All about the boys…

I have a whole blog entry in my brain about the holidays, but I’m not going to write that now because there’s going to be too much to talk about as we go forward, like Thanksgiving and Sam’s Christmas program and the Christmas party at Kyle’s office and Isaac’s autism evaluation (more on that in a second), and I just want to take a deep breath before plunging into things, SO.

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We had Sam’s first ever parent-teacher conference about two weeks ago, not because of anything bad but because the teachers at his school like to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to kids’ progress. Sam had a half day that day, and he got to hang out at home while Kyle and I made ourselves look moderately presentable and headed to the elementary school for the conference.

It was weird, from my perspective, to be going in for it because, of course, I’ve never been on this side of things. I’ve never been a teacher, either, but usually, I’d be the student stuck at home or someone roped into doing check-ins or what-have-you while parents milled about. And, really, the only parent-teacher conferences I remember at all happened when I was in high school; and even then, I only remember the reports about two of my classes (pre-calculus, which I was failing miserably–my dad said of my teacher that he looked like was stoned out of his brains, and in retrospect, that makes me a lot more forgiving of said teacher; and art, where my art teacher got really excited because of the way I’d stored some of my work).

But it was still weird because, I suppose, I didn’t have anything to worry about. Sam’s a smart kid, and it’s kindergarten. We haven’t gotten any notes or calls from his teacher about his behavior or progress, so I knew going in that he probably didn’t have any red flags flying that would make me want to wear a cone of parenting shame. Instead, Kyle and I ambled through the empty corridors of the school, admiring the artwork on display for our benefit (including Sam’s book of writing exercises). I felt very grown-up doing so.

(shown: Sam’s self portrait and Halloween story from his writing exercise book; the Halloween story explains in the corner that rather than describing Darth Vader to the teacher, he just made Darth Vader noises)

And then we met with Sam’s teacher, who is pretty awesome. I think teachers nowadays often tend towards awesomeness, especially in higher-funded schools (we live in a tiny town with a pretty high average income, which leads to at least decent funding for the schools), but I still like to sing the praises of awesome teachers because honestly, they could get praised from morning to night and it still wouldn’t be enough. They take on our kids every day, twenty of them at a time, and somehow manage to keep them from burning the building down AND ensure that they learn something. Teachers are superhumans. 

And Sam’s teacher is a superhuman.

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And thankfully, we were all on the same page about Sam. On the plus side, she gushed about his engineering mind, talking about how he’d built a billboard of the numbers 7, 8, and 9 out of Legos (Kyle and I were highly impressed but not surprised; this is the kid who saw a picture of a camera on the side of a Lego box and built it just from looking at the picture) and how he’s excellent at any sort of kinetic learning, which… again, no surprises here. If this kid is allowed to move and build and do things with his hands while he works, he’ll be at a college reading level by the time he’s seven, I’d bet anything. 

On the flipside, he’s not an overachiever in all areas because nobody is. His teacher seemed concerned about three particular things, one of which made us giggle and another of which made us nod in agreement. 

The uninteresting bit was that Sam is struggling with rhyming. That seems like a weird thing to struggle  with, I thought, but once I worked with him on it a little bit, I started to see the issue. Sammy is, as it turns out, a sight reader now–he knows words by sight, not necessarily by phonics, and he knows that certain combinations of letters make certain sounds but not necessarily how to replicate those sounds. He rhymes pretty well when he’s not looking at words written on a page–he comes up with rhymes to really weird words that I wouldn’t even think of–but when words are written down, he has a hard time because he’s trying to see which words look alike without thinking about which words sound alike. 

So he’s in an RTI (response to intervention? I think?) group, which is basically remedial rhyming, and son, that is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m here, your 36-year-old mother, having needed a year’s worth of remedial gym. Like who in the world needs remedial gym

(actually, now that I’m thinking back on it, it was probably more than a year of remedial gym, since I remember doing it in second grade, too)

giphy-1(shown: why I had to do remedial gym)

On the giggly side of things, Sam apparently makes sound effects whenever he does anything. I think we’ve managed to tune this out at home, but it’s to a point where he’ll make spaceship noises as he’s bringing a marker over to color something or be like, “Here comes the T! T-t-t-t-t-t-t…”which… yeah, when his teacher gave us that example, Kyle and I basically fell out of our seats laughing because oh my god. That is the most hilarious and adorable thing  ever, ever. I am storing this up in my brain archive and on this blog so that it can become a story that we tell about him when he’s much older, as our parents tell stories about us (like the time I asked my dad to kill a piece of dust that looked like a spider or the time Kyle tearfully spewed the Where’s Waldo beefaroni he’d long begged for all over the house). It’s a treasure. I love it.

And on the “we knew that” side of things, Sam’s teacher let us know that he struggles with what she calls “flexible thinking,” which means that he’s very, very stubborn. And… yeah. He really, really is. This kid hates change, and has hated change since he was big enough to know that things were different from how they’d previously been. We always brace ourselves at the beginning and end of school years because change always prompts restless nights and stress in him, often ending in tears. We talk him through it, we give him social stories to help him cope, we help him with countdowns, but in the end, he always ends up struggling. 

It’s one thing I don’t know how to help him with. I’m stubborn myself (cue Kyle looking over my shoulder as I write this saying, “YA THINK?”) and it’s not something I’ve either managed to stomp out in myself… nor really tried to stomp out, because when applied correctly, stubbornness is a really powerful thing. Digging your heels in, saying, “no, you move,” all that… it’s good stuff. But you need to find a balance and recognize that some change is good, that sometimes, different is positive. 

BUT that’s also something that you can tell and model for kids until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still not get it because that’s what being stubborn is. This way of thinking and behaving is safe, so I’ll stick with it, because I don’t know what will happen if I don’t. 

Yeah, I get it, son. And I’ll always be here to tell you that it’ll be okay if you try something new or do something different. It’s hard right now; you’ve had a wild past two years (which is nearly half your life so far) that’s been full of changes, and every one seems scarier than the last. And soon enough, you’ll have the life experience to realize that change isn’t always bad and that you’ll almost always be okay on the other end… and those times when you’re not okay, you’ve got people who love you supporting you and taking care of you. 

But for now, your dad and your teachers and I will all be very, very patient with you as you learn flexible thinking. 

And then on Isaac’s side of things, we’ve got an appointment for his autism evaluation!

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This is a pretty exciting thing–waiting lists for autism evaluation can be upwards of a year and a half long, but because we worked with Early Intervention and they administered a series of tests beforehand to narrow down his issues, they were able to get in touch with the local medical group that does screenings, and that group contacted us almost immediately to set up an appointment. What’s more, the appointment is before the end of the year–December 23, to be exact. 

I’m really relieved about it on so many levels, and at the same time terrified, more of what comes after diagnosis than of the diagnosis itself. I want him to get a diagnosis because that means that we can target his therapy so that he’ll be able to understand us and express himself, and hopefully also be able to cope with a very crazy, very noisy world around him. I’m not looking to tone down any symptoms he’s expressing–rocking, spinning, stimming in other ways–because I literally don’t care about that at all. It’s what you need to deal with life in the noisy 21st century. What I care about is making sure that he’s not getting frustrated because he doesn’t understand and can’t be understood. I’ve been there. It sucks. 

But that’s what scares me about therapy. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about various autism therapies, and don’t get me started on my absolute loathing for Autism Speaks. Isaac’s services coordinator didn’t help with that when she was leaving the other day after helping me make a new services plan for Carrie (who, the little imp, was demonstrating all of the skills she refused to demonstrate during her most recent evaluation, sigh). She mentioned that Isaac would be screeching a lot once he started autism therapy, and while I get that on a lot of levels (because it’s hard to go from “mommy just get me what I want, you know what I want, even if I’m not saying it” to “oh, I have to use words”), I’m still afraid. 

I don’t want anything that’s going to try and “cure” him or try and suppress things about him. He is who he is, and he’s perfect. And I don’t want to suppress his symptoms or hide who he is, either. I just want him to be able to communicate. 

Sigh. I know I’ll be able to talk about this with his therapists, but it still just nags at me. And I should probably find a therapist myself to help me work through everything about… well, everything.

After the holidays. I’ll look into getting a new therapist after the holidays. Right now, I’m just going to swan dive into the crazy and paddle like hell until I get to the other side. Until next time…

swandive

It’s the Holiday Season…

I love the holidays, though my definition of “the holidays” differs from most people’s in that I firmly believe “the holidays” begin with Halloween and end with New Year’s because those are the temporal boundaries of my other busy season (the primary busy season lasting from March through July). During what I’ll call a twelve week span (because let’s be real–October first is the very latest we all start celebrating Halloween), I’m constantly baking and getting the kids ready for things and wrapping presents and baking and traveling and baking and did I mention baking?

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(for the record: I love all the baking I do, but it’s a lot between October 1 and January 1)

As of this writing, my holiday season has been in full swing for about a month, with the first holiday happening last week. Halloween was unseasonably warm this year, and that turned it into an adventure for everyone. I baked the cupcakes I’d signed up to bake for Sam’s class party…

…and they were apparently a big hit! And honestly, they were great fun to do, at least partly because Kyle helped with the decorating. We spent two evenings together in the kitchen baking and mixing and mixing and decorating, and per his report, the whole experience was highly satisfying (his favorite part was rolling the cupcakes in sprinkles after they’d been frosted, and I can’t blame him). 

Our Halloween plans had otherwise been to attend the school’s trunk or treat (since our neighborhood is garbage for trick-or-treating–no sidewalks and halfway up a really steep hill that people like to drive down at about 300 MPH) and show off the kids’ costumes. For Isaac, we ended up getting an embarrassingly cheap dragon costume (and I say “embarrassingly” because it was horrible quality and way larger than the site suggested it would be, leading to a very difficult time when he eventually did wear it), and Carrie got a very floofy version of Rapunzel’s dress along with a gorgeous braid headband. Sam was, of course, Darth Vader. 

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But anyway, we wanted to go to the trunk or treat, but that first got rescheduled because of mosquitoes (Massachusetts was having a pretty bad EEE outbreak this year, but we had a hard frost a couple of days ago so TAKE THAT YOU BLOOD SUCKING MONSTROSITIES) and then it got cancelled because of rain. This left us without any sort of trick-or-treating for the kids (because our hill is dangerous in good weather, never mind when it’s pouring out) until my mom gamely agreed to come with me and take the kids to a local mall for trick-or-treating there.

