Friday, April 29, 2016

Angels Among Us

Jack off to summer camp with his buddies
Jack is 15 now. I haven't blogged much in the past couple of years, because he's gotten to that age where he really doesn't like me talking about him. But sometimes I just have to. You know. It's a "Mom Thing."

I'm so proud and happy for how far he's come. Since we took him out of school, he's happy and so much less anxious. We were able to take him off all his prescription meds. He's learning things everyday that I didn't teach him. He built his own computer last summer (with the help and mentoring of one of our homeschool group dads). He knows how to take the cover off and make adjustments to his computer, without help from anyone else. He customized a computer for my brother a few months ago. They bought a "basic" computer, and Jack installed a bigger power supply and a graphics card. He has an amazing sense of humor and makes us laugh all the time.

But the biggest thing that has happened in Jack's life, the one that I'm so grateful for, is that his social skills have grown by leaps and bounds. A friend of his that he's known since he was 7, was here a few weeks ago for a couple of hours. She told her mom afterwards that it was the first time that Jack actually talked to her about something other than video games.

If you've read some of my other blog postings (Autism: Being the Child on the Outside), you may be familiar with the horrible problems we had with the neighborhood children when he was younger. They were not nice to him. As a result, he hasn't played outside in about 6 years. He no longer rides his bike, he doesn't ring the neighbors' doorbells to see if someone can play. He only goes outside if one of us (his dad or me) is with him. Sadly, that's not the childhood I had or envisioned for him.

I give a lot of the credit for his advancement in social skills to the youth program at our church. We got a new Youth Pastor about three years ago. When James first arrived, I told him about our past experiences with the youth group. Jack never felt like he "fit in." The last activity he'd gone to (a Halloween party when he was in 6th grade, about 5 years ago), when I went to pick him up, I was sad to see that he wasn't interacting with the other kids at all. He was so stressed, he was pacing in circles. That was the last youth group activity he went to for a while. And actually, it was the last time he went to church at all for about three years.

But then James showed up. I had a talk with James about Jack. I told him about Jack's special issues, about how he didn't really like to participate in group activities, but he was usually willing to watch. James seemed to understand. 

I asked Jack if he'd like to try going to church again, since we had a new youth pastor and he seemed like a really nice guy. He said he'd try it out. Not only did he enjoy the new youth group, but he actually went to summer camp that year!

Now when Jack walks in at church, everybody greets him with an enthusiastic, "JAAAAACK!!! Jack is here!" There are no cliques. Everyone is accepting of everyone else. Jack looks forward to attending church and Tuesday High School nights. He often reminds me when it's a youth group night and asks me what time we need to leave (no matter how many times we go to the same place at the same time every week, he still needs to ask me what time we will leave).

Back in January, Jack and I went on a trip up to the snow with both the middle school and high school groups. Most youth groups I've known will separate the middle and high school kids, because a lot of times the high school kids (who tend to be bigger than the middle schoolers) will pick on the younger kids. Not this group. I noticed that when the younger kids would come up to say something to the older kids, they would stop and listen to them. And treated them with respect! Awesome!

Somewhere along the way, all the high school kids started sitting together in church, rather than with their families. I often sing with the music team during services, and it always warms my heart to see all the kids lined up in the front row (usually the only place they can all sit together), Jack in the midst of his friends.

When I'm singing, I have to be at church early for rehearsal. On those days, Jack's dad will drop him off shortly before the second service, which is when the high school kids meet. A few months ago, Jack arrived at church and didn't see any of his buddies, so he just sat in a row by himself, while I went on stage to join the music team. I saw some of his friends come into church and sit together on the other side of the sanctuary. Part way through the first song, I saw them all get up and travel en masse around the back of the church and over to where Jack was sitting. I learned later that the Pastor asked them where they were all going. One of the kids said, "Jack is all alone. We have to go sit with Jack." (Sniffle, sob.) What a sweet bunch of kids!

I give all the credit for this great group of kids to James and his wife Kacey. Also his helpers Liz, Danny and Rachel. They all do such a great job loving our kids. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who feels this way. They are truly Angels among us.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Trees Past

We started to put up the Christmas tree this afternoon, our beautiful artificial tree that we've had for the past 6 Christmases (since Jack was in 2nd grade). Besides looking a little beat up from being packed away for 66 of the past 72 months, a couple of sections refused to light this year. One section lit up at first, but then decided to go dark. Charlie and I decided it was time for a new tree.

