We go on a family vacation…

Spoiler alert: we survive.

On a sunny Saturday morning, and after lengthy and detailed preparations that would qualify me to participate in organizing D-Day (if I’d had a past life,) we hopped in our car and drove east to D.C.

J packed enough stuff to stay a month.  He wore all of it.  His suitcase was heavier and better equipped than any other suitcase I’ve ever seen.  At some point during his childhood he must’ve heard me say “always pack more underwear than you think you’ll need” because he only left enough underwear at home to use while his post-vacation laundry was being done.

This was the very first time we took a trip without TGG.  We were cautiously optimistic about how this might turn out, but we were also ready to graciously accept defeat and head home early.  A Saturday-to-Wednesday didn’t seem significant when we originally planned it, but once we got to our hotel we started wondering if we’d bitten off more than we should chew.  Notice I didn’t say “could.”

We timed our drive in such a way that we arrived at the hotel shortly after check-in time.  We suspect that his hotel has only one set of adjoining rooms because we got the same ones we were in the last time.  This is not a bad thing because J was familiar with the set up, and even looked around as if to say “ah, yes…MY room.”

It seems that we are the bringers of heat waves.  Our trip last year was in June, and it was pretty toasty.  Our first day this time around was very much in the same vein.  We have decided that we will plan for either earlier or later in the year the next time around.  Maybe that way we will have cooler weather, or we will bring a much needed spike in temperatures to the area.

We walked all over D.C.  J was so happy to be out and about!  Of course, I took both iPads, and I bought him a set of headphones that worked a charm.  September is a lot less crowded, and we managed to experience things that we had to skip last time.  Last year J had problems with the crowds at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but this year we walked around the Smithsonian American History Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.  I made sure that one of the iPads was fully charged up when we left the hotel, and then I’d swap it for the other one as it reached 10%  charge.  This allowed us to be out for hours, and J could drown out the noises that tend to cause him anxiety.

We had Sunday brunch at the very crowded but very much worth your while Founding Farmers.  We had a reservation for ten a.m. and, should you want to go there, get a reservation because the lines can be long, and the wait can be exhausting.  After a hearty meal, we set out towards the National Mall, and ended up circling around the Tidal Basin and sitting for a while at the Jefferson Memorial.  There is a very friendly squirrel there.  This, and birds, were the only living creatures that gave J pause.  The first day he was a little overwhelmed by the birds, but by the second day he was much better.  I don’t know if he just thought to himself that they were as much a part of the environment as the buildings and people.

On Monday we made our way to Dupont Circle and explored a couple of bookstores that we had been hoping to visit last year.  J had fun walking around.  He also liked eating a mid-morning snack at Panas, a small place where they make delicious Argentinian empanadas. Tuesday was museum day, and J was relaxed and happy in spite of the seeming not-very-J theme of the day’s schedule.

I will now take a short moment to tell you about the one fly in our ointment.  We took him to dinner too early on Saturday.  I had mistakenly thought he was more tired than hungry so we went for tapas at a fairly early hour.  In the middle of the night he was grumpy and disruptive, and we had to get out of our bed to deal with his anger.  He went through several packages of bandaids, and he was complaining in spite of the snacks I gave him.

At around four in the morning I had to sit him down and tell him “these are all the bandaids you have left.  If you use them all up, we will have to go home because I didn’t come here to buy you bandaids.  When we get up, we will go to breakfast.  If you want to go home then, fine…it would be nice, though, if you told us why you’re unhappy so we can help you.”  Dear reader, that was the end of the bandaids issue.  If I tell you that we came home with the packages of bandaids I showed him in those early morning hours, would you believe me?  You should.  He didn’t ask for any again.  After this incident, J was very communicative about his needs and wants, and we ended up being thoroughly impressed with his behavior.

Now, the other thing I want to tell you about: we are SO GLAD we have made a habit of setting the table each evening and eating together!  We took J to several very nice restaurants, and it was wonderful to see how well he navigated the sea of glasses, cutlery, trays with bread, etc.  I know it sounds snobbish, but we wanted to take him somewhere nice so he would see that all the effort he puts here pays off.  We took him to dine at a lovely restaurant called Casa Luca.  We made an early reservation and it was wonderful!  J ordered the gnocchi, ate his bread after dipping it in olive oil, tried the prosciutto…  We then walked back to the hotel.  It was awesome!

For lunch on Tuesday we went to Rosa Mexicano, and he loved it!  The tapas at Jaleo were out of this world, and they had his favorite sausage: chistorra.  If you’ve never had chistorra and you see it somewhere, try it.   Dip it in something sweet like honey…J highly recommends it.  We made sure we took him to places that might be crowded and noisy, and the headphones did the trick.  We didn’t do this out of meanness; we simply wanted to show him that we cannot always go somewhere where he will have the absolutely perfect conditions.  He adjusted very well.

We drove home on Wednesday and, after a one-hour delay in very slow traffic on the interstate, we made it back with plenty of time for J’s sitter to come see him.  We had her over for dinner and he was very happy to start swinging back into his routine.  The rest of the time until today has been dedicated to settling back into the everyday drudgery that is our life.  He has been happy.

So that’s the recap of the Great Family Vacation of 2016.  We hope to repeat it next year.  We know now that J will happily go along with plans as long as we address the issues that can cause him anxiety.  I cannot get rid of birds, but I can make small adjustments that will make him feel comfortable, and help him realize we care and are trying to help him.