This was something of a mistake.

Our local malls vary from “pretty nice, actually” to “why is this still open?” and this mall tends towards the latter category. Thirty years ago, it was a really nice place with fancy restaurants and a really posh feel to it, a classier version of the typical 80s mall. As is the case with most malls, however, time and changing trends in retail chipped away at its poshness and left it somewhat of a shell. It’s still got a singular anchor store (there’s a Sears, which gives me questions, and the other anchor spot is now taken by a doctor’s office) and the skeleton of a food court, along with a handful of mall fixtures (American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Journeys, etc.), but it’s definitely a shadow of its former self. 

A disheartening number of storefronts were vacant when we got there on Halloween, and the fronts that were open ran out of candy pretty quickly–I don’t think anyone at the mall anticipated the entire county coming to trick-or-treat there rather than face the rain. Sam had a grand time because he’s five and got lots of candy (a full set of Dum Dums! I’ve never seen one of those before!), but the twins were wailing by about 10 minutes in, and my mom and I were both exhausted at the end of the adventure.

So. Here’s hoping that next Halloween has pleasant temperatures and no rain.

(but at least the kids looked cute! For all 5 minutes they all stayed in their costumes)

And now it’s today, which is my birthday.

Did I do anything to celebrate? Well, I wanted to, but the kids shared a wonderful cold with me, so I spent most of last night with a throat too sore to allow talking and most of today wishing I could be horizontal. Kyle, being the star that he is, stepped in and made the batch of brownies I’d planned to make for myself and, since he was working from home today anyway, let me get a nap in while the twins were napping, which will hopefully help me recover from this cold quicker and without any trips to urgent care because of breathing (because the last thing I either need or want is to get pneumonia again). 

So things have been lowkey, but I need that. We’ve been juggling a lot of adventures lately with the twins especially, namely that Isaac has been fast tracked on the path towards an autism diagnosis and Carrie still qualifies for early intervention services.

Carrie first: she had her annual evaluation today to see if her development has caught up to where it should be, and the hilarious thing is that she’s basically where she ought to be when she’s not being observed. When she is being observed, as we discovered today, she’s pretty behind in a couple of areas, namely fine motor and receptive communication. 

But she’s not actually behind.

Most of the areas where she scored “behind” were items on the test that she knows how to do and does often, but today, when asked to do them in front of the EI evaluation team, she gave an impish little smirk…

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…and ran off giggling to hide behind the couch. Cue my little genius communicator getting much lower scores in fine motor skills and receptive communication than I know she’s capable of. On some level, this should bother me, but I’d rather she get services and not need them than need them and not get them. Worse comes to worse, they reevaluate in six months and she doesn’t get services anymore after that, or else she just gets a little supplemental help and EI helps with her preschool placement in 2021 (wow, that’s an actual year, that’s bizarre).

And then there’s Isaac.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned my concerns about him relating to autism… well, less concerns, more “I’m autistic myself, my entire family is autistic, I know what it looks like, and he looks like he’s going in that direction.” Our wonderful services coordinator got the ball rolling for diagnosis, but because he was only 17 months old at the time, we couldn’t do a lot because most diagnostics won’t say much until a kid is at least 18 months old (which I hate because if you’re living in a bright, loud world and can’t filter out sounds and sights, important to unimportant, and get so exhausted because of it and have a hard time having conversations or learning language because you’re so overwhelmed… like, wouldn’t you want to name that and learn coping skills ASAP?). 

But we started anyway. We took the ASQ and the M-CHAT, both of which mostly look at autistic traits–that is, traits that are common in people with autism. Things like lack of eye contact, stimming, repetitive behavior, the typical “that child has autism” traits, you know. Those both kind of bugged me because they felt like they were reducing autism to a checklist of traits, which I haaaaaaaate

BUT then came the RITA-T, which we did last week. The RITA-T actually looks more closely at behavior that makes sense when you understand how autistic brains function (i.e., it’s hard to split your focus because so much sensory input is competing for your attention, and you can’t automatically filter it like a neurotypical person would). The test focuses on something called “joint attention,” trying to split your attention between a toy you’re playing with alongside another person and the person sharing the toy with you. It also focuses on how you’re interpreting sensory input (e.g., how Isaac reacted to me pretending to cry, how he reacted when I called his name with a blank expression, etc.). 

And, well. Isaac scored high enough to qualify for fast tracking towards diagnosis at our local hospital. 

Fast tracking essentially means that instead of us having to play telephone games trying to get in touch with someone, the EI specialists send in the paperwork for us. Fast tracking means that instead of facing a 6-18 month wait for an appointment, we’re looking at a 6 week wait. And that’s a huge difference. Six months would put us at Isaac being two years old, skipping over a lot of development. And eighteen months would put us at Isaac being three years old and aging out of EI services altogether. That it’s been fast tracked means that if he gets a diagnosis (which seems very likely at this point), he’ll be able to receive the services and therapy he needs to help him cope with a very overstimulating world and hopefully start preschool already better prepared than he would otherwise be. 

So. We’ll see what happens there. In the meantime, I’ve got 16 days until we do something absolutely insane and pack up the whole family in a rental car to drive down to Texas for Thanksgiving! Until next time and a wild trip report…

(oh also I have purple hair now)

Doctored Up Cake and Fairs

DOCTORED UP CUPCAKES/CAKES

Slightly different strategy today: I’m going to teach you my cake witchcraft.

Of course, it’s not real witchcraft–not enough jars of dirt for that–but it’s basically how I manage to make really good cakes when I’ve got three kids and an absurd lack of time (like, really, Isaac–you couldn’t sleep for another 20 minutes at least? No? Had to do a 45 minute nap today? I’m not bringing you downstairs yet, you’ll just have to entertain yourself for a little bit), coupled with low enough self-esteem that the idea of making a cake the “correct” way scares the piss out of me!

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What I do, therefore, is cheat: I use box mixes. And this apparently happens quite a lot in bakeries and similar places–it’s just quicker and easier to get the measurements right when they’re measured out for you beforehand. The trick is just to use slightly richer ingredients and compensate for the plastic flavoring, and the results end up being absolutely amazing.

Ingredients

  • Your favorite box cake mix
  • Whole milk or buttermilk 
  • 4-5 eggs or egg whites (see notes below)
  • Butter (salted or unsalted, depending on your taste)
  • Additional flavoring (see notes below)

The big thing with this recipe is that it’s not so much a recipe as a series of tips to make your box cake taste like you got it from a bakery instead of Betty Crocker. The ingredients above are substitutions for the ingredients you’d usually add to a box cake mix, so the resulting dessert will be much richer and more flavorful. 

Your milk/buttermilk will replace the water in the recipe because, let’s be real here, how many from scratch cake recipes are like “also, add SO MUCH WATER”? None of them, that’s how many. Usually, you’ll want to stick with whole milk, but I’ve found that using buttermilk for red velvet produces really nice results. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to use as much milk or buttermilk as the box suggests for water.

Most cake recipes call for three eggs, but to make your cake or cupcakes extra rich and amazing, you’ll want to add 1-2 more. I always end up adding two more because baking is my one area to be extra, and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about this. You’ll also want to crack your eggs into a separate bowl to make sure you don’t have any bad eggs/can fish out any shells that get into the cracked egg.

Another note about eggs: if you’re baking a white or angel food cake (or, if you’re me, lemon cake), (a) you’re brave; and (b) you’ll want to beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and add ⅛ tsp cream of tartar per egg white to make sure they keep their fluffiness. You’ll add the egg whites at the very end of your mixing and fold them in gently–the end result will be a gorgeous white, fluffy, delicate cake. 

You’ll replace your oil with melted butter, but you’ll also double the amount you add. Melt the butter long enough beforehand that it’s no longer hot when it’s time to add it to your batter; for most recipes, this will end up being about a cup (or two sticks) of melted butter. Using unsalted butter is great for controlling the overall salt content of the cake or cupcakes, but I also really like salt?

Finally, flavor enhancers are going to vary on what kind of cake you’re making. Vanilla extract is a good standby overall, if you’re not sure what you want to add to the cake mix, but you can really get creative with add-ins. Some ideas:

  • While vanilla extract is a good standby, you can look into other extracts as well. I’ve always gotten a lot of love when I add orange extract to vanilla buttercream frosting. Almond extract is great, along with peppermint and rum. 
  • Replace half the milk with a fruit juice that complements the flavor (e.g., orange, lemon, lime, etc.). Or all, if you like; that said, don’t replace all of the milk with alcoholic liquids.
  • Espresso powder does amazing things for any cake that tends towards chocolatey. You can get it in decaffeinated form, and it legitimately makes your cake taste other worldly. 

Once you’ve baked your cake, you can continue to improve on it, even when using canned frosting like the lazy person I am. For example: 

  • Brush the cake with simple syrup (boil one cup of sugar in one cup of water until dissolved and allow to cool), which will keep it moist. 
  • Add some of those flavor enhancers to your frosting before you spread it and whip it for a few minutes to add some air. 
  • Use jam, jelly, or other fruit preserves in the center of the cake. 

*

I’m thinking about cake and cupcakes because I’m diving into my second-busiest time of the year as a mom. The cupcakes are the first Big Busy Thing of the season: I volunteered to make 26 Halloween cupcakes for Sam’s kindergarten class because I love baking. This past Sunday, I braved insane crowds and hit up Wegmans and Michael’s for almost everything I need to make them spectacular (I say almost because the awesome bag of Halloween candy I got to top the cupcakes turned out to have a lot of NOT awesome candy in it, so I’m heading up to Target sometime in the next week to get another bag while the Wegmans bag is now relegated to the “we never get trick-or-treaters, but just in case” pile). I have to say, I’m pretty excited about them, and if I have enough energy after I make them, I’ll probably end up baking brownies after Halloween because my birthday is November 5 and I like brownies more than cake. 

