basking in the glory of summer

After a very busy June that entailed much fun…a vacation, a couple of birthdays, and lots of other activities, it is now life back to normal. Oliver had an amazing time with our babysitter when we were gone. I think that it was good for him to get used to something/someone different for a short time. The first whole week since getting back from vacation was blissful for all of us. Oliver got so much attention from my family in town, too. He laughed, he smiled, he talked and talked and talked. He was a beacon of light and wonder. Everyone marveled at him and he basked in the glory of the attention.

Oliver has been getting along really well with his brothers. It is so sweet how he embodies a certain character when he is ‘big brother’. He takes on a certain tone and demeanor when he is trying to teach Emil something. This past week they got new squirt bottles to play with. Yes, their horribly mean mom refuses to buy them anything that resembles a gun… Oliver very happily taught Emil how to successfully utilize a spray bottle. How to fill it. How to point it at someone. How to shoot at Julian and his friends. He talks with the sincerity of someone who has been empowered to pass on the very delicate secret of ‘how to use a squirt bottle’ to the next generation. Very, very serious. Emil listens with conviction and responds accordingly. “okay, Oliver”. It is music to this mom’s ears.

Oliver has also been attending an adventure camp of which has been organized by some very gifted ABA teachers. Wow, they have really made Olivers’ summer soar. They meet at local parks and have a very organized schedule and curriculum. Oliver has made some really nice friends through this camp. Some of whom appear to be cut from a similar cloth as he. It is fascinating to see how different, yet how similar autism affects children. Each child in this camp is autistic, but each so different and so entirely unique. It was a great experience to see my son speak in his own language fluently amongst his peers. He flourished in the company of friends who belong to and communicate in his own world. He seemed to be empowered by this group. I will definitely continue some of these relationships with the other families.

a beautiful vacation

Peter and I took a week long vacation and really had an amazing time. We went to Cabo and did nothing. One day I literally laid in bed, after sleeping in, with the air conditioner on full blast, and I watched ‘The Love Boat’. Why?!! Just simply because I could. The acting was bad, I wondered what I was thinking when I was younger being so in love with this show. But, all in all, it didn’t matter because I was smiling the entire time. I loved the fact that I had the luxury of having that hour to do anything that I wanted, even as menial as watching such a show. Oh, yes, Julie, Gopher, Doc, Captain Stubbing were a vibrant part of my vacation! Bliss.

I was able to check out from my life and just be. Reflect upon me. Upon us. The foundation of what is. I am just on the brink of turning 40 and it was a good get away and time to sink into our bones a little. I come back a relaxed, grateful, happier, more thankful person. So glad that I could have this week to gather myself. So grateful for such a kind and wonderful husband. We had a good time. Laughing hysterically together, in tears about where we are at and where we are going, yet also in tears together about how lucky we are to have such a family. Wow!

the thief of joy is comparison

Oh, how I ponder this quote. Often.  When it is just us in our house, with no external influences or judgments, joy is imminent. Sure, there are the difficulties that ensue upon us that we muddle through and eventually find even more joy. It’s when we compare ourselves to others that we start to question the joy that we are feeling. Why do we let that happen?

Yesterday was Oliver’s graduation from his Pre-K class. It seems like we were just sitting in that same room watching Julian graduate. That was 8 years ago!  To preface the situation leading into graduation, our week has consisted of total craziness. Emil has been sick with a fever and has been screaming. (Yes, literally 3 full days of brain numbing screaming and parental worry will zap the life right out of you!)  It was also the first week of our incoming 8th grader’s summer break where the tone of the summer is set. Buttons pushed, check; voices escalated, check; utter teenage madness, check; questioning what I’m even doing as a parent, check check. We had Oliver’s Pre-K graduation from his other school program on Tuesday and it was great. He wore his purple graduation cap with his peers and was seemingly blissful about the whole situation. It was outside on a sunny day with just a few classmates and parents and teachers.

I don’t know why, but Oliver has been amazing lately. Great about talking through disappointments and changes. I’m so proud of him and thoroughly happy with his progress. I really thought that we had struck some magic cosmic balance in our world. He is doing fabulously well on his gluten-free diet, too. Before he tries anything new he asks, ‘Is this gluten-free? Because gluten-4 makes my tummy hurt’. And, if something does have gluten in it and he can’t have it he has been fine with that. He’s done far better than I would have ever imagined.

