Thursday, February 28, 2008

Broken vs. different

Ever since we first began to whisper (autism), I have been thinking about it a lot. Some thoughts are practical: what would it mean for Scooter, for us, for his education, for his future. But swirling behind this was the abstract: what is the role of genetics, how does the autistic mind differ from "normal," what is normal anyway.

And, as happens when I have a chance to mull questions and let them simmer in the back of my mind, I start to play with hypotheticals.

Although I agree with those who point out that changes in diagnostic criteria and awareness of the whole autism spectrum make it a bit rash to proclaim that there is an "epidemic," I do wonder if we are also seeing an evolutionary shift (or branch or something else) that is an effect of our growing use of technology. For people who find social interaction difficult to impossible, the internet provides a new way to present oneself; the increasing importance of technology means that those who develop it are more readily accepted and granted greater status. Perhaps, and I have no hard evidence to back this up in any way whatsoever, a larger number of people on the high functioning end of the spectrum are entering relationships and reproducing, instead of simply being the eccentric bachelor who spends all his time with his work.

Another direction my thoughts go, a very personal one, is that perhaps the autistic brain is not "wrong" or "broken," but "different." As I have gotten older, I have been able to recognize that my mind works differently than others'. When given a problem or a project, I can quickly see the most straight-forward path to the goal. (And am then frustrated with those who can't see or insist on taking detours that are obviously counterproductive.) For vacations, it is my job to pack the bags and then the trunk since I can fit more into a space than Trillian can; again, this is just something I immediately see. Certainly a variety in the way that minds work adds a richness to the human experience, drives innovation and progress, creates solutions that might otherwise be lost. Perhaps there is a need fulfilled by the workings of the autistic mind, and we would benefit from opening up to this.

I am not the only person musing on these topics, and many have done more to bolster these ideas with well-considered logic. The most recent example: this article from Wired. It articulates so well the idea of "different," not "broken." I especially find interesting the analysis of performances on intelligence tests and the idea that
you wouldn't give a blind person a test heavily dependent on vision and interpret their poor score as an accurate measure of intelligence.
But that's really what happens when the intelligence of a person with autism is measured by a test that requires verbal interaction, usually with a stranger.

So now I have more to play with, thoughts I can push further now that someone else has teased out some of the threads.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Composting and bears

One thing I really liked in Toronto was the green bin program. In our first apartment, all of our organics could go into it. With a kid in pull-ups and a dog, after whom I religiously scooped, our family could nearly fill 2 green bins every week. By diverting so much to the green bins, we had very little garbage, not even a full can every two weeks.

If we'd had access to the yard and the owner's blessing, I would have supplemented with a compost pile. I would still have used the compost bin for all those things that would be hard to compost--meat, fish, dairy, diapers, dog waste--but certainly all of my fruits, vegetables, and other compostables would have stayed with me to provide nice mulch.

Now we have the yard and even the compost bins with some old yard waste already decomposing. I've been happily adding kitchen waste since we moved in, finally able to make use of our sink-side collector again. Soon I will start turning the pile, as it's finally warm enough that the outer parts of the piles are no longer frozen.

But I'm faced with an interesting problem that I would not have encountered in Toronto. Bears. While not frequent visitors, they have made occasional forays into our yard, drawn by the fruit trees. (Note to self: when the fruit ripens, eat it fast enough that there's none left for the bears.) And from what I've been reading, kitchen scraps on a compost pile are also likely to draw them.

I've seen a number of solutions that I've been weighing:
  • Only compost yard waste. Not a full solution since the whole point of composting for me has been keeping our kitchen waste out of the landfill.
  • Lime. Sprinkling lime on the compost pile helps it break down more quickly and masks some of the smell. But the resulting mulch is usually alkaline and not necessarily good for using in the garden.
  • Vermicomposting. That is, feeding kitchen waste to worms. Problem with this is that we don't have a good place to maintain a worm colony year-round.
  • Indoor composting. There are now indoor composters that create heat via electricity. But they are expensive and use energy. I'd rather harness the sun.
  • More secure composting containers. These can also be a bit pricey (though less than the indoor composter). Plus it will be hard to determine how animal-proof a container is until I put it to the test.
My tentative plan right now is to start with the lime for the piles we already have. I can balance out some of the alkaline with the pine needles that are around. And even if all I do is pile the finished mulch off to the side of the yard, at least I haven't sent our kitchen waste to the landfill. The next step is to research outdoor composters and see if anybody has anything to say about them in terms of bears specifically. I've long wanted a tumbler anyway and have my eye on a couple already.