So it’s my birthday November 5, my mom’s birthday November 12 (WHAT KIND OF CAKE DO YOU WANT MOM??), then driving down to Texas for Thanksgiving (have I talked about that yet? I should talk about that), then Christmas and New Year’s, and then I can breathe for another two or so months before the busy stuff starts back up again. 

I’m breathing right now. I’m focusing on things I do because I enjoy them– well, no, that’s not how I want to phrase that. I enjoy baking for myself, for my mom. I’m excited about this trip to Texas, and I’ve basically been prepping Christmas since May. So I do enjoy all of the busyness, but I guess the difference with the last couple of weeks is that it doesn’t feel as hustly and bustly. It’s more “this is a fun thing to do and we can do it or not” as opposed to “I genuinely enjoy doing this and it’s also important that I do it.” 

Which is all to say, we’ve been to two (2) fairs in the last week. 

The first was the Topsfield Fair, which bills itself as the oldest county fair in the country, which… maybe? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s the location of some of my earliest childhood memories. My parents took us there every year for years and years (I completely forget why we stopped going?). This year, they wanted to go back and wanted us to join them with the kids, so we all packed up and hoofed it across the state to the Topsfield Fair grounds, about an hour to an hour and a half away, depending on traffic (most of which was right outside the fair). 

The drive itself was probably the only bad part of the day, because Isaac got carsick and Kyle didn’t have cash to pay to park, so we had to go find an ATM after pulling into the parking lot (which resulted in a lot of frantic texts from my mom, who watched us go through the whole routine: “where are you going?? That was you right?? Is everything okay??” and most of these because the fairgrounds don’t have very good 4G). Once we parked and got Isaac out of his pukey clothes (and Carrie into a sparkly skirt and tights and boots), everything started going well. 

Sam had the best time of all of us, which is par for the course. I didn’t know if he’d enjoy it or not because he’s not generally into agriculture things, and as a general rule, the Topsfield Fair is about agriculture. They have giant pumpkin contests and livestock contests and a greased pole and a duck race and things like that, none of it the usual fare for my kid whose favorite things are Star Wars, Minecraft, Legos, and space, sometimes in that order. 

But Sam had a blast. He and I went down one of the giant slides together…

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…before heading to check out the produce barn…

72228416_10156562535260592_1755297204811071488_o(this year’s winning pumpkin–and a gourd behind him lolol)

…and then hurrying to the poultry barn, which ended up being the day’s clear favorite. Sam got to hold a chick and fell in love. He decided he wanted a pet chicken, which Kyle and I told him “maybe when you’re older” (which translates to “like maybe when you have your own house” because I’m all for chickens but I do not want to be the one cleaning the coop, thanks). Unfazed, he proceeded to feed as many chickens as could figure out how to get the chicken feed out of the little cup he received (which ended up being about ⅗ of the ones he addressed with it). 

And he pet a calf and he met some goats and he watched honeybees and he had slow churned Oreo ice cream and won at a midway darts and chased Kyle through a “haunted” fun house. 

I’ll be honest: county fairs are not my speed at all. They’re a bit too much sensory overload, with the blinking lights and ringing bells and the barkers at top volume… but the overwhelmed exhaustion at the end of the day was totally worth it for how much fun Sam had. 

Much more my speed was the second fair of the week, King Richard’s Faire, our local Renaissance Fair (faire? I can never decide?). 

Kyle and I have been Renaissance Fair(e) people since we started dating; one of my earliest trips down to Texas was during Scarborough Renaissance Faire, about an hour from where Kyle grew up. We went together, loved it, and kept going back as long as we lived in Texas. When we moved up to Massachusetts, we switched to King Richard’s Faire, which is significantly less hot and significantly less gigantic… which makes it perfect for a family with twin toddlers and a five-year-old. 

(I mean, aside from the giant tree roots that make strollers an adventure, but that’s neither here nor there)

We had a much more relaxed time at King Richard’s Faire, mostly wandering about, watching a few shows (like Jacques ze Whipper, which was delightful), and letting the kids run around in quieter areas while we people watched. The weather was gloriously autumnal, with highs only in the low 60s and not a cloud in the sky. We spent WAY too much money on food and tickets, but honestly, I’d do it again a hundred times over. It’s a great fair, and I genuinely felt sad that we had to leave when we did. 

I think the reason I end up preferring King Richard’s Faire boils down to that it’s a quieter, more relaxed place. It’s kind of an escape from reality–for those hours we were there, we were in a fantasy pseudo-Renaissance realm that just had this really pleasant aura about it (not a literal New Agey aura, but more of the general feel of people around the fair). The air was full of the scent of wood fires and incense and roast meat, the trees dappled our arms and the ground with shade, pipes and drums played faintly from all corners, and it just felt really relaxing. 

Less sensory overload. That’s what it boils down to; I enjoyed the Topsfield Fair, but I didn’t feel as exhausted when we got home from King Richard’s. I’d love to do both again next year, but this time going into the former with the expectation that it’s going to wear me out and also avoiding the giant slide like the plague.

But in the meantime, we’ve got to plan for our big trip next month, and I will write about that the next time I write here (along with Halloween probably? We’ll see). Until then…

Decisions

You know, if you’d asked me six weeks ago what everyone in the house was going to be for Halloween, I’d have rattled things off so easily that I’d have seemed like a mythical Good Mom, someone who’s got all her shit together and actually does the stuff she pins on Pinterest. 

(I do not have all my shit together, and Pinterest scares me)

And now I’m in a wild spot because while Sam has committed to being Darth Vader (“I’m going to do every other year, Mom! This year, Darth Vader; next year, Jack Skellington; the year after that, Darth Vader…”), I cannot decide what to do with the twins. 

A few weeks ago, Sam decided that he wanted to be Peter Pan, and I thought, well, that makes things easier. He’s Peter Pan. Carrie is Tinkerbell. Isaac is Captain Hook. I’ll be Wendy, Kyle can be Mr. Smee, and life’s fantastic. 

Except the next day (fortunately, before I bought anything), Sam informed me that he didn’t actually want to be Peter Pan. He was married to Darth Vader as a costume. Historically, he’s been unlikely to waver from a chance to dress up like Darth Vader, so I went ahead and ordered that, and it should arrive any day. I’m hoping it arrives while he’s at school so I can lay it out during the twins’ nap and he can try it on once he gets home.

14222370_10153829612385592_6350598245219719049_n(the infamous Darth Vader costume when he first got one, three years ago)

So he’s set. It’s the twins. Wayyyyy back months ago, when I naively thought that maybe I could convince my five-year-old to go along with my Halloween ideas, I thought that we could do a Toy Story thing. Sam would be Buzz Lightyear, Isaac would be Woody, and Carrie would be Jessie. It would be adorable, we’d get some great pictures, everyone would have a laugh. But nope, Sam wants to be Darth Vader, and I’m not about to tell my five-year-old that he can’t wear what he wants on Halloween, and the Toy Story thing doesn’t seem worth the expense (because Toy Story costumes are expensive, at least when you’re buying them for more than one person) if we’re not going to fully commit. 

Some ideas I’ve had and discarded:

  • Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. It’s the obvious choice, but (a) finding a Luke Skywalker costume is very difficult when your costumee is younger than nine; (b) making a Luke Skywalker costume involves time that we don’t have; and (c) I kind of want to save that for when they’re old enough to understand the implications of what they’re wearing. So nope.

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  • Grapes, purple and green. On the one hand: cute, easy, and cheap. On the other hand: there’s no way the twins would do anything besides sob wearing a costume made entirely of balloons. So nope.

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  • Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. If you want the costumes to match somewhat (like, look like they’re of the same quality and you didn’t decide to save on one twin’s costume so that you can splurge on the other), you’re SOL. Tinkerbell costumes exist at every price point for kids Carrie’s size, but Peter Pan costumes seem to only exist for kids Sam’s size and older, which makes no sense to me, but I only ever did B2B construction marketing, so maybe I just don’t know the market.

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  • The tortoise and the hare. Cute, but what statement is it making about the child we dress as the hare?

    legitimatesaneitaliangreyhound-size_restricted(flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, you’re an asshole)

  • Literally any famous male/female pairing in history. They are literally all romantic couples, and I cringe out of my skin whenever I find pictures of twins dressed as, like. Danny Zuko and Sandy or Fred and Wilma Flintstone or Mickey and Minnie Mouse. No offense intended, because finding boy-girl twin Halloween costumes is WAY harder than you’d think, but my twins are not Lannisters.

original(if you’re not up to speed on Game of Thrones, first: you are luckier than I am; and second: these are the Lannisters, Jaime and Cersei, and they are twins and they have three children together. My twins are not Lannisters)

I keep coming back to Carrie being a princess of some sort, which narrows things down basically not at all. She loves princesses and all things sparkly and traditionally girly, and a princess costume would serve possibly quintuple duty at Renaissance Faires and Disney World and a couple of Halloweens. Theoretically, I like dressing her as Rapunzel, and I like dressing Isaac as Pascal the chameleon to match…

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…BUT then it ends up getting to the heart of the issue, that being Isaac not having a lot of identifiable interests yet. Well, no, that’s not true. He has interests. He likes climbing and cleaning. He’s a voracious eater. He loves laughing and exploring and going into and out of things. He likes things being where they belong, whether it’s a shoe on a foot or toys in a toy box. He likes it when I sing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” to them at bedtime. 

But how do you costume any of that?

With Carrie, when someone asks me to describe her, I have the easiest time ever. Picking her up is like picking up a baby made of cotton candy and bubble gum bubbles. She’s a princess with delicate aires and a constant song, a love for sparkles and prettiness and animal companions, a need to have things Her Way Or Else. She’s a gremlin, picking up dirty things off the floor to eat, hiding in dusty places, making weird collections of stuff. She’s a bottle of Diet Coke and Pop Rocks shaken up. You can’t help but adore her.

But Isaac. He almost defies description. He’s determined and needs things to be in their place at all times. He needs his routines to be followed and will get genuinely upset if the Thing that usually follows The Other Thing does not follow The Other Thing. If he wants something, he will get it, no matter how much you try to deter him. He’s fast, voracious, and beyond clever. And then when he smiles, you just absolutely melt, because his smile is incredible, the kind of smile that makes you feel loved to the core. 