Poor Jack! He doesn't let go of things easily. You'd think we were giving away an old friend, which we kind of were. "But we've had this tree for so long!" First the chin quivers, then the eyes fill. Poor guy! He's so sensitive.

We told him he could come along and help us pick out a new tree, one with colored lights this time instead of just white ones. Maybe that will take some of the sting out.

If anyone ever tells you that kids with autism have no feelings, they're wrong. Some of them are very, very sensitive. Like our Jack. He's such a tender-hearted boy!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years to you and yours!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Diagnosis: Awesome!

At church this morning, our pastor made reference to a couple who had posted a newspaper ad looking for an egg donor to help them conceive a child. Not just any egg donor. They were specifically seeking a "genius" egg donor. Perhaps a student with a 4.0 GPA and near-perfect SAT scores.

As he spoke of the couple looking to conceive the "perfect" child, I was both amused and a little sad for them. As you know, we get what we get and sometimes the child we get is not the child we ever imagined. I always imagined we'd be going to soccer games about now and looking forward to college. But that's not the life God planned for us.

We've been going through the process these last couple of months of FINALLY getting a formal diagnosis for Jack. We had a 5-hour speech and psychological evaluation at Kaiser's ASD Clinic in December, followed by another 2-hour evaluation in January with a physical therapist. Results were what we expected: Jack has ASD. No surprises.

The good news is that now that we have a formal clinical diagnosis, we can start looking for services that are available to us. This week we had an in-home meeting with our regional Service Coordinator. We talked about programs that build social skills, job training and the eventual possiblity of an adult group home.

Our meeting with the Service Coordinator was actually a very encouraging, positive experience. She made me feel that we're doing the right things for our boy and he's perfectly "normal" for a child with Autism. He's a sweet, loving boy, and we're so grateful to have him.

Am I sad about any of this? Maybe a little, but mostly I'm just grateful to have him. Becoming a mom was the deepest desire of my heart for many, many years. He's not anything I ever imagined, but in many ways he's so much more. He's a sweet, loving child and our special gift from God. He's perfect in his own way and we couldn't love him any more than we do.

The couple looking for that "perfect" child is missing the boat. They're missing the wonder and adventure of watching a child overcome obstacles you and I don't even see. Perfect is boring!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Parents Forced Me to Write This Blog

We're starting an adventure in homeschooling/unschooling. As part of a language arts program, we've set our nearly 12 year old son up on his own blog. He chose to name it "My Parents Forced Me To Write This Blog" ( This is his first effort. It was very similar to pulling teeth. Hopefully he'll get better at it with time. Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

First You Have to Crack Some Eggs

Jack helped me make brownies today. He'd never really helped me in the kitchen before (not that I actually do that much cooking anyway), so I thought it was time he at least learned how to crack an egg. I helped him with the first egg. Thought if I showed him just how much (how little?) force you actually need to crack an egg he'd get the idea. First egg went great. Second egg: barely tapped it enough to crack it, so when he tried to pull the shell apart, the whole egg went splat on the floor. Much giggling and hilarity ensued. Also gagging. Raw eggs are kind of gross. Especially if you've never handled one before.

Eventually we had two eggs, sans shells, in a small bowl and were able to proceed. I had him pour out the brownie mix (yes, it still qualifies as cooking when you're using a mix!) into a mixing bowl. I let him measure the oil and the tablespoon of water (really? One tablespoon of water? Why bother!). I let him stir a bit, then finished mixing it. He helped me pour the goo into the pan.

"Would you like to lick the bowl?" I asked. That was always my favorite part of baking with my mom. I always wished she would leave a little more to lick in the bowl, rather than baking it all.

Although he tasted a microscopic portion on the end of his finger, my boy is not a bowl-licker. "Ewwwww, gross!" Okay, more for me.

I showed him how to preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and we slid the pan into the oven. "Bake for 12-14 minutes." I set the timer to 13 minutes, thinking I'd be safe splitting the difference. 13 minutes later, the edges were done, but the middle was still pretty runny. Okay, one more minute. Still pretty runny, but I thought maybe they'd get firmer as they cooled. Checked a few minutes later. Still runny.

