Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're Going to Science Camp!

Next week Jack's 6th grade class is going to Sly Park Environmental Education & Conference Center for a whole week of outdoor study. I'm going along as an adult chaperone. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be going. Seriously! A lot of people would think a week at science camp with a bunch of wild 6th graders doesn't sound like much of a vacation, but I'm so looking forward to it!

They didn't do this program when I was in school (back in the dark ages, you know), so I'll be experiencing the program for the first time along with Jack. I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with him and his buddies, even though I'll be bunking with the girls all week (heated cabins and hot showers--yay!). Jack is still at an age where he doesn't really mind his mom being around. With his issues in particular, I think it will be a comfort to have me nearby in case he feels overwhelmed by the unfamiliar surroundings. I'll also be handy should there be any questions regarding his medications or behaviors. This is a golden window of opportunity for me to share this adventure with him. In a couple of years, he'll be a teenager and may decide that Mom's not so cool anymore.

He's also very lucky that he's been at the same school since kindergarten. Because it's a high performing charter school with a great reputation, there's a long waiting list for admittance. People don't tend to come and go much at his school, since it's so tough to get into (lottery system), so he's pretty much been with the same group of kids for the last six plus years. Some he's known since preschool. They have a lot of history together, so they're used to each other and more accepting of each other's personality quirks. There's not a lot of teasing or bullying that goes on, for which we're deeply grateful. He might not have had that experience at another school.

My biggest concern about him being away from home for a whole week has been his food issues. He's an extremely picky eater. Recently he's shown some interest in trying some new things and discovering he likes them (hello, Chick Fil A chicken sandwich and Fiber One Brownies). I'm hoping he'll be hungry enough at camp that he'll try some new things and won't starve to death in five days. I also hear the food there is very good. Gonna have to restrain myself!

I did call and speak to the camp nutritionist this morning about his soy milk. She was very kind and reassured me that he'll have a place to keep his milk and will be able to access it on his own, as needed. We just need to introduce ourselves when we arrive.

My hubby Charlie is taking off from work next week to keep an eye on Gramma while I'm gone. She's 88 and needs some help with things. I'll be educating him over the next few days about all the stuff I usually take care of when I'm home. Things like how to turn the heat on and off, how to operate the gas fireplace, how to switch Gramma's TV over to the DVD player and back again. It's a little bit hard for me, cause I'm used to being in charge around here, used to being the one everybody comes to when they need something. I'm making a list for him of things he needs to get done each day, writing down important phone numbers and will have her medications all organized for the week.

Whew! It's a lot of work getting ready to be away, but I do appreciate his willingness to take over and give me a few days away. He's a good cook and not afraid to take care of things like cleaning up, washing dishes and doing laundry, although I've spoiled him a little over the past few years. He works hard for Jack and me, so I try to keep things going here at home as much as possible.

Not sure if I'll have access to a computer next week (or the time to write!), but I may try to post a picture or two of the area (have to respect the privacy of the campers, so may not have any of them I can share). I'm sure I'll have lots to tell you when I get back from camp!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Somebody's Hungry!

I think we may be going through a growth spurt. Jack's sleeping well. He falls asleep pretty easily at night and doesn't come into our room to sleep on the floor till the wee hours (one morning lately it was 5:30 before he made his nightly trip from his room to ours). But the most amazing thing in the past few days is that he's eating! I bought a big box of Fiber One 90 Calorie Brownies the other day at Sam's Club. Mostly for me. And as they're individually wrapped, I thought they'd keep longer in the pantry and not get dry and stale.

I gave one to Jack to "see if you like this" the other night. He LOVED it! So now he gets one in his lunch for school, but he also asks for them at home. He ASKS for food! Kind of weird. Especially since he's not really a big chocolate guy. The other night he ate THREE of them after dinner! Just now he ate two after his hot dog lunch. Wow! Very unusual behavior for him.

A week from Monday his entire 6th grade class is going to Sly Park, a science camp for elementary kids in the Sierra foothills. One of my biggest concerns about him going away for a whole week has been his issues with food. Maybe he's starting to grow out of it? I'm hopeful that when he's at camp, he'll see the other kids eating everything and be willing to try some new things. I've heard the food there is very good. And I'll be there to keep an eye on him (I'm going along as a parent chaperone).

Having grown up with two boys in the house, I know teenage boys can eat. You have to hurry up and get your fair share before it's gone when there are boys in the house. I just never imagined we'd go through that with Jack. I guess we're in for it now!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Lesson Learned from Harry Potter: Good vs. Evil

Jack and I have been reading Harry Potter for the past few months. I read to him at bedtime, after his shower, while he's eating his snack. He's not much of a reader on his own. Don't know if it's because he has trouble reading or he just doesn't enjoy it, but he enjoys me reading to him.

We're in the last book of the series now, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." I warned him that it would get very dark and some of the characters would die. I knew it was a story about good versus evil, but it's been a few years since I read it myself, and I had forgotten some of the plot lines.

The other night we read a part about the Ministry of Magic (the government agency of the magical people, aka witches and wizards) passing a new law that required all "Muggle-borns" (those witches and wizards with non-magical human heritage) to register with the authorities. Some of the Muggle-borns were being carted off to Azkaban, the wizard prison, simply because they were not "pure-born" witches or wizards. This stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

Jack is in the 6th grade. So far in his education he's studied Ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt, South America, the Renaissance, the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and California history, but I don't recall them learning any modern day European history yet. Hmmmmm.

