Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jack world

Jack is very verbal for an autistic child. We're very grateful for that! But his communication is very dependent on what is called "scripted speech"...little memorized lines and phrases that he uses to communicate. It's kind of like if you were learning French or something, and you went to France to visit, and you had to navigate around using your very limited would be very heavily dependent on using those little phrases you memorized out of your French textbook. That's how Jack seems. He's here for a visit, and he speaks slowly and carefully, pulling out the phrases and words he knows and making them fit. What's more, he often supplies *us* with the appropriate phrases to use too.

For example, last night he came out of bed, walked slowly up to me, put his face a few inches from mine, and screwed it up into his "sad face"...

Me- Hi Jack, what's going on?

Jack- Say, "what's wrong".

Me- Oh, ok. What's wrong?

Jack- I heard a scary noise.

Me- You did?

Jack- Say, "it's ok".

Me- It's ok. (hug)

Jack- smiles and trots back to bed.


Here's another funny Jack moment. Maria has dance class on Monday nights at 6:30. We were going to a nearby park while she was in class, but now of course it's dark at this time. Waiting in the tiny waiting space with four children has proven unsatisfactory. So one evening a couple of weeks ago, I lay down the seats in the back of the van, and Henry, Tess, Jack and I all climbed back there and read stories, did hand rhymes,and sang songs. Jack was only minimally engaged, and so I was trying to pull him in...

Me- Jack, do you want to pick the next song?

Jack- Ok!

Me- What should we sing?

Jack- Can you sing the song from the ghost castle in world 3 of Super Mario Brothers?

Me- Um. Hmm. I don't know that song. Do you know how it goes?

And then Jack, who hardly ever sings "normal" preschool-y songs, starts singing (if you can call it that,,there's no words) this backround music from our wii game. "Bahdum bahdum badum. Bahdum bahdum bahdum. Bahdum bahdum bahdum dum dum dum dum dumdumdumdumdumdumdumdum."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On bribes. Erm, I mean, prizes.

Just thought I'd share a little school-y tidbit that we've been making use of for several years now. Our prize box. A more organized blogger would have a picture of the box now. But I haven't any pictures. So just try to picture looks like this....

...only red. And it's an older lego box, with a lid that closes tightly, not like these new-fangled lego boxes that are good for nothing much once the legos are taken out.

Anyway, the prize box sits on the top shelf of the school room closet. Maria and Kain each have a sheet with a 10 by 10 grid on it. It's their catechism drill sheet. Our curriculum, you see, has them memorizing catechism questions and answers every year from 1st grade through 8th grade. It can get a little...tedious. So, we drill a set of questions every day, and for every one they can recite they can put a sticker or check mark or whatever on their drill sheet, and for every 10 boxes checked off they can pick a prize out of the box. They both love this. Kain will *beg* me to do religion. You'd think there was gold in that there box. Jack doesn't do catechism drill yet, being only in kindergarten, but he does memorize poetry, and so I give him a check mark for each day he recites poetry for me and he can pick out a prize after four check marks, which comes out to once a week.

What to put in the box...that is always a challenge. The kids often suggest things. My rule is that nothing in the box costs more than a dollar. Frankly, even that can add up quickly. Depending on the question line-up,,,that is, whether the questions for a particular day are learning brand new ones or reviewing old ones,,,they can earn 1-3 prizes a week. Plus, finding prizes that appeal to older kids,,,mostly Maria, but increasingly Kain too...that's trickier.

So, what's in our box? Here's some common findings---

-Dollar Tree finds, obviously. This is especially good for little kids, but I also pick up little bottles of smelly lotions and potions and such that Maria likes.

-Many stores, like Target and Walmart, have a dollar section too. Also look for multipacks of things that might cost more than a dollar, but you can open them up and break them up. Especially look around the holidays. Yesterday I picked up little tubes of bubbles, notebooks, colored pens, plastic slinkies, and stickers in the Valentine's section at Walmart. They were $3 a pack, but had several items in each pack. I've also picked up things like this on clearance after the holiday, like those bath baskets that go on clearance the day after Christmas. Buy them up, cut them open, and you've got several items for your box.