So, we went to Oliver’s graduation last night expecting that he’d just be fine. That turned out not to be the case. He had a complete meltdown and would not participate in the least. We had the perfect combination to get in him through it with Daddy and his favorite teacher guiding him but it was just not going to happen. We spent most of the time in the classroom while the graduation was going on in the other room. Finally, he managed to go and watch with some serious patience and gentle guidance of his dearest teacher, Akiko, and also Daddy.

I was/am so disappointed in myself for being so overconfident. Thinking that he is ‘better’ lately. Not anticipating that he needed to be there a couple of hours early and coaxed through the entire process. What was I thinking?! I clearly just plain wasn’t thinking straight. But, what I let myself do was self-destruct. I rarely cry in public but I couldn’t seem to turn the faucet off.  It started when I saw all of the graduates in their caps and gowns with their smiles in tact getting a group photo taken together underneath the brilliant banner that read, ‘CLASS OF 2010’.  They had all been creating together for the past few weeks in preparations for the event. All of the moms and dads were proudly taking photos of their kids. Oliver was in the bathroom crying and refusing to put on his cap and gown or even participate. Ugg…another group photo without Oliver in it. Already he isn’t in any of the class photos because he wouldn’t join in. So, here it is, MY expectation that he would participate. Leave a record that he participated and was a part of the group. Next there was his empty chair in the front row that read, ‘Oliver’. More tears. Then there was the look of other parents that said ‘what’s wrong with your kid?’ (not many of them know about Oliver’s autism) I felt the waves of future sadness and grief coming at me full force. Why did I have to go there in my head?! Sure there is a certain amount of grieving that takes place in this process of acceptance, but if I had removed the comparison to others from the equation, as well as the ridiculous expectation that I had set up, this might have been a fine occasion.

After removing myself from the situation to have a mini sob fest, I returned to sit with my husband, my kids, and my parents. The teachers handed out long stemmed red roses that had been lovingly wrapped in lavender tissue and a ribbon. The kids gave them to their moms and said, ‘thank you’. The look on Oliver’s face when he handed me his rose was that of pure love and pride. It is a memory that no group photo could capture and will be forever ingrained in my heart. It was at that second that I felt like a total idiot. Why did I have to let the doubt, the comparison, the expectations in?! He is perfect just being Oliver. I have to revisit my goal in parenting…to help and guide my children to be the very best THEM that they can be. Yep, I think that it boils down to just this. Seek the joy and embrace it!

why walk when you can run, or skip, or gallop

Watching my kids the other day I realized a funny thing…Oliver skips. Emil gallops, and Julian drags his feet (he can’t help it, he’s a teenager), but when he was their age he would always run. I think that it’s a funny way to look at them each individually. I didn’t teach any one of them to do what they do, they just do it. One of the biggest surprises in being a parent is realizing that your kids are just who they are. They might look like their parents, have mannerisms like their parents but they are inherently just themselves. Not only is it surprising, but it is also sometimes the hardest concept to realize and come to terms with. I learn a huge amount from other parents. I’m blessed to have a brilliant, well-versed parent population to claim as friends and mentors. The more seasoned parents have a MUCH better perspective on this than I do.

I think a lot about being hungry. What that means to grow up being hungry. To be so hungry for something that you’ll do anything to attain it. You’d try so hard that you can’t even see straight. We didn’t grow up hungry for food, but we grew up learning that hard work had it’s place to get where you wanted to go. I don’t see alot of kids who are growing up hungry.  Of course not. We worked hard to go to college, and to provide for our children. That was our goal growing up, to live the American dream. Now that we are blessed and living that, I sometimes feel like I’m doing more damage than good; providing too much. Do you withhold things from your kids to instill hunger so that they have desire? I struggle tremendously with this. Being raising half Japanese, in a time when there weren’t so many of us, gave me adversity. Going to a school where the general population was extremely wealthy when we were not, gave me adversity. Education, traveling, and living in foreign countries and learning foreign languages provided me with perspective to learn how important adversity is. I want my kids to be happy and healthy. I don’t want them to starve, but I do want them to have passion. Deep passion for something. Passion so deep that they will do anything in their power to attain it.

So, if our kids are each themselves, where do we, as parents fit in as they mature? I guess that as they grow up that they’ll still need direction and guidance, as I still seek that in my own parents. I want to give my teenager space to be himself and learn from his mistakes, but don’t want him to get hurt.