And just so I can add this into the "Home Audit":

To do in the next month:
  • Buy lime at the hardware store and add to the two piles.
  • Begin turning the piles.
  • Research compost tumblers.
To do in the next year:
  • Buy said compost tumbler.
To keep in mind for the future (and in general):
  • Try to generate less food waste by buying and preparing only what we will eat.
What I'd like to hear from you:
  • Anybody have experience with bears and compost?
  • Torontonians and other urban dwellers can weigh in too. I'm thinking specifically about raccoons and how people might be keeping them out of their bins.

Road trip!

To all the Torontonians who read this:

I'm headed back at the beginning of May. The timing has been determined by the university library's loan periods and the date of the wedding I'm attending this summer--seriously, I'm basing my travel plans on the fact that the library limits how long a book can be in my physical possession (wow, is that the mark of a grad student, or what?).

But I can't spend all day and night in the library, although I could come close: certain parts are open 24 hours during the week. Since I'm not into camping out in the library, I'll be looking for diversions. Just saying. You know, in case there might be a gathering of certain bloggers...

Just saying.

OK, and it's not entirely a road trip. I'm not driving the whole way, just from Buffalo.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The wheels on the bus

Since the first day of preschool, Scooter has spent a lot of time intrigued by the big, yellow school bus that brings his classmates to school and picks them up again. As we headed home each day, he would cry over the fact that he did not get to ride on it. The weeping that accompanied the complaints was full of true sadness, not just the usual crying of a meltdown.

At the IEP meeting, the district person informed us that bus transportation was one of our rights as part of the developmental preschool program. Trillian and I, without any real hesitation, said it wouldn't be necessary: we live five blocks from the school, it's nice mother-son time. A two-minute bus ride seemed a little silly.

On Thursday, the second day he was in preschool, however, we picked up the paperwork to put him on the bus. Turned it back in on Friday. Crossed our fingers that it wouldn't take too long to set up, that we weren't lying when we told him he would start riding the bus sometime the second week.

Can I put into words how ecstatic I was when Transportation called this morning and asked if we would like for him to start riding the bus today?

He asked about the bus for hours before school, was ready 15 minutes early, could barely keep himself from running out the door when the bus turned down our street, quickly mounted those steep stairs without looking back at me (until I reminded him he needed his backpack).

I told the bus driver that I thought he should be OK. She smiled at me, "They're usually crying the first time they get on the bus."

Needless to say, all he could talk about when he got home was the bus: "I got to ride the bus." What he did today: "I got to ride the bus." His favorite thing about school: "I got to ride the bus." Only with the greatest of coaxing could we figure anything else out about his day.

I'm not looking forward to telling him he won't get to ride the bus for kindergarten.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reaching the limit

It has been a hard week, one of those weeks in parenting about which I might normally fall silent or try to spin into comedy.

We have, perhaps, had a bit much of family time at this point. I had hoped that the start of preschool might take care of this, fervently ignoring any thoughts of the adjustment this might require. Though it would be oversimple to blame the week on just preschool.

Scooter is obviously stressed. Even before this week, he has at times gone back to chewing on his clothing. He also recently added fingernails, an echo of my own bad habit. In addition to this, he has had frantic moments, getting so worked up that he can't calm down. Sometimes his actions become compulsive. Yesterday, he was rolling a toy truck on me. I asked him to stop rolling it on me, first politely, but quickly growing impatient as he responded simply by laughing and continuing with the action. Even when I yelled, he wouldn't/couldn't stop. Not until I got a hold of the truck (he was also trying to move it away from wherever I reached) did he even look at me.

I suspect--and hope--that part of the problem, but only part, over the past 48 hours has a partial origin in the snack he had on Thursday. His teacher and I had discussed me sending in crackers for their "cooking" lesson, since all of the other students would be getting crackers. I dutifully packed up two kinds and put them in his backpack. But after school on Thursday, the crackers were still in his backpack and he was talking about the "toast" he'd had. (The teacher was gone that day, so I guess the information about his gluten sensitivity was not passed along to the substitute.) He had a day of meltdowns in preschool on Friday and then the toy incident, not to mention just generally being out of sorts. Then a hard time participating appropriately in gymnastics today.

