A pattern emerges…it’s not a good one

All through the day, from the time Dada and TGG leave for work until they come home, J is happy and calm.  After going to the gym, while having dinner, J is calm.  And then, randomly and unexpectedly, we get “the meltdown.”

This doesn’t happen while he and I are alone.  I can tell him NO, ask him to help me when he’s engaged in something else, take him out of his routine, and he’s fine.  The only thing I’ve been able to pinpoint so far is that J has tantrums when Dada and/or TGG are home.

I know J loves Dada and TGG.  I know he likes to have them around.  I know he enjoys their company.  I don’t know why he would get upset when they’re here.  I’m trying to figure this out.

My guesses so far:

1)  Dada and/or TGG take my attention away from J;

2)  Dada and TGG don’t spend enough time with J;

3)  Dada and TGG are more easily spooked by the tantrums than I am;

4)  Dada and TGG pay more attention to J when he throws a tantrum;

5)  I pay more attention to J when he throws a tantrum while Dada and TGG are home (because he doesn’t throw them when they are not.)

Last night the tantrum came between putting on one sock and putting on the other.  J immediately went to SIB when he wanted his bandaids for his hand.  No warning sound; no hesitation.  SIB and that was that.

I made him go to the TV room, and he was going to hit himself again but I held his hand and jammed the iPad in front of him.  “We don’t HIT.  We SAY!”

The process is convoluted and frustrating because I’m trying to reason with a person who is just NOT into it…  So part of the effort goes into “talking him down” long enough to get him to understand that we’re trying to understand why he’s upset.  Anyone who has tried to “talk down” an individual in the Autism Spectrum knows this is often easier said than done.

Talk him down I did, but it wasn’t easy, and I had to make sure he understood that I was not happy about his behavior.  Once he got what he wanted, J turned into Mr. Charm…and I was not buying it.  I don’t buy Mr. Charm on a regular basis, and I flatly refuse to do it when it comes in the heels of being obstreperous.  After his outburst, and once he had re-engaged with his bedtime routine, J started the I LOVE YOU on maximum speed.  I sat down on his bed and explained that I love him, but that I was angry because he is skipping all the tools we give him for communicating and going straight to SIB.  I also explained that if he keeps using PAIN in his HAND as an excuse for melting down, he’s going to the doctor for an X-ray.  Even though J then backpedals on the melodrama over his hand, he IS going to the doctor.  I am fairly sure that he IS hurt, and he needs something more than his go-to remedies of sixty bandaids and a piece cut off from a pair of tights worn as a sleeve over his hand.  The medical implications of this situation do not escape me, and I don’t take them lightly.

While I figure that part out, however, I’ve been proactively pursuing ways to help J communicate when he feels “stuck.”  This morning we sat down with the printer, the laminator, and our go-to ASL website (http://www.aslpro.com/cgi-bin/aslpro/aslpro.cgi) to figure out the signs that can help him tell us what he needs.  I also printed four DON’T HIT signs to help him remember this particular point, and I printed a two-sided HELP! card with the word on one side and the signs on the other.  A reminder to use his Proloquo2Go hangs prominently in his TV room.

Of course, the e-mail in which my husband asks the doctor to give us a little more feedback so we can make an informed decision on J’s med dosage has been sent.  This e-mail is so beautifully composed, so eloquent and to-the-point that, when asked for my opinion on its contents, I replied to Dada that it makes me want to make long, sweet, slow love to him.  “So it’s ok, then?”  Yes, it was more than OK; it’s the e-mail that I can’t write right now because my mind is flooded with all the other things I need to address before I fully address this issue…

We’ll see how this goes.  So far this morning I’ve done everything humanly possible with a printer, velcro, laminating sheets, and chutzpah.  I’ve spoken to J; I’ve involved him in the process of making things clearer for him to make things clear for us…  I’ve anticipated everything that my addled brain can possibly anticipate.  I’ve agonized over having to give him more med, and I’ve researched as much as is available (and comprehensible to a non-scientist like me) on the internet. I’ve texted back and forth with J’s teacher, and I’ve asked for input from J, TGG, Dada, and the teacher.