What is the right mix?! I guess that I’ll have a lot of opportunity for trial and error. Especially more so now that summer is nearly here! One thing for certain, having our sweet Oliver in our family gives us all perspective and makes it real. Some days more real than other days 😉

a trip to the pet store

We’re having a string of good days here!  Friday, Mom and I took Emil and Ollie to the pet store for an outing. It was pouring rain out and we needed a low key adventure that did not involve a lot of people and too much noise (the less external sensory input the better!). It was great fun! Emil ran around like the crazy dude that he is. He most liked the mini-hamster. Gross. We spent a great deal of time watching the dogs being groomed, the lady cleaning out the cat cages, and the guy removing the dead fish from the fish tanks. Oliver’s birthday is coming up this month and he’s being really funny about it. He keeps on telling different people what he’s getting for his birthday. Yesterday he told Teacher Heather that he’s getting a HUGE trampoline for his birthday. Hmmm…news to me! When we were at the pet store, he started to get fixated on buying a fish tank with real, live fish in it. So, I said, maybe for your birthday.  That wasn’t met with a warm reception. I thought that a meltdown was coming on. The body language said, ‘meltdown is coming’. I don’t know why, but I was able to coax him out of it by asking him to help me choose a dog treat for Libby. For some miraculous reason, he complied. It’s so strange how on some days he’s so easy to redirect, and on others you can’t redirect him at all.

The funniest story…when we were watching the cat cages get cleaned out, a true cat lady came up and started talking to Oliver. Oliver was in a super chatty mood and was enthralled with the cats. The lady asked Oliver if he had any cats. He went into a litany about our cats. This is most funny because we have no cats! He and the cooky cat lady were one with each other as they discussed their cats. But then Oliver said that his mommy’s cats died 4 weeks ago. Cooky cat lady was devastated!

a biomedical approach to autism

I went to a great meeting yesterday morning of very inspired moms. Wow. I was definitely the rookie autism mom of the group. They were all well versed in umpteen autism therapies. I can’t even begin to explain how overwhelming this was. First of all, I feel guilty sometimes that we didn’t get Oliver an early diagnosis, or atleast involved in different therapies to start with. Then, I still keep on glancing at that white autism speaks first 100 days folder that is staring at me from the shelf with a huge layer of dust on it…fearful of being touched.   Felt a bit like a fish out of water at first, but then I asked a few (stupid) basic questions and the pace slowed down. Whew. I hope I didn’t frustrate them with my newness of this all. They are a wicked smart and very inspired bunch. I’m superbly impressed by their dedication to their families and to their vision of autism in their lives. I had heard a lot of the therapies that they were talking about in theory, so it was fascinating to hear what really works for some, and not so much for others. The group of doctors that they knew, the referrals, the therapists, the therapies, the supplements, the culmination of years of experience and a gazillion hours of studying…and they were so willing to share it with me. Thank you, MOCHA moms!  Woo hoo!!!

I learned a new term today. ‘neuro – immunologically impaired’. If I’m getting this correctly, the belief here is that because of a variety of factors (predisposed genetic factors, mercury poisoning, viral infections from MMR, overabundance of yeast in the gut, over-reaction to antibiotics, food allergies/intolerances, lack of certain nutrients, and a compromised immune system) that our children are outwardly displaying autism, but the problem is more internal. Unless the internal self is sorted out first, the external cannot be helped as much. I get that. That jives with me. Now that I’m understanding the concepts, my question is where to start? It is apparent to me in the past 9 months of living as a mom of a diagnosed child with autism, that each child is truly unique. Each child has different symptoms. Therefore, I think it’s best to continue with the testing. Establishing a baseline. The tests that interest me most are the ones that show the possibility of leaky gut, as well as the heavy metal contaminants. And then to find a DAN!  (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor. I think that I may have found one. Alot of them see one in Oregon. I think that we’ll try local first and see how this goes. This is just the beginning of this research. More to come.

On a different note, I loved the episode of Glee this week. The character, Artie, who is a paraplegic in a wheelchair, had a daydream that was amazing. He walked out of his wheelchair, cured in a single day of whatever ailed him, and started dancing to Men Without Hat’s ‘Safety Dance’. Remember that song and dance?! Everyone in the mall either joined him or cheered him on. The dance itself was like ‘Safety Dance’ meets ‘Thriller’. It was fun to watch. But, then he realizes that it was just a dream, and his girlfriend handed him a mall pretzel and wheeled him away. What I loved about this scene and what stuck with me the most was that as she was wheeling him away, he said to her, ‘you know I’m going to dance again’, smiling. She said, ‘I know you are’. I think that Oliver, when he is stuck in a trance like state is envisioning himself breaking free of his stuck state, interacting with the world differently. Whether it be dancing to ‘Safety Dance’ in a big mall with friends, or walking along the beach by himself… My job as his mom is to try and find what isolates him, and the keys that may or may not unlock the autism.

to market, to market

A huge THANK YOU to the cashiers at Metropolitan Market who graciously helped me out the other day. I rarely take my kids to the market. I can’t focus when I’m trying to manage them, a shopping list, price comparisons, and also the ingredients of food to make sure that they’re absent of any gluten. So, I use my babysitting hours to grocery shop. I needed just a few items and thought, ‘oh, how bad could it be?’  Famous last words, right?  Oliver started spiraling and Emil followed suit. It was like a symphony of tears, screaming, and anger all in one. I got my credit card out, put my basket on the counter and told the cashier that my son is escalating into a tantrum and I need to get him out of the store. I think that she understood from my tone that I wasn’t joking and that this just wasn’t a normal tantrum. She took over, and told me that she’ll ring up my order and have someone bring it out to me. Whew! She totally got it. I really, really appreciated it. I think that the over-stimulus of the supermarket just really caught Oliver off guard and he couldn’t recover. Thankfully, the tantrum didn’t escalate into one that we couldn’t get out of entirely.

‘Mom, you’re glowing!’

Man, what a wonderful day with my sweet Ollie! Two days in a row of blissfulness. I don’t know what has brought this on, but I’m going to rejoice and bask in it’s glory while it’s here! Oliver and I went to the nursery this morning with Grandma to pick flowers for her planters. It was so much fun. He had a smile on his face the entire time and was descriptive of all of the flowers. Then when we got home and were planting together, he told us that the flowers were lovely and that they were a little bit sad because they wanted to be planted. When he gets into these modes of happiness, his verbal abilities grow immensely. I’m beginning to see some pattern of him shutting down, lashing out, angry, incapable of communicating himself to us, spacing out. But then when he comes out of it, he grows and expands. Yesterday he went on and on about his dog, ‘Puff’. Puff is a stuffed dog. Oliver talked very specifically how Puff’s mom was Libby, Grandma’s dog. Oliver has a great imagination. He was telling someone yesterday that he used to have a dog, but he died 3 weeks ago because he ate too much food. Julian and I were listening to him in awe. Where does this kid get this stuff? But, the expression on his face and his body language will tell you that he believes this with all of his heart.

Today he took my hand in his and said, ‘Mom, you’re glowing, just like me!’ Yes, Oliver, I am glowing. When I see my sons happy, I do glow. That is what being a parent is all about. Thank you for making me glow today. I needed that.

Happy Mothers Day to My Mom

A day of gratitude. And, believe me, I’m grateful. In the past year my mom has filled in the cracks, picked up the pieces, and become our biggest fan/supporter. Completely unconditionally.

Anyone who knows my mom wants to adopt her as their ‘2nd Mom’ or their ‘Seattle Mom’  for those who have moms that live out of state. Some would like to adopt her as ‘Their Mom’  to replace the one that they have. Friends of all of my kids call her ‘Grandma’. As if she were their very own. They probably see her more than they see their own grandmothers in some cases.

I love how real and practical she is. For a gift for my third child, instead of buying me any stuff, she gave me ‘a year of laundry’. She literally came over, and did our laundry for us. Then she would sneak baskets of dirty laundry into her car, take it home with her, and bring it back clean and folded and also put it away the next day (all whilst having a full time job mind you!). What a huge gift. (no one tell her that Emil just hit two because she is still doing our family of 5’s laundry…)

When I’m having a good day and appear to be embracing this latest chapter in our lives called ‘autism’, people ask me, “Karen, you are so strong, how do you do it?”  I can answer that quite simply and I tell whomever might ask me such a question, ‘thanks to my mom, I can make it through the day.’ It is so entirely true. My dad’s humility and sense of humor plus my mom’s incredible compassion created a ‘perfect storm’ for a special family. Oliver just punctuates our very entitled ‘special needs’ name. We all have needs. We all have special circumstances. We all do. My mom was a special-ed teacher back in the beginning of her career and taught us that every person is a person, same as the next. No better, no worse. And every person has something special to offer this world. Indeed! She showed us by example how it is on us to see what that person’s gift to this world is. Sometimes a person’s gifts aren’t apparent and are hidden. That makes them special and that can be a challenge, but not something that you cannot overcome. It is such an ability that she has to make people feel good about themselves. I am so appreciative of this. My sisters and I talk constantly about seeking the positive in situations that sometimes seem bleak on the surface. Mom taught us that. In order to appreciate others on this level, I’ve come to understand that it requires a certain amount of general acceptance of people’s differences, and also a special sense of tolerance.