Which… I guess is a fine description, but honestly, which one is easier to costume: stereotypical bubblegum candy princess or a clever, determined, fast, voracious sweetheart? 

I think he can be a dragon. 

I know it doesn’t matter a TON one way or the other because they don’t even understand Halloween yet. When Sam was their age, I dressed him as an owl because I told myself, “oh yes, he likes owls!” which he didn’t super like owls, but whatever. He refused to wear most of the costume and cried about it a lot, and I got zero pictures of him in the full costume. It wasn’t until the following year, when he dressed up as Darth Vader, that he really started having fun with Halloween. 

So I know it doesn’t matter, and they won’t care, but I still feel a bit like I’m letting Isaac down because finding a costume that matches who he is and what he likes feels impossible.

So maybe he’ll be a dragon.

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In other decisions news, over the last week, I’ve been asked more times than I realized (at first) if Kyle and I were planning on having more kids. 

Honestly, I have no idea, which is what I’ve said. Whenever people asked me during my pregnancy with the twins, I’d say “NO” and wax eloquent about hysterectomies, but twin pregnancies are awful, and when you’re in the middle of one, it’s hard to feel positively about growing any more humans. Kyle and I were talking today about one incident during the twins’ pregnancy, when Sam told me “Mommy, the poop is everywhere!” and he’d gotten poop all over his bedroom and I was so pregnant and so exhausted that I couldn’t deal with it and begged Kyle to come home from work to save me. 

So I can say with confidence that, given a choice in the matter, I will never have more twins. Absolutely no, not ever, never. 

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And there’s plenty of reason to have an overall “NO” on the books. Three kids is a fine number. I have my girl. Our bedroom setup works very well with three kids. A fourth kid would be a wild ride, financially speaking. I don’t know how my body would handle it. I’m just starting to get my body back into normal person shape after spending upwards of seven years either trying to get pregnant or being pregnant (that’s an additional +60 lbs that came from those seven years, too, which is fun). I want to gain some sense of identity and self outside of making babies. I want to have days with all my kids at school and me writing (or playing video games or, like, cleaning I guess). 

But on the flip side, there’s seven embryos on ice, and I went through hell to make them. No, I don’t want seven more kids, but I’d love one more girl someday, if we’re speaking from an emotional sense. I’d like to go through a pregnancy where (a) I know what I’m doing (like I didn’t with Sam); and (b) I’m not high risk solely because I’ve got more than one baby in me. I’d like to just do things normally and not be in a blind panic and then do the newborn days on Comparatively Easy Mode (because after you do twin newborns, any singleton anything is Comparatively Easy Mode). I’d like to have a matched set, two boys and two girls. I’d like to go into a delivery room knowing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and with a playlist that I didn’t get to use with the twins.

Also I love babies.

So. I don’t know. And we’ve got time to make a decision. As long as we keep paying the $85/month storage fee, our embryos will be stored indefinitely. It’s the only way we CAN grow our family again, if we decide we want another child in the future. But I’m not thinking about it now (and I very much know Kyle isn’t), not more than off and on, as a back of the mind kind of thing. I’ve earned a respite from thinking about what my uterus is doing outside of my once-a-month adventures, from spending money on pregnancy tests and obsessively charting everything my body is doing. And I’m going to enjoy that respite. 

Starting with the Halloween costumes.

Mushroom & Mustard Pork Chops + Communication

MUSHROOM & MUSTARD STUFFED PORK CHOPS
I have no idea where this recipe originally came from–I learned it from my parents, and I think they learned it from a magazine somewhere? Maybe? It probably dates back to around the 1970s in this incarnation, but it’s still good… if you like pork. And mushrooms. And mustard.

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless pork chop for every person eating (i.e., two for two people, three for three people, etc.)
  • 1 lb pasta of your choice (we always use tri-color rotini, but see below for notes)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup heavy cream for every person eating
  • Butter to coat frying pan
  • Mustard
  • Mustard powder
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • OPTIONAL: As many or as few sliced mushrooms as your heart desires.

Directions

Preheat oven to about 175 degrees F (should be the “keep warm” setting if your oven has one). Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat.

Use a fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of each pork chop. Coat the stabbed side in yellow mustard. 

Place pork chops in frying pan, mustard side down. Use fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of non mustard side and coat that side in mustard. Now there are two mustard sides.

Let pork sit for 5-7 minutes before flipping, then cook on opposite side for another 5-7 minutes. Remove pork from frying pan and place in warmed oven. 

Add can of cream of mushroom soup to frying pan without rinsing (gotta keep all those good pork bits in there!), along with yellow mustard (to taste; I like to taste a LOT) and cream. Add mustard powder, tarragon, parsley, pepper, salt, and mushrooms as well.

Combine ingredients and set to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Serve pork sliced into bite-size pieces over bed of pasta and sauce. Enjoy.

NOTES:

  • You can use whatever pasta you like for this dish, but I’ve found it works best with short cut pastas, usually either tri-color varieties (rotini, penne, and radiatore are perennial favorites) or with egg noodles to make a sort of pork stroganoff. If you use a longer cut pasta, you’ll want a pappardelle or else a spinach linguine/fettuccine for best results.
  • Your pork should cook thoroughly between the frying pan and the oven, but make sure you check it for doneness! Pork should not be consumed when it’s under 145 degrees F. Unless you’re super into parasites and salmonella poisoning, in which case, go nuts.
  • I’m a bad Millennial and use canned mushrooms when I make this dish, usually just a can of sliced mushrooms that you can pick up at pretty much any store. If you’re a fancier Millennial than I am, you can slice your mushrooms yourself; just make sure they have time to cook down to a nice tender consistency before serving.

*

Sam has been in school for a grand total of two weeks now, which seems both like an eternity and like no time at all. We’ve all sort of slid into a routine of getting things done at night or in the morning, of going to the bus stop for a certain time in the afternoon and spending the school hours on various baby things until that afternoon time when Sam gets home. Of setting out clothes the night before so I don’t have to get up super early to help him choose an appropriate outfit and making sure everything he needs is tucked neatly into his backpack before he leaves. Of newly enforced strictness about the TV (after all, his pre-K didn’t care much if he was a couple of minutes late) and less screen time.

He’s come home with plenty of stories for us. After a particularly rough day last week, his teacher made him star of the day the next day, which mostly meant that he helped out more around the classroom, but it still made him happier about being there. He’s had to hang out on the wall at recess twice, once by himself (for pushing another kid in line while they were heading outside, which he knows not to do) and once with his best friend Hunter, together but far apart (they were… “blowing on each other” he says? And weren’t mad about it? But were still on the wall? Sigh, I miss getting daily reports from his teachers). He’s doing well, as far as we can see, where academics are concerned, but then again, academics thus far consist of sorting things by color and shape and spelling the words “the” and “red,” which he’s been able to read for about six months now. 

(small personal victories: I was determined that he’d have the basics of reading down before kindergarten and HE DID! Now to try that with the twins…)

So it’s… a process. A transition. I hope he doesn’t end up being That Kid, who always starts recess on the wall (I’m pretty sure most of it’s just that transition period between the sort of relaxed structure of his old school and the stricter one of the new school), which has mostly meant just trying to talk to him when the day is over.

BUT as any parent with kids in school will tell you, that’s harder than it seems. Instinctively, you want to draw out every detail about your kid’s day the second they step off the bus. You want to know everything. Who did they talk to? What did they play at recess? Did they like their lunch? What new words did they learn? What new books did they read? (They read “Red” and I’m so excited about it!) What special class did they have today? What did they do in the special class? 

And then your kid is like “I don’t want to talk about it” or their post school answers end up being one-syllable grunts. “Stuff. I dunno. Yeah. Fine. I guess.” And you wonder if they actually were at school or if they’re leading a secret double life as a teeny tiny international super spy. 

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What we’ve mostly discovered with Sam is that he needs time to decompress at the end of the day, and that we’re most likely to get the full story of his day at bedtime, after the twins are in their room and he’s had a chance to wind down with some screen time and ruckus and little boy things (ranging from Legos to “WHY ARE YOU THROWING THAT???” to “STOP TRYING TO SUPLEX THEM THEY’RE BABIES”). That’s when he’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to tell you,” and Kyle and I listen and affirm his feelings and help him to feel better about the day. If he has a rough day, we tell him that we’ll try again tomorrow. If he has a great day, we tell him that tomorrow may be even better. We try to end the day on a positive note.

We’re not always successful, but we try.

Most of his communication nowadays is about science, and I’m dying to chat with his teachers about how much he loves science, because I completely forgot to list that on his “things he likes” paper (I listed “Minecraft” and “Legos” and “Star Wars” because those are his top three Things, but science legitimately trumps all of them). He’s so incredibly curious about the natural world, and he loves learning everything he can about it. Mostly, he focuses on space–it is, after all, the scientific gateway drug–but thanks to Octonauts, he’s also been really into animals lately; and then he’s also been really into weather the last couple of days. 

(today, we watched a bunch of Weather Channel augmented reality videos–I can’t recommend them highly enough–and Sam just fell absolutely in love with Jim Cantore, which is the cutest damn thing)

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(I also adored a weatherman when I was five. His name was Dick Albert, he was my parents’ age, and I once made him a Christmas tree ornament that I labeled “For Dice” and my mom still has it)

I maintain what I think is a healthy amount of worry about his schooling. I hope that he’s challenged but not so challenged that he loses interest. I hope he behaves himself but doesn’t lose his spark. I hope he makes new friends but doesn’t lose his old friends (so far so good on that one–we are, per his reports, batting 1000 in terms of playing with old best friends Hunter and Kaia at recess)

(they had one day last week where they were, apparently, all Spider Man: Sammy as Peter Parker, Hunter as Miles Morales, and Kaia as Gwen Stacy)

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Then there’s the little ones. 

Isaac, in particular, has me gnawing my fingernails in worry. He’s right where should be with his fine and gross motor skills–he’s our little runner, and he never stops moving. When it comes to communication, though, well…

You’re not supposed to compare babies, which is 100% impossible when you have twins because you have another baby RIGHT THERE, so even when you don’t mean to, you end up just looking at the one who’s ahead and then looking at the other who’s behind and being like “…well? Aren’t you going to do that too?” You don’t mean to and you’re not supposed to, but the dumb part of your brain that doesn’t listen to what you’re supposed to do does it anyway.