For the time being, I’m tapped out.  I will see what the rest of today brings, and I will try to address what TGG and Dada can do to approach the situation better when they are home.  It’s all I have right now…

It’s time for chores (oh, so late in the morning that it’s almost afternoon,) and for engaging J in something that has nothing to (outwardly and obviously) do with behavior modification.

I’ll keep you posted.  Suggestions are welcome.

When you’re only halfway up, you’re neither up nor down…

Thursday’s appointment with the psych left us with a decision dangling in front of us: J might need more med.  We are a house divided: I say we can figure this out by the end of July, and Dada wonders if we just have to give in to adding the .25 we took off six months ago.

The kid has been testy.  He has been obsessing about his right hand.  He wants bandaids on the base of his thumb and all the way to his wrist.  As a sign on compromise, I made him a wristlet out of an old pair of brown tights, and he’s been wearing it since last evening.  It seems to help him stay calm, but he still makes sure it’s there.  His hand calls to him like mermaids on the rocks called to Odysseus.

On Friday evening we took him for his weekly outing.  We came home with a Marilyn Monroe poster, a curtain for his bed (which he wanted up against the wall, creating a small island away from the bedroom door,) and a lava lamp.  On Saturday we added glow-in-the-dark stars to his bedroom environment.  I made him a pillow with some imitation sherpa fleece, and he really likes that.  He wanted another blanket on his bed, and we complied.

His TV room is a work in progress, but he is choosing more things for it when we go out.  A string of paper lanterns shaped like stars hangs in the TV room.  A variety of paper lanterns, poufs and such hang from his ceiling…he had fun assembling them.  He is now the proud owner of kinetic sand in two colors, but he prefers the sand-colored one…the green, I assume, will come into play some other day.  I have arranged for his TV to get mounted on the wall early next week, and we will start buying balls for his ball pit little by little.  That balls for ball pits (and ball pits themselves!) are so pricey is baffling to us, but if it has to be done, it has to be done.  And, FYI, J gets a say in all this…

Getting J to use his say is another thing entirely.  The first thing that has to be broken is the pattern of echolalia.  Until he is willing to not just repeat the last thing he’s heard, and he starts exercising his right to comment, we’re circling the field and never really landing.  To achieve our goal of getting him to tell us requires a great deal of patience.  Inventiveness helps a great deal, too.  Sometimes I have to suggest things that I KNOW will get a resounding NO to actually get J to participate in picking something he likes.  Other times, his response is so immediate and spontaneous that it makes me want to dance.  Thankfully, this has yet to happen in front of anything wildly expensive…

If anything, this summer has taught me that next summer will not be easy.  That transition from being a student to being an adult that’s aged out of the system will be a rough one for all of us. Looking ahead I can tell things are not going to be as easy as I had hoped, and I am starting to make even more adjustments to my plans.  On Monday (because this would be the week when everyone takes advantage of the holiday observance on Friday to take their vacation) I will call the college to inquire about posting a part-time job for a student who wants to work with individuals on the Spectrum.  It won’t pay much, and the hours won’t be many, but J needs someone other than me to interact with several times a week.

My hands are full.  Even when I seem to be just sitting, I’m doing something.  J requires my attention and I am inclined to acquiesce.  Until we can figure out the proper path to follow, I am, as it were, “it.”  Yesterday morning I had to explain to Dada that, sadly, neither he nor TGG fully understand the concept of “spending time with J.”  TGG takes him to the gym everyday, but all the while he wears his headphones and checks in on his brother periodically.  I explained (ok, it was more of a rant) that J is already isolated enough, and just being present in the same room with him isn’t anywhere near enough to what he truly needs.  Yes, J enjoys going to the gym, but I know -because I’ve seen it- that some of his enjoyment is merely because he is noticed and included.  He needs a little bit more than that.

I can’t referee every event.  I can’t always offer suggestions and model behavior.  I will, at one point or another, be incapable of ALWAYS being there.  I am not trying to wash my hands off the whole thing, but it would be nice to know that I have the luxury of not fretting about how things are at home should I need to NOT be at home at any given moment.

