching for wildlife. We finished the canoe ride up with a hike that wound through jagged bluffs and over babbling streams.  The boys emerged from the hike mud-caked and drenched, but happy.

I asked Connor about his favorite part of the day.  He responded, "Seeing a dead rabbit."

In the world of little boys, you can't beat that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Costs of Kids

Just a portion of the goodies needed for school.

Years ago, when we only had two little ones, my then childless brother (the finance major/planner/prudent saver) inquired about our biggest expenses with kids.

I bemoaned the costs of diapers and baby food.  At the time, it certainly felt like we were shelling out oodles of money between the two.  Many years and a couple of kids later, I miss the "good old" days where our biggest expenses were diapers and baby food. Times have certainly changed.

They say the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 is $226,920 (not including college costs).  If anyone questions that figure, they have yet to purchase school supplies.

Today, I tackled the school supply list.  Last year I waited until August.  Big mistake.  The school supply aisles sat bare.  They resembled the Halloween candy aisles on October 30th with only a few unpopular choices still lining the shelves.  Not to be repeated, I decided to beat the rush and hit Target early.

I walked into store clutching school supply lists.  I wondered when supply lists began to resemble the Webster's Dictionary?  Gone are the days when kids only needed an 8-pack of Crayola crayons and Elmer's Glue.  Now, the school requires (per child) head phones, snacks, 36 sharpened pencils, multiple kleenex boxes, and on and on.

I tossed item after item into my cart, fretting along the way.  The list requested "children's scissors."  Does that mean: safety, pointed, precision tip, soft grip, blunt tip, left-handed?  Do they really mean Crayola crayons?  Can't I just purchase the generic (cheaper) kind?

By the time I crossed off the last item, I was spent (and so was my money).  As I lamented the costs of the items to my husband, I thought about how someday I might miss this "meager" expense too...like when they go to college.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unique Kid Personalities: Endearing or Annoying?

The boys topped off a great dinner at the Brinkruffs with milkshakes.  Got milkshakes? 
 After dinner, the kids relaxed in front of Ernest Goes to Jail.   (Jim snagged it at Walmart.)  A "classic" movie I remember well from childhood.

Yesterday, the boys doused themselves in shaving cream and then whizzed down the slip n slide.  They swore it made them faster!

I once heard a pastor say, "The qualities you were attracted to in your spouse when dating will be the same qualities that drive you crazy in marriage."

The congregation erupted in laughter.  Although funny, I think there is truth found in his words.  I can especially see it with my kids.  Those qualities that make them most unique and endearing can at the same time drive me batty.

The child that holds strong convictions can be obstinate.

The boy that's sensitive can be whiney.

The son that's "my baby" talks baby talk (a few years too late).  

And then there's Cooper.  

Cooper.  Cooper.  Cooper.

The boys that's fearless, funny, and social can easily turn into the class clown (especially with the right audience).

Last night, he had an audience.  

Cooper attended football camp for the first time.  We walked onto the field and eyed dozens of five and six-year-old boys clad in athletic shorts and the standard white camp t-shirts with their identification number printed on the back.  Observing the practice was a bit like watching cats being herded.  The boys exhibited the attention span of a flea with little to no coordination or athletic skills.  Cooper was certainly no exception, but Cooper certainly added his own flair to practice.  He not only ran the drill, he'd tackle the coach at the end.  And on it went.

Probably the most memorable moment of the night was when Cooper was receiving the snap from a coach.  The coach bent over the ball and shouted, "One, two, three, hike."

Cooper fumbled a bit, but snagged the ball.  Then, he proceeded to dash under the coaches legs and onto the in zone.

The crowd of spectating parents erupted into laughter.  Cooper, sensing he amused his audience, flashed his signature grin.  If he knew how to perform one of those fancy in zone dances, I'm sure he would have done that too.  At that moment, I asked the Dad next to me if he'd walk Cooper to the car.  I wasn't sure I was ready to claim him.

I keep wondering about Cooper's colorful personality.  Is he destined to be the next Jimmy Fallon or Bernie Madoff?  Will I survive his childhood to even see what is to come?

When I went home, I collapsed onto the couch claiming to need a mental health break.  Chris didn't even ask.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Our New Family Pet

Cooper gave Ms. Therese, the Zion Nature Center Director, a present of rolly pollies from our yard.   She was very sweet and acted like it was quite possibly the best thing she ever received.