Communication-wise, Carrie’s doing great. She’s slowly moving into my favorite phase of language acquisition, which is the parrot phase, where your child just repeats everything you say right back to you as a question, and you want to get mad because you’re trying very hard to explain that they shouldn’t bite other children, but when they look up at you with big eyes and repeat, “We don’t bite our fwends?” in that high-pitched voice, your willpower crumbles. She’s got a good dozen or more words consistently (to either my shame or my pride–not sure which yet–three or four of those words are Disney princesses), and she’s got hand signs for two or three more words. She’s frequently able to tell us when she wants something and what that something is. It’s very nice.

Isaac, not so much. At best, he has three-ish words: mama, dada, and Wubba. He also makes kissy noises at the cat. The trouble is that he doesn’t do any of that consistently or in a way that’s helpful for literally anyone, least of all himself. If he loses his Wubbanub (which is his pacifier with a stuffed animal attached, they are perfect, buy one for your baby today!), instead of saying “Ba! Ba!” like I know he can, he’ll stand in front of me and yell, constant long “AAAAH!” sounds at higher and higher volumes. 

Worse than the yelling, though, is the expression on his face. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it seems like pure frustration that I’m not understanding what he needs and that he can’t communicate it back to me. The longer he yells without me getting it, the more distraught he looks, the more his eyes fill with tears, and the more my heart breaks. 

I want him to have words or some way of communicating with the world. If it turns out he’s autistic, I don’t want him to be neurotypical or anything but himself, but I also don’t want him to be unable to express his wants and needs. I don’t care if it means he has a sign with pictures on it or sign language or a computer or what; I just want him to be able to express himself because I can see how much it hurts him when he can’t.

Anyway, I say all of this because he has a meeting with a speech and language pathologist on Friday for an evaluation and sort of game planning session, hopefully to move forwards into speech therapy for him. Which, again, I don’t want to force him into a mold he doesn’t fit, but I want to see that pain and frustration go away when he’s able to actually communicate that his Wubbanub is missing or that he needs a diaper or wants a bottle. 

As for Carrie, she’s just an absolute peach. She’s honestly dangerously cute, always posing with her chin on her hands and saying, “Cheeeeese!” for me. It should be illegal, really, being that cute, but I can’t complain. 

She and Isaac have started bonding together more now that Sam is in school most of the day. They bring each other their respective lovies when they see the other is upset, or they’ll bring each other clothes and try to get each other dressed. It’s a relief; I was wondering if they’d ever like each other or if it would always be World War III between them. And battles still break out very easily, but they’re usually because we have one of something and they both want it. 

(this even applies when we have two of something but Carrie’s is prettier–Isaac, for instance, is not terribly impressed with tortoiseshell sunglasses but adores Carrie’s sparkly rainbow shades)

They’re sweet. And they’re good. All three of them. And as always, I just hope I’m doing right by them, overall.

 

12 Years, 178 Days to Go

Our town starts school the week before Labor Day, then gives everyone the Friday before Labor Day off, so kids have exactly two (2) days of school in the first week. I like this for kindergarten because it lets us all ease into the routine–it gives two (2) days in the first week to take care of all the administrative work, like labeling stuff and teaching kids the very basics of school life, and then the second week is still short so they aren’t too tired, and likely the real intense stuff doesn’t really pick up until the third week, which starts this coming Tuesday.

But one way or another, school started this week, and it was quite an experience.

Monday afternoon, Kyle and I took Sam in for an open house at the school so that we could drop off his supplies, meet his teacher, get him familiar with the school overall, and ease into everything. Sam’s classroom is ENORMOUS, like about the size of our entire downstairs (minus the dining room). There’s a typical desk and learning space, carpet in front of whiteboard, a play corner, a table with bouncy ball chairs around it, an entire nook for the teacher… it’s amazing. I’m sure most kindergarten classrooms are sizeable (when I remarked on its size to my mom, who taught kindergarten for a few years, she seemed nonplussed), but it still kind of blew my mind. 

What blew Sam’s mind–eventually–was seeing his best friend Hunter there. The two of them warmed up to each other kind of slowly at first, for reasons that Hunter’s parents, Kyle, and I couldn’t figure out (weird new environment? They haven’t seen each other since June? Some sort of kid code? Who knows?), but once they realized that (a) oh that’s you, and (b) we are still best friends, they started frolicking about VERY happily, around the auditorium, on the school bus they had for the kids to explore, all over. It was pretty great and set a positive tone for the first day on Wednesday.

Now, granted, that great and positive tone didn’t show up again for most of Wednesday morning, but who’s counting?

That’s not completely true. The great and positive tone showed up again more quickly than it probably could have, but it was kind of like pulling teeth to get it there. Sam’s my first baby, so I went a little overboard on all the “first day of school” photo supplies, like an oversized shirt that says “CLASS OF 2032” like I’d seen in a friend’s first day of school pictures of her sons and then one of those chalkboards talking about all of Sam’s favorite things and such. I 100% did not need to do all of that, but I like celebrating my kid, and I really want to get to his senior year of high school and have these great collections of photos to look back on.

So Wednesday morning. We all got up at 6:30ish because everyone slept kind of miserably for reasons we haven’t figured out, and I used the #momprivilege card to call dibs on the shower because I’d be the one dropping Sam off that morning, and I didn’t want to look like I was heading right back to the house to spend the rest of the day in my pajamas (even though I was, because chasing after twin toddlers is so much easier when you’re in comfy clothes). As I got in the shower, I let Kyle know where Sam’s first day outfit was laid out and asked him to encourage Sam to get dressed as soon as possible. 

So quick shower later, I come downstairs with dripping hair to see Sam, bundled in a blanket and wearing naught but his underwear and a smile while watching Netflix. Cue, therefore, a lot of flipping out because we had to leave in 15 minutes, and I still hadn’t taken a single picture with all the stuff I bought. And look, if I spend money on a photo prop, I am going to use that photo prop. 

We all rushed. Sam got dressed, and then… well, he didn’t want to get his picture taken. 

It’s the duality of the five-year-old. When I’m taking candid shots of his brother and sister being cute, he jumps in the picture with just his underwear, prompting me to say, “IF YOU WANT TO BE IN THE PICTURES, YOU NEED TO PUT SOME CLOTHES ON” in the Scary Mom voice. This has the excellent effect both of allowing me to take pictures of Sam AND stopping him from running about with nothing on. But then when I want to get pictures of him specifically, he’s suddenly hiding from the Momarazzi, like I’m going to sell pictures of him with chocolate on his face to the highest paying tabloid. 

(…would any tabloids like to buy? I’m just saying, we could use some more simoleons to add to the Halloween Costumes fund)

sellingtomillennial

And, of course, because I wanted to take pictures Wednesday morning, Sam would rather have had his teeth pulled out one by one. 

But I did eventually convince him to stand for some pictures by reminding him that the oversized “CLASS OF 2032” t-shirt makes him look like a ghost. So he posed… in our messy living room, which is somewhat like a mausoleum (we have a gorgeous picture window that means we don’t need lights on most of the day, but first thing in the morning, it makes things kind of… you know, dark). 

Whatever. I got the pictures, and he and I shipped off to school. I was in a mild state of panic because we’d left several minutes later than I’d wanted, and we were supposed to meet with Sam’s best friends from preschool for pictures before we went in. I didn’t want us to be late, so I muttered angrily at red lights and moseying farm equipment the entire ten minute drive to the school (ah, the privileges of living in a tiny town). And lo and behold, we got there way too early for us to do anything but wander around the outside of the building like a pair of lost John Travoltas. 

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(I did get a good picture of him in front of the school, though)

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And then the best friends–that’s Hunter and Kaia–and their families arrived, and we all took pictures and watched our kids, now happily in the company of the friends they’ve had since they were just a year old, run off to their classrooms without so much as a reluctant look back. 

And that was that! I’ll admit to having a lump in my throat for the drive home, but then the twins proceeded to keep me so busy that I didn’t even realize the entire day had passed by when my mother knocked on the front door to keep an eye on the twins while I waited for Sam to get off the school bus. 

(I blame the speed of the day also on the return of the Weather Channel to our Verizon cable, because I’m a nerd and eat hurricane coverage up like ice cream)

For Sam’s part, he seemed to have a good first day. He didn’t get into any details about it, so for all I know, they spent the entire time rehearsing to summon the Great Old Ones and bring about the Destruction of Humanity and A New Age of Cleansing or whatever, but I’m pretty sure they mostly just practiced school things.

(I mean, not that eldritch summoning ISN’T a school thing…)

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The only problem was that he got home with a backpack that was literally dripping. We’d mistakenly given him a water bottle that he couldn’t close all the way, and as a result, his backpack was absolutely flooded. Worse, it wouldn’t zip one way or another, so as soon as he was in bed and the twins were in bed, I found my bra again and headed out to Target to find us a replacement. The pickings were slim (most were like… mint green with pastel donuts or with a mauve paisley print), but I managed to find him a Jansport backpack with stars on it, and those things last forever, so problem officially solved.

Day two was a little wilder to start, somehow. It was Kyle’s first day doing drop off, and in his haste to leave and Sam’s five-year-old-ness and my having twins on me ness, we all forgot about Sam’s lunchbox. Cue Kyle hurrying back less than ten minutes after leaving and delivering said lunchbox to the office, in the hopes that it would make it safely to Sammy (which it did). But for all that hustle and bustle, Sam didn’t really eat much. He had most of his carrots (weirdly enough), and we think? he had the pepperonis we packed him, but everything else was untouched. 

I get that, though. I never used to really like eating more than a snack at school, saving my appetite until I got home and could make myself some real food. But this stuff has basically been Sam’s lunch since he was about two so ???

Whatever. We’ll figure it out, and now he’s home until Tuesday, currently playing his Kindle quietly while the Weather Channel tells us about hurricanes. Isaac is awake after sleeping for maybe three and a half minutes, but seeming less upset about that fact by the minute, and I can shift my focus to the next thing…

…which is school picture day in less than two weeks. Ha.

idekman

First Day of School Stuffed Cookies

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL STUFFED COOKIES
Recipe borrows liberally from Tasty’s recipes for The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies and Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. Check out the notes below for variations! 