-Also stock up at the beginning of the school year on fun school supplies...markers and cute notebooks and that sort of thing.

-I try not to do candy. But sugarless gum is good. Pick up the multipacks to keep your price down. And many times I have put a few pieces of Halloween dregs in snack bags and thrown them in there. And sometimes I will pick up some cute holiday candy on clearance, just for something different.

-Itunes songs. Not thrilled about this one now that they have raised their price per song. However, Kain is interested in some songs off the Christian music station and I see this as a constructive way to guide his taste in music away from the stuff his dad listens to (yikes).

Even Maria, in her "I'm 14 years old and nothing excites me" stage of life, loves the prize box, even if just on principle...everyone loves a freebie. She helps me look for items when we are shopping, and she will often use her points to get something out of there for Tess or Jack, which is very sweet.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Life Plus Dog

I don't think I'm a dog person.

I'm sorry about that.

I don't dislike dogs. I actually really like dogs. Other people's dogs. I think I feel about dogs the way some people feel about kids. If I go over to *your* house and see *your* dog, I will probably love all over him, but I'll be glad to leave him at *your* house when I go.

Dogs are just too high maintenance for me. They are too in-my-space and too hyperactive. I know he's a puppy and these things will get better. But I still don't think I'm a dog person. I like my cats. They are low-maintenance. They are independent. They lie around and look pretty and sometimes seek a warm lap,,,and they are *clean*...that's about my speed, animal-wise.

We have a couple of finches, and they are borderline, for me, maintenance-wise, but I still allow them because they are pretty and chirpy and I really do like birds. I like dogs, but their maintenance level just pushes them over the acceptability line for me.

Oh, there's all the usual puppy stuff. Housebreaking has been really difficult because of the record snowfall. He's not getting enough exercise, again, because of the snowfall, and so he's eaten Maria's sketcher sandals, a pair of my shoes, and numerous toys, Tessie's hat, the cable cord that hooks up to our modem, and a wooden shelf I had propped up against a wall waiting to be hung. He ate my favorite Christmas picture book. Oh, and I almost forgot until just now when he woke up Henry...he loves to climb on top of napping children, causing you to lug him behind the baby gate in the laundry room until naptime is over. And I do mean *lug*. He's no small puppy anymore and must weigh a good 40 pounds already.

All of this would be forgivable and mostly puppy-related stuff if not for one, very disturbing, very stomach-turning issue. He eats pooey diapers. Actually, "eats" is an understatement. He attacks, shreds, and devours dirty diapers. He rips them open and buries his face in there and snorts around like he's a doggie-addict that has discovered someone's doggie-cocaine stash. And when you find (smell) what's going on, and you holler at him in your best no-no-bad-dog voice, and you crawl around on all fours picking up pooey diaper shreds and suppressing your gag reflex, he jumps all over you and then LICKS YOU IN THE FACE WITH HIS POOEY, STINKY MOUTH AND YOU COULD JUST DIE FROM THE GROSSNESS OF IT ALL!

I just don't think I could like an animal like this. I'm a nurse. I am not a squeamish person. I've cleaned up every bodily fluid there is, I've seen terrible, rotting-flesh, bone-deep bedsores that would, I guarantee, nauseate most dog lovers. But even I have my limits. For example, never once, not ever, did one of those bedsores jump up and lick me in the face.

And, you know, before we got the dog, we watched this documentary about dogs, how they had evolved with human beings for so long that they can read human emotion and expressions better even than most people. So how does my retching and gagging and screaming, "NO, NO, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DEAR GOD NO" encourage this animal to come love all over me?

And also, how can an animal with a digestive system so delicate that they get horrifying diarrhea when you change their brand of dog food eat actual human excrement with no ill effect whatsoever?