Caleb walked up to me and said, "Don't be alarmed if you see leaves in our refrigerator."

Too late, warning bells went off.  I imagined our refrigerator draped with greenery and quite possibly little critters.

I peeked into the refrigerator and let out a sigh of relief when I eyed only a small handful of leaves.  I asked the obvious, "Why?"

He responded, "It's for my new pet."

Caleb inherited a pet from nature camp.  His new friend is a Luna caterpillar he named "Wurmple."  It sits on our kitchen counter encased in a plastic tupperware container filled with leaves.

Today, Caleb asked me to feed "Wurmple."

"Caleb, it's your pet, you have to feed Wurmple," I replied.

He responded, "It's really a family pet, so I think you should do it."

I started to see where this was going.  

And, they wonder why we still don't have a dog!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Advice for the Rookie Moms

 Connor competed in his last swim meet today.  His Azionaqua team took home the trophy at the conference meet.  He was so excited!

My sister-in-law called yesterday.  She just slipped into the role of stay-at-home mom to her two young kids (ages 3 and 1).  She shared some of the "struggles" we stay-at-home moms face and bemoaned the amount of dishes she washes within a day.

"Why don't you use paper plates," I offered.

The line went silent and then she almost whispered, "Do you really do that?"

"Not all the time, but sometimes, especially when I'm overwhelmed with dishes,"  I answered.

Her giddiness at my response radiated through the phone's receiver.  She treated my suggestion as if I discovered the cure for world peace.  Who knew paper plates could be so revolutionary?

It got me thinking: when I was at my sister-in-law's stage, what do I wish a more seasoned mom had told me?  What pearls of wisdom would I pass along now (that might be a tad more significant that paper plates)?

I would say....

1) There's no prize given out for having the youngest potty trainer, bike rider, reader, swimmer...and on and on.  Don't waste energy fretting over these things.  I've never heard of anyone asked in a college admission or job application about when they mastered any of those skills.  

2)  If something is going to happen, it will happen on your way out the door (think dirty diapers, sick kids, forgotten lunches).  Always put a little "hedge" into a morning to allow time for the unexpected.

3)  Phone calls can always be returned, precious moments cannot.

4) Someday, I'm betting the kids won't remember the color of our couches, but will recall family vacations.  Remember this when budgeting money.

5)  Mommy time outs can be lifesavers.  Placing the kids in front of a movie every once in a while can truly make everyone more pleasant.

6)  Maintaining a spotless house is a never ending uphill battle with little ones.  Aim for clean, not perfect.

7)  No child is perfect.  They will do things that are messy, embarrassing, frustrating, and hard.  They learn through all these things and so do we.

8)  Accept friend's offers to help and offer to help friends.  Build a community of mommy friends and seek to rally and encourage each other.  They will serve as your lifelines and you to them.

9)  Laugh.  Kids are pretty darn funny (or find the laughter in the situation later).

10)  Savor the time.  I'd be rich if I had a quarter for every time a gray-haired woman approached me in the grocery store, eyeing my young sons, and said, "One day you'll miss this time."  As I'm a month away from having three kids in full day school, I understand these words.  The time has flown and I pray I've appreciated it. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Loving The Asperger's Child in Sunday School

We spent our Sunday with Memaw and Papa at the Wonderlab in Bloomington.  I still don't know who had more fun:  Papa or my kids?

Yesterday the kids were exited their Sunday school class when a man walked up to Caleb.  He smiled and then peppered him with questions, 

Do you have a summer birthday? 

Are you going to camp?

Playing any sports?

Caleb eyes darted around the room and made minimal eye contact with this man.  He'd answer, but in either short perfunctory responses or detailed, professor like accuracy.  After a while, Caleb seemed exhausted by the small talk and walked away.

I was left with the man and asked how he knew Caleb.  He introduced himself as Caleb's Sunday school teacher from the previous year.  I never met this man, but I knew his wife.  She always greeted Caleb with a smile and seemed excited to see him every week.  She even made him a whole plate of Christmas cookies around the holidays.

He said, "My wife and I knew Caleb was a little different so we took him under our wings.  We looked out for him and tried to make connections.  We love him."

As he talked, my eyes teared up.  Caleb is such an amazing child with so many unique and interesting gifts, but he is not without his challenges.  He's confusing and frustrating for many (even his parents) and some adults just don't know how to take him.  But these amazing Sunday School teachers didn't see him as a challenge as much, but as a child of God and so they treated him as such.