On to other news and comments tomorrow.  For today I’m basking in the glow of a successful trip with our son.  🙂

 

A tremendously huge milestone…

Consider, please, that J is 21.  He is signed up for Selective Service, he can buy alcohol (which he doesn’t like,) porn (which I’m sure he’d enjoy)  and cigarettes (the smell of which he finds disgusting.)  He can go into the movie theater and watch any movie he wants…no restrictions.

And now, drumroll, he can tie his shoes.

Is it done prettily?  No.  Is it done quickly?  No.  Is it done without an intense look of concentration?  No.  But it’s done.

Not bad, I think, for a couple of people that the world assumes spend their whole day twiddling their thumbs.  No, dagnabbit, we get stuff done…and that stuff, right now, is shoe-tying.

Don’t ask me how it happened.  I’m pretty sure that it was as close to Eliza Dolittle surprising Professor Higgins by properly pronouncing and enunciating her way through “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

First one shoe…then another.  After years of  trying and trying, and failing and failing….

You know how people say “in the end it was anti-climatic?”  It wasn’t.  It really, really wasn’t.  Two days running, it still isn’t.  We actually celebrate it every time he does it.  It’s almost up there with when he finally got potty-trained at the age of eight.  It’s a big, big, BIG deal.

I am sure that people think we do very little when we’re here all day.  I know this because people often complain that I don’t answer their calls, e-mails, text messages, and don’t have “time to hang out” with them.  I am tempted to do an auto-reply on my e-mail and text, change our voicemail greeting, and have a t-shirt made that reads “trust me, we’re doing important stuff.”

Life sometimes reminds us that we’re not just running on idle.  Life sometimes throws us a little gift like this miraculous shoe-tying development.  I would say we’re not worthy, but I firmly believe that we are because we try, people; we really really REALLY try.

In the middle of everything else (the tense negotiations about the PECS board, the echolalia that drives us to distraction) a little ray of “we haven’t been wasting our time” shines through, and J achieves something that truly makes him more independent.  And he is proud of himself.  This is not just about us not having to sit on the floor with his foot on our leg as we tie his shoes…this is about J being able to do a little more for himself.

Many of my friends announce their children’s achievements on Facebook.  I think that’s tremendously cool.  Moving away from home to start college, joining this or that organization, winning this or that competition.  Even those friends who have kids with disabilities share their successes, and -believe me- I rejoice with them.  I don’t feel envy, but I do have moments when I wonder “what would have J done if…”

I snap out of those.  I know he’s doing a lot.  I am aware of the effort he puts into everything he does.  I am tremendously proud of him (even when it’s a “I have to say this X number of times to quell my anxiety) and I tell him all the time.  He knows the sign for PROUD, and when I tell him I’m proud of him he smiles broadly.  J knows.  J is aware.  J accepts the recognition, and he values the time we spend working because he knows he’s going to figure something useful out in the end.

It’s not that we don’t get frustrated.  We do.  Some days can feel long.  Some hours spent working on a seemingly menial skill can feel even longer.  We have moments when we both get upset and have to take a breather from each other.  There are times when we set aside whatever it is we are trying to master (we…yes…not a royal we…both of us are trying to master it…he the learning, and I the teaching) so we can try again later…maybe much later…both of us refreshed and renewed.

We enter September with a new skill learned.  It’s a biggie.  We are thrilled.  We are thankful.  We feel empowered.  On to the next thing!  Bring it on!  We can do this!!!!

Of course, we’ll have to stop dancing little random jigs to get on with whatever comes next, but -for now- let us bask in the glow of the shoe-tying.

 

 

A stumble down memory lane…

Summer is winding down, and I have to start thinking of all the prep for colder months.  You read right: I’m organizing the garage again.

Life is just an accumulation of stuff, isn’t it?  For some reason, I can send along clothes and shoes we no longer wear.  I can hand-down dishes, pots and pans, small appliances.  I have even, in my mission to downsize and pare down, passed along holiday decor that doesn’t make sense for us anymore.  In the middle of that is left of all that sits a plastic crate I can never really address fully…

I opened it today.  I admit to you that I was looking for old letters my dad wrote to me when he was still talking to me, and before e-mail became his medium.  I found, among other things, letters and cards from people that, for the life of me, I have no idea who they are.  I found greeting cards, postcards, notes and post-its.  And I found dad’s letters.

I read everything else, but those I simply put aside and tied with a rubber band.  I will deal with them later.  I can’t do it right now.

Instead I focused on the kids’ old papers from school.  Drawings, scribblings, certificates of recognition, doodles.  I found all of J’s comm books from his first year of school.  I found notes the teacher sent attached to hand-over-hand work he’d done.  We were all so excited!

I found school pictures that document J’s development from a cute waif-like creature to the strapping young man he is now.  I found the first one with a hint of mustache.  I found the first one where he was absolutely terrified of the camera and is cowering.  I found the one where he agreed to wear a long-sleeve polo shirt, and the one where his hair did the Alfalfa thing.

I framed three of the photos and showed it to J.  He smiled at himself.  It took him a moment to recognize the skinny kid with the bright mile and the spiked up hair, but he knows it him.  And he knows these are school pictures, and he knows he’s not going back. Yesterday, in preparation for our short vacation trip in a few weeks, I went looking for a backpack I can use, and J didn’t want me to get one…because it’s the sort of thing that reminds him of school.