Don't worry, the dog isn't going anywhere. My husband loves him. The little kids adore him, especially Tess. He and Tess are best buds, which shouldn't be surprising since they are both toddlers. I think the big kids still love him, although they've had to clean up enough of his messes that the bloom is definitely off the rose. Spring is coming, and he will spend more (much more) time outdoors, and we will all learn to throw dirty diapers away IMMEDIATELY and to keep our shoes out of his way. And our toys. And our books. And our furniture, rugs, and decorative items. I guess I'll just hang everything from the ceiling.

Anyway. I know my post is a controversial one, and I'm sure I'll hear back from you dog-lovers. I might even get a nasty e-mail flame or two. I realize that this is just how dogs are, that he is not trying to be a bad dog, but is just in fact being a DOG, but that's my point, really. I don't think I'm a dog person.

Monday, February 07, 2011

It's not tumor after all.

A smell awoke me early this morning. Pungent and oily, couldn't quite put my finger on it. A cross between lemon oil and paint stripper. It was so faint from upstairs in my bedroom that I couldn't be sure I wasn't dreaming it. When I came downstairs, the smell grew much stronger, almost unbearably so, but I couldn't quite pin down the location. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen/laundry room area. I now had some vague memory of hearing a crash down here when John was getting ready for work. He must have knocked something down and now the bottle was leaking. Some kind of bottle of leaking cleaner? Some kind of crafting material? A quick look around revealed no evidence of any smelly puddles of stuff.

After I got coffee and laundry going, I poked around under the kitchen sink and on the laundry room shelves but could find no evidence of anything leaking there either. I felt like I was crazy. Maybe I had a brain tumor after all. I often smell things that no one else in the house seems to smell, sniffing around the house until I finally locate a sippy cup of milk stashed in an odd cabinet, or a ziploc bag with a rotting bird's nest (true story). Sometimes I can't pinpoint what I'm smelling, and we joke that it must be my brain tumor.

This was not a joke. The smell was so strong it was making me nauseous. And the crashing sound...there must be evidence of something! I found a few blue shop towels near the top the trash and picked them up to sniff, but they had been soaked with the coffee grounds I'd just dumped in there. Between that and the very overpowering smell of...of whatever this mystery smell was...I couldn't gain any insight from the towels.

I looked at the time. It was now nearly 7. John's shift would be just starting. I called his cell phone and the he solved my mystery...tea tree oil! It seems when he opened the fridge this morning, he pulled the med box down to the floor. It's a common occurrence around here. The "med box" is where we keep our daily-used medications...Kain's meds, mostly, and also vitamins, and anything else that someone might currently be using like antibiotics and such. Often when the med box is put away, it isn't put back quite far enough on top of the fridge and then gets pulled down when you open the door. Anyway, apparently there was a bottle of tea tree oil in there that broke open all over the kitchen floor. I have no idea why there was tea tree oil in the med box. I use it to mix up cloth baby wipe stuff, and it's supposed to be on the changing table. Anyway. Smelly stuff mystery solved. It's not a tumor.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Are we hopeful?

The checker plucked the pregnancy test out from between the English muffins and frozen broccoli and held it up in the air. Grinning, she said, "Are we hopeful?"