Sometimes I really wonder what people think I do all day.  I think all primary care givers wonder this because people seem to not fully grasp the complexity of our role.  I have three siblings, all older than me; one calls periodically, but has learned that I won’t always be able to pick up the phone, or even to return the call the same day, the next day, that week.  Another has learned that the only safe way to interact with me (because we have butted heads quite violently all our lives) is to keep things strictly on e-mail.  The third…oh, the third………

The only calls that compel me to answer IMMEDIATELY and WITHOUT HESITATION are from people who live in this household, the school, the bus driver.  I will VERY LIKELY answer when my stepmom calls, and she understands why I don’t always have a chance to pick up…she has my dad (who is bedridden and entirely dependent on her) to care for so we’re on a similar routine.  Everything else can wait.  I will check messages whenever I’m done with whatever it is I’m doing when the phone rings and I can’t immediately answer.  I prioritize.  And, mind you, I don’t prioritize because I’m doing something banal.

You might say “oh, but you’re sitting there typing right now…that’s banal!”  Yes, and no.  This is cheaper than therapy, and I am sitting a few feet away from J’s TV room door because J wants me here.  I take advantage of these moments to file paperwork, balance checkbooks, pay bills, organize lists of things I need to do, research things I need to consider for J, for me, for the whole family.  The rest of the time, I’m busy. Genuinely busy, not “I don’t want to talk to you” busy.

Last night, in the middle of a dinner that took twice as long to cook because J decided to have a mini-meltdown in the middle of prep, this one sibling called.  We DON’T answer the phone during dinner.  Dinner is sacred to us.  Unless there’s an emergency, or we’re expecting something important to happen, we eat through the ringing of the phone…  Once we were done with our meal, I checked the message: this person feels “left out” because I talk to “so-and-so, and this other so-and-so.”  Why don’t I pick up the phone????

Anger bubbles up, and I have to control it.  Yes, I speak to so-and-so WHEN I HAVE THE TIME.  And this-other-so-and-so and I speak via text message which I’m using while I’m sitting here doing something else.  This one sibling makes it sound like I’m burning up the phone lines chatting my little fanny off about all sorts of crap that is completely trivial.

The bulk of my human conversations happens with people in my household.  The next layer of frequent conversation happens with my stepmom and people who work with J.  I am famously quiet around the neighbors.  I am famously reticent, and reserved.  Only the anonymity of this page allows me the comfort of venting my feelings.

The person who called last night has never met J.  Never.  A nephew that has never been met, a child that isn’t understood, an embodiment of only goodness knows what misconceptions about Autism that receives nary a nod of recognition except when it suits this person.  This is the same person who keeps suggesting I teach J Morse Code so he can communicate, and who doesn’t listen to my explanations as to why this is not practical.  Because I am the little sister, and I’ve obviously not altered in the over 20 years since we last clapped eyes on each other…

But he/she feels left out.  I am trying to figure out what my son’s life is going to be like, and he/she feels left out because I exchange some text messages or brief conversations with another sibling.

I am baffled enough by the complexities of J’s future to allow my bafflement about this particular bit of self-absorbed behavior to override my main mission.  I do, however, feel like writing a very angry letter…but that would be a waste of time I can spend doing something more productive than beating my head against that particular wall…

Focus.  I am now going to focus.  Pricing ball pit balls…wall mounts…researching the effects of going back up on the Risperdal…

Yeah…trivial stuff like that…

Slightly intimidated, but not defeated…

In a nutshell, we might have to go back to more med for J, but right now it’s wait-and-see.  I asked the doctor to let me ride the next four weeks and observe assiduously while taking detailed notes. I am sure, I told him, that we can work through this…

He said he trusts me.  That sort of scares me.  Either I am delusional and he is playing along to keep me calm, or HE is delusional and I am putting my faith in the wrong place.  Judging by how well J behaved today at what I expected to be a disastrous appointment, we might both be on the right track with this issue.

The truth is that I think I’ve been lazy.  Or maybe the word I’m looking for is complacent…I’m not sure at this point.  Maybe I’ve been both.  That’s the one drawback about stability and progress: we tend to rest on our laurels even as we say we’re not doing that.  I might have made a cushier nest of laurels than I originally intended…my bad!