We have started introducing the subject of this trip we’re taking.  The place will be familiar, and we’ve chosen the same hotel we used the last time.  Our itinerary will be simple.  We will see what we really, really, REALLY want to see first, and then -when J decides he’s done- we’ll follow his lead.  We’ve been researching places where he might enjoy eating, and we’re packing our comfortable walking shoes.  We will be ready for whatever adventure J is inclined to pursue, and for whatever he’s not.

Yesterday he wanted to go to the movies.  This was a slightly tricky proposition because J is not the kind of individual who can go to watch the same movie several times AT THE THEATER.  At home he can watch the same thing over and over and over and over, but the theater is usually a one-shot deal.  Since we’d been to Kubo last week (have you seen it yet?) we were at a loss.  Our calendar reminded us that The King and I would be showing at the local theater so off we went to watch it.

If you’ve read this blog before you know that J is a fan of musicals.  Most of them, of course, he was experienced at home, and we all know that’s just not the same thing.  Yesterday he got to watch Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr on the big screen.  It was a treat for him.  He was so happy!  Not only are the songs familiar, but he could see all the details much more clearly.  I have to confess that we had a wonderful time, too.  I am, after all, the girl who understood romance from seeing Yul Brynner reach for Deborah Kerr’s waist before twirling her around the floor with careless abandon.  (Yes…I sighed out loud and, says Dada, I squeaked…)

Today we are in “I have a cold” mode, and I think it’s more a matter of “I want to sit on the couch and be cuddly with you, mother” than anything else.   The weather, though, HAS started changing and J now wants his flannel sheets when he makes his bed, and he has plugged in his electric throw.  He hasn’t turned it on yet, but it’s ready just in case.  Regardless of the temperature outside, he feels a change in the air, and our resident chipmunk running around gathering food is a clear indication that summer is winding down.

So it’s back to the garage and the bins for me.  And looking for a backpack or such is necessary, too.  Post-school life goes on and we are happily realizing that we’re all moving forward…some us limping…some of us bouncing…but forward is that way, and that’s the way we’re going…

 

The patience of J…

I have to say, my friends, that we are impressed with our son.  He has, somehow, managed to learn how to patiently wait while one or another of his parents runs endless errands.  Yesterday it was my grand tour of doctors’ offices, and J spent the morning with Dada, running errands and getting a treat by having a sit-down breakfast at a diner, and going to the library.  The rest of the morning was rather dull; it included going to pay taxes, and stopping by Dada’s office.  It was almost noon when we arrived at my last appointment.  J waited patiently, and Dada dozed off next to him.

The morning, after a brief eruption involving J’s confusion about when his sitters will be coming over to cook dinner for him, went smoothly.  We understand that J wants to hang out with people closer to him in age, but insisting on seeing them Tuesday when they can come on Wednesday isn’t going to make things easier for anyone.  So we had a brief, and intense, back and forth about this, but we managed to make it through unscathed.  (And my blood pressure was actually quite nice when measured at the first doctor’s office, and positively picture-worthy at the second.)

The rest of the day went by quietly.  Dada returned to work, J relaxed in his TV room, and I fell asleep on the couch until J gently nudged me because his ESP (or his hypersensitive hearing) told him the timer for his afternoon snack had arrived.  The only out-of-the-ordinary activity was his desire to get his band-aids on, but I know that was because a) he’d been upset about the sitters being scheduled for the next night, and b) it had been a long morning.

Today he is happy.  He was up very early yesterday (because he knew we were going to the doctors,) but today he was up a little later and happily went back to bed when I said “we’re just going to have coffee so Dada can go to work.”  Big smile, thumbs up, lights out…  He didn’t emerge until nearly eight.

Of course, after having enough blood drawn to alarm the biggest chicken shit that ever lived (namely me!,) the doctor ran all sorts of tests from every angle possible.  The conclusion?  Ah, my friends…it’s fibromyalgia.  Thank goodness it’s not SLE, or MS, or MG, or RA, or ALS…not that the pain I’m often in isn’t an absolute mess for me, but I can deal with this.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a “pill” person.  It’s not that I don’t love medical science.  Au contraire, my friends…I trust doctors.  Some doctors, of course, are better than others, and they actually take the time to listen to what is going on, and why you’re concerned.  Other doctors are a little less invested, and it’s harder to communicate with them.  I got lucky this time around, and they are being very exhaustive about everything they’re checking.

For starters, the iron level in my blood is quite alarming.  Or it WAS before I started taking iron supplements twice a day.  When I say “alarming” I mean “the specialist called the clinic so my PCP would see me immediately!”  They’re poking me everywhere.  No stone is being left unturned…no part of my body is being ignored.  The anemia was bad enough that they have to rule out internal bleeding so they’re doing every test imaginable to determine if that’s a problem.  By mid-October we will know if there are any major issues that should be surgically addressed.

In the meantime, we keep going.  I take the iron.  I eat well.  I exercise, and I go about my business.  I’ve been told, quite kindly by a doctor closer to me in age, that I need to be nicer to myself.  I could tell she wasn’t scolding me.  I could tell she knows.  She knows about J.  She told me that fibromyalgia is not uncommon among primary caregivers for elderly parents, sick spouses, disabled children.  She told me that we often put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own, and our bodies seem to hyper-react to this.  There are pills, she said, but you don’t look like a pill person, and I think you want to work on making it better through other means.

