Posts Tagged "obstacles"

The Evolution of Halloween

Posted by on Nov 5, 2010 | 0 comments

The Evolution of Halloween

Through the years October has become our favorite month.  We celebrate all month long, rolling Jack’s birthday into Halloween – a 31-day festival of family fun.  We decorate cookies, decorate and carve pumpkins, pick out costumes, hit every pumpkin patch within driving distance, and culminate with some trick-or-treating.  We’ve taken small steps through the years, working our way up from simple observance to full-on celebration.

Jack’s first Halloween was a pretty low-key affair; we had just brought him back to Los Angeles, a teensy tiny thing.  He was only two weeks old, so while his Daddy worked, the two of us just hung out and bonded, him in his (way too big) Halloween onesie.

Jack’s first Halloween.

We didn’t do much for his second Halloween.  Jack was still an only child (although Lennon was on his way), and he had just turned one.  We took a stroll around the neighborhood but there wasn’t much to see.  The area where we lived in Los Angeles was full of singles, and they were more interested in heading out to the festival in West Hollywood than staying home and passing out candy.

For Jack’s third Halloween, we finally got our act together.  He and Lennon donned costumes and we all headed over to The Grove outdoor mall in Hollywood for late afternoon toddler trick-or-treating.  Neither boy had any idea what we were doing or why, and were honestly more excited about the trip to the Farmer’s Market afterward for dinner.

 This is Jack as Harry Potter.  The costume is still too big for him, 3 years later.  Back then he looked more like a ridiculously adorable Son of Death than a boy wizard.

Jack’s fourth Halloween was a little more productive.  Both boys went as Thomas trains (Jack as Thomas, Lennon as James), and at least Jack understood there was candy at stake.  Once again we went to The Grove, and, alas, once again the post-trick-or-treating trip to the Farmer’s Market was the highlight of their evening.

 We like costumes with some room to grow.

For Jack’s fifth Halloween, our last in Los Angeles, we pulled out all the stops.  We celebrated on the 30th, because our new neighborhood in Hollywood was no better for trick-or-treating than the last.  Since we weren’t going door-to-door, our little ones wouldn’t know the difference anyway.  The day started at Jack’s preschool, where they had a costume parade and trick-or-treating.

Jack in his preschool costume parade.  My boys decided to mix things up and swap costumes – Jack was James and Lennon was Thomas.  They were happy and I saved money.  Winners all around.

After a break to regroup, we took the party to Disney’s California Adventure for Mickey’s Halloween Treat.  Every year they transform the park into a Halloween wonderland and have trick-or-treating in the evenings the whole month of October.  It was a lot of fun, but kind of overwhelming for the kids, since they were sleepy and had already had a big day.

The boys stayed in the stroller the whole time, but Disney was ready for them.  All of the trick-or-treat stops were stroller-friendly, and the candy was flowing (even for Mom, Dad and baby).  We took home a serious haul, and could have easily doubled or tripled our loot if we’d stayed longer.  (Another plug for Mickey’s Halloween Treat – almost every treat stop offered a kid-friendly alternative of carrot sticks, fruit or crackers.  Disney always thinks of everything, and we’d be going back every year if we still lived in Southern California.)

A long, hard day of collecting candy, but somebody had to do it.

This year was different for a lot of reasons.  Mainly, we now have three Halloween-aware children.  As oblivious as Jack was at 20 months, Kieran is tuned in to all things Halloween.  He’s obsessed with pumpkins, adores dressing up in costumes and attaches the descriptor “Halloween” to everything he loves (ie: Halloween star, Halloween sticker, Halloween bicycle).

Furthermore, we live in a new place.  I don’t just mean a new country, I mean a new neighborhood and community chock full of young children and holiday-loving people.  Jack and Lennon spent the month of October watching our neighbors decorating their homes with increasing fervor, dubbing each new effort a “Halloween house.”  Our neighborhood rivaled Disney for decorations, and that’s no joke.  These particular Canadians take their spooking seriously.

When the hallowed day arrived after a month-long buildup of trips to the pumpkin patches (real ones, not just gourds in a converted parking lot), decorating cookies and pumpkins and watching every Halloween special broadcast, the boys were ready.  As with every Halloween, though, there is the bad that comes with the very, very good.  That, of course, is the long wait from breakfast to go time..