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter, toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups chocolate chips
Stuffing (hot fudge, Nutella, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, caramel), chilled

Directions

  1. Melt one cup (2 sticks) butter and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to ensure an even brown. Once you notice dark flecks in the bottom of the boiling butter, transfer to a liquid measuring cup and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. *note: if liquid butter does not reach the 1 cup marker, add water until it reaches that line*
  2. Sift or whisk together flour, kosher salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. 
  3. Cream cooled butter, white sugar, and dark brown sugar in a large bowl. 
  4. Add vanilla extract and eggs to the large bowl and combine thoroughly. 
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients to the large bowl (about ⅓ at a time), mixing until just combined. 
  6. Fold in 2 cups of chocolate chips and other add-ins. 
  7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (overnight if you’re an A+ student!). 
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  9. Use 3 oz. ice cream scoop to form large balls of cookie dough. Flatten balls between the palms of your hands and rest on cookie sheet.
  10. Place fillings (about ½ tbsp per cookie) in the center of the cookie and seal cookie dough around the filling. 
  11. Top each cookie with chocolate chips and other toppings.
  12. Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes. Allow to cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack. 

NOTES:
I use salted butter for my cookie recipe because I really like the contrast of a saltier cookie with sweet chocolate chips (using unsalted butter is a bit too cloying for me), but unsalted butter will work just as well!

I usually only mix standard, semi-sweet chocolate chips into these cookies, but other add-ins can really boost them to a new level! Try any of these: 

  • Chopped dark chocolate. Use a bar of dark chocolate (not bitter chocolate, unless you’re REALLY into that) and give it a rough chop before folding it into your dough alongside the chocolate chips. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. Substitute for about a cup of regular chocolate chips to give some texture contrast to your dough.
  • Espresso powder. Add one tsp after creaming your butter and sugars. 

The possibilities for fillings and toppings are absolutely endless! I tend to stick with just chocolate chips and rainbow sprinkles (to give the cookies a celebratory flair!), but you can top and fill with any number of things! Experiment; that’s what fun in the kitchen is about! 

*

I always hate when I’m looking for a recipe for something and I have to scroll through hours of reading on somebody’s life before I get to the actual recipe. I get that it’s a THING, and I get that it’s all about self-expression, but look. If you’re coming to my blog because you googled “chocolate chip cookie recipe” and this somehow popped up instead of the Food Network or Epicurious or something, here you go. The recipe is at the top, and if you want to read about my life, you can keep going while the cookies bake or something.

67396929_10156380619950592_4343912859269332992_o(they’ll look like this after they bake, for reference)

It’s early August, and Sam is less than three weeks away from starting kindergarten. I’ve got all his supplies here in my office, still sitting in Target bags (more supplies than needed, because I was a bad student and tried to find his supply list online… and the list I found was The Most Wrong, so now I have a bunch of pencils and erasers and things that he’d probably need at some point, just not this year). I’ve got his metaphorical Hogwarts letter with all of the instructions and a little fish with his teacher’s name on it. I know his best friend from daycare is going to be in his class with him. I’ve no idea what bus he’ll be taking home in the afternoons, but if this year’s routes are similar to last year’s, he’ll be getting home a little past three in the afternoon–hopefully while the twins are still napping. 

We’re winding summer down slowly with trips to the beach and company picnics. This past weekend, we packed everyone up in the van and drove up to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, an experience that fell squarely in the middle of the stressful things scale. On the one hand, Isaac got carsick three separate times during the drive and then had a huge diaper blowout after about two hours on the beach. On the other hand, he, Carrie, and Sam seemed to have a blast despite the sickness. Sam and Kyle built a sandcastle together, and the twins huddled with me under our beach umbrella, experimentally playing with sand and eating Goldfish crackers (and sometimes eating sand, too, because they’re babies). 

It was a typical outing for a family with young children. Kyle and I looked at it as a balanced affair, with frustration that having young kids meant we couldn’t do as much around Hampton as we otherwise would have (they have some great arcades and candy shops, and even though I’m trying to lose weight, I have a hard time turning down a beachside candy shop), relief that things went smoothly aside from Isaac’s bodily fluids, and happiness that it was a good day overall. It lasted just long enough that everyone was happily tired when we got home, not so brief that the hour and a half drive seemed a waste of time, not so long that we were exhausted.

And today was Kyle’s company picnic, at a conference center about 40 minutes from our house. I say “conference center,” which makes it sound like it was some sort of buttoned up meeting space and very dull; really, it was more like a summer camp-slash-carnival, with lawn games and bounce houses and cotton candy and face painting and so on. They had some great typical cook-out food (not quite barbecue–hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken, plus a bunch of sides) and some free ice cream, and all-in-all, it was a nice set-up. 

Trouble was that it was LOUD. This is par for the course at every company event I’ve attended for every company ever. The DJ always has the music turned up to 11, the fans are always going to keep the tents cool, there’s a lot of talking and buzzing and noise. I gather that this isn’t something that bugs most people, but it makes it hard for me to engage with anyone–my brain just won’t filter out unimportant sounds like the conversation way over there, the constant roar of the fan, the faint buzz of some fly that wants my lunch. 

Basically, I spent most of today staring blankly into space and probably looking really strange. 

The times I didn’t spend staring blankly into space were fun. The babies enjoyed their cook-out fare, mostly (good: chicken, corn, pasta salad, hot dogs; bad: bell peppers, zucchini). Sam played in the bounce house and obstacle course until he was too sweaty and exhausted to do much more than whine at us. Kyle and I split a cherry cotton candy, and Sam and I giggled our way through a pair of ice cream sandwiches. The twins were adorable, my hair and lipstick were awesome… it was mostly good.

But I am tired. 

So is Isaac, for that matter. He didn’t nap at all today, which meant that the afternoon following the picnic was flavored with his exhausted sobbing at all points, with him nearly nodding off while standing on my lap and then crying when he realized he wasn’t actually completely asleep. I wish we had a clearer picture of what’s going on with him, if only so that we could plan for days like today, maybe with noise cancelling headphones or with frequent breaks or with one of us staying home with him.

He can’t go for an evaluation most places until he’s 18 months old, which is frustrating. He and Carrie turn 17 months old less than a week from today, but the Early Intervention autism specialist can’t test him until he’s 18 months old, and I really want to go through them because otherwise, wait times for an autism screening are many, many months long. And like I’ve been saying, if it turns out that he’s autistic, I’m not bummed out or even slightly disappointed; it’d be nice to have another brain that works like mine in the house, someone to sympathize with me when everything is just too much. 

BUT I also want him to have better coping skills than I have, and to know from a decently early point if he’s going to need more assistance in any area–if he’s going to be like me and deal with frustratingly heavy executive dysfunction and sensory overload issues; if he’s going to need help communicating with us; what accommodations he’ll need to live a happy and healthy life. And I’d like to know that stuff sooner rather than later. 

Sigh. I don’t know. It’s not a super rough waiting game, because at the end of the day, we’re probably only waiting another month, and the screening centers our service coordinator suggested to us haven’t gotten back to me yet anyway. But it’s still frustrating to have no news whatsoever, not in a good or bad way, just because we’re waiting.

And then there’s Carrie, just running laps past every milestone, perfecting her toddle, adding new words to her vocabulary every day. She’s frustratingly cute; she’ll say ‘uh oh!’ or shake her head while saying ‘mm-mm!’ if she’s caught doing something she shouldn’t be. She has her stuffed Bear that she found after my mom brought some boxes to our house a couple of weeks ago; said Bear is now her constant companion, and between him and her stuffed Ariel doll, she’s constantly on about her favorite little friends. She’s impish and giggly and basically everything you’d want out of a little girl, almost stereotypically so. All she needs are the little pigtails and she’ll be sitting squarely in the “Platonic form of Daughter” box. 

She and Isaac get along better these days than they used to, though they still fight over toys and books and my lap. They give each other kisses pretty frequently, team up to accomplish whatever baby feat they’re working on, hide in their “clubhouse” (which is underneath and behind their high chairs, against the wall), and find each other’s lovies whenever the other is crying (Carrie will actually toddle around calling “Wubba! Wubba!” when Isaac loses his pacifier-slash-Wubbanub; Isaac throws Bear at Carrie whenever she cries). I think that’s my one fear with Isaac having autism; I worry that it will affect their relationship. I don’t think it will, but I want them to be close, or at least as close as they can be. 

But. But but but. 

School starts soon, and there are cookies to bake. Good night.

Beds and Screenings

When you’ve got three kids, you pretty much feel like most of your Big Adulting milestones are far behind you, especially if you’ve got three kids, a spouse, and a house. You’ve finished whatever schooling was expected of you, you’ve got married, you’ve signed papers for a mortgage, you’ve done your taxes, you’ve had a job or two or ten, you’ve had kids, you’ve ticked so many things off the list that it’s easy to forget other smaller milestones that come along the way.

Like buying appliances. We bought appliances for the first time when we bought our house, as the previous owners planned to take the fridge with them and the dishwasher had a color scheme and serial number that suggested it had been manufactured in the 1970s. In those halcyon days before Sears became a memory, we wandered through the Kenmore section and chose our appliances in black, not because we had an affinity for black appliances (honestly, stainless steel hasn’t gone anywhere for years, so that would have made more sense) but because the one remaining appliance–the stove–was black and we wanted things to match.

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(this is literally what our old dishwasher looked like)

That was nearly four years ago, and this week, Kyle and I checked another milestone off the list that we didn’t realize was a milestone: we bought a bed.

It’s not our first bed, obviously. We started our married life with an inflatable mattress that lasted three months and was perfectly fine for sleeping and marital activities until one night in August. We’d been sleeping soundly until very, very early in the morning when Kyle shook me awake and asked, “Do you ever have that sinking feeling?” And lo and behold, we were in the process of descending to the floor as our inflatable mattress ceased to be so inflated. We discovered, once morning came, that the mattress had somehow acquired insurmountable holes and was no longer suitable for use by anyone. 