She’s right.  This thing (that, thankfully, now has a name) will stick around for a very long time, and I have to learn how to deal with it as best suits our situation rather than try to hide it behind a pill.  Maybe, somewhere down the line, that will change, but for now this is the way it goes.

I will get my exercise when J gets his exercise, and I will take my breaks while J relaxes.  I will stop doing EVERYTHING as quickly as I can, and I will focus on doing what I can when it’s reasonable.  I will take walks, read, do the chores, work with J on the things that J needs to work on, and let J do what he wants to do independently.  Dada and I want to get old.  We are no longer young, but we are not “old” yet…and we want to make sure we transition into being elderly in the best way possible.

Oh, it’s not going to be easy.  I don’t think I’m wired for concerted idleness.  I grew up among women who would sit quietly doing other chores as one of them read the paper out loud.  The household of my childhood was a household of productivity that, to the hustle and bustle of the outside world, looked slow and dull.  I don’t have to move a mountain a day, but I am used to constant activity that yields significant results without creating a whirlwind of noise and chaos.

I will try to be better.  I have promised myself this.  I want to feel better.  I really do.

So…here we go.  Let’s be nicer to ourselves.  We DO do a lot.  And J, who has learned patience, can maybe help me learn that I have to be patient with myself when I cannot do all I would like to…

Ah…the weekend…

I have never claimed to have this whole thing figured out, but on Friday I pretty much kicked ass.  That is: I managed to take J to the movies, lunch and shopping without a major incident, and without regretting that I don’t make a habit of carrying a flask full of hooch with me.

On Tuesday J reorganized his PECS board to reflect a trip to the movies on Friday.   Then he switched to “watching a movie at home.”  This happened at least ten times over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, and I had to -very quickly- research WHAT movie, and when. I settled on Kubo and the Two Strings, and even showed him the trailer on You Tube.  As is my habit, I prepared for this possible outing by over-preparing.

I had money, a cab booked with plenty of time, clothes picked out, and a timeline that would make synchronized swimming look like disoriented ducks trying to swim out of a bowl of noodle soup.

I wanted to make sure that this would happen because J insisted (even when he was changing his mind,) and I used the expression “I PROMISE!”  He raised his eyes at that.  Goes to show how often I unequivocally promise that something will happen.  I usually say “we will try,” “weather permitting,” “if the opportunity arises,” “it is quite possible,” “we’ll see if that’s a possibility.”  This time, my friends, I made a solemn vow, and I wasn’t (under any circumstances) going to break my promise.

So after changing his mind, and assuming that I was all bluster and no filibuster, J was pleasantly surprised when I told him (at precisely 11:25 per my schedule) that we were getting ready to leave for the movies.  By 11:35 we were headed out the door to wait for the cab at the complex’s leasing office and, as I had requested, we were notified via text that our cab was running a little behind so it would be a while before we got picked up.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over time is that you book cabs to arrive with plenty of time for your outing, and that way you won’t be disappointed if they’re running late.  J, who was impressed that I was this committed, patiently sat annoying anyone within earshot with his Proloquo and I WANT TO GO TO THE MOVIES, I WANT POPCORN, I WANT A SODA, I WANT CANDY.  When the cab arrived I think people danced around why taking shots of whisky.

We made it to the mall with plenty of time to go to lunch.  I’m not big on going to lunch at the mall, but I figured since J had done it with his classmates, and he no longer has classmates, it would be fun to see that those outings are still possible.

When we walked into the Chinese buffet, the lady at the counter addressed J by asking “two for lunch?”  He turned to me and handed me the iPad.  I explained that, yes, we would both be having lunch.  We ordered our drinks, and sat there for a moment before I realized that J was looking at me like I’m the dumbest person in the world.   I asked what was wrong, and he rolled his eyes and pointed to the buffet.  Ah…the lady who never goes to lunch at the mall didn’t know that you just get up, grab a plate, and serve your food.  He patiently led me through the buffet, and we sat down to eat.

From there we went to Old Navy.  J loves Old Navy.  He knows how to SAY Old Navy.  He asks to go to Old Navy.  He was so happy when he saw they had the pajama pants he loves that he let out a whoop.  I don’t know if other people get excited when they get Old Navy Bucks, but J was in seventh heaven…he handed them to me like they were a sure-fire winning lottery ticket.

We made it to the theater on time.  J ordered his snacks, handed his rewards card over, and off we went to watch Kubo and the Two Strings.  There were only six people in the theater.  This is good because we were comfortable, but it’s sad because it’s truly the best animated movie we’ve seen this year.  J loved it.  Not only was he happy that I kept my promise, he was thrilled that he liked the movie we went to watch.  He was so happy that he didn’t even mind that he only got a medium soda and popcorn, and that I ate half of his M&Ms.

After the movie we walked to Target, and bought the things we needed for the weekend.  Dada picked us up when he was done with work.  We headed home, and J had a happy, lazy smile on his face.  He was happy to be home and his new pajama pants for the rest of the evening.

On Saturday, however, he was a little less patient with us.  I’m sure the fantastic outcome of Friday went to his head, and he was expecting another solemn vow, but I had to say “we have cheese at home,” and “you are NOT having TWO hot dogs from Five Guys.”  We were not friends for a bit, but we managed to make peace without me losing my foothold on “I’m the mother, darnit!!!”

I know a lot of you are probably thinking “this is no big deal, lady!  We take our kids places all the time, and it’s not a huge production.”  Well, people, I don’t drive.  I am the crappiest, most unsafe, anxious driver ever, and I reserve my driving for “a life must be saved and it’s in my hands!!!!”  J also is used to getting to the movies via Dada or, formerly, TGG.  Going alone with me hadn’t happened in a very long time, and I believe TGG was with us then.  J was also significantly smaller, younger and lighter, and I could handle his squirming, screaming, thrashing, tantrum-throwing body a lot better.

So, Saturday was more of a low point, but Friday was amazing.  And I’m proud of us.  J knows that school has started for everyone, and seeing that life goes on outside that context is awesome for him.  We went to the movies…just J, Slinky and I with an iPad.  And  it was great.

 

It keeps you (sorta) running…

J isn’t an athletic sort.  I think anyone who sees his hefty frame, and watches him walk (gambol?) to the mailbox can tell that he’s more awkward than not.  His toes turn slightly in, and he doesn’t necessarily keep pace with anyone who walks with him.  Neither can anyone keep pace with him.  There’s a bit of a skip, and a bit of a sway.  He looks joyful when he’s walking, but he doesn’t look athletic.

J only actually runs (the proper definition of “run”) when there’s some sort of thing that freaks him out; dragonflies, moths, butterflies, dogs, birds, or any other imagined threat will make him break into a trot, canter or gallop.  There isn’t, let’s face it, a single chance in this world that he will ever excel in track-and-field events.  He cannot keep up a proper pace, and his breathing is laced with laughter and humming.  He sometimes runs out of breath and coughs, all while smiling broadly and laughing.

J running is reminiscent of the screaming boy in Robin Hood: Men In Tights, or Phoebe Buffay jogging in Friends.

As you all know, if you’ve been reading this, J is a fan of using his elliptical machine while watching musicals.  I have to leave the garage because this is a thing he likes to do by himself.  Whether he’s watching Guys and Dolls, The Sound of Music, My Fair LadyOklahoma!, Gigi, South Pacific, or The King and I, I am not allowed to burst in and sing while he’s working out.  I get a firm (but broadly smiling) BYE!  While out on our walks, I am his personal jukebox, and I take (of course) requests, but while he’s exercising…nope…not allowed.

J alternates his elliptical machine workout with his Wii Fit.  This, my friends, has been tricky.  A) The Wii Fit isn’t smart enough to know that it’s dealing with a person who doesn’t understand some of the instructions, B) J has trouble fulfilling some of the requirements of the correct form for the exercises, and C) running was something we had to do with him whether we wanted to or not.

Ah, yes…aging is not easy, friends.  Aging after you were an extremely active youth who had very little respect for all the fine mechanisms within one’s body is a pain in the ass.  Our knees (oh, our knees!) creak, crack, snap, squeak, and make us yelp.  There are days that, as with life in general, easier than others.  On those days, we are as bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy as Tigger himself.  Other days are laced with groaning and dread at the thought of running.

It was on such a day, not that long ago, that J insisted on running with the Wii Fit, and I had to accept that, unless the Wii Fit was the thing to use, exercising wouldn’t happen.  After slathering myself with Tiger Balm (which promises to become the fragrance that my body exudes as I age further) I told J “we’re going to figure out how to run with this thing.”

When I say “figure out how to run” I really mean it.  J, left to his own devices, will get the Mii to stand there while the clock keeps time, and every other Mii in Wii Fit Island passes him while looking over a shoulder.  So teaching J to “run” (something we all basically take for granted) had to be done.  Stability, something to anchor him, was the key.  The first time (after the Tiger Balm and some Tylenol,) I ran next to him as he held on to…drumroll, please…a stepladder!

Look, it’s not the most gracious running you’ve ever seen.  It’s nowhere near a cheetah, a gazelle, or Usain Bolt.  The pace continues to be choppy and less than consistent, but now J runs with the Wii Fit, and he listens to his music while watching his Mii being waved at by his relatives’ Miis.  The musical selections are eclectic: some days he starts out with Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5, and works his way through Christina Aguilera’s What a Girl Wants, and sometimes he’s bouncing around to Todd Rundgren, The Spice Girls (don’t tell him I told you that,) Beck, The Cars…  He started running for five minutes, and now he’s up to 30 minutes.  He covers about five miles in that time.  He sweats and drinks lots of water.  He laughs as I do the chores in the kitchen and dining room, or take care of the plants in the driveway.

Like I said: not the most elegant runner in the planet, but he works at being fit.  He knows he’s doing better than we (the old, creaky people) are doing in that department.  He actually stands on the doorway and giggles when he sees us doing our run in the evening before we cook dinner.  He peeks in on us, and shakes his head as if saying “that’s all you’ve got???  HA!”  And off he goes to set the table for dinner, or to get things lined up for dinner prep.  J will never be thin, or graceful.  J will always go into interpretive dance when telling me if he wants to do the elliptical or the Wii Fit.  Saying RUN sounds more like “WUHN,” but I can tell from his arm and leg movements what he means: expansive back and forth with deeply bent knees means elliptical and musical, and a quick back and forth of close-to-the-chest arms, and tiny, quick steps means Wii Fit and iPod.

We are, like just about everyone else on the planet, following the Olympics, but not with the TV…we know who has medaled by reading the news and following the medal count.  We know the greatest athletes in the world are out there achieving great things.   And then there’s Robel Kiros Habte, the Ethiopian swimmer who has received attention for being the least Michael Phelps‘-like swimmer in the competition.  Like Florence Foster Jenkins, he is probably the best example of doing what you do because you love it, because you want to, because you have a right to be there with everyone else.

Not everyone will live up to what they see in Michael Phelps.  THAT is why he IS Michael Phelps.  How long did it take for Michael Phelps to outdo Mark Spitz?  The thing is that the chubby kid, the uncoordinated kid, the awkward kid, the clumsy kid, the asthmatic kid, the kid who is afraid of water have as much right to dream, and maybe their dream won’t be to BE Michael Phelps, but rather to BE there, too.

So, yeah, J runs…sort of.  He doesn’t win medals outside of our home, our garage, our milieu (limited as it is.)  But he runs.  He didn’t before.  He does now.  You do what it takes, and you should be thrilled when it works out.  I know we are.

We can do this your way, or we can do this the right way…

J has come a long, long way.  There’s no arguing that point.  I see it every day, and I can attest to the fact that leaps and bounds are the measure for his progress.

That, however, doesn’t mean he’s not human, and it certainly doesn’t mean he won’t try to get his way if he thinks it’s possible.  But, heaven help me, I am the mother and I get to call some of the shots around here.  Not too many shots because I respect the fact that he can choose like any ol’ Tom, Dick or Harry.  I do, however, take out my thick marker and draw the random line here…or there…or maybe over there…

Many years ago, when Dada and I were choosing to make our lives OUR LIFE, we agreed that it was crucial (as we embarked in co-parenting these extraordinary children of ours) to not forget what it was like to be whatever age they were at any given point.  So, very often, the urge to punt a child over a balcony translated to “I remember being nine, and THAT thrilled about Christmas morning,” or “I remember being sixteen and wanting my license SO BAD!!!!”  With J, of course, the game is a little more complex…

We have in our midst a 21 year-old with a fully-grown body, and the sliding-scale emotional age that is par for the course in his situation.  He can be tremendously cool about some things, and he can be five and on a sugar high about others.  When the 21 year-old body (with the goatee and the deep voice) reacts with the thought process of a five year-old, well, it can be interesting.

J gets overexcited about things.  He hasn’t yet figured out how to react.  Sometimes, when he’s extremely happy, he goes into SIB, and all the while he is telling you how happy he is, and how much he loves you.  The strategy is now to control the SIB until I can get him to sit down and focus on telling us how he feels, and why.

This sounds a lot easier than it is.  We are, after all, also human, and we get frustrated with the brief spats that arise when J is overstimulated with something we’ve yet to identify.  But we’re getting there.  We’re figuring it out.

J has realized that school is about to start.  Anywhere you go there are reminders of the school year that is about to start, and we know he understands that it doesn’t include him.  That there would be a hint of nostalgia, some regret, a tinge of oh-man-why-not-me, and a definite undercurrent of “crap, I’m stuck at home” is totally understandable.  We know that is playing a part in the minor eruptions that take place from time to time.

The calendar is, for the first time since 1999, completely bare of school-related notes.  The only thing highlighted are the home-game Saturdays for WVU, and the days when parades and other activities might snarl traffic beyond all manageable proportions.  Friday is move-in day…we’re doing our grocery shopping/Friday outing today.  A) The store shelves won’t be bare, and B) we won’t have to deal with crowds.

My dad was a ham radio operator.  I remember sitting next to him as he gently turned the dials on all his equipment, seeking the signal he needed, wanted.  Sometimes the slightest movement would make him lose that signal, and he’d patiently go back and lean forward to listen for a voice (garbled though it might be,) or a bit of Morse code.  Even when I couldn’t make out what was being said, he would smile and feel satisfied that that was as good as it would get, and it was what he needed at the time, and he’d jump in and participate in whatever conversation was going on…

I’m taking that lesson and I’m running with it.  I turn the dial gently, and I listen carefully, leaning forward to get a better idea of what is happening.  I do the best with the signal I get, and I jump in and do what needs to be done.

Every single day.

 

Patience for pancakes…

This time last year we were gearing up for the start of J’s last-school-year-EVER.  We were hoping to get him back in the groove of going to bed early enough to be ready to get up bright and early on school days.  Suffice it to say we’re no longer facing that problem.  Getting up at 6:15 is a tremendous luxury we will not be able to afford much longer (other people still will generate school day traffic, of course,) but right now we’re positively loving the prospect of not being OUTSIDE at 6:15 waiting for the school bus.

J seems to have figured out that he can get up later, and still get a full day’s worth of activities.  Today, ladies and gentlemen, he came downstairs bleary eyed and stretching at 8:20.  He was happy.  He was, quite obviously, pleased that he had stayed in his room, curled up in bed, THAT long.

The young man, I will clarify, is not lazy.  Once he is up, he is a very active person.  He does chores, exercises, goes for walks…he is helpful and proactive.  He also knows that staying in bed is totally ok.

Yes, J used to be the person that was up before we were (especially on holidays, weekends, and days when Dada had taken the day off from work,) and we used to think “will this ever end????”  It has.  It is over.  Sometime ago, after the first few weeks of not going to school for the rest of his life, J figured out that it was ok to linger in bed.  He knows we’re up.  We’re not quiet or even discreet about grinding coffee and setting about the morning routine, but J KNOWS he doesn’t have to get up.

The person who used to consider Ramen noodle his equivalent of a breakfast of champions has evolved.  Not only does he THINK about what he wants for breakfast, he actually doesn’t mind if it’s something that will take a little longer than usual.

This morning J emerged from his room at 8:20, and he went about the business of his morning: getting his snacks from the garage, emptying the trash, replacing the bag that lines the kitchen trash can, setting the table for his meal, and THEN looking for his food.  Sweet potato pancakes.  J asked for sweet potato pancakes for his breakfast.  And, you know what, it took me a bit to make them because I was in slo-mo this morning, but J was absolutely cool with waiting.

After breakfast, J helped me load the dishwasher, and then he went downstairs to set his TV and iPad up.  When I called him up to help me again, he did so with a smile.  I didn’t really have to tell him much, I just said we’re doing upstairs today.  Off he went to empty all the trash cans, and then he disappeared and (I confess) I thought he had ditched me, but he suddenly returned with the trash bag in his hand, and I realized he’d been emptying the trash in the basement level.  He cleaned his bathroom, he brought water bottles from the garage, and then he waited to see if there was anything else I needed from him.

We have done several things together, but we’ve also kept busy on our own.  We go for walks to take trash, check the mail, or just to walk.  We check in on each other.  We have lunch together.  We have adjusted the schedule so times are not set in stone, but they are pretty predictable: after exercising, we go for a walk to the mailbox, and then we make lunch.  We no longer have to eat at noon because the world no longer falls into chaos if we eat at one, or one-thirty.  We have relaxed our requirements, and now J decides when he wants his bath.  In fact, I can now take a bath without him going all Droopy Dog on me.  I just tell him “hey, I’m going to take a shower, and I’ll be back in ten minutes.”  That’s fine with him.

We are adjusting.  We are negotiating.  We are finding our footing, we are sleeping in a little, and we are doing fine.

 

 

The not-so-lost art of negotiation…

Today we had a few errands to run.  Well, technically, we had three errands at two different places, but this still required negotiating with J.  If you have been reading about J for a while, you know we’ve come a long way in this area.  We’ve progressed from adamance to hesitation to outright quid pro quo to two-way-street meet-in-the-middle negotiation.  It is very comforting to not be dealing with someone who will cling to a doorframe with nails and teeth.

Of course, this has not been an easy thing to achieve.  J does know when he wants to be open to something, and when he is simply and irrevocably against it.  There was a time when I felt that winning the argument was necessary, but now I’m more concerned on trying to learn how to get to where we want to be.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am willing to cave in, but it also doesn’t mean that I won’t.

Every single day we negotiate something.  Some things are minor (no, you’re not having your pepperoni and cheese snack today; you can have it tomorrow,) and some things are major (no, I am NOT going to walk around without my glasses just because you don’t want me to see what you did in the laundry room!)  We negotiate anyway.  We negotiate whether we’re going to check the mail at 11:00, or if we want to wait until 4.  We negotiate whether we’re running with the Wii, or using the elliptical.  We negotiate whether we are going to take a bath at 3:30, or if we’re doing it before bedtime.  Timers are negotiated.  Snacks are negotiated.  Bedtimes are negotiated.  We have figured out that if J wants something he will be willing to find a way to let us know, and we will find a way to get him to wait for it.

For the most part it works.  J has attempted to throw a tantrum, but the close proximity in which we function these days has taught him that I know we can’t just succumb to hyperbolic behavior.  Last Thursday J was spectacularly angry, threw a significant tantrum, and then apologized and did his Wii run while arm-in-arm with me.  All because I said “I will accept that you’re pissed off, but I will not accept that you’re being an asshole about it.”  The whole incident lasted ten minutes; the apology was heartfelt and extended for an hour.  We were friends for the rest of the weekend.

Yesterday evening, after J made it clear that it was entirely too hot to leave the house all day, I explained that I had a doctor’s appointment today, and that he and Dada would be going to the DMV to get his ID done.   He looked anxious, but he trusted that I was telling him the truth.  We had to repeat ourselves twenty times over before bedtime, and twenty times over on the ride between here and the hospital (2.5 miles away,) but J accepted the scheduled activities.  I went into my appointment and, for the very first time, sent J off to do something long, boring, and public with just Dada.

You know how DMVs are on a Monday morning.  The line was long, Dada said.  The wait was boring, Dada said.  J was only upset when they took his old ID away from him, but the clerk allowed him to keep it after invalidating it.  An hour later (yes, I know…a minor miracle) they were on their way to meet me, and we headed out to J’s destination of choice: Target.

This is what I have learned about my son over the past two months: he is good company, but he likes his space and time to be under his control.  He is kind and charming.  He is funny and helpful.  He likes being around me, but he also likes being by himself.  The biggest lesson, however, has been that I’m perfectly OK with that.

