Monday, May 26, 2008

On Freedom, Mini Vans and Pigs

This weekend was perfect. We were child-free for two glorious days. Granted, it required driving up to Maine (Vacationland) on Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend with a very irritable child yelling "I want Boohbah (her pacifier)" over and over much of the almost 2 1/2 hour drive that should only take 1 1/2hrs, but the end result was so worth it. We barely slowed the car down as we handed her off to grandma. In fact, we didn't even drive all the way to her house; we called her and grandpa (Corinne calls them Dumma and Dumpa, which just cracks me up) and had them meet us at our favorite Burger place for the exchange. We've been away from the little darling before, of course, even as long as five days when we went to Puerto Rico. But we've always had a big event like a wedding or a company party or a concert. It was just so blissfully relaxing being child free with no particular place to go. After gorging on the healthy dinner of burgers with blue cheese and cheese fries, we came home and watched a mindless movie. We tried to sleep in on Saturday but we were both awakened by my endless coughing from these damn allergies that I have for the first time this year (normally I would rant here about my theory of new species of plant pollens that are thriving due to global warming, but I'll spare you). We lounged around a bit and did not watch Mickey Mouse or Little Einsteins, thank you very much, and then went out to an uninterrupted and leisurely breakfast.

From there we shopped around for the aforementioned mini van (grumble, grumble). Not much to go into here other than to remark about how lackadaisical we were able to be. How inefficient and relaxed. No rushing home for nap time, or trying to work in a healthy lunch on the run. No diaper changes and snacks (I want a een cereal bar!) and sippy cups (Not wa! I want lem-ade! I want a duce-box) and more snacks (I want dandy!). We listened to our music, especially the completely offensive and inappropriate stuff (No! Not momma's music! I want you music!) And we took all day to make this rather expensive purchase, shopping around and doing our homework instead of the way it went down the time we dragged Corinne with us to buy a flat screen TV (to give you an idea, we were talked into buying exactly the opposite of what we had intended to buy, all the while listening to Corinne, covered in chocolate ice cream and up way past her bedtime, repeating "You all done! You doe home now!" until I wanted to rip my ears off my head, and me saying "you need to wait" and "I don't even care anymore, just pick one!". We ended up returning said TV two days later.)

From there we went to a movie. We didn't really care what we saw, just wanted the sheer pleasure of watching a movie in a theater. We ended up seeing Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. It was kind of silly, but then again I realized, when I went back to watch the series I loved so much as a teenager, that they kind of all were. Whole lotta suspension of disbelief required there!
Continuing on with our day of parental indulgences, we ate dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. We didn't even mind a wait and we didn't have to get our check with the food. We talked uninterrupted about, well, mostly Corinne and Pete's work, but there's just not much more to talk about in our lives right now. Pete doesn't really want to hear about the plot of that week's Little House re-runs or about how I scooped the whole yard of dog poop yesterday. At no point did we need to negotiate regarding how many more bites anyone needed to eat in order to be considered all done or to insist that anyone please use silverware to eat their mashed potatoes.

On Sunday we attended our annual Memorial Day tradition, "The Pig Roast". Some friends of Pete's family, Clarkie and Karen, have had this party every year for I think close to 30 years or so and we have attended the last 6 or 7. It really is an amazing spectacle.