How can I explain their loving actions?  I imagine these Sunday School teachers love Christ so much that they ooze out that love on others.  I think of Matthew 25:40 which says, "Insomuch as you do to the least of these, you do to me."  I'd rephrase:  "Insomuch as these Sunday School teachers do to the Asperger's child in the Sunday School class, they do for Christ."

The truth is the whole entire process of getting Caleb to church has been difficult over the years.  The first hurdle was always getting him through the door and then next was finding a proper fit for him during the service (Sunday School class or sanctuary).  If he did enter the Sunday School class, I'd sit anxiously in the pew praying his pager number didn't flash upon the screen.  (Sometimes it did.)  I found the whole experience defeating and stressful.  I remember several months not even trying, telling the boys we'd do "home church."  But then, we found a fit for him.  We discovered these wonderful teachers.  Chris and I actually sat in a sanctuary and listened to a sermon (almost worry-free).  It was wonderful for everyone.

I thanked Caleb's kind Sunday School teacher for his kind words and loving actions.  My words seemed trite.  How do you truly thank someone for doing something so seemingly minor, but so deeply profound?

I don't know if we can thank them, but we can pass on that same love to others.  Chris and I signed up to be greeters for the Sunday School.  They've inspired us to love other children (and seek out the different ones) as much as they love Caleb.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beating the Heat

An inside picnic dinner.

Indianapolis hit a record breaking temperature of 104 today (with a heat index of 115).  It felt a bit like we landed on the face of the sun.  The kids dashed outside for a bit and minutes later rushed back inside, beet red and drenched in sweat.  They tried it again and again.  Pretty soon, they just gave up and found respite indoors under the blasts of the air conditioner.

It almost felt like one of those January snow days where absolutely everyone in the neighborhood was cocooned inside.  We searched for indoor fun (too hot to even venture out in the car).  We finally settled on an afternoon and early evening nestled on the couch watching favorite family movies (Cheaper by the Dozen and Parent Trap).  We even had an indoor picnic and imagined we were outside in slightly cooler temperatures.

Tomorrow, the weather's predicted to drop to a balmy 90 degrees.  We might have to throw on some sweaters!


My parents had Connor over last night for a private slumber party at their house.  Later, my mom called with a cute story.  Evidently, she was telling Connor how amazed she was that Chris can work all night and live on little sleep while he's working at the hospital.  She said to Connor, "I don't know how he does it?"

Seven-year-old Connor replied, "I can explain it in one word."

"What?" my mom asked with her interest piqued.

"Coffee," he replied.

They learn so soon!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Brother Helping Brother

Caleb grabbed my phone and took this picture of Connor and I before Connor went to the ER.  Poor guy!

I heard the wailing and instantly knew something was wrong.  We moms know our children's cries practically from birth.  We can decipher the whiny cry from the urgent cry, and this cry had an urgency to it.  My immediate thought was which brother did what and to whom.  I could only imagine.

I dropped my dish towel and raced towards the stairs.  There Connor stood, blood caked on his hands.  He spun around and I gazed in horror at the back of his head.  His blond hair was stained red with red liquid oozed down his back and onto the neck of his shirt.  I wanted to pass out.  I immediately raced into mom emergency mode.  I scanned the wound...it was bad.  I called the doctor...Doctor Dad.  I put pressure on the wound...the towel turned crimson.

Connor sobbed through the whole ordeal and collapsed into my lap.  He blubbered out the details: he fell off his top bunk and his head clipped a wooden stair during the fall.  (No other brother involved!)

While he was crying and carrying on, Caleb walked up to us clutching Connor's blanket.  He handed his injured brother his beloved blanket.  Then, Caleb worked on making "costumes" for Connor's blankie while we waited to meet Chris in the ER.  

I was amazed and completely touched by Caleb's actions.  Like many Aspies, Caleb's not one to show emotion or get other's emotions, but this little gesture spoke volumes.  He understood his brother was hurting and searched for ways to make it better.  It was one of those acts that a mom of a neurotypical child might gloss over, but the Aspie's mom is brought to tears with gratitude and happiness.

At the ER, Chris placed staples in Connor's head.  A cherry sucker and loads of attention brightened Connor's demeanor.  I handed Caleb a sucker too and lavished attention on him too.  He made me very proud.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fourth of July

 Cooper packed his own bags to go to Grandma and Grandpa's house.   The huge backpack is full of toys.  The tiny yellow bag he's clutching (meant to carry only a Bible) has clothes.

 The Wood's neighbors have a pool and let the boys play in it.  That's Cooper on the top of the slide.  He must have whizzed down that slide about a million times.

 The boys sat around the St. Joseph River waiting for the fireworks.
 Cooper's ready for the boat ride.

 A pre-fireworks snack of s'mores.
 We sat on the boat and watched the fireworks light up the river.
A brief glimpse of the fireworks.

So often I complain about the boys having "selective hearing," but after our quick Fourth of July trip I realized that I have acquired "selective hearing" too.  I definitely needed it during our car trip up to South Bend.  The boys weren't bad, per se, just noisy...and rowdy...and tired...and excited.  I easily slipped into my "selective hearing" mode just to keep from going mad.  (I thought if the U.S. government is looking for a torture technique, they should really consider placing suspected terrorists on a car ride with four little ones.  I'm betting said individual wouldn't make it out of the city limits before easily confessing just to get out of the car.)

The energetic commute was worth it as we spent our Fourth of July with Grandma and Grandpa Wood at their house on the St. Joseph River.  (We were grateful to experience an authentic Fourth of July celebration as our hometown is under a burn ban and the firework celebration was cancelled.)  The celebration on the river was delightful.  The boys shuffled between swimming in a neighbor's pool and tubing off Grandpa Wood's pontoon boat.  They only took a break to devour Grandma Wood's buffet-style dinner topped off with a super yummy ice cream cake.

As the sun began to set, we rushed towards the river.  The boys chased fireflies and cooked s'mores and then paused when the booms began.  From a distance, we could see Mishawaka fireworks, but neighbors set off equally impressive (and closer) displays.  I watched the river turn bright colors as it reflected the shades in the sky.

After a while, most of the boys grew tired and slipped back into the house.  Cooper wanted to stay, so I plopped down on an adirondack chair facing the River.  I pulled him into my lap.  This time my hearing was just fine.  I heard Cooper's giggles, the fireworks blasts, the laughter from neighboring yards, my own happy sighs.


Thanks to the Woods for hosting us for the Fourth of July.  We had such a great time at their house.  Grandma Wood spoiled us with her awesome cooking!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Debunking the Myth of Perfection

To combat almost 100 degree temperatures, the boys and cousin Grace hit a splash park and then followed up with a frozen treat at a local ice cream store.

One of my dearest friends called this afternoon.  I've always placed her on a pedestal.  She's just about perfect in every way: Harvard educated, bakes like a trained pastry chef, cooks like a professional, looks like a supermodel, decorates like a Design Star, and that's just the start.  And her kids?  Well, they make the Duggar children look like a bunch of juvenile delinquents.

So I guess that's why I was so surprised by today's phone conversation. It went something like this:

Dear Friend:  So tell me about your marathon training?

Me:  Well, I've just started and...

Dear Friend cuts in (directing her comments to her children):  Hey, I told you we were picking the Barbie movie.  Turn off the Teenage Mutant Ninja movie right now.

Cries and wails filter through the phone's receiver.

Dear Friend:  Sorry about that, what did you say again?

Me:  I've started to do a couple of long runs, they're going...

Dear Friend cuts in again (speaking in a higher octave):  That's dangerous and against the law.  You cannot take your seat belt off in the car and you know that.

More tears.

Dear Friend:  Let's try again.  Tell me about your training.

Me:  I've really just started...

Dear Friend (fully exacerbated):  Oh my goodness, why did you get into the chocolate chip cookies?  You're completely covered in chocolate.

At this time, I can't continue our conversation as I'm laughing too hard.  Truthfully, somewhere deep inside I was celebrating.  I was just a wee bit glad to witness (via a phone call) her imperfections.  (How many times have I sounded like that on the phone?)  This realization drenched me with guilt.  Did I really want my friend to suffer?  

Of course not.  

Absolutely not.  

I dearly love my friend.

 I realized hearing what was going on with her children didn't provide me with joy, but comfort.  Twisted, I know.  I was comforted in the fact that I'm not the only one that deals with unruly, messy, crazy children.  The conversation on the phone debunked any silly notions I have about perfection.  No one's perfect.  No one's children are perfect.  Even Harvard-educated supermodels have children that leave them speechless and flustered!

As we finished the phone conversation, I felt an even stronger connection to my friend.  She isn't perfect and her children aren't perfect either; but she is still perfect in my eyes.