It’s hard enough explaining to a toddler and a young child that no, we can not go hit up the neighbors for candy at 10am.  Little people are not known for their patience.  Enter autism, and the day gets hours and hours longer.  We told Jack that trick-or-treating happens after dinner.  We probably should have clarified  “when it gets dark.”   He wanted dinner at noon.

Once we cleared up that misconception, we had to fill the day.  We put on our “daytime” costumes and went out for a drive, the Halloween equivalent of the Christmas Eve Christmas light tour so many of us take each year.

 Conductor Jack, ready to wait.

We drove around, looked at the glorious Halloween splendour of the neighborhood, and then headed to a playground to blow off some steam with the hopes that the boys would be tired enough for a much-needed nap.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

Dusk finally arrived, and when we would usually be finishing up dinner and starting the bedtime routine, we put on our costumes and headed out the door.  Under-slept and amped up, the boys were primed to hit the streets.

Thomas and Sheriff Woody.  Ready.

All three boys did a great job.  They went up to every door, said “trick or treat” and “thank you,” and required very little assistance from us (although much to Kieran’s chagrin we gave him a lift up and down all the stairs in the interest of expediency).   They collected a haul of treats to rival the booty we got last year at Disney, and are still excited to have their two or three daily allotted pieces from the family candy bowl.

At one point in the evening, standing in line with my big boys waiting to get to a particularly popular house, I took a moment to reflect on our Halloween journey.  There was once a time when I wasn’t sure Jack would ever play dress-up in an earnest fashion.  I couldn’t conceive of him “pretending” to be someone he’s not.  Not only did he become Woody this year (to the point of asking each of us, “what’s my name? Woody!”), he was a conductor at school the Friday before, and assumes any number of characters he’s created on a nightly basis while playing with his toys.

I used to doubt we’d be able to do traditional trick-or-treating.  Our trips to The Grove were quick and Jack collected his candy with much trepidation.  I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the stimulation of scores of other children in costume, an onslaught of decorations or talking to strangers house after house after house.  Not only did Jack handle every part of the trick-or-treating process, he did it with gusto.  He charged up to every doorstep and sang out “trick or treat” with glee.  He kept his costume on the entire time and outlasted both of his brothers in the candy collection.

I am fascinated by Jack’s evolution, by my family’s evolution.  I love looking back at where we were to see how far we’ve come, and I can only imagine where we’ll be in another two or three years.  Who knows, maybe next year Jack will actually want to carve a pumpkin himself instead of making me dig out all of the “guts” while he watches and offers helpful pointers.

As our night wore on, exhaustion claimed my children one by one.  First Kieran, then Lennon climbed into the stroller.  Jack was the last man standing, but eventually even he threw in the towel.  We were in the home stretch, just a few blocks from home.  As we walked up the path to a house, Jack stopped and looked at me.  He looked at the neighbor, sitting on her stoop with a bowl of candy.

“I’m tired.  I want to go home.”

“I understand that honey, we’re on our way home.  Let’s just do a few more houses on the way.”  I won’t lie, I was reliving my childhood here and walking past perfectly good chocolate is just not done.

“I have enough candy.”  Say what?  Is this my child?

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”  He looked at the woman with the bowl of candy.  “I have enough candy.”  She looked at him, and looked at me.  I shrugged.

“Jack, this nice lady would like to give you some candy.  Do you think you might want to say ‘trick-or-treat’ just one more time since we’re already here?”  He thought it over, grinned, and held out his bag.

“Sure! Trick or treat!!”

That’s my boy.

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A Cease-Fire… For Now

Posted by on Jun 12, 2010 | 0 comments

We’ve decided to call a cease fire in the potty war.  It’s not a truce, per se, but a break in the action until we get settled in our new home in Vancouver.

After several multi-hour standoffs -each ending in success and prizes, mind you – the war is still raging and threatening to become a disgrace on our parenting administration.  In the name of civility, and because Christine told us to, we’re backing off for now.  In truth, the battle had devolved into a power struggle, with both sides refusing to budge.  That’s no way to win.

Children love and fear change (don’t we all?), and we’re going through quite a big one here this week.  Everything we own is going into boxes, and in a matter of days we’ll be leaving our home, our city and our country behind.  Change is in the air, and my children can sense it. 