First of all, there are usually close to 100 people at this party. Each family brings a side dish, appetizer or dessert, so as you can imagine, the food is bountiful. There's always a theme and the place is decorated accordingly, along with many of the guests. Some past themes we have participated in were Halloween, Mardi Gras, the Chinese Year of the Pig, the Millennium, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and this year, the Pig Olympics. I forgot to mention that the pig features prominently in this event. This couple really digs pigs. They literally have hundreds of pig gewgaws: statues, magnets, stuffed animals, signs, coffee mugs, lawn ornaments, you name it. I'm sure it started as a joke gift or two at Christmas and has taken on a life of its own. Pig items aren't exactly hard to come by (unlike Pete's favorite animal, the sloth). Clarkie and Karen are big time collectors. Their house is packed floor to ceiling with things they have collected (I think I'll save that for next year's post).
Also impressive is that the food is served buffet style on real plates with real silverware (100 people, may I remind you. I'd hate to have to do those dishes) and there's even a rumor that they re-use and therefore hand wash the plastic cups. And there's a lot of those: They have a fully stocked bar and 2 or 3 beers on tap in specially designed keg-orators. They also have their own salad bar. I mean like the kind you see in a restaurant, complete with sneeze guard. They have an outhouse, 4 or 5 tents, dozens of tables, and probably close to 100 chairs. All of these things belong to them. They are like their own private catering/ rental company. In fact, four years ago Pete and I hosted his brother's wedding in our backyard, and we got most of our supplies from Clarkie and Karen. They are my party-throwing idols.
Her shirt says: I may be little, but I'm big on the pig

I was going to include a picture of the actual roasted pig but I decided it may be offensive to some viewers and didn't want any PETA lunatics hunting me down. This is the cabana-like bar.

The famous salad bar. I wasn't kidding!

Round One

So as you can see, it was a perfect weekend. We got our little bubaloo back from Pete's mom at the pig roast, and we always appreciate her a little bit more having been away from her for a day or two. I suspect the feeling is mutual.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Goodbye, Dear Friend

Today we said goodbye to a dear friend.
Groucho was (is! Not was! He's gone to a happy little car farm where he can run free in green fields!) a 1998 Mazda pickup truck. In the past few years his health had been failing. It was never anything major, just super-annoying little things. First his "door open" indicator and overhead dome light wouldn't turn off. We finally just pulled the fuse because it was such a pain to drive at night with the light on all the time. Then the fuel gauge went, so we had to use the mileage to determine when it was time to fill up on gas. Then the passenger side seat broke, so you couldn't access the extended cab backseat on that side. The doors would sometimes decide not to unlock, even with a key. The air conditioner stopped working. Then the lights on the dashboard began to go one by one, so you needed a flashlight to see your speed or odometer. Then those went as well, making it a moot point anyway. We had to just fill up with gas two times a week to be safe and just guess-timate how fast we were driving.

For all his annoying ailments, though, Groucho has taken us a lot of places. He's been cross-country twice for Pete and I and once with Pete's brother. He helped us move all our stuff from one apartment to another before we were married (around twenty trips- I don't recommend it. Just rent a U-Haul!) When the house my sister was living in burned down, miraculously sparing her small apartment in the back, Groucho was there to quickly move all her stuff out before the place was boarded up. He's hauled many a yard sale or "free at the curbside" treasure, or a refrigerator or couch for a friend in need. Many a night has been spent in his cap-covered bed; on camping trips, on nights when we were too cheap to get a real room, on nights when we just couldn't/ shouldn't drive... His cap was decorated with stickers and drawings from places like Carlsbad Caverns and the Roswell Museum in New Mexico, 3 Different National Parks in Utah, and the Barbed Wire Museum in Kansas, along with various assorted stickers of things like Ralph Wiggum and Australian Shepherds and our favorite bands. He was like a mobile scrapbook of where we'd been, an icon of sorts for who we were before we were parents, when we were just a young couple enjoying life on our own terms.

When Corinne came along Groucho became impractical because we couldn't safely put a car seat in him. Therefore we only had one car that we could use as a family. We decided that we would hang on as long as we could, but that the next time he developed a problem that was more than just annoying it would be time to say goodbye.

Well, that time came a week or so ago. Pete came home saying that the brakes were pretty much shot, making an awful grinding noise that was probably the rotor. Not a major repair, but a repair nonetheless. It was time to let go. Pete drove him just to and from the train station, feeling that the highway and hour-long commute into Boston was pushing it too much. Sensing that he was about to be cast aside Groucho decided to let his clutch go as well, making our decision that much easier.