We have good days.  We have days that, in hindsight, could have been better.  We have days that are definite scrap-pile material.  We try.  Today we succeeded.  In small increments, but we succeeded.  There’s not much else we can aspire to on a day-to-day basis.

We’re fine with that.

 

 

 

The downside of being beloved…

Would you like to discuss my ability to wear shoes for the past five days?  It is not that my feet are swollen, or that they hurt.  It is not that my shoes are uncomfortable.  My ability to wear shoes is being hampered by my son.  You know him.  He is J.  The kid who now realizes he loves me and cannot stand the thought of me leaving the house?  The one who has been taking my shoes away because they might propel me out the door much like Dorothy’s ruby slippers eventually led her home after a bit of heel-clicking wishful thinking?

I am not complaining.  I am merely pointing out that being in J’s radar has its not-so-cool moments.  We have previously discussed his ability to go all Droopy Dog on me.hqdefault

We have gone a step further.  We are now a weird combination of Buddy the Elf and Rhino from Bolt.

Unknown-1

Friday evening J’s helper came over so Dada and I could go to the grocery store.  We were back in less than an hour.  On Saturday we had dinner plans so we had made the arrangement with J’s helper to come over with her husband and, as they usually do, cook dinner for them and J while we went to a restaurant that we’ve always wanted to try.  This place is closing for good tomorrow night so we figured we’d sneak in one meal (especially since all their wine has a 30% discount.)  After breakfast, we arranged J’s board and put the corresponding picture for our outing and his helper.

J was outraged.  J was not having it.  J removed the PECS, and I put them back.  He removed them again, and I put them back.  Once more…and once more again.  I waited until ten-thirty to call her and re-schedule for Tuesday.  J was satisfied by this…

We ran our Saturday errands, and when we got home J unceremoniously removed my shoes and continued to do so the rest of the weekend.  I explained I can’t go outside to water the garden barefoot.  I was handed my shoes, sent out to the garden, observed while doing my chore, and -no sooner had I stepped foot indoors- divested of my shoes once more.

I tried being casual about footwear.  OH, here I am, sitting at my desk wearing my garden slip-ons.

Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, J can feel a disturbance in the Force quite easily.  Propelled by his instinctive knowledge of the sound that shoes make as they cover skin, he came out of the TV room and removed the offending items.  Or he came to the garage, guided by his inner voice (which, I’m sure, sounds a lot like Sir Alec Guinness, and not necessarily in Star Wars…maybe more like The Bridge on the River Kwai?) and pointed to my shod feet.  This dance has gone on consistently for the past few days…

Yesterday morning J hijacked my closet.  Not in a Stanley-Tucci-in-TheDevilWearsPrada way.  J hijacked my closet so he could hide all the clothes I might wear to go out.  Anything I’ve worn out of the house (and not just in the garden or going to the mailbox, mind you) had been pushed back to the deepest recesses of the the closet; all else had been buried under layers of clothes that are at-home garments.   We had it out.  I put things back.  He put them away.  I sent him out of the room.  He sneaked back in.  I raised my voice.  He flicked his chin.

We were exhausted by the time we were done, and I had to lock the bedroom door and listen to ten minutes of J pacing back and forth while trying to determine if it was worth it to get a butter knife to unlock the door.

Eventually he age up, and we negotiated a peace pact.  He got a very small pizza for lunch, and I found my shorts.  When he was pleasantly relaxed after his turn on the elliptical machine (he skipped the intro and the intermission and entr’acte, but he watched the rest of The Sound of Music while working out,) I introduced the prospect of Dada and I going to dinner.  The crust, cheese and pepperoni inspired some benevolence and we managed to go out to dinner.

This is good.  It cost an arm and a leg to pay the helper, leave ingredients for a nice dinner for them and us going out to dinner by ourselves, but it was totally worth it…

Of course, I had to pay with relinquishing my alarm clock to the deepest, darkest depths of the back of the bottom drawer of my bedside table, but it’s a small price to pay for only getting the once-over and being found satisfactory in my at-home outfit of yoga pants, t-shirt (with holes in it…because that makes it look more sincerely at-home-y,) and no shoes.

Yes, I’m pandering.  Yes, I know that’s bad.  Yes, I’ll work on being more assertive.  Yes, I’m half-lying right now…  No, I don’t mind admitting that.

People think J’s behavior is cute.  Dada relates these experiences to his co-workers and he invariably gets and “aw!!!  That’s sweet!  He loves you!!!!”  Yeah, he loves us.  Yeah, he seems to have realized that he wants to have us around.  But…

J IS 21 years old, and he IS tall and big and heavy.  This is not a cutely obsessive waif-like figure we’re talking about.  He is not dangerous, but being bossed around by a dude who has overcome his Hulk tendencies while remaining entirely capable of performing a haka to convince me that I want to put my alarm clock away…well, it can be overwhelming.  I don’t give in because I’m afraid he will hurt me.  I give in because not doing so can be tremendously exhausting emotionally and physically.

For the time being J is my bestest friend, and he wants to be with me always.  I know this will change.  I know he will start giving me the emotional Heisman soon enough.  I don’t want this to fray our relationship so I will accept that, for the time being, my shoes are strictly on a “need” rather than “want” basis.

It’s the downside of popularity.  I get it.  Celebrities love the attention until they hate the attention.  I am currently wishing for some mild rejection, but it’s not my decision to make…as long as my entire closet doesn’t disappear…