I asked my 13 year old what his favorite top three qualities of Grandma are, off the top of his head:   1)she can find something to like in everyone    2)she can always make someone feel good about themselves    3)she is always there to help. Wow. I’m happy that he is paying attention and recognizes these qualities. They have a special bond.

And, get this…my mom volunteers at the EEU once a week so that we can learn techniques in dealing with our sweet Oliver. If that doesn’t make for a Super-Mom/Super-Grandma, I don’t know what does!

Thank you, Mom. I love you!

many glimmers of sparkly hope

After yesterday’s bleak post, (sorry…) I will share some positive highlights of today…

-Oliver came home from his beloved Teacher Heather’s last night and took the air popper out, measured and poured popcorn in, placed the bowl, and turned the popcorn maker on entirely on his own. He didn’t eat any, but hey, small victories!

-Emil asks Oliver when he was freaking out, “Ollie, what’s wrong? Why are you sad?”.  Keep in mind he just turned two!

-Julian has decided to engage in school and has produced a lovely video about cyber bullying with his buddies. What a great bunch of boys that he surrounds himself with. Love those kids sooooooo much!

Oliver has had his share of tantrums and very challenging moments today. VERY challenging. He told my mom that if she made him get on the bus that he was going to have a tantrum.  WHAT?! Now he is threatening people. What next! Mom managed to turn his behavior around but it is devastating that this behavior has extended beyond just threatening his mom and dad.  Grief!

$22 to avoid a huge tantrum. Today, I’ll take it.

Well, we are now the proud owners of a $22 pink watering can. That is what it took for Oliver and I to be able to leave the nursery yesterday intact. Tuesdays mornings are our sacred Oliver-Mommy time. We always do something fun before he boards the bus at 12:30. Yesterday we went to the nursery because he wanted to buy some strawberries. We’ve been gardening gung-ho lately. Okay, not we, but me. And I wanted to rope him in so that we can spend more time outside. So, after I made him go with me all over the nursery, we settled on a few strawberry plants. We were having such a good time talking, laughing, and just plain joking around about nothing. On the way to the check out counter, the large rack of shiny, colored watering cans caught his eye. He just bolted for them. Not just the rack, but the pink one to be specific. He asked very nicely, ‘Mama, can we buy this pink watering can. Pleaaaaassssseeeee?’ I don’t want my kids to think that they can get anything and everything that they ask for. That is a bad precedent to set. I decided to steer him away to the other (less expensive) watering cans. He started to flip out. It’s really like something in his head just turned on and then Wham! Tantrum. I tried and tried to get him out of it. Judging parenting eyes were lurking. I totally held it together but then I just decided that it wasn’t worth it. I knew that if I gave in that both he and I would remember this as good memory. The take away from the morning wouldn’t be an image of myself leaving an abandoned shopping cart full of carefully selected strawberry plants in order to pick up my screaming, flailing child. I decided that the $22 to fork over for shiny pink metal watering can was worth it. And, it worked. We had a really good hour and a half after that until he got on the bus. If I didn’t give into him, that would have been an hour and a half of further escalating screaming. I would have spent the 3 hours when he was at school racking my brain how the situation could have been different and also how much I suck as a parent. We’ll consider the pink watering can an investment. Boy, does he love it!


Should have known better. Oliver was starting to get a little restless and locked himself in the office. My mom and I were trying to get Emil to calm down because Oliver slammed it smack on his face and he was angry and trying to hit his way thru the glass doors. Then Oliver found a piece of paper and what appeared to be a Mr. Sketch pen. He started to draw and looked like he was doing a pretty good job of self-soothing. About 10 minutes later I went back and saw that there was blue marker everywhere. I thought to myself, ‘Well, atleast it’s not a Sharpie!’. Then I looked down on the desk and recognized the undeniable Sharpie pen cap in the exact same color blue. Panic! It is everywhere. On the hardwood floors, desktop, chair, Oliver’s arms and shirt. I didn’t freak out but just said, ‘Oh, NO, what happened here?’ Oliver said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Mama, it was an accident’. I said, ‘sure is’. I don’t think that he did it intentionally, but it certainly wasn’t an accident. Regardless. Now I have to try and get this out. Any ideas? If there is one thing that I’ve learned with him over the past few months is that when I have a big reaction to something, he does, too. Both in happy and sad times. So, I gathered the pen and walked away. He was feeling really remorseful and starting down a negative path until my mom took he and her dog, Libby, to the park. From there, he’s been in good spirits.