This is the plan right now: we’re doing the TV room in what HGTV designers might call sensory-room feng-shui chic.  That is: the ball pit (of sorts) is going in, and the lighting is getting re-designed, and I’m mounting the TV and re-doing his shelving system.  The weighted blanket is a go.  Surround sound will be in place soon.  The purpose is to give him everything he probably wants (because he loves all these things) and we’ve been too dense to provide him with because (get this) we think he’s “too old” for that stuff.  He isn’t.  Just like he’s not too old for Dora the Explorer, Madeline and Disney Princesses, he’s not too old for a ball pit because I’d want one if I could get away with having it in my room.

His bedroom we will work on together.  Tomorrow (because it’s going to rain) we’re going to re-organize everything.  I am going to put a canopy over his bed, and I think this will go a long way to soothing him because he has always loved hiding in dark walk-in closets when he’s anxious.  If he wants a heavier bedspread, more pillows, we’ll get that squared away this weekend.  Because I know he loves his boxing gloves while still loving the freedom provided by not carrying them around, they are staying in his room, prominently displayed on his bed.  As I’ve done in the past, I’m going to make sure we have any type of wrist support he might think he needs at any given moment.

Yoga is another thing we’re doing.  We are trying anything and everything because J balks at first, but is game for it soon thereafter.  We’re trying it all.  We’re immersing ourselves in not going back on more med if we can help it, and it may be the stupidest, most ridiculously hopeful thing we’ve done in a long time, but we’re committed.

And scared…

We are scared…

Of course we are scared.  We’ve heard the growl and seen the SIB twice in two weeks.  We are, for the first time in five years, actually flummoxed about J’s behavior.  He was, as the doctor said today “SO stable…”

All we can do is plan, and go through a whole trial-and-error thing.  We might crash and burn spectacularly, but we’re not going down without trying to pull the nose up.  We’re trying in every possible, reasonable (ok, there might be some unreasonable tactics in there, but that’s why we’re creative people, right????) way to turn this thing around and put J in his “good” place.  Not necessarily his “happy” place because “happy” can be deceptive, but a good place…one that is conducive to what he needs to do and be.

That’s all I’ve got right now.  Well…and lists…lots of lists and notes.

Onwards, upwards…or something like it…

Ok, be A LITTLE intimidated…

Well, that was a meltdown.  A nice one, too.  And it started because we wouldn’t let J wear a sock on his hand.

When, I ask myself, was the last time he wore a sock on his hand????  Five years ago.

My jaw hits the floor.  Dada is pale.  We are, in a word, flabbergasted.

Is this regression?  Is this just him remembering?  Is this the beginning of another downward spiral?

“Well, we need to ask the doctor…,” Dada starts saying, and I have to remind him that tomorrow’s appointment is just J and his mother because there’s a trip to a facility two hours from here that cannot be altered, postponed, cancelled.  It’s just me and the kid who’s been confounding me all day.

I’m genuinely worried as I sit here feeling the acid reflux bubble up.

We have THREE large bandages on the hand, three small ones on the forehead.  The Proloquo has told us HURT and HAPPY.  What?  Are we suddenly John Cougar with the Hurts So Good????  The level of stress is pretty fancy right now…it’s got raisins in it, as Dorothy Parker would say.

The theories we are floating: maybe that little amount of med is not enough med and his body, six months later, has realized it; maybe this is a splinter cell of problems that have been building up; maybe he’s bored/tired/overwhelmed/lonely.

“Well, at least you’ll be at the doctor tomorrow…,” Dada says before I interject “yes, and it’s an outpatient visit to a place where they admit people…”

My shoulders are officially stiff and hurting.  My dinner is burning a hole in my esophagus.  It’s going to be a long night…

Don’t let the smell of regression intimidate you…

First it was “pull my sleeve down and cover my hand.”  I said NO and rearranged his shirt so it was resting properly and squarely on his shoulders.

A few hours later, a smiling, happy J came into the living room with a boxing glove in his hand.  He asked me to put it on him.  Same hand that he wanted covered with his sleeve.

I said NO in the same tone used when saying “silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!!!!”  He smiled and, slowly, made his way back to the third floor to put the glove in his room.

I decided the tack I will take is to keep his hands busy because idle hands and all that good stuff…

It’s still eleven days to ESY.  I think he’s bored.  I think he wants attention.  I am confused because he constantly kicks me out of his presence.  I am willing to try anything; whether it’s leaving him alone, checking on him every five minutes, taking walks when he least expects it, doing crafts, just sitting there…  I’ll try it.