After a week like this, I find myself wondering if I can handle any more or if this is my limit. I can't help but think of the fact that had things gone differently, I would be doing all of this with a 4-month-old or 3 weeks from delivering. But then that would be my reality and I would find a way to deal with it (lots of help from Grandma and a leave from school, I suspect). Since neither scenario is my reality, however, I am in a position to say simply, "No more." I haven't made any irreversible decisions, but have decided it's time to reevaluate my plans when I walk into a pet shop (to buy a fish tank) and find myself thinking that I would prefer a dog right now to another child.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Shell game

Under shell #1:
Private school teaching job in the language I taught before (in a private school). Grades 9-12. Levels 1-4. Starts next year. Extra duties, part of expected load: advising and "other involvement in the school community." Located in Big City, therefore insane commute.

Under shell #2:
Public school teaching job in the language I taught before. Grades 9-12. Levels 1-4, though current schedule involves multiple levels meeting during same period. Starts in 2 1/2 years. Would need to take at least some certification courses. To make the position full time, would need to qualify to teach in another area. Since it's public school, no extra duties expected without additional compensation. Located in Springfield, 4 miles away, on bus route.

Under shell #3:
College (more like university to you Canadians) faculty position in Great Books program. Some overlap with field and other interests. Would be expected to teach any of the classes offered; great variety in first few years, eventually rotating through same classes. Schedule includes two to three nights a week. Starts (if the stars align correctly) in 1 1/2 years. Advising and general interest in school community expected to achieve tenure. Located in Capital City, commute of under an hour each way, but would be returning as late as 10 or 11 multiple times per week.

Additional complications (because there always are):
  • Salary: no idea on #1, but #3 pays at least $10,000 more than #2.
  • Pregnancy plans: if things work out anywhere close to our current plan, I'll deliver in the first four months of 2009.
  • Schedule: #3, being a college, has more overall vacation days, but these might not match Scooter's school holidays. #1, being a private school, would have an intermediate amount of vacation, again possibly not matching Scooter's days. #2, being part of the same school district as Scooter's elementary school, would have the same extended holidays; as a teacher, however, I'd have in-service and other requirements a few times a year.
To be fair, it's not as if I've been offered any of these. Rather, these are opportunities that have caught my attention. With my particular education and experience, however, I feel pretty confident that I could easily secure either of the first two positions; it doesn't hurt that there just aren't that many people qualified to teach my subject in this area. The third option is practically my dream job in terms of what I'd be teaching and their educational philosophy, but the logistics of the second are much more appealing.

Again, no offers in hand, but I find myself mentally moving the shells around. Teaching job that starts soon--money coming in sooner, back in the classroom, no certification courses, but shit commute. Teaching job that starts later--chance to take certification courses piecemeal (and a bit cheaper then), stay home with potential baby #2 longer, stay close to home with a schedule that's a better fit, but less money and not making use of the PhD I'll have. College teaching job--interesting program, some use of my PhD, deep intellectual stimulation, but frequent late nights and the likelihood of missing more of my son's activities.

But that's the way of the shell game--no obvious winner.

Global Warming Wednesday: Writer's block

I've been finding it hard to write the posts that I want to for this. There's plenty I've been thinking about (obsessing about, some might say), but the thoughts aren't coalescing into posts. Or I get started and abandon them in the middle. Or, as happened last week, I actually have something I want to share, but the sites I want to link to aren't working.

I probably should write something, more as a chance to work through some of the eco-guilt that's been plaguing me than to pass along any real information.

There's an episode of My Name is Earl that captures my feeling pretty well. In "Robbed a Stoner Blind," Earl discovers that the stoner (played by Christian Slater) is living on an environmental commune; the stoner tells Earl that they'll be even if he and his brother live on the commune for a week. Earl's experience opens his eyes to the problem of climate change and humans' role in the crisis. Earl vows to change his ways. But suddenly, everywhere Earl looks, he sees other people who are behaving irresponsibly and panics over the fact that there's no way to do enough.

I'm going through another patch of that, some of it, I suspect, my subconscious' attempt to balance out that I much prefer my current lifestyle (semi-rural, more driving required) over living in the city (dense urban living = lower environmental impact). I'm trying to take the proverbial deep breath and will return with concrete actions some time soon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hey, you guys!

One of the gifts Trillian picked up, ostensibly for Scooter, back in December was "Sesame Street: Old School." If you've seen ads or reviews for this, they almost always say that the old seasons may not be appropriate for today's preschoolers, but we figured that with Scooter almost 5, it was worth a shot. (Not that Trillian was using the whole "buy it for our son" thing as a cover to watch it herself.)

At the beginning of a couple of the DVDs, there is an ad for "The Best of the Electric Company." Shrewd marketing was my first reaction. But then last week, as I watched it more carefully, my slight cynicism switched over. Flashes of scenes from the show come in and out as the theme song plays. One of scenes shown was what I suspect most people remember best: two faces in outline with parts of a word said separately and then together. A visually-reinforced phonics lesson. And it clicked--that would work so well for Scooter. His IEP last week had said as much: Scooter is primarily a visual learner and needs visual cues to reinforce aural information.

Although Trillian and I have been working on saving more money, keeping a more careful eye on our finances, this seemed like a a good addition to our collection. (Again, not that we had any intention of watching it ourselves.)

Several days later, this is the most requested viewing. Sure, he's calling it "Sesame Street," but he knows what he likes--"letters and words." He stands, enraptured, watching letters go across the screen, laughing out loud at the broad humor, answering the questions they pose (not always correctly, but at least he's eager to try). Although it's not "READING" in the sense of pulling books off a shelf and reading an entire story, he is definitely "reading": recognizing more than a handful of words and starting to understand that he can sound out letters to figure out unfamiliar words.

And it's spilling over to life away from the TV. He's asking me to write more for him and comparing words. When we read stories, he frequently wants me to point out words as I'm telling the story. This is so much fun!

BTW, I had forgotten all the BIG names that were in "Electric Company": Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno. Talk about amazing talent!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fifteen years

Saturday was one of those crazy, running-around, juggle the schedule sort of days. We had already planned a trip into Capital City to spend some time with the grandparents and take Scooter to gymnastics before heading out to one of the city's nice restaurants to celebrate our anniversary (not on our anniversary, but handily combined with a day we knew we'd be down there).

Then on Friday night, I found out (via an email that also confirmed that I have a place to take my exams now) that Big City University (in the city past Capital City) was having a one-and-a-half-day conference on an author who is on my comps list. I found out too late to make it to the introductory session Friday night, but figured out that I could attend all but one of the talks the next day and make it back to my in-laws' in time to change and head out to the restaurant. Trillian would be able to borrow a vehicle from her parents to get Scooter to gymnastics (which he loved again this week).

Since Big City is that much further from our house, we all had to get up and moving much earlier than we normally would on a Saturday. I dropped Trillian and Scooter off at the in-laws', hung our nice clothes up in the back bedroom, and headed back out.

I made good time to campus and found it pretty easily, giving myself plenty of time to find parking and figure out a section of the campus. While I didn't have the opportunity to schmooze that I'd hoped for (no name tags!), the talks themselves were very interesting and, if nothing else, have given me two or three interesting things I will be able to slip into my exam.

The last talk I could attend ended a few minutes earlier, so I headed quickly back to the car and made it to the in-laws' in good time. A little relaxing and a change into our dinner clothes--Trillian's mother insisted on taking a picture--and then to the restaurant.

The entire meal was delicious and pleasant. I didn't have to compromise in my quest to avoid gluten and had the best salmon fillet I've eaten in years. They even had a flourless chocolate torte on the dessert menu. After a bit of a walk, we went past our favorite chocolate shop and bought a couple of elixirs.

Scooter was still awake when we got back to the house, but he fell asleep hard in the car, so hard that he barely woke up when I slid him into bed and changed him into his pjs. (Something about moments like this make parenting so satisfying.)

So many things in our life look different than they did fifteen years ago. We were both undergraduate students when we met, living very much as students do. Our relationship has endured distance, financial uncertainty, health scares and lows, and the challenges of parenting. Trillian is, hands down, my best friend. I am so lucky to have had these fifteen years and am looking forward to the next fifteen and more.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dog days

With the exception of some short-lived Sea Monkeys that were a birthday present to Scooter, we have been without any pets for two years. To the day.

Two years ago, Trillian and I came home from picking up Scooter at daycare to discover our dog looking sluggish and pained. She couldn't walk, only slowly raised her head to look at me. I picked her up and carried her down to our car, rushing to the vet clinic before it closed.

The vet said it looked like a spine trauma, something usually caused by a blow, but perhaps in her case, a result of gradual degeneration. He offered to take X-rays, said that cortisone shots might give her a little more time (maybe 3 weeks was the answer when I asked how much), that he would usually only suggest more aggressive treatments in younger dogs, not one who was within a month of 14. And when I decided it was time, he told me he thought it was the right decision.

I adopted my dog when she was about a year old, less than a month before Trillian and I started dating. She (the dog) was underweight, a product of a neglectful family that had given her up because she was too much trouble. She was incredibly submissive. Getting her to gain weight was difficult because she would pass up food in exchange for any small amount of attention.

I didn't always do as well by her as I would have hoped, especially once Scooter came along. That was difficult for her since she was 11 when he was born and a little crotchety. But to be near me, she had to put up with the loud, grabbing baby.

And I have to admit that there are times when I have realized how much easier some things are without pets--no petsitting to arrange, no freezing cold walks in the winter, no hair sneaking into everything (other than what's left over, still, two years later).

But I miss having a dog. This is the longest I've gone without a pet in my daily life. Scooter, also, has started the pleas for a dog. I'm trying to be the responsible adult in these conversations, enumerating the different things one must do for a dog, finding amusement in his reassurances that he can do it all, that the dog can even have his brush and toothbrush.

Trillian really wants (and I theoretically agree) to wait until after the next kid--if we can manage to have one--is steady on his/her feet.

There's also the issue of Trillian's dog allergy. She's had this all along, but has become more sensitive since our move to Toronto. After staying with my sister in December, the retriever hair everywhere made Trillian's nose run for days. And then just this week, I pulled out a sleeping bag for more warmth on our bed; when Trillian looked at it in direct light, she realized that it was covered with dog hair from when it had last been put in storage. We had slept with it for a couple nights, and she had started complaining that she was coming down with something--runny nose, sore throat, etc.

As a result, we'll need to take breed into consideration. I am very much a shelter-pup person. I have worked in an animal shelter, won't ever think twice about spaying or neutering a pet, and plan on volunteering at the local shelter soon. I am also a working/sporting dog kind of person--we grew up with Labs, and my dog was a German Shepherd mix. But now, I may have to go in a different direction. Trillian and I have given a little consideration to which dogs are less allergenic and are toying with the idea of a Standard Poodle ("Poodle?!" my mind screams.).

We probably have about three years before we can move forward on this anyway. But today is a reminder of how much I miss a dog's warm body at my feet.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's a small town, part two

Very shortly after we moved into this house, we realized that there is no lock on the door that leads into the house from the garage. Both Trillian and I had a moment of panic. A weakness in the perimeter! We were sitting ducks!

Once we got ourselves out of city-mode, however, we were able to calm down quite a bit. The crime rate here is incredibly low, and nearly all of it is non-violent. Should someone have a garage-door opener on the same frequency as ours, I suspect the worst we would suffer is stolen goods--if our neighbors didn't notice a strange car/person first.

I discovered this afternoon, when I went to go test the back-door key the previous owners sent to us, that the back door had been unlocked all night. A discovery like this in Toronto and a few other places we've lived would have rattled both Trillian and me, leading to frequent checks by the both of us in the following weeks. Today, we just laughed about it.

One of our neighbors, a long-time local, related to us that when her parents sold their house, they didn't have a key to give to the new owners; it had simply been too long since they had locked the door. I could see this happening to us too. Our front door only has a button lock,* and we usually go through the lockless garage door anyway. I know that the key is still on my key chain, but it sure isn't getting a lot of use.

*Though we may add a deadbolt fairly high up, more to keep a certain short person in than anybody out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's a small town, after all

Setting: IEP meeting in a conference room in elementary school. Papers are being passed around for signing.

  • Five adult females: Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), Occupational Therapist (OT), Classroom Teacher (CT), two mothers (Mouse and Trillian).
  • One almost-5-year-old male. No lines are given here, but he should ad lib along the lines of "What are you doing?" and "I'm ready to go." Frequently and loudly.
Background: Towards the end of the meeting. Goals have been set. Our options have been explained. The mothers have declined the offer of the bus service since they live fairly close to the school.

CT (receiving first page of packet): I know exactly where you live. It's my friend's house.

SLP: Oh, the ____s'?

Mouse and Trillian: Yes, that's the one.

OT: You know, I live in the house where CT grew up.

CT: She bought my parents' old house. And I used to live on ____ (one street over from us).

SLP: And I live on ____ (two streets over from us).

Trillian: And [other SLP] lives on the corner from us.

SLP: Right.

OT: That's life in a small town!

Postscript: Scooter starts preschool next week and I have put his name on the kindergarten list for next year. He gets an hour a week of OT and a classroom teacher who seems absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Freedom to Marry Week

It's Freedom to Marry Week again. Which also signals the run-up to my anniversary. So the stars are aligned to get me thinking about all of this again. Last year, I wrote from the comfort of a country where my wife and I are legally married. This year, I find myself in a position that's more difficult to define. We have moved to a state where there is no recognition for same-sex marriages*, where the question of same-sex relationships is not yet settled. When I stop to think about this, my anxiety level rises. Sure Trillian and I have a bunch of paperwork that does its best to approximate the legal relationship granted by marriage, but that doesn't mean we won't run into trouble if during a crisis we run into someone who has a problem with our relationship. Part of our willingness to move here without defined legal rights at the state level is due to the fact that we know Trillian's parents would step in and use their clout to put things back on track.

Dana at Mombian brings up another side of the issue, something that GLBT parents know they will have to face at some time or another: how to answer our children's questions. Because of Scooter's different perspective on the world, he is not particularly aware of marriage. He did once ask where his daddy was, but was at a point where he was satisfied with a run through of the different shapes families can take.

But this also means that when he does ask if we're married that he'll probably be looking for a simple answer, reassurance that we are tied together. Not, "Well we're married in Canada, but the United States don't recognize it, except in Massachusetts, so we're not legally married here in Springfield, but we do love each other very much." Don't get me wrong, until he's asking about the nuances specifically, I will answer with a simple, "Yes, we are married." I can even add, "You were at our wedding, running around and trying to play with the stereo."

*Massachusetts would have been our first choice if we could have ignored the draw of living near Trillian's parents and the great schools here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I need more hands

On the one hand, Scooter is spending most nights in his own bed and has gotten used to most of our house's little noises.

On the other, he regularly gets up by 5:30 am and thinks that we should be up if he is.

On the one hand, I would like to get up between 6 and 6:30 so that I can get my workout done first thing.

On the other, I find it hard to get out of bed if the last hour of sleep is spent in five minute increments, as Scooter likes to come in and breathe over me to se if I'll get up yet.

On the one hand, Scooter understands our digital clock enough that we can tell him that we'll get up at seven-zero-zero.

On the other, he likes to come in and announce that it is six-three-seven and six-five-four.

On the one hand, Scooter is enjoying an increasing ability to do things for himself. He has learned what buttons to push to make a DVD play once it's in the player. He watches where we put things so that he can go after them again when he wants to. He is getting better able to visualize the steps needed to complete a task.

On the other, he thinks he can do more than he is able. Which is why I had to leap out of bed this morning when I heard the stool being moved over to the refrigerator so that he could reach the apple juice on the top shelf.

On the one hand, Scooter's IEP meeting is tomorrow. He'll be able to start the preschool program very soon. We already know he'll be getting OT once a week and that the speech therapist hangs out in the preschool room to provide general support.

On the other, the program only meets for four afternoons a week. We need to find something for at least a couple mornings each week. We all need a break from each other!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Flip flop

Scooter loved his gymnastics program in Toronto. For anyone up there who is looking for a gymnastics class for a little one, I definitely recommend UofT's Junior Blues program. At first glance, it shouldn't have worked for Scooter: multiple groups meet in a large, echoing room and there's some crossover of groups at the beginning and end times. Additionally, he got a new teacher each session, every 10 to 12 weeks. For a kid with sensory issues, there's every reason to expect it to be overwhelming beyond distracting. And yet, it really worked for Scooter.

This is not to say he was particularly good at the skills they were being taught. Parent observation week showed us that his movement remained a bit undisciplined, but he made up for it with his enthusiasm. The instructors did an excellent job of scaling their demands to what he could accomplish and communicating to us what he needed to work on (i.e., in the first session, he had trouble following verbal directions). The beginning of his assessments coincided with the second session, and we let the instructors know what he was working on in OT. His instructor in the third session excitedly informed me when Scooter walked across the balance beam all by himself. Sure, his classmates were working on walking backwards, but his accomplishment was celebrated nonetheless.

And so we were happy to see that there is a gymnastics school in Springfield with classes for his age. The occupational therapist at the elementary school, however, warned us that it might not be the best fit for Scooter. Nonetheless, we decided to enroll him, figuring that he would probably enjoy moving around, if nothing else. I told the school director about his gross motor issues, and she didn't seem to have a problem with this.

I was not impressed by the first class. Perhaps the teacher was having a bad day, but she seemed more rigid and short than I would have expected with preschoolers. The class also seemed much more focused on skills than Scooter's old program; the teacher was intent on him completing each action as planned--no satisfaction with him just hanging from the bars if the activity was swinging in a pike. She expected Scooter to imitate what the other kids did and to take verbal correction. For him--for many young kids, I imagine--seeing and hearing what he should do does not always translate to proper movement. Even if Scooter understands what he's supposed to do (and his comprehension has improved a lot), it doesn't mean he can make his body do it.

He cried twice during the class. Climbing the cargo net scared him and he froze, crying until the teacher helped him down. By the time he made it to the balance beam, he simply took one look at it and said, "I can't." The teacher put down some very low foam blocks for him to walk on instead--after he stood his ground when she tried to push him to get on the beam.

My rational side felt that we should have gone a second week: the first time is rarely smooth, so perhaps it would go better as he came to understand the routine. But when the OT called us with an appointment time that conflicted with gymnastics, I went ahead and took it. It didn't hurt my decision process when the OT suggested that it's important for Scooter not to get frustrated with his body right now. And so I disenrolled him, explaining that the course is too advanced for him and that he is likely to fall further behind instead of rising to the challenge.

I hated taking him completely out of gymnastics, however, so I decided to search on "Capitol City gymnastics." Sure enough, two studios came up. One of them explicitly said on its webpage that their philosophy is to help children proceed through the skills as is appropriate for them individually. I sent an email, explaining that Scooter has gross motor issues and was definitely behind his age in motor control. The owner wrote back, inviting us to drop-in for a class of 4- and 5-year-olds. They're about halfway into a session right now, but she was willing to let us sign up for the remainder if things went well.

So we went to the studio today. It turns out that it opened not too long ago; right now, it's a fairly small space, without some of the large equipment Scooter's had both in Toronto and in Springfield, but it looked like a great space for kids. Scooter started out by watching the other kids running around, not sure he wanted to join in. But watching the kids run around was too great a temptation, and he quickly jumped out of Trillian's arms. The owner and an assistant let the kids play with some foam blocks while they set up and then they got out some bells for the kids to shake.

Everything was done with a spirit of play. Corrections were both verbal and physical (as in helping the child get into the proper position), all with a light and gentle touch. Lots of praise and encouragement. I held my breath particularly when Scooter had his first turn on the balance beam. He held out a hand to the assistant, who helped him across without any protest. When the exercise was changed up and they were told to "gallop" across the beam, I expected him just to walk across as before--that's pretty much what he'd done in his program in Toronto. Instead, he asked for help again and proceeded to gallop. He slipped off once or twice, but got right back on and kept going. That he was willing to take on new challenges proved to me that he was feeling very comfortable.

No surprise--we signed Scooter up for the rest of the session. The owner told me that this is a great group of kids--they're great listeners and friendly kids. She thought Scooter had done well for his first time, and I replied that he had responded well and enjoyed himself. This conversation also told me that she is exactly the sort of person I want teaching my son gymnastics. Her expectations are right where they should be. These "great listeners" did not necessarily do everything she asked right away, sometimes they forgot what they were supposed to be doing, sometimes they interrupted. But they're 4 and 5, that's what they do, and she knows this.

So Scooter has a gymnastics class now. We have to travel (each way) as long as the class itself, but we'll combine the trip with shopping and a visit to Grandma and Grandpa. It would have been more convenient to have gymnastics in town (and on a weekday to fill the half of the day that won't have preschool), but it's much more satisfying to see him eagerly jumping into physical activity.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The things we do for love

Scooter broke down in tears this afternoon when we went to the grocery store to pick up milk and a few other minor items. As we walked towards the checkout, a Valentine's Day display caught his eye. In it? Boxes and boxes of Valentine's cookies--sugar cookies decorated with red and pink frosting. His eyes got wide and his hand went up towards them. "We could get those."

"I'm sorry, sweetie. We can't have those. They have wheat in them."

The tears started almost immediately, along with the pleas. Trillian, who had been checking something an aisle over, caught up with us and asked him what was wrong. "Meema says I can't have those; they have wheat. Can you take the wheat out?"