I stammered, surprised that she'd spoken at all. It was the first acknowledgement that we were even there at her register. I was taken aback by the comment about something as personal as a pregnancy test...would she had made a comment about a tube of KY? A package of Lotrimin? Isn't therer some sort of cas=hier rule about commenting on such purchases? As I struggled to think of something to say, our eyes met and, an obviously exhausted 36-year-old mom with no make-up on and my hair in a knot at the back of my head, rounding out an already too-long day with a massive grocery shopping trip, a teenager in tow and a 9-month-old baby strapped to my chest...she, an obviously exhausted 50-something woman wearing too much too-dark make up and dyed, teased hair, giving off the "I'm single and trying desperately to look younger than I am" vibe. Her smile faltered as she realized that maybe I wasn't hopeful...maybe her question wouldn't be well-received. But it wasn't that...I just really didn't know what to say. I didn't know what I hoped. I really didn't think I was pregnant. I had no symptoms, no reason to think I was, except that Henry was 9 months old and my cycles still hadn't returned, and I was having a glass of wine the other night and thinking, "I should probably just make sure...." On one hand, I didn't really want to be yet, not so soon. On the other hand, if I was pregnant I would certainly get over the initial shock, and I would love and welcome another baby. But these thoughts were certainly too involved to share with a random cashier...though apparently it doesn't bother me to share it with all of you. I finally smiled and touched Henry's head and said in a light tone, "Oh, I guess it depends on when you ask me."

"Do you have others at home?" she asked, looking back at Maria who was busy unloading our second cart while I filled the first back up with sacked food. And thus began That Conversation, the one where I list my children and their ages, and yes, I do have my hands full, and no, we probably aren't done yet, God willing. And I really don't mind having those conversations. I realize we are kinda weird. As long as people aren't nasty about it, I don't mind,,,I don't mind because I've been there, I've had the one, two, three kids that absolutely tapped me out and wondered how people ever managed with more.

"Do you live in a big house?" she asked. I smiled, picturing our 2200 square foot perpetual fixer-upper. "No, not really. It felt huge when we moved in!" I said. "But we only had one child then."

"Your husband must make a lot of money, huh?" she asked. And I wasn't offended. She was just voicing what lots of people wonder, especially people who have such an intimate look at my hefty walmart bill. "Well, um,,,," I faltered...John, a nurse, probably did make a lot of money compared to what a walmart cashier makes, but support all of us, we live simply and pinch every penny until it screams. It was enough, if we were careful, but it sure didn't feel like a must have shown on my face, or maybe I was visibly wincing as the grocery total climbed....

"Are you on WIC for that baby?" I shook my head, really wanting to put an end to this conversation now but unsure how. "Food stamps? Nothin'??" I just shook my head again, not wanting to go into how I felt about such programs, how I had been on them as a single mother putting myself through school and I would sooner live on beans and rice than subject myself to the humiliation of dealing with state social workers again, how I'm glad those programs exist for those who needed them, and I did need them back then, but I didn't need them now. I could make a lot more cuts to our lives before that became necessary, and to prove it to myself I mentally looked back over my purchases and tallied up how much I had spent on things we could have done without...smallish things, but it did add up. I knew how to live thriftily. My single-mom years had taught me that well.

"Well," she sighed as she gave me the total, now looking a little sorry for me,,it was steeper than usual, even for us..."come back through my line next time and let me know how it turns out! You'll be ok, either way." I smiled over Henry's head, knowing I would do no such thing, and said, "Have a good day."

Later, at home, I informed a disappointed Maria that the test was negative. I wasn't disappointed. I am still enjoying Henry and all his babyness, and still struggling too much with five children to really feel ready to handle nine months of pregnancy. But the cashier was right...I would have been ok. Either way. Because we are hopeful. I'm hopeful that we will continue to have the means to provide for more children in God's time, and if we find that we are losing that struggle, I'm hopeful that using Natural Family Planning will help us get through the rest of my fertile years. I'm hopeful that gas prices don't climb as high as they say they will, that I will find the energy to get me through two days of being snowed and iced in with a very wound-up Kain over his birthday tomorrow. I'm hopeful that I can keep a smile on my face and irritation out of my voice, hopeful that my children know that they are all wanted and all meant to be here, no matter how expensive groceries get and even if we do end up having to eat more beans and rice somewhere down the road. I'm hopeful that someday, after my children are raised, John and I will look back on our days of struggling to pay the bills and not regret the sacrifices to bring one more soul into the world. I'm hopeful we will remember the joy of these days filled with laundry piles and coffee filter snowflakes and grammar lessons over grilled cheese sandwiches.