Jack has always been really good with being flexible within reason.  He can take a nap or skip one, he can miss a day of school or not.  But big change, like transitioning into a big boy bed, moving his brother into his room, or heck, moving to another country?  That sort of thing takes some getting used to.  In my own personal vendetta against the diaper, I managed to forget this very important rule in our household.

So, diapers are once again de rigeur for naps, and we’re going to enjoy our move to the best of our ability.  We’ll save the battles for another day.

Just don’t tell Jack.

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Posted by on Jun 6, 2010 | 3 comments

My child is smart.  All of my children are smart, actually, but Jack is a little beyond his age.  He’s always tested on the level of a child several years his senior, and we’ve known since his infancy that he knows a lot more than he lets on. 

I know what you’re thinking.  Every parent thinks their child is “gifted.”  Each boy and girl at the playground can do something faster and better than yours (and did it much earlier).  Every preschool child is learning at a super-human pace and prepping for college.   It’s a never-ending game of one-upmanship, this parenting gig.

But seriously, Jack is pretty intelligent.  He has always caught on to things quickly, whether we liked it or not.  We’ve always known that if you show him how to do something he’ll do it until it’s mastered.  This can include mundane tasks such as coloring, building castles and folding paper airplanes, but also extends to opening child-proof gates, mastering electronics and starting the van.  Jack has kept us on our toes, to say the least.  He’s also taught us to hide the machinations of anything we’re not ready for him to do yet, like those gates.  Too late on that one.

Jack is also pretty stubborn.  He gets it honestly, from both of his parents.  He won’t do anything that he doesn’t want to do, or isn’t his idea.  Being stubborn is not unique to my 4 1/2-year-old, I know; it’s not even unique to autism.  My 3-year-old just today threw a royal fit because he was not allowed to walk from the elevator to the van by himself (mainly due to the fact that he had also thrown a fit because he wanted a toy we had left in the apartment and had planted himself squarely on the garage floor).  My almost-18-month-old son will scream and throw everything he’s offered if it’s not exactly the same thing his older brothers have.  Believe me, I know from stubborn children.

My eldest child, however, is apparently aiming for a world record of stubbornness.  He is elevating being bull-headed to an art form.  An art form that can only end in some sort of disaster, either for us or himself.  Jack focuses his stubbornness on things he believes he can control.  I get this completely.  When there are so many things you can’t control, you grasp at whatever you can.  In Jack’s case, it’s behaviors.

I firmly believe that Jack was able to speak all along, just chose not to.  The fact that he started speaking within two weeks of speech therapy – with no “baby talk” – attests to that.  I also know that he was able to take bites of food long before he let us stop cutting everything into little pieces (around two and a half).  But now, at 4 1/2, he’s hanging on to one last bastion of babyhood.  He won’t give up his diapers.

That’s not entirely true.  Jack wears underwear from the time he wakes up until it’s time for bed.  He has, however, instituted some pretty strict rules for his toileting.  If he’s home, he’ll go potty whenever he needs to.  He’s proficient in doing everything himself.  If we’re anywhere but home, though, forget it – Jack is a camel.  He won’t even try.  That kid will hold it for an entire day rather than use any facility that isn’t home.

For those of you out there (and I know you’re out there) who also abhor using public facilities, let me assure you this is less than convenient.  He won’t use the potty at school, and he won’t use it at Target (you know that’s a  problem).  He wouldn’t use the Queen’s potty, even if there were no loudspeaker and it was really, really nice.  Heck, he won’t even pee in the bushes like his brother has grown to enjoy.

As for poopy?  Forget it.  That’s where the diaper comes in.  He won’t do it in a bathroom, no matter where that bathroom is.   He’ll hold it as long as it takes for us to give in and put on a diaper.  Without fail, once the diaper goes on, Jack goes, too. 

Why do I think Jack is being stubborn as opposed to not being ready?  Because a) he’s gone potty in public toilets before but stopped, and b) he’s gone poopy in the potty before and stopped.  He just decided one day that these behaviors were for losers, and quit.  We’ve tried everything.  Our ABA has tried everything.  I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on prizes and incentives that Jack ultimately decides he doesn’t want or need (after getting truly excited about them).  He just doesn’t want to do it, and until he decides otherwise, the game is on.