We calmed him down, checked out, and headed home. We had gotten him some cheese and had some gluten-free pretzels in the car, so he had some of those on the way home. The cookies were seemingly forgotten.

After he went to bed, I got out a box of gluten-free sugar cookie mix that we had around and rooted around for the heart cookie cutter I was pretty sure we had. Trillian came over to see what I was doing and then set out to help me get things together. But we didn't have any Valentine's-worthy decorations. Some colored sugar, but I had bought our favorite colors (blue, green, yellow).

So I headed back to the grocery store to buy food coloring. A little while later, this is what we had:
And also:
(Trimmed to remove the name-related cookie.)

There are a number of other things I could have--should have--done tonight, but somehow this seemed more important.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Political ennui

I mentioned several months ago about my support for John Edwards, but have not said much about politics since then. Nevertheless, it's been on my mind quite a bit. And somehow, it seems appropriate to say something about this on "Super Tuesday."

Obviously, I'm aware that John Edwards pulled out of the race last week. Sigh. I sensed it was inevitable, that he simply could not compete with the narrative of A Woman vs. An African-American.

And so I find myself in an odd place--I don't know who I would vote for. I told Trillian that if Edwards were still on the ballot, a likely possibility since they are usually printed up significantly ahead of time, I would probably still choose him, an indication that I am not ready to throw my support behind either of the remaining viable candidates. (Talking Democrats here; none of the Republicans are an option for me.)

As it turns out, I don't have to decide yet. We couldn't get registered in our new state before the deadline for primary/caucus voting, and I threw out my absentee ballot from my old voting state before I realized this. Oops.

Usually this would be very upsetting to me. I always vote. I go out of my way to make sure I will be able to cast my vote on the scheduled day or that my absentee ballot request is in well in advance of the deadline. But this time around, I cannot work up the necessary enthusiasm. There is no doubt in my mind--I will vote for whichever Democratic candidate is selected. No hesitation. I just can't get excited about either one. This is saying something: I'm one of the few people I know who truly liked Kerry last time around.

I just want this process decided so I can spend the next 9 months getting a sense of what we're in for.

Friday, February 01, 2008

January progress report

Back at the beginning of the year, I made a list of goals (not resolutions--it just so happened that the new year coincided with major life changes). So I figured I'd take a look back and see what I've accomplished in the year.

A brief look at each point.
  • we figure out how big our family will be.
I'm putting this off for a couple more months.
  • I find a way to enjoy exercising again.
We bought a treadmill over the holidays, and I've been using it approximately every other day. I can hook up my Shuffle and listen to my music as I walk (not to running yet). While I wouldn't say I look forward to my time on the treadmill, I am at least finding it almost meditative (see below).
  • I finish my comps.
I'm still behind for my first set of exams--and having trouble setting up a remote testing situation. Scooter's still not in preschool or many scheduled activities that allow me my own time, so it's going slowly. I'm avoiding my supervisor (isn't that standard grad school fare?). But I actually think it will go faster once I get past these exams.
Did the first rooms this month and will be continuing to do a little each month.
  • we hang artwork in at least two different rooms.
Technically, we've accomplished this. The African art we bought 1 1/2 years ago and had framed is hanging in the living room. A piece Trillian's mom gave us is in the dining room. Scooter's magnetic name is in his room. Of course, I'm not quite sure I can give myself a pass on this yet since I don't think these are their permanent homes.
  • we get Scooter evaluated and determine what supports he'll have in school.
We've had the school-related evaluations and are just waiting on the meeting. He's already going to OT on a weekly basis (bless the therapist!) and should be able to start preschool soon after the meeting. That will give us a better sense of how things will work once he starts kindergarten.
  • I experiment with gluten-free baking.
I need to post the recipes I've used for bread. Nonetheless, I've got a donut recipe and fruit dessert up over at The Mouse's Kitchen. As is often the case with experimentation, not everything has turned out as hoped for--I was dying for biscotti the other night, but was not particularly satisfied with the results of my improvisation on a recipe I found online.
  • I meditate regularly.
I don't think I've meditated in a traditional sense since the start of the year. But I have been finding meditative moments in everyday activities. My daily shower has long been such a moment, but I'm finding that walking on the treadmill and some cooking activities provide opportunities to practice mindfulness and allow my thoughts to untwist themselves.

Not a bad start overall. Off to the treadmill and then some comps reading.