The most tragic part of this story is that we replaced Groucho with...... a mini van. I know, yuck! Not cool. And this from me, the woman who fought tooth and nail against the purchase of our Subaru Forester (who is named "The Family Truckster") three years ago because I thought that was too "dorky and family car". My consolation at that time was "well, at least it's not a frigging mini van!" My, the times they are a changin'! Our rationale on why we chose the lamest car possible: the kid + the kid's stuff + the dog + the dog's stuff + the parents + the parent's stuff + traveling to Saratoga and Maine and Vermont and New York to visit family and friends + yard sales and curbside treasures still to be had + lugging my wares to various craft fairs = a big ol' mini van, sadly. Sigh. All I can think of is "This is not my beautiful car. This is not my beautiful life! How did I get here?"

As we cleaned Groucho out and said our final farewell, there was some mourning for the end of an era, the never-really-very-cool-but-at-least-kind-of-fun couple that once drove this vehicle. Now we move on and look ahead to new adventures with our daughter, who's becoming a pretty fun person herself. We may never sleep in the minivan or drive cross country (though I really do hope that we can do that again someday...), but I'm confident that when the time comes to turn in this car (who I've already named "The Family Dorkster" in my head), we'll look back fondly on the memories that we created in it, this time as a kind-of-fun family.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Family Bed Experiment

Last night we tried a little experiment. It failed.

Just a couple weeks ago we had a conversation about how it's kind of sad that Corinne can't/ won't/ doesn't sleep in bed with us. Not that we want her to do this every night, mind you. It's just that it would be nice, every once in awhile, for her to come padding down the hall, say from a nightmare or during a thunder storm, and we could all cuddle together, just Morgan Incorporated versus the world. She won't even get into bed with us for a few minutes on a Saturday morning for some good old fashioned tickle time. She just ain't into it. You can't even lie on her floor at night as she falls asleep or sit on her bedside. She barely sleeps in the car and never, even as a baby, crashes out on the floor or on the couch or anywhere but in her bed, alone. I think it's a sensory-overload issue She can't make herself shut down unless the conditions are just so, and having other people around doesn't help that.

Now we realize that the pros of this are obvious. You hear stories of kids making this a permanent habit, of couples who, voluntarily or otherwise, share their bed with one or more kids every night. And as it is we only have a full-sized bed that, frankly, neither of us has had a good night sleep in since the fun of spooning wore off (probably sometime about a month after our honeymoon). Then we have to deal with the cats and their inexplicable need to be on the bed, off the bed, on the bed, off the bed... a hundred times a night. And Seven, who wakes up several times a night panting loudly like she's been chasing frisbees for an hour. All these things have wreaked havoc on our sleep cycle as it is, without adding a new nocturnal visitor. But still, it would just be sweet, just once in awhile...

So the perfect opportunity presented itself this weekend while we were visiting my parents. We have the wonderful luxury of sleeping in a king-sized bed when we stay at my mom's, and my sister had decided to crash for the night, meaning she would sleep in Corinne's big-girl bed ( a twin). We decided to let Corinne fall asleep in our bed at her normal time. We would then slip quietly into bed with her when we were ready to sleep and voila!

All went according to plan initially. She was sound asleep (albeit sprawled across the width of the bed, but that was easily fixed), and remained that way for about an hour or two. Then I woke up to find her sitting bolt upright. "Me me have poo poos" Corinne informed me. And indeed she did. Messy diarrhea-like ones. This required the turning on of the light and the searching for diapers and wipes and the undressing and when all was said and done we were all quite wide awake. I read her a book and then we told her it was time for night-night. Easier said than done. For the next hour she read and sat up and lay down and tossed and turned. I would start to drift off and then she would proclaim loudly " hello momma, hello Dadda, hello you!" and "you awake now!" (she refers to herself as "you", and efforts to correct this turn into an exchange that resembles a three stooges "who's on first?" skit). Then she pretended her stuffed Shamu was crying as she kept bumping him into my face. Finally she quieted down and curled up next to me, but every time I opened my eyes, there she was staring at me, three inches away, "boo-bah" (her beloved pacifier) going a mile a minute, Lisa Simpson-style. Finally, finally she settled in, spooning with me as I had hoped she would, reminiscent of that baby I remember napping with post-nursing.

Around that time Dadda got the Jimmy Legs and couldn't stay in bed another second. I sympathize. Already my arm was falling asleep and I knew I would be lying awake, waiting for when I thought she was sleeping deeply enough that I could move without disturbing her. Well, Dadda got out of bed without issue and promptly bumped into Seven, who let out yelp like she had been cattle prodded. This, of course, woke everyone back up and so it began again. We finally admitted defeat and set up a lovely bedroom for her in the bathroom, making a bed out of couch cushions. This required another 20 minutes of baby-proofing the bathroom, getting the night light, white noise machine, books, drink and toys all set up for our little princess, and putting a sign on the door so that no one would enter the bathroom and wake her up once, God willing, she finally fell asleep again.

So there you have it- our botched attempt at a precious family moment. On the bright side we were treated to a laugh in the morning when I opened the bathroom door to find Corinne standing at the sink with all the tooth brushes in her mouth and 7 or 8 Little People all lined up in a neat row on the toilet seat. I hope she was able to sleep with all those people watching her.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Beautiful Mind

OK, back some more serious stuff.

Today was one of those days that I think I will always remember, and this time for a good reason.

But first I need to begin at the beginning. Or at least update you on what transpired in the months since I wrote the e-mails in the previous posts.

So we have an autistic daughter. Well, not really full-blown autistic, but I find it easier to tell people she's autistic than to explain PDD-NOS. Most people know what autism is, though in a somewhat stereotypical, Hollywood depicted kind of way. There are a few things that are the crux of the problem for Corinne. Namely she has a really hard time coping and self regulating. I read a book that described it so well as "life just overwhelms her". She's bombarded by sensory input; we all are, but most of us can focus on what is important and tune the rest out. Corinne is aware of every sound she hears in the room and outside. She sees the trees moving. She feels the chair she's sitting in and every itch on her body. On top of this she has what is called poor motor planning. She can't easily get her body to do what she wants it to do. She has to be taught and then practice things that come naturally to everyone else, things like jumping and climbing, playing with toys, manipulating small objects. Because she doesn't have good control of her body she has no confidence and gets easily stressed out. She spends a lot of time in defensive mode, always worried that she can't handle what is coming. Imagine, then, how scary other kids are for her. Loud and fast, they take things, they can knock her down; they're just unpredictable. Corinne likes predictability and likes to be in control. She likes the familiar and the ordered. Lining up toys is soothing to her. Looking at books allows her to escape. Knowing exactly what to expect is comforting. Strangers are intimidating. New situations are scary.
The problems with her motor planning have been responsible for a number of challenges for Corinne. The biggest and most glaring, the one that raised the biggest red flag for her pediatrician, was a significant speech delay. She never really babbled as a baby, beyond saying "Bah", which is a sound that if I never hear it again, it will be too soon! She picked up Momma and then Dadda and not much else. Her peers were speaking in full sentences and Corinne just emitted a series of agitated whiny sounds like "eh eh". However, she always seemed to have a good understanding of what people said to her, beyond what was typical for her age level.

You can see why she was such an unhappy baby. Easily scared and stressed, unable to trust her own body and lacking in confidence, understanding but being unable to communicate, it must have been hell for her.

We taught her some sign language and that helped. She built up quite a vocabulary of words to help her get what she needed: more, all done, eat, drink, help, play, and a bunch of random animals. As the year went on we added more and more hours of Early Intervention services and added a second agency to help with her treatment. She ultimately had 20 hours of therapy, including speech, occupational therapy, horseback riding, aquatherapy (swimming), and something called DIR/Floortime, which is "intensive animated play where the adult follows the child's lead but uses high emotion and other techniques to obtain the child's social attention. The goal is to keep the child engaged with the adult in more sustained and complex ways, and be able to generalize these skills to other adult and eventually children." We refer to this collective group of therapists as "Team Corinne". There have been close to a dozen of them, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say that these people saved us. We'll never know how Corinne may have turned out without all the hours of patient work these women gave her, but I know how she did turn out with it. I'm thrilled to be able to report that now, at 2 years and 9 months old, Corinne is a different child. In the last 2 months she broke through whatever barrier was in the way of her talking, and the phrase that has been used to describe this is an "explosion of speech". She went from a dozen or less words to full sentences in a period of less than two weeks. And with the speech came the confidence in herself. And the ability to say why she was scared or unhappy. And the ability to tell us what she wants or doesn't like. She's discovered the sheer pleasure in interacting with people, how much fun it can be and how satisfying to be understood. And she is forming relationships with the adults in her life, like her therapists and her grandparents. She is excited to see them and she remembers things about them that were fun for her. Do I need to tell you what this feels like for Pete and I? I doubt I do. Let me just say that a year ago we feared she may never speak or form meaningful relationships. We thought we'd never be able to do what others families could do: camping trips, amusement parks, birthday parties. And now we can.

Is she cured? No, definitely not. She still doesn't like other kids. She's really hard to understand (we call her language "Corinnese"). She only makes eye contact maybe 30% of the time and she still gets upset pretty easily. But she's happy and that's what we wanted more than anything. She a happy, silly, unbelievably smart little girl. She's exactly what we dreamed of in a child and so much more.

So why was today so special? Sorry- a little more background first. Basically what happens in three months when Corinne turns three is her services with Early Intervention end, and the city school system takes over. Preparing for this is called "Transitioning", which involves meetings with her current and future providers, forms to fill out, tours to take, evaluations to be done, and ultimately an IEP, or Individual Education Plan. This will spell out exactly which services she will receive, how often, where, and with whom. Because Corinne has a diagnosis "on the spectrum", she needs as many hours a week of therapy services as possible. She will most likely be enrolled in a full-day, integrated (half "typical" kids and half special needs) preschool program at the local elementary school. The fact that she will be going to school 6 hours a day, four days a week is a topic for a future post and one I'm sure I will be freaking out about as September draws nearer, so I won't get into that right now.

So today was a combination speech and general cognitive/ academic level evaluation done by a special ed teacher and a speech therapist. I was nervous about this, not sure if I'd be able to be in the room or not, not sure if Corinne would be in the mood to cooperate or not, not sure if the evaluators would get an accurate picture of this complex little girl of ours. I needn't have worried.

The testing began in a small office of cubicles. I mention this because it could have been a disaster. So many distractions, voices of other kids close by, a strange new environment, the uncertainty of what was to happen to her; all potentially troublesome things for a kid with sensory processing issues.

They started with a lot of the basics. There were so many different things I can barely remember them all. They had her point to colors, shapes, letters, numbers, and pictures. She drew lines and circles, stacked blocks, sorted like-things, imitated fine motor skills and gross motor sequences. They had her point to pictures to determine if she knew opposites and genders and pronouns and animals and big vs. little, up vs. down, under, on top of, behind and around. They literally tag teamed her with question after question, picture after picture, list after list. It was tiring just to watch and she did great. This was not her first evaluation but it was the most intensive and thorough. Halfway through it they told me that they had only been planning to do one particular test but they decided to do additional tests because she was more advanced than they had anticipated. Much more. The test is grouped by skills appropriate to age level. When a child misses I think it was seven in a row, it is determined that that is the age level that the child is functioning at. For example, maybe at a 3 year old level for gross motor skills but at a two year old level for speech. Well with Corinne they finally stopped at a five year old level for cognitive skills, and that was only because she was getting tired.

I was on cloud nine leaving the evaluation. It was all I could do to wait until we got home to call dadda. Talk about some serious parental bragging rights! We had always suspected that she was smart but let's face it, every parent thinks their kid is smart. Well, now we know for sure. Our child is smart, like really smart. It's just so exciting, after all we've gone through, to be able to look forward to what the future will bring. We still don't know just how smart she is, but now we can look forward to her being able to read and write and do well in school. And that can lead to her ability to have a job and a meaningful, independent life. It's more than we ever could have hoped for. I am so proud of my special little sweet pea.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Baby Kleenex Head

This is Baby Kleenex Head. She is my all time favorite... I don't even know what to call her. She was given to me by my friend Mark. He found her in his garage. She is a functioning kleenex box holder that someone actually made. Someone thought, "Hey, you know what would be a great bathroom accessory? A kleenex box holder with a face and hair! Yes, let me sit down and take the time to make this thing because surely someone will have a bathroom that this just fits perfectly into." And then this person went on to choose the creepiest doll face they could find. I love her smug smile, as though she knows something you don't know. I had her on my desk in my last two jobs, you know, just to keep it real. She is now displayed proudly in The Room.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Ultimate Yankee Swap Gift

This is an item that I won in a Yankee swap. Believe it or not, I swapped a case of beer for this because it was jut too priceless. I mean, it's got everything you could need. It's a bouquet of flowers. It's a scene of the last supper. And best of all, it's an actual working lamp. As the Kool Aid guy would say, "Oh Yeah!"

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Tick

This lovable guy was a promotional item for a flea and tick preventative at a veterinary hopsital that I worked at. The office manager wasn't crazy about displaying him in the waiting room and was going to throw him away. Now he creeps people out in our house, instead. Seven has had ticks on her that aren't much smaller than this one.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pete's Teeth

This is a plaster cast of Pete's teeth, prior to extensive orthodontic work. I don't even know what more to say about them, other than to point out how reminiscent they are of the scene in Return of the Jedi when Han Solo is frozen and encased in carbonite.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Room

OK, that's it for the trip down e-mail memory lane. I thought it was time for a light-hearted posting, so I present to you:
"The Play Room"

The Play Room has had a number of different names in the 5 years that we have lived in this house. Over the years we have collected a number of different items that just caught our fancy. Once people caught on that we were "into this sort of thing", people also began giving us things that they spotted that made them "think of you two". Thusly, our collection has grown to the point where it now requires its own room. Unfortunately for guests of our home, this is also our guest bedroom. I suspect people must have some interesting dreams while sleeping in there. We know that the day will come when we outgrow having a whole room like this, and we will have to pack it all up to store but never dispose of. Please do not get any ideas and send us more things. We are already out of room and are both too sentimental (or pack-rattish) to part with a single thing.)
The majority of our small treasures are housed on this set of shelves. I will be featuring some of my favorites in upcoming posts. Of note here: the paint-by-number of Jesus painted by my grandmother, also featuring a car stick-on that says: "Got Jesus?"

Here's where our lucky house guests sleep (or not), watched over by our mannequin that we saved from the trash, minus her hands, in Brooklyn while visiting a friend. They must share the bed with "Suckie", our giant stuffed cat fish.

Here is the wall of magnets (we painted the whole thing with magnetic paint). The cow painting on the door we picked up at a yard sale for free. The woman couldn't believe anyone wanted it (her son painted it). The skull on the other door glows in the dark.

Needless to say, we need to keep the door to this room closed so Miss Corinne can't come in and have a field day in there. We also keep it closed so people who may not yet know this side of us don't wander in on their way to the bathroom. It's definitely the kind of thing that could be a bit of a put-off, ya know? And here I am, sharing it with all of you. Mostly because you either already know we're freaks cleverly disguised as parents/ professionals, or you'll just never meet me, anyway, so who cares.