The hitch in all of this is the fact that we’re moving to Canada in two weeks.  We’re not only leaving the only potty Jack will use willingly, we’re taking a week to drive up there.  That means hotels and lots of public restrooms along the way.  We’ve tried telling him they won’t let us into Canada unless he figures out the potty and poopy dilemma, but I’m not sure he believes it.  The bottom line is we’re going, whether he’s ready or not.

I’m really hoping it doesn’t come to a trial by fire.  I know that forcing Jack to do something he doesn’t want to do never ends well.  I want nothing more than to mark this post with an update and a “little victories” tag, but I honestly have no idea how long it will take for that to happen.  It could be tomorrow, or it could be months from now.  It’s all up to Jack.

And I can only wonder what he’ll focus his stubborn streak on next.

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The Lesser Evil

Posted by on Apr 21, 2010 | 1 comment

I find myself often wondering which is worse, dealing with the autistic 4-year-old child (Jack), or the neurotypical 3-year-old (Lennon).  They both have their challenges, they both have their quirks.  But which is the lesser of the two evils?  And by “evil,” I mean “my darling children whithout whom I would have no purpose.”

I decided to chart it out.  In each circumstance, which is the better outcome?

1) While out and about, Jack will occasionally take off running without regard to his whereabouts.   Lennon, if given the chance, will almost always run away, knowing exactly what he’s doing.  He also turns back frequently to make sure you’re just about to reach him before he darts off again. He will also hide and laugh hysterically.  DECISION – Jack.

2) If he gets hurt in some way, Jack will usually laugh it off (unless it’s a bad owie, then he’ll cry and come for comfort).  Lennon gets hurt 12 to 17 times a day, usually because he’s launched himself off of something or run smack into the wall (which just happened about 10 minutes ago).  The bigger the owie, the less he seems fazed by it.  However, if he gets smacked across the face by the baby, harassed by Jack (which, to be fair, usually involves some sort of physical pain), or insulted in some way that hurts his feelings, he needs lots of hugs and snuggles.  And then he’ll remind you of it constantly for the next week or three.  DECISION – Jack

3) When Jack decides to have a tantrum, which is pretty rare nowadays, it’s on an epic proportion.  There is a lot of screaming, defiance and sometimes hitting.  Time-outs work, but he needs to be monitored to make sure he doesn’t decide to leave the time-out area.  If he’s overly tired, the only thing to stop his tirade is to ignore it or put him to bed.  When Lennon has a fit, which is pretty much every day, it’s also an epic production.  As much as Lennon dreads a time-out, he’ll go and stay there until his time is up.  He gets wildly upset, but calms down to his genial self pretty quickly.  DECISION – Lennon

4) Jack can focus on one task for hours at a time, especially if it’s of his choosing.  Lennon has the attention span of a gnat, unless he’s watching “Cars.”  DECISION – draw

5) Jack has become quite a picky eater.  He doesn’t have any sort of texture aversions anymore, but he also just doesn’t eat a whole lot, unless it’s chocolate or an apple.  And if it can be cut with a knife, he’ll spend most of his meal dicing his food into tiny pieces before finally consuming it.  Lennon is not so picky.  Lennon, in fact, will eat mass quanities of whatever you put in front of him, as long as it is not grilled cheese.  Or apples with the skin on.  DECISION – Jack (he eats less, therefore saving me money at the grocery store)

This list could go on for days.  In fact, I may revisit it as the need for comparing and contrasting my children against each other arises.  It could get dicey as Kieran gets old enough to get into the equation.

In the meantime, I’m going to go out on a limb and say my child with autism is easier to handle on a daily basis than my neurotypical 3-year-old.  I know what to expect with Jack, and his playbook is pretty simple.  Lennon is a wild card.   Sometimes I just don’t have the energy for that. 

Good thing they’re both cute.

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Splitting Hairs

Posted by on Apr 8, 2010 | 4 comments

Splitting Hairs

Like most moms on a budget, I decided I could handle the task of cutting my kids’ hair.  They have curly hair, how hard could it be?

For one, I have no idea how to cut hair.

Secondly, the children who require grooming have two completely different heads of hair.  Lennon has baby-fine, thin curly hair that is often straight, making him look like a small Nick Nolte on a bad day.   Jack has a thick head of unruly curls that are sometimes not curls, and are often chunks that stick out in a chaotic jumble.