Back into the oven. Eventually I re-checked the back of the box and discovered I'd misread the instructions. An 8x8 pan requires 55 minutes. I was looking at the brownie cookie recipe. Ugh! Back into the oven. Still waiting. Hope the end result is edible, or Jack will never want to help me cook again.

This homeschooling stuff is great. Not only is Jack learning something new, but I am too! Maybe we should take a cooking class together!

Monday, April 30, 2012

No Place Like Home

It's been almost two months since we pulled Jack out of school, and I have to say he's a very different boy. We've weaned him off two of his medications (what kind of statement is it that you have to medicate a kid to cope with school?), and his appetite has returned to the point that we can't keep him filled up. This is a new experience for me, cause he was always the kid I had to remember to feed. When my friends complained that their kids were always hungry, I'd look at mine and say, "Oh yeah. Haven't offered food in a while. Maybe he should eat."

We've spent the last few weeks decompressing. He sleeps as late as he needs to in the morning (still up before me most mornings), he eats when he's hungry (which is most of the time) and pretty much does what he wants. Yes, he's playing a lot of video games and spending more time on the computer, but everything is learning. His video games have provoked an interest in learning about World War II, so we've watched some shows on the Military Channel about Hitler and D-Day. We've taken walks with the dogs by the creek and seen red-winged blackbirds, herons, egrets, ducks and turtles. Today we saw what seems to be either a beaver dam or an otter lodge, not sure which. I joke with him that we just had science class and PE all at the same time.

He just seems like a happier kid. He talks to us again! Charlie has noticed that Jack will come out and say good morning, where he didn't before. He never used to talk to his dad at all. He was pretty much shut down. We think he was probably depressed.

I have him signed up to start a program in the fall, but for now we're just doing our own thing. "Unschooling." Following our own interests. I've connected with a group of homeschooling moms and we've been on a couple of field trips. We went to the Jelly Belly Factory. We had a park & pizza night. We went to a semi-formal dinner the other night where the kids practiced their manners while enjoying each others' company.

Sundays are a lot calmer in our house. No more dreading going back to school the next day. No more whining and crying about hating school. I wish we'd done this a long time ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mean Girls

My very dear friend Melinda posted this on Facebook a little while ago. She said I could share. In fact she asked me to share this with as many people as possible. Bullying has to stop. Now. This particular case makes me so especially sad. If you knew Sierra like we do, you'd know that she is a sweet, compassionate, sincere little person who was so looking forward to starting middle school this year that she actually cried when the start of school was delayed by our local emergency in August (Disaster on Our Doorstep). She doesn't deserve to be treated this way, nor does any child. She's a tall, beautiful girl, and I'm thinking the other girls are just jealous. And mean. Really mean. Is it wrong to label eleven and twelve year old girls bitches? Because they are. And they need to stop. Now.

Here's Melinda's post:

I've been silent on this for a while, but it was suggested today that my silence may not be the best thing. Sierra has had a difficult year transitioning to middle school. To compound this, she has been having to contend with bullies. My sweet little girl goes to school every day where she is called a whore, douche bag and worse. They hide her backpack, punch her in the stomach and follow her to the library to torment her at lunch. The school has given me great lip service,but nothing has changed. The problem has only gotten worse. I know what I need to do and am exploring different options at keeping Sierra in a safe environment. Twelve Bridges Middle School has failed to provide my child with a safe environment and quite frankly I don't give a shit about their budget cuts and limited resources.

I told her she needn't worry about the school's budget cuts and their limited resources. They're not protecting her child, and she needs to get her the heck out of there. Our first priority is our children. Always. Long-term bullying is death to a child's self-esteem. In fact, Sierra has already told her mother she doesn't want to leave her school. If she leaves, "they'll just pick on someone else." And they probably will. But that's not Sierra's problem. Sierra deserves to be in a safe environment. Every child does. Sierra and every child needs to feel valued for his or her individual gifts. Every child is special. Every child is precious.

The hatefulness and the meanness needs to stop. It should not be tolerated anywhere in our society, least of all in our schools where children are supposedly being taught to be good citizens. To be a productive part of our society. I think the schools are teaching the wrong lessons.