I am aware that he is 20 years old.  I understand that he is not operating on the same system as I am.  I understand -especially after seeing Inside Out..go see it…it’s a must- that the little Mindy Kaling in him is probably taking over the control panel.  I’m even ok with his inner Lewis Black putting in an appearance.  I get the whole thing about a new improved, more complex control panel.  I understand that regression is normal.  I understand that unhappiness in small doses can be a good thing.  I understand that he cannot always do what I wish he would do.

Tomorrow we go to the psych for the first time in six months.  I was hoping to wave goodbye to the Risperdal, but now I’m not so sure…  To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper’s thoughts on gravity: Autism, thou art a heartless bitch!

Tomorrow is, as Scarlett O’Hara said, another day…

Live…travel…and learn…

We are back from our trip to D.C.  We are in one piece.  We are satisfied with the results of our journey.  This shouldn’t be construed as “it all went smoothly.”  First and foremost: J had fun. Second: we had fun.  Third: animals are not J’s thing.  I’ll get to the rest of that in a moment.  For our first family vacation in thirteen years, we did pretty darned well.

The kid who two years ago would eat only Ramen noodles and mac and cheese tried every single food item we ordered at restaurants.  He ate guacamole without picking out the “interesting” bits that he could see in it.  He ate his tacos as they were served: with lettuce and chopped up onions and chilies in them.  There was no turning down a meal, or a taste of someone else’s.  He tasted everything we offered him, and he ate all meals with gusto.

D.C. is a walking town.  None of us had ever been so we were going by the impression we got from maps.  Google Maps can be very alarming when you look at it…the distances, well, seem much longer than they really are.  Once I figured out that D.C. city blocks are not NY city blocks, all was well.  In no time we were navigating like pros…or as close to “like pros” as one can be on the first visit to anywhere.

Of course, quiet places to eat a meal (especially during tourist season) are few and far between.  We had two dinners that were overwhelmingly noisy, but J managed to focus on the purpose of our presence in the restaurants, and didn’t fret about the ridiculously loud noise levels.  Kudos to him.  We were pleasantly surprised!  The kid who wouldn’t sit through a meal in a restaurant a couple of years ago is now totally fine with having dinner at a crowded restaurant while Happy Hour is in full swing, or a loud group of diners is boisterously celebrating someone’s birthday nearby.

J loved the walking bits of our trip.  J loved the Metro.  Any hesitation we might have had about his willingness to descend into the subterranean landscape of a subway station were quickly assuaged.  In mere minutes we were surfacing at the Smithsonian station and trying to get our bearings.  First stop: Museum of Natural History.

And herein rears its ugly head the fly in our ointment…

The first look at the elephant in the Rotunda was enough to tell me we’d have to pick our battles in this particular location.  J was so impressed with the lifelike appearance of this particular pachyderm that he started backing away.  I took him aside and explained that the animals are not alive…  J’s shoulders relaxed slightly, and I started leading him towards the Mammals exhibit.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the feline that looks ready to pounce from above, and that’s when I realized J was digging his heels into the ground.  Nothing doing.  It was over right then and there even though I explained (over and over) that the animals were not alive.  I motioned for Dada and TGG to go ahead and walk around at their leisure while J and I did the best we could to look at things from strategic spots that kept him away from the actual exhibit.  We saw a lot of animal butts, and that was perfectly fine with me.  I was unwilling to force the issue if it meant J would be upset.  Mentally I scratched the Zoo off our list because, well, if dead animals are a problem, what will live ones do????

A leisurely walk around the butterfly garden outside of the museum helped J’s mood, and once more we plunged into the heat of the day to cross over to the Air and Space Museum.  We fared a little better there because it was cool, and because nothing looked like it was about to kill any living creatures.  J walked around at his own pace, navigating through the crowds that were desperately trying to beat the heat in of doors.  Dada is an “anything that flies” aficionado so he and TGG walked around going ooooh and aaaah while J and I slowly moseyed around and took short sit-down breaks on any available benches.

And then it happened.  The thing that hadn’t happened in such a long time happened.  Gloriously, obviously, publicly, shockingly, stunningly, sadly happened.  Ferdinand the Bull sat on that bee…J had a meltdown.  The crowds and the temperature and humidity that soared finally got to him.  Not only did J hit his head with his fists…he ROARED!  Leaving TGG behind, Dada and I escorted him out of the premises and to a shady area outside of the museum.  We texted TGG our location, and we tried to reason with a very overwhelmed J.  I asked what was wrong.  He roared again.  I told him that was rude.  He squealed.  I checked to see if something was hurting.  Everything was fine.  TGG found us and we briskly walked to the Metro station (in the wrong direction for a good fifteen minutes) while J kept saying GOOD MORNING and ANGRY and I kept telling him “it’s afternoon, and it doesn’t feel so good right now,” and “yes, of course I’m angry.”

Suddenly, for the first time in a long time, we were “those people” who dash out of a place because their autistic son is going ballistic.  I was mortified.  Yes, this was my first thought: we were doing SO WELL.  And then we became “those people” who stop for a brief conversation in the shade of a tree, and I’m the only one who’s talking while everyone’s trying to interrupt me: a) TGG had to make it about him and how he had freaked out because he couldn’t find us, b) Dada was too flustered and holding the map wrong, and c) J needs to use his iPad to tell me what he wants, needs, feels, or I can’t help!

By the end of those three minutes when we looked like the The Three Stooges (with yours truly playing Mo to the hilt,) we knew where the Metro station was and we turned in its direction.  I was having a hot flash on top of the anxiety of seeing J THAT upset.  As Dada purchased tickets for our return trip, an arm snaked around my shoulder and pulled me.  J was hugging me…squeeze-release-squeeze hugging while stroking my hair and saying ANGRY.  Shit.  I couldn’t be angry anymore.  I told him, as he kept squeezing me, that he needs to say what he wants, and I will do what he needs.

And then I realized it: J was hungry and thirsty.  That’s what it boiled down to…we had lost track of time and he needed sustenance.  We were entirely to blame for the meltdown at the museum.  What morons!!!!!

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We made adjustments to our sightseeing, our meals, and the way we handled J’s needs.  We learned a lot from this particular experience.  Remember, please, that we hadn’t traveled for leisure in thirteen years, and J was only seven when we last took a family vacation.  Things have changed a bit since then.

We hope to do it again next year.  We don’t know if we’re yet ready to fly anywhere, or how long we’d be able to stay if we go somewhere that requires a plane trip or two.  We’re learning again.  We’re opening a new book and seeing what’s in it, and we’re editing and correcting as we go along. We are willing to do this because we think it’s important that we keep learning.  J is obviously trying to figure things out…we’re doing this together.

Next time will be easier…

Lessons learned:

1)  There’s no such thing as packing too many snacks.  Hotel rooms have refrigerators…use them!

2)  If the only animals J feels comfortable with are the TOOB kind, stick to those.

3)  J will happily walk back from dinner with one of us while the other two go to do/see something that appeals to them.

4)  Two craft kits for four nights?  Are you nuts????  Next time take more books and more crafts.  If J wants to go back to the room, he will appreciate this.

5)  J doesn’t watch Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon OR Disney.  Use his Netflix or keep his favorite movies in his iCloud.

6)  U.S. History is too abstract for J so find other things to engage him.  Mix the familiar with the tourist-y and you’ll be fine.

7)  The Sofitel at Lafayette Square is an awesome hotel, and they will give you adjoining rooms if available.

8)  Oyamel, Mio, GCDC, Black Iron Pizza are great places for J to eat.  Service is great, food is delicious.

9)  Road trips are fine, but we really need to think long and hard about the possibility of air travel…hmmmmmmmmm

School’s out for summer…one year to “school’s out forever.”

The big calendar I prepared to map out the summer months goes a long way to getting J ready for school to be out.  That last week is always a lulu if he doesn’t yet quite grasp that we’re in the last few days of “going on the yellow bus.”  His first encounter with the calendar is always tricky, but once he realizes that summer school looms ahead like a promise, he’s fine.

The D.C. landmarks are something he hasn’t yet figured out, but tonight we’re having a family meeting to lay out our plan for this trip.  I have learned all the necessary sign language (TRIP, HOTEL, VACATION, and so on) to help us along the way, and I think it will all be fine once we sit with the map and make sure J understands we’re not MOVING…we’re just TRAVELING.

This is one of our problems: we seldom take vacations, and we’ve only really traveled for total, utter leisure ONCE.  Every other road trip we’ve undertaken has involved some sort of “event.”  We move; we drive somewhere to see a university and then we move there; we drive somewhere for a job interview, and then we don’t move there.  We’ve only just taken ONE totally leisurely trip in our entire life as a family.  We went to San Francisco in 2002, and J LOVED it!  J’s totally a “let’s walk around this town” sort of person, and when we returned (for a job interview/let’s pretend we’re just having fun) two years later, J was even more pumped about it.  Since then, we’ve had moving trucks and many miles to cover, and the madness that ensues with relocation regardless of how carefully laid-out our plans are.  So…there’s no blaming J for eyeing the calendar with wariness when he sees a picture of our car, and several days of a town that doesn’t look like this one.

There will be several more changes to the PECS board before we leave.  We will be meeting my niece, nephew and his wife for dinner our first night there.  I have not seen my niece since 1989, and I haven’t seen my nephew since, possibly, 1990.  TGG has met them several times before, but Dada and I haven’t seen them for a very long time, and J has never met them.  I am hoping this goes well…

The biggest change to our PECS board, though, is the appearance of J’s nephew.  TGG has mended fences (there WAS some maternal interference and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d been chomping at the bit to get in there) with his baby’s mother, and we now have a good relationship with our non-traditional extended family.  Upon meeting his nephew (a sign we had to learn,) uncle J (another sign we had to learn) promptly kissed the top of his head and thus anointed him as a person he doesn’t mind having around.

The baby, of course, found his big, jolly, hat-wearing, Slinky-carrying uncle somewhat fascinating.  I am sure that once he becomes acquainted with J’s TV room, uncle J will promptly become the coolest uncle on the face of the planet.  J, on the other hand, will have to adjust to the fact that there is a smaller, younger person who will command our attention and require our help to get things done.  At the age of one, June Bug is less capable than J at the age of 20…

TGG’s room now features things it didn’t have before: a small travel-crib, baby toys, baby clothes, diapers…  His car has a baby seat.  There are baby bottles, spoons and bowls in the kitchen cupboard.  And there’s humility.  The same guy who last year didn’t understand why being a father matters melted like butter in the hot sun of the desert when he first met his kid.  We have taken like ducks to water to being grandparents.

So as you can see we are starting an entirely new stage in our family life.  We now have relatives. We now get visits from little June Bug and everything seems to have changed.  When we go shopping, we buy things for June Bug.  When we think of future vacations, we think of June Bug.  When we talk about family, we talk about Favorite Girl and June Bug.  Favorite Girl…since she’s not a daughter in-law, she needs a title, and I flatly refuse to refer to her as Baby Mama.  We’ve all agreed on kindness and respect, and we’ve all agreed that June Bug goes first always.  J’s needs and special traits come into play, but I think we all understand that, too.  I mean, there wasn’t really any balking at the “Happy Bitchday” he wrote on June Bug’s birthday card, and it doesn’t surprise me because these are really very kind people.  We made more of a fuss when we noticed than they did.

In other news, the first batch of soaps J made was a success in some ways, and not-quite a success in others.  He needs to add more moisturizer, that’s for sure, and he needs to really spray those bubbles on the surface away, but everyone was impressed with how beautiful and fragrant they are, and how nice the packaging is.  It’s a learning process, and J is learning and tweaking and putting an effort in…  We couldn’t possibly ask for more.

And so ‘summer’ is happening.  The calendar tells us that we have to wait for the official date to call it that, but it’s happening.  It’s here.  J’s on vacation and accepting of this development.  We are ready.  We have suitcases to pack, addresses to plug into the car’s GPS, pictures to take, feet to abuse by walking more than we would under normal circumstances.  Life is good.  Maybe next year we’ll start ‘summer’ -and the rest of J’s non-student life- by taking a bigger, better, longer, more exotic trip, but for the time being this will do…a three hour drive, a nice hotel, and some sightseeing for the people who haven’t seen sights for fun in thirteen years…

Can’t wait!!!