SO we eventually shuffled off to Big Lots and bought the cheapest possible queen mattress and the cheapest possible frame and, like the very talented young marrieds we were, didn’t even bother with a box spring. And for the next eight years, that mattress worked very well for us! Or… mostly well. In the last year, the bed has begun to show the strain of belonging to two fat people (one of whom, we discovered this week, has gone down 6 pant sizes–not me, but one of whom!). 

(it’s Kyle, he’s down six pant sizes)

And admittedly, a lot of the recent strain on the bed, at least on my side, came from the twin pregnancy making me enormous, which put pressure on the springs and turned the bed from delightful and comfortable to misery. The springs had reached a point where they were poking my hip violently throughout the night, and poor Kyle has been dealing with lower back pain for ages, which made everything harder than usual. 

So a new bed. We’ve had a recent windfall of money, thanks to Kyle’s family, and while they were up visiting this week, we wanted to actually shop for a bed, not just go to Big Lots and buy the cheapest and easiest thing in the store. Fortunately for us, my cousin works at a Mattress Firm and was able to give us the Sleep System Experience (I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but it is now). 

And, you know, it really felt like an adult thing because the consideration was less ‘we need this, let’s just get whatever we can afford’ and more ‘what will last us and ensure that we have a good night’s sleep for years to come?’ That, really, was the adult part, where yes, affordability was a concern, but we could afford to consider quality as well. 

We tried out beds like a pair of lumbering Goldilockses, and in the end, we walked away with a pretty nice mattress and an adjustable frame (which I wasn’t sold on until my cousin put it in the “zero gravity” position for us and we both kind of groaned in relief like “ah yes, I remember being 18 and not having back problems”). Both were delivered on Saturday, along with lavender sheets (Kyle’s color choice, and I’m not complaining, purple is awesome) and a comforter that was listed on Amazon as being steel grey but is really one of the many shades of poop we’ve encountered over the last five years of being parents. And I’ve added to my “must buy” list a headboard (preferably one with a bookshelf) and a less poop colored comforter and maybe some throw pillows BECAUSE we got a king-sized bed. 

I never thought we’d need a king-sized bed, even though Kyle and I are both generously sized. We’ve slept in king-sized beds while traveling before, and though we’d start the night spread out and on different sides and laughing about how much space we had, we’d inevitably end the night wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed because I guess we like each other or something? And even with Kyle’s height (he’s 6’4”), a queen seemed to suit our needs perfectly. 

And then we had kids. 

More specifically, we had one kid grow old enough to leave his own room in the middle of the night and come into ours for, oh, any number of reasons. Lately, it’s because he’s just lonely, because my son is nothing if not a people person (he’s going to do so well in kindergarten… I hope), but it can be anything from nightmares to a stomach ache to he suddenly thought of a story to tell us. When he was smaller, I didn’t mind him in our bed because he could easily snuggle between the two of us, and we could all sleep comfortably. 

2017_03_listicle_10_things_nobody_told_you_about_bed-sharing_still

Now, though, Sam is creeping ever closer to the four-foot mark, and having him in bed with us had become… well, difficult, we’ll say. It was the worst when I was pregnant with the twins, because of course, I was a small moose and Sam was clingy, but there was just no space in the bed for Kyle AND Sam AND me AND the planet that was my huge belly. We brought him back to his own bed most nights, but that wasn’t an ideal solution because he’d need a long discussion to get him back in the mood for sleeping in his own room, which meant that one or both of us would miss out on a lot of sleep. If we’d had the space, we’d have just let him sleep in the bed with us, but…

Well. I’m no longer pregnant with twins (a fact I’m grateful for every day), but Sam is even larger than he was before, and his midnight jaunts to our room haven’t slowed down in the least. For a while, with our bed being the disaster it was, we set up a little nest next to the bed, and he’d just hunker down there, content to be in the room with us, even if not in the bed; but that always gave me “wow, I’m a shitty mom” vibes–me in my comfortable bed and my son on the floor in my room, as if he didn’t have his own bed.

(his own bed, despite having a kind of cheap mattress, is very nice–it’s a sleigh bed, even, which has me envious as I click through pages of headboards on Wayfair)

The bed invasions won’t stop, and I don’t really want them to. I’d read an article a while ago about a woman who’d bedshared with her son and how people would always snidely remark about how “you don’t want him in your bed when he’s a teenager” and while she no longer bedshared with him once he’d reached his teen years, she made it clear to him that her room and her arms were always open to him, without judgement or condition. And he heard her and she was the one he came to when he had a broken heart or a difficult time at school or any number of myriad things teenagers deal with.

We didn’t really bedshare with Sam when he was a baby (both of us are paranoid about rolling over in our sleep), but at the same time, I want him to know that he’s always safe with us, whether it’s sleeping in our bed or sitting on the couch between us or buckled in the back seat of our car. I want that for the twins, too, when they’re old enough, whether it’s because of a bad dream or a bad thunderstorm. That they feel safe and comfortable with us is absolutely paramount for me. 

SO! King-sized bed it is. Maybe, eventually, if we ever transfer another embryo and get a dog and more cats and who knows what else, we’ll get another king and push them together like some sort of magical giant frankenbed, but for now, we’re enjoying the HELL out of this adjustable king-sized bed.

*

On the other side of things is Isaac.

Isaac, my beautiful smiley little boy, my unexpected middle child who’s cuddled his way into my heart so deeply and irrevocably, my adventurous snugglebug whose smile could cure cancer. He’s been developmentally delayed–and officially labeled as such–since he was about four months old, most of that coming from (a) some torticollis and (b) that he was born six weeks early. We’ve had him in Early Intervention for that since about that time, and for a while, he was progressing by leaps and bounds, going from a potato who could only look over his right shoulder to a rocket baby zooming around the living room at the speed of sound. 

9roldw

But lately he’s kind of stalled. It’s not a big deal, honestly, because babies do that. They go through a developmental leap and they stall, they gain 15,000 skills over the course of one (long, sleepless) weekend and they pause. It’s more noticeable when you have twins because they never stall at the same time (and this stall happened while Carrie busily learned to stand on her own and take small, uncertain steps), but stalls still aren’t unexpected. At worst, I figured, we could just speak with the Early Intervention team and see about getting him some physical therapy or occupational therapy so that he’d keep up with his sister in terms of walking and talking.

He’s also a rocker and a bouncer, constantly moving himself in almost violent back and forth movements, sometimes mashing his face against something and other times mashing the back of his head against something. He can’t fall asleep unless he spends a decent amount of time on his hands and knees, rocking back and forth while dutifully sucking on his Wubbanub. And to be clear, babies rock and stim a lot, because the world is new and they need to experience it from all angles. Rocking is soothing for babies, too, and for the most part, it didn’t worry me. 

But something in my brain pinged that maybe I should worry, just a little. After all, we have Early Intervention anyway, and they’ve always told us that any evaluation the twins need, they’ll do for free. With that in mind, I asked the twins’ caseworker to bring an ASQ, or Autism Screening Questionnaire, with her when she came to our house next.

The ASQ is a series of what felt like six billion questions that you answer “always/often” or “sometimes” or “never” and your kid gets scored based on your answers. I don’t remember the scoring specifically, but I do remember that 65 was the cutoff for further testing. Carrie, who had her six month evaluation today, took the test first and got a 30, which is numerically the equivalent of “might possibly be the inverse of autistic, like citsitua” and that surprises exactly no one who’s ever spent time with her. She lives for sensory stimulation of all kinds and is about as neurotypical as a sixteen-month-old baby can be. 

Isaac, on the other hand, scored a 95, which is numerically the equivalent of “at least two autisms, possibly even three.” 

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Fortunately, our caseworker and our physical therapist (who was there for Carrie’s evaluation) also had a copy of the M-CHAT, which is the next step in autism screening. Its proper name is the “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers” and it’s basically the exact same thing as the ASQ, only with fewer and more streamlined questions. With that one, a score below 8 suggests a mild or moderate concern, while 8 and higher suggests that further evaluation is warranted. 

Annnnnnd Isaac scored an 8.

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So we’re moving forward with his autism screening, with our EI office’s autism specialist coming in the next couple of weeks to have a playtime evaluation with him, just 10-15 minutes to see if he should be fast-tracked to an evaluation program, a process that can otherwise take months or even years (which I think is absolutely ridiculous BUT there’s probably an enormous backlog). And I have feelings.

I was pretty weirded out (in a good way) by the questionnaires hitting on questions I wouldn’t have even thought to associate with autism, like questions about constipation or increased muscle tone or “have you ever wondered if your baby was deaf” among the more typical ones like “does your baby have good eye contact” or “does your baby perform repetitive motions?” And I’m relieved for those questions because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a completely nonverbal Rain Man type to be autistic. Isaac has great eye contact and likes people… but he also has no sense of stranger danger, doesn’t have any real words, and is often very stiff like he can’t stand to be positioned any way that’s different from his current position (which makes diaper changes a blast). 

The idea of one of my kids being autistic is also unsurprising to me; it runs in my family as much as brown eyes, enormous knockers, and astigmatism do. Though my younger sister is the only one in my immediate family with an official diagnosis, the rest of us easily fall into the category of “had current diagnostic criteria been used when I was six, I’d have a diagnosis and a half.” Kyle’s been telling me for ages that I should see a doctor to be officially diagnosed, and honestly, if things move in a more autistic direction with Isaac, I probably will. 

I mean, there’s a lot to it, and so much of treatment and diagnosis nowadays focuses less on what it’s like to actually be autistic and more on how autistic people interact with the world around them. In my experience, and from what I’ve read, a lot of it relates to the usual filters in your brain just… not working the way they do in neurotypical brains. A neurotypical person might easily be able to filter out things like the scratch of a shirt tag, the sound of the air conditioner, the flickering light in the corner, the smell of a long since cleaned spill, the taste of dry mouth, but it’s honest effort to filter those things out when your brain works autistically, and so you’re always on the verge of reaching a level of overstimulation that doesn’t much come for the neurotypical brain outside of the throbbing, psychedelic dance floor of a local club or Disney World on Christmas Eve.