And of course, running a not-so-distand third, there is the tiny little fact that Jack is a tad sensitive about people messing with his head.

First, a bit of history.  Jack got his first haircut at 22 months, after I looked at him one day and saw a tiny Leif Garrett looking back at me (for those of you not as ancient as myself, think a male Farrah Fawcett).

This hair was made for dancin’.

Something needed to be done.  At that point in time, I had more sense (and only one toddler and a 5-month-old), and left it to a professional.  We also didn’t know that Jack was anything but “rambunctious.”   He made it through that experience with the cutest cut ever, and I was convinced we’d use that hairdresser again and again and again.

Professional hair. It only looks easy.

I mean come on, wouldn’t you?  That’s a cute kid right there.

Of course we hadn’t taken him to a real salon, mind you.  We went to one of those “kiddie salon and play place” posh joints in Beverly Hills, where the stylist was actually from a real salon and just needed some extra cash or owed someone a large favor.  She was awesome.  She also quit soon after our visit, and the establishment stopped offering toddler haircuts.

So I did what any mom would do after losing her favorite stylist, I let the child’s hair grow.  And grow.  And grow. Until I finally decided on a whim one night that I could certainly remember what the haircut looked like (I have photos!!), and it just couldn’t be that hard to replicate.  I put Jack in his high chair in front of a movie, and commenced the “styling.”  Did I mention I do not, in fact, know how to cut hair?  I felt obligated to document the hatchet job.

Mama is not a professional hairdresser. Obviously.

That’s just the back.  The front was a mess of cowlicks and too-short spots.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that moms throughout the ages have achieved this level of ineptitude, and many children lived to tell the tale.

I once again vowed to leave the hairdressing to the professionals.  And once again, Jack’s hair grew.  A lot.  Like a whole lot.  I let it grow for a whole year.

Surfer dude.

I know, I know.  He looks awesome in those photos.  A rockin little surfer dude.  And if it looked like that all of the time, he’d always have that hair.  But that was fresh out of the bath, and within an hour it had once again achieved Farrah-ness.  What you also can’t see is the child has enough hair on his head to stuff several pillows and still be too big.  In a Los Angeles summer, that’s a hot head of hair.

At this point Jack was 3, and we knew all about his autism and his serious aversion to all things concerning his head.  I did my homework and found a kids’ salon in the Valley who specialized in dealing with sensory-sensitive children and made an appointment.  I made an appointment for Lennon, too, who would be getting his very first haircut.

Not. happy.

He was not amused.

The stylist took over an hour and a half to cut his hair, and did a servicable job.  They had videos, toys and trains, and she explained everything to him as she worked.  She showed him the scissors, used the buzzer on Daddy first (Jack still wouldn’t have any part of it), and let him play with the water spritzer.  But the salon is an hour from our home, and I wasn’t all that excited about the cut.  Lennon could go with his Daddy to the local SuperCuts and be just fine, and I decided, once again, that I could attack Jack’s mop on my own.

I was smart about it, at least.  I started by just trimming when it got unruly, bribing him with cookies for a snip here and there.  I cut it dry, and didn’t even bother with the spray bottle of water that invoked a screeching fit by its very presence.  As we both got more used to the idea, I got braver.  I let his hair grow longer, and cut more style into it.  I even started cutting Lennon’s hair.  I love his curls, and the SuperCuts folks always buzz his head.  I trim around the bottom and he looks like a cute little frat boy.  I give him ice cream or a popsicle, and he’s happy.

Jack always agrees to the haircut, after haggling for a proper bribe, then bails about halfway through the process.  He’s ok with me cutting the top and sides, but cannot stand when I get near the nape of his neck.  Coincidentally, that’s where the bulk of his hair is.  I end up having to beg him to come back to the chair, adding more treats to the bribe, and even then he rarely lets me finish in one sitting.  Quite often I’m snipping and shaping here and there for a week.

I know I’m saving money with Lennon’s hair, but I’m not sure about Jack’s.  I actually think I’m spending more on bribes than I would to drive the hour and pay someone to do it for me in one sitting.

Nowadays I take a perverse pride in the occasional chunk I cut out of Jack’s hair.  I know how hard won the right to get near him with scissors was.  And how many popsicles it took to do it.


What have you done to your child’s hair?  How do you get your ASD child’s hair done?

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