"Jack," I said, "have you ever heard of the Nazis? Or Hitler?"

"I know Hitler was a bad man and he killed himself." So he knows a little.

I told him that in the days leading up to WW2 when the Nazis first came to power, anybody who was Jewish or had Jewish relatives was required to register with the government and wear a yellow star sewn on their clothes to identify them as a Jew. And later on, Hitler started taking all the Jewish people he could find--including moms, dads and little children--to prison camps where most of them died. I tried to explain to him that 6 1/2 million Jewish people were killed by Hitler and the Nazis.

"Well, that's just wrong!" he said, with 11-year-old indignation.

"Yes, it was. It was very wrong." How do you explain such evil to a little boy? Do I even want to? Maybe not just yet. At least I can teach him to judge the people he meets by what kind of people they are, by what's in their hearts, and not by the color of their skin, their religion or where they may have been born. There are some good lessons to be learned from Harry Potter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Life is Good: Feeling Fallish

We seem to have successfully survived another horrifically hot Sacramento Valley summer and are heading into Fall. Life is good. We had one little rain storm last week and are looking forward to cooler weather. Haven't had to use the AC in over a week. Woo hoo! I'm looking forward to that lower electric bill, too.

Got the Halloween decorations out today (finally) and got them up. Light-up Jack-o-Lanterns? Check! Scarecrow on the front porch? Check! Halloween countdown calendars up? Check! We're set.

Jack's not so much into Halloween. He's not really interested in dressing up anymore (insert sad face emoticon), doesn't really care about eating the candy (Daddy and I usually take care of that for him) and he's really not into the scary stuff. He refuses to have anything to do with anything spooky. Doesn't like things that jump out at him in the dark; doesn't want any part of the haunted houses. I understand that. Kids on the spectrum do not like surprises or anything unexpected.

I love this time of year. A sense of anticipation is in the air. It's more than just the change of the seasons. I feel like October is just a warm-up for the holiday season: the most wonderful time of the year! (You can thank me for getting that Andy Williams song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.) As soon as Halloween's behind us, Thanksgiving is right around the corner (more food!) and then Christmas. Holiday decorations, festive food (always me with the food), Christmas carols, the whole shebang. When I was growing up, Christmas wasn't about the presents, although that was a big part of the excitement. It was more about being together, warm and safe with the people we loved. Watching holiday specials on TV, eating cookies and popcorn (again with the food!). I'm hoping Jack will have those happy memories of having been safe and loved as a child when he's all grown and starting holiday traditions with his own family.

At the end of this month, Jack's going away for a whole week to Science Camp with his 6th grade class. Because of all his medications, his food issues and his behavioral quirks, I asked to be allowed to accompany him as one of the parent chaperones. Charlie is taking time off from work to look after Gramma. I can't believe how excited I am to be going away for a whole week! I haven't been away for a whole week since 1997! Seriously. I'm thrilled. Life is good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Eating is a Chore?!

Jack told me the other day that he feels like eating is a chore, something he has to do but doesn't really enjoy that much. Can this possibly be my son? Could he have been switched at birth? Unfortunately, eating has always been one of life's greatest pleasures for me. I was raised in a household where food was always associated with everything that was pleasant: popcorn for the movies, cake for birthdays, ice cream for a special treat when we were out for a drive. And candy (always candy!). "Eat all your dinner and you can have dessert!" My mom was a pretty good cook, so we always had homemade cookies, cakes and pies in the house. All the holidays revolved around special foods: Fourth of July barbecues with hand-cranked ice cream, Halloween candy and cookies, Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies & fudge. Even New Years was a food holiday in our house: we always had trays of chips and dip or salami and cheese to snack on while waiting for the ball to drop at midnight.

I still go through a good part of every day looking forward to what I'm going to eat at my next meal. But Jack is different. Even as a baby, we noticed he wasn't especially interested in food. He loved his formula and would drink it greedily when he was hungry, but he was just never very interested in the finger foods other babies seemed to enjoy.

On his first birthday, he played enthusiastically with his cake. Had it all over his hands and face, but not a morsel went into his mouth. Just not interested. We used to have to do a floorshow to get him to eat at all. We'd have toys on the tray of his high chair and distract him with silly faces and funny noises, while trying to shovel organic baby food into his tiny mouth. This was moderately successful, but he never really showed much interest in feeding himself.

Jack has Autism (PDD-NOS), ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. His brain processes things differently than those of us who are "neurotypical." Things that smell or taste delicious to the rest of us, can  have an unpleasant odor or taste to him. Textures can also be very disturbing to him. He cannot abide potatoes (my absolute favorite vegetable!) in any form: no french fries, no potato chips, no potatoes mashed, baked or fried.

Getting enough calories into him has always been a challenge. He never asks me, "What's for dinner?" He doesn't open the refrigerator looking for a snack. He never begs me for something to eat because he's "starving." I'm not even sure he realizes that he's hungry at all. Sometimes I forget to give him lunch and realize it's 5:00 o'clock and he hasn't eaten since breakfast. Doesn't take after his Mommy at all!

Jack is much more than just a picky eater. It's like the part of his brain that relishes eating is just not there. I'll ask him, "What would you like for lunch?"

"I don't know," he'll say.

"Are you hungry?"

"Not really."

And when he does eat, it's only enough to keep him going. He rarely, if ever, cleans his plate or asks for seconds. Who knew that feeding one skinny eleven year old boy could be such a challenge? How could anyone think of eating as a chore, rather than as one of life's greatest pleasures? Whoever heard of such a thing?