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It’s exhausting. Some days, I reach the end of the day and just need to zone out completely, sit in a dark room and breathe. I have a hard time socializing outside a quiet or one-on-one setting because trying to figure out which voices matter and which ones don’t is really hard. Online or when it’s just with another person–especially someone I know well–I follow conversations very easily, but beyond that, I tend to spend my socializing time towards the edge of a room, counting down the seconds until I can leave.

But anyway. The point of all that is to say that if Isaac is autistic, I’m glad that he’s got me to advocate for him. This sounds really smug and haughty like “ha ha, my autistic child could not have a better parent than I, for I am the best of the parentals!” but it’s really more like “how fortunate to have been born to a mom who understands exactly how his brain works because it’s how her brain works.” It means I’ll be able to help him recognize when he’s getting overstimulated before it ends in a meltdown and help him find ways to cope with the loud, brilliant world that won’t lead to his complete ostracization. It’s like a vision impaired or hearing impaired parent having a child with a similar situation: they’re able to help better because they’re in the thick of it with their child. They know how to navigate a world that’s going to be harsh for their child because of the situation of their birth, in the same way that all parents teach their kids certain things about functioning in the wide world.

So overall, I’m pretty chill about it, but I do have two fears: therapy and Autism Moms ™.

They tie into each other, really. With therapy, I fear therapeutic approaches that, instead of teaching Isaac to cope with the world, will instead train him to appear neurotypical while ignoring what’s going on in his brain that causes the atypical behaviors. I’m not interested in tweaking his behavior; if he needs to stim, I want him to feel confident enough in himself that he can do so. I am, however, interested in teaching him coping mechanisms so that the world isn’t too much for him. 

Related to that… the Autism Moms ™.

Not every mom of an autistic kid falls into the category of Autism Moms ™. When I think Autism Moms ™ I think of the Jenny McCarthy type, the type wailing about autism stealing their child away from them, the one who will try bleach enemas and raw diets and anything to “”””cure”””” their child’s autism. 

I never have good encounters with these types (and they are incredibly common on parenting websites and forums). Things usually start off calmly enough but end with me trying to get it through their thick skulls that kids who have autism are STILL PEOPLE and THEY STILL HAVE EMOTIONS and maybe saying “I wouldn’t wish my autistic son on my worst enemy” IS A SHITTY THING TO SAY. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of autism moms I know are not this type; they’re fantastic advocates for their kids and respect that their children are PEOPLE, that autism is less tragedy and more “well, I just have to adjust my style and expectations like you do with every kid.” But I still fear the Autism Moms ™ because I know my feelings on autism aren’t super popular with them, and I think I’d probably get torn a new one for being really calm about my son potentially being autistic (like… ?? am I supposed to freak out and cry and sob? What is that going to change?). I want to have a village, but I do not want THAT village. 

So I focus on things like the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the #ActuallyAutistic tag on Twitter, and I’ll keep doing so as we all move forward with this. Fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be able to have Isaac evaluated soon and know one way or another, but either way…

Well, he’s my sweet little baby elephant, exactly as he is, no matter how he is.

What they deserve

Sam graduated from pre-K last Friday, which I used to think wasn’t a HUGE deal because, really, must we have graduations for every transition in life? But then he graduated and I was crying the second they started playing “Pomp & Circumstance” (on his principal’s iPhone held up to a microphone, which had everyone falling out laughing). He got the superlative of “the next Luke Skywalker,” which is fair, and had lots of cute pictures with his teacher and with us.

Earlier that day, he’d had his kindergarten screening, which was less to see how good he is at the alphabet and counting and such and more to make sure that his classroom next fall is a good mix of kids. While he was busy playing games that demonstrated his abilities in things like motor skills, concepts, and socialization, I got to sit down and learn all about the kindergarten adventure awaiting us in the fall, for which Sam is most assuredly ready and I am mostly ready.

I say “mostly” because I’m vacillating in how emotional I feel about it. Many days, I think, “Please, someone take this child for the full 8 hours of school, I am exhausted” and many days, I think, “Oh, I hope he’s ready, because we’ve been trying really hard, but there’s so much different about school school compared to preschool.”

Years and years ago, before I had kids, I’d planned to homeschool, less because I think that public schools are a bad influence or because I think that they’re bad overall and more because I wanted to be able to give my kids the individual attention that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford for them to get in a public or even private school setting. That way, if any of my kids were super advanced in any area, we could push them harder; and if any of my kids were having a hard time in any area, we could give them a chance to catch up. And, honestly, I still like a lot of that and would probably be more inclined towards homeschooling them if we were ever in a part of the country or the state where the public schools were less consistently good.

(our tiny town of less than 10,000 people is also a pretty upper class town, by and large, so the public schools are pretty well funded and marked well overall for everything but activities–because the schools have about 14 total people in them–and diversity–for the same reason)

But Sam is such a social kid, and yeah, programs exist for socializing homeschooled kids, but he honestly thrives in a classroom environment, even more than I’d expected he would, and I don’t think I could do him justice teaching him at home.

(the jury is still out on Isaac and Carrie)

It’s going to be a huge adjustment for him, and we’re already seeing his anxiety about that ramp up. He’s having a LOT harder time with bedtime lately, coming downstairs multiple times after being tucked in to ask for, say, a cold drink of water or for another bedtime story or so many varied things. And then once he falls asleep, he keeps waking up in the middle of the night wanting to be cuddled and reassured or, on particularly bad nights, to set up a nest in our room and sleep there until morning (mostly because he’s gotten too big for the bed). Part of me–the part that enjoys uninterrupted evenings–is inclined to scold him for it, but most of me gets that he can’t express his anxiety in better ways, so he just struggles sleeping, and we help him through it as we can.

He probably won’t remember us working through this with him–I mean, my own memories of being five are spotty at best and mostly associated with either being constipated or being at Disney World (at one point, both at the same time, hey!), but I hope that it embeds in his subconscious that Kyle and I are here to help him work through the things he can’t figure out on his own.

Ultimately, that’s what I want for my kids. I don’t want any of them to ever have the feeling of “oh man, my dad/mom’s gonna kill me, I can’t tell them about this!” or “I’ll be in too much trouble if they find out; I have to do this on my own.” If they end up at a party and can’t trust their friends to take them home for whatever reason, even if they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, I want them to call me for a ride. If they’re really struggling with their classes in school, I want them to ask for help. If they end up either pregnant or getting someone pregnant or with an STD, I want them to talk to me as soon as it happens so that we can work out a plan together.

If they’re queer in any way–homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, genderqueer, whatever–I want them to know that they can come out to me without fear and that I’ll always be their fiercest advocate, no matter the political climate or what anyone else thinks.

If their life path takes them in a direction that maybe I don’t agree with but isn’t hurting themselves or anyone else (objectively speaking), I want them to know that I love and support them no matter what, that they will always have a place in my home.

If their political or religious beliefs differ wildly from mine but they aren’t hurting themselves or anyone else or advocating for hurting themselves or anyone else, I want them to always be able to talk to me openly and comfortably, to know that I take them seriously, even while they’re still kids.

Because they’re my kids, and honestly, it’s the least they deserve.

 

That Happened

Sam turned 5 yesterday, and when I thought about writing this blog, I thought I’d be reflecting on everything that’s changed about him and life in the last five years, BUT then this weekend verged on panicky stress in myriad ways, so cowabunga it is, and it all started with the birthday party.

cowabunga

Sam requested a birthday party this year, which I’ve been expecting for a while. A lot of his friends have birthday parties annually, so I knew it was only a matter of time before he requested of his own. The trouble is that our house isn’t really… suited to parties? Kyle and I aren’t the “entertaining guests” types (have another couple over for a game of Cards Against Humanity? Absolutely. Have a bunch of people over? Hello, that’s my social anxiety sending me into the bathroom wheezing), so entertainment space wasn’t high on our list of priorities when we bought the house fiveish years ago. As a result, we’ve got kind of a pass through living room (which is a mess right now, because babies), our dining room houses all of Sam’s toys, our kitchen lacks counter space of any kind, and we have no parking.

So Sam having a party wasn’t quite as simple as I remember my birthday parties being when I was a kid–just some friends getting dropped off at my house for a couple of hours, eating cake, watching me open presents, and then playing with party favors in the backyard. We needed to find a different space to host the party and, after a lot of research and pricing, we settled on Sam’s favorite indoor playground at a local mall. The prices were entirely reasonable, and the party itself was a blast. Sam had such a great time, and I think all the other kids there did, too.

But the act of getting to and from the party, along with a brief incident during the party, almost had the whole thing spiraling into disaster.

We actually managed to get everyone dressed and out of the house in a timely manner, which is no small task when you’ve got one-year-old twins who are being taken out during naptime… and when you have to pack the car with baked goods and favors and everything related to partying. We were actually out of the driveway fifteen minutes early! A good omen, right?

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Well… not quite, as it turned out. Kyle, who has an ear for this sort of thing, noticed that the van was making a rattling noise whenever we took a sharpish turn. The van is, I may have mentioned, a little over ten years old, and while it’s a Toyota (so the motor runs fantastic), it’s bound to have some issues at this age. Most of its issues thus far have been body or accident related (namely, the front driver’s side mirror got torn off by a tree branch, and one of the washer fluid dispensers somehow got turned around, so it now shoots sad little spurts of washer fluid all over the hood in a comically pathetic manner), but rattling is never a good sign.

So that was a pall over things, but I was in stressed out IT IS MY FIRSTBORN SON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY mom mode, so I informed Kyle on no uncertain terms that we were not to worry about the van until we left the party.

We got to the venue, we set up, and my parents arrived shortly thereafter to help out with everything, and shortly after that, guests started arriving. And it was a whirlwind and everything was going so well until! It was time to see if anyone wanted to get their face painted. With the help of some of the other moms, I rounded up the kids from the playground and found all of them… except SAM.

Now, Sam knows better than to run off without telling us where he’s going, and he’s also a little too frightened of the world at large to do so, but the fact remained that we could not find Sam. Kyle and I combed the playground, went into all the nooks and crannies, but with no luck. My mind was racing, split into two lines of thought: (a) OH GOD, MY SON GOT KIDNAPPED ON HIS BIRTHDAY I AM THE WORST MOTHER EVER; and (b) OH GOD, MY SON GOT KIDNAPPED ON HIS BIRTHDAY, THE OTHER MOMS MