Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I Know About the Birthday Boy

What I know about Cooper is that he was almost a Halloween baby.  My doctor recommended a Halloween induction.  I opted for October 30th instead.

 What I know about Cooper is that he looked nothing like his older brothers at birth.  An unruly mound of jet-black hair crowned his head and made him look a bit like Don King.  

What I know about Cooper is that from infancy he wore a smile.  Not a grin, but a smile that started in his eyes and radiated down to his mouth.  When he pairs this smile with his signature giggle, I'm putty.  The merriment is contagious.
 WWhat I know about Cooper is that he feels every emotion fully.  He can go from livid to laughter in a matter on nanoseconds.  Rest assured, you'll never have to guess how he feels. 

What I know about Cooper is that he's fearless.  No height is too tall, no obstacle is too challenging.

What I know about Cooper is that he has a heart of gold.  He's generous and compassionate about the needs of others.

What I know about Cooper is that he is a good friend.

What I know about Cooper is that he's seven today and we are truly blessed to have another year with our sweet boy!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Are There Good and Bad Mothers?

We just got back our family photos.

In this pic, the boys couldn't believe we would flirt with danger to take pictures on a train track.  I think we setback years of safety lectures.  

They certainly look angelic in these photos:)

These capture the true spirit of our family!  

Collin and I sat cross-legged on the carpet.  He clutched a handful of superhero figurines.  Eyeing the bunch, he offered me a few.  

"I'll be the good guys and you be the bad guys," he instructed.

Side note: In my decade of superhero play, I've never been selected as a good guy!

Immediately, his good guys waged waves of fierce attacks against my poor, defenseless bad guys.  After the umpteenth pummel, I realized the fate of our imaginary world was quickly shifting in the direction of the good guys. I no longer wanted to be on the side of the bad guys.  I wanted to land on the side of the victors; I longed to be good.

"Collin," I began.  "I don't think my guys are really bad.  I think they're just good guys having a bad day."

"No way," he fired back.  "They're bad guys."

"Couldn't they just be bad guys down on their luck.  Perhaps with a little love and attention (maybe even a mentor), they could magically transform into good guys," I suggested.

He remained unconvinced.

"Are they really that bad?" I questioned.

After tossing out many different scenarios, I realized that Collin's superhero world is black and white; superheroes are either bad or good.  Period.  No shades of gray.

I reflected on my own thinking.  In what areas do I hold similar black and white notions?  Immediately, I thought about motherhood.  Are there really bad and good mothers?  I've certainly labeled myself both ways, but seem to land more frequently on the side of bad.

A toddler tantrum at the mall.

I'm a bad mother; good mother's have their children under control.

Lip from a tween.

I'm a bad mother; good mother's have tweens that exalt their mother's virtues. 

A fight between brothers.

I'm a bad mother; good mother's create peace and harmony among siblings.

I wonder:

Do only the bad mothers lose their tempers?

Do only the bad mothers have misbehaving children?

Do only the bad mothers let their children eat cereal for dinner?

Or do good mothers do that too.

And then:

What constitutes a good versus bad mother?  

Who gets to decide?

My sage mother once said when clobbered by negative thoughts, focus on the truth.

The truth?

The truth, I concluded, is good mothers are not perfect parents with sinless children.  Good mothers make mistakes.  Good mothers have bad days.  Good mothers are the ones who despite life's setbacks and challenges still try to do the best job they possibly can with their own children.  Good mothers make baby steps forward.  

By this definition I'm not a perfect mother, but I'm a good mother.

Friday, October 25, 2013

What We Do For Our Children. Spoiler Alert: Snakes

 Caleb scored this t-shirt at the Hoosier Herpetology meeting.  He's over the moon about his new duds!
 A frigid field trip is much more fun when chaperoning with a friend!
A fine looking bunch of first graders!

Recently I was reflecting on the sacrifices parents make for their children.  As much as I love my little ones, sometimes it's hard for me to "die to oneself," to put their needs and interests above my own.

This internal conflict rose to the forefront last night.

Caleb is gaga over snakes and all things reptiles.  I, on the other hand, would rather walk barefoot over burning coals than become chummy with a snake.  To say I detest slithery creatures would be an understatement.  Detest doesn't truly capture the depth of my feelings.  Hate?  Loathe?  Abhor?  You get the point.  

How Caleb and I share the same DNA is a mystery to me.

I'm mean.  Selfish even.  I put the kibosh on a pet snake.  Caleb was crushed.  Mommy guilt seeped in.  I searched for other ways he (and that means me) can commingle with scaly creatures without adopting them as roomies.  We stumbled upon the Hoosier Herpetological Society, a group dedicated to the study/love of all things reptilian.  Caleb was over the moon.

Last night, we attended a meeting.

We entered the lecture hall and immediately felt a wave of eyes flash in our direction.  As I scanned the room, the song, "One of these things is not like the other" began playing in my head.  We are the things not like the other.  It was if we landed on an episode of Duck Dynasty and no one cared to share the "wear camo" memo.

A bearded gentleman approached our crew.  He outstretched his hand and made an introduction.

"I'm Snakehead Ed," he announced.  "You must be new."

Now how did he figure that out?

He then motioned to various other members around the room with names such as "Rattler" Rick and "Water Moccassion" Wally.  It soon became apparent that should we move up in the rankings of the reptilian crowd we needed new names.  I pondered names with a bit more zing, perhaps  "Boa" Becky or "Cobra" Caleb.  Just a thought.

We snagged seats in the back right before "Indiana Jim" took to the podium.  He dimmed the lights and flipped on his computer.  Photos flashed on the screen.  He cleared his throat and began his hour long lecture on "Snake Road."  It was like watching someone's vacation photos with added commentary.  But these were not pictures of cute kids frolicking on a sandy beach, but of snakes and other creatures.  Snakes on a cliff.  Snakes in the water.  Snakes on the street.  And on it went.

I began to play "Would I Rather" in my head.

Would I rather roll around on a mattress filled with bed bugs or see one more photograph of a snake?

I'll take the bed bugs.

Would I rather brush my hair with a lice-infested comb or peer at any more salamander pics?

Hand me the brush.

Would I rather live on a diet of only butter sticks or hear more about turtle hunting?

Butter please.

At the height of my internal moaning, I gazed at Caleb.  He was transfixed on the screen, clearly in his element.  Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks; one of the biggest lessons I've tried to teach my boys—Life is not all about you; it's about others—I've never quite mastered.  The herpetology meeting was not about me.  It was about him.  

It's like this:

Caleb cares about snakes.  I care about Caleb.  And so I care about the meeting.

As we walked out of the meeting, Caleb gushed over the various photos.  I listened to his bubbly response and realized how much I really loved the evening too.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seasonal Denial Disorder

We spent our last day of Fall Break at the Indianapolis Zoo with the Miller girls.  

I know I'm an amateur shrink, but I've diagnosed my boys.  I believe they all suffer from "seasonal denial" disorder.  Those inflicted are easy to spot.  They are the ones still sporting flip flops and short shorts when everyone else is bundled in turtlenecks and overcoats.  They are stuck.  They have become so accustomed to the prior season that they don't want to leave it for the next.  They like the clothes that they have been wearing for months.  They appreciate the weather.  Why leave?

So they don't.

For example, take this fall.

Although the calendar says October, my boys prefer to stick with August.  Each morning, they emerge from their rooms clad in shorts and a light weight t-shirt.  They refuse to grab a coat or mittens.  They seem completely oblivious to the fact that the weather is hovering around freezing and most other individuals are dressed for snow.

They need an intervention.

I've tried different techniques.

#1 Rational thinking

There's frost on the window; maybe a swim suit is not the best choice.

Problem with this approach:  They often aren't rational.

#2  Logical consequences

You can wear sandals to school.  If the snow happens to numb your toes, remember I have a warm pair of boots ready to wear.  

Problem with this approach:  They'd rather have a toe fall off than admit they are cold.

#3 Peer Pressure

I notice you're the only one in class wearing a tank top.   

Problem with this approach: They like their individuality.

#4 Compromise

If you wear pants, the coat is optional.

Problem with this approach:  They don't like to bargain.

#4  Mommy Mandates

I don't care how warm you feel, pants on.  Period.

Problem with this approach:  Prepare for sulking and huffing.

I've heard there are others out there.  Friends say their children suffer from this disorder too.  Some say they've even found success.  Their children eventually get it.  They dress for the weather!!

But then I see a teenager standing in the freezing cold clad in shorts.  

I start to worry.  

Maybe there's no cure?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

We had a GRAND Time on Fall Break

Grandpa and Grandma Wood made the trip down from South Bend to attend Caleb's Grandparent Day.  
 This picture of Grandma Wood and Grandpa Joseph was featured on the school's Facebook page.  Love the smiles! (Thanks Cara for the heads up on this photo!)
What a handsome bunch!  So blessed to have Grandparents!

Friday started Fall Break.  Chris was working all weekend, so I recruited Grandma and Grandpa Joseph to chaperone/assist with our fall break tour of southern Indiana.  
 We spent our first day at Indiana Caverns near Corydon, Indiana.  Grandma Joseph received extra grandma points for taking the 1 1/2 cave tour (down three flights of stairs and on an underground boat ride!) with her four grandsons.

 Notice the hunched back.  Wonder why?
 Check out the ceiling height?  This trip was not for the claustrophobic!  
 Later, above ground, the boys searched for "gold." 
 They were ecstatic over their "finds!"

 After our cave excursion, we headed to the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth, Indiana.  The restaurant offered absolutely gorgeous views of the Ohio River.  Our gang is standing in Indiana with Kentucky in the background!  
 Saturday morning, the soggy weather delayed our Holiday World plans.  We passed time at the Children's Museum of Evansville.
 A few hours later, the rain stopped (although the warm weather never returned!) and we hit Holiday World.
Cooper barely made the 48 inch height requirement for the Raven roller coaster.  Grandma Joseph coached him on how to flatten his back and stand on his toes.  Love the wisdom our children glean from their grandparents!  My little daredevil loved his first trip on a "big boy" roller coaster.
 My typical amusement park wardrobe consists of shorts and flip flops.  Not in October!  Notice the three layers and gloves!  

 Grandma Joseph earned extra, extra points for this one.  Caleb wanted to ride an even bigger roller coaster than the Raven.  I was chicken, so my mother (yes, my mother...Caleb's grandmother!) agreed to accompany Caleb on the ride!   
 We loved having Grandma Joseph along as he was the men's bathroom chaperone.  

Did I mention Holiday World offers free drinks?  

Free Drinks=Frequent Bathroom Breaks=Papa spending 90% of his Holiday World time in the men's room with little ones!

Funny story:  At one point, we couldn't find Collin.  Caleb spotted him in the men's restroom completely nude from the waist down.  Papa had to recover him.  My mom and I were in hysterics as we watched men emerge from the restroom giggling.  We could only imagine what was going on within the confines of the restroom.
 On Sunday, we landed in Bloomington.  My sister and her kids joined us for the last leg of our trip. 
Last stop:  the Wonderlab in Bloomington! 
From Bloomington, home.

Exhausted.  Happy.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Short Funny

Cooper came home with this paper from school.  Chris and I couldn't stop laughing.  Should we worry about his teacher?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What We Know About Asperger's

 We attended neighbor friend Annika's baptism.  Love this shot of Cooper and Annika post-baptism!

Cooper celebrated his seventh birthday with a few classmates (seven friends because he's seven!) and brothers.  We held the party a few weeks early to accommodate Chris's work schedule.  

I haven't blogged about it as of late.  Perhaps that's because life is currently cruising along so peacefully.  What's to write about?  

But it's there.  It's always there.  It flashes up when a schedule changes or a social situation (or lack there of) arises.  It hits us during family trips or special moments.  It's him and therefore it's become a part of us.  It's become so engrained in our family dynamics that sometimes we don't even remember it's there.

It is Asperger's.

It was him before we knew the name; once we had a name we understood.  

Or did we?

If asked, I would say I accepted his diagnosis years ago.  I would claim to have found peace.  My words would ring true...most of the time.

But then there are moments.  Times when I question.

Is it really him?

Yes, yes.

The experts confirm.


Relatives and (even my husband) corroborate.

Of course.

My inner voice whispers.

But denial is not easily shaken.  It sticks like glue.

Last week, we sought the advice of an autism guru with 25 years experience in the field (plus her own personal experience as a mother of an adult Asperger's child).  Parents travel from states away just to gather her advice.  We came seeking greater understanding and direction.

We plopped down on a couch directly across from this autism wizard.  Impressive looking psychology books lined the wall; children's books filled the corner.  She peppered us with her vast amount of wisdom for 2 1/2 hours.  Our cup truly runneth over with our newfound knowledge.

Nearing the end of our allotted time, I felt the question that has plagued me for years bubble up in my throat.  Without thinking I blurted out, "Does he really have Asperger's?"

She paused and ruminated on her response.

No, she had never met our son, but she held in her hands reams of medical tests (years worth) confirming one singular diagnosis (and we had just spent hours bombarding her with our son's challenges and idiosyncrasies).  

She said, I could run more tests, but that would be expensive and you've already done so many.  Going off these tests (holding up a stack) and your statements, he has Asperger's.


She continued, Remember, a diagnosis is just knowledge.

Her words soaked in.

I repeated her statement in my head, "A diagnosis is just knowledge."

What knowledge does it provide?

I think she would say the diagnosis teaches us about him, like why he does certain things.  Perhaps we even have a slight glimpse into his thoughts and inner workings.

But as someone who's processed this diagnosis for years, I would say we know other things too about an Asperger's diagnosis:

1) A diagnosis of Asperger's does not have to be a scary thing.

The first time someone associated the "A" word with my son, I erupted into tears (the ugly, hysterical kind).  I was struggling with preconceived notions of a diagnosis and what that would mean for his life/our life.  Since then, we discovered a road paved with Autism may be tougher, but not bad and can still lead to a full, productive life for everyone.

2)  Although my son's Asperger's may never be "cured," it can be managed and improved.

He was born with challenges and deficiencies in some areas.  It takes work, but progress can be made and new habits can be formed (we've seen it!).  He can learn social skills and coping mechanisms, but not without the proper resources.  It's up to us to provide those services.

3)  What makes an Aspie challenging can make him special too.

He may not blend in socially, but his differences make him unique and special.  I love that he's not easily swayed by the latest fashion or the whims of his peers.  He loves what he loves and he's not the least bit shy about touting his preferences (even if they aren't shared by the majority of his classmates).  Perhaps we all could learn a thing or two from his bold individuality.

4)  Most people are kind to an Aspie.

One of the big fears with an Asperger's diagnosis is how will others respond.  Will they alienate him?  Will they be fearful?  Will they be kind?  In my experience, most people understand and are compassionate.

5)  My son is more than a diagnosis.

Although the diagnosis describes many aspects of my son, it doesn't define him.  He is a unique person with many gifts.  We are truly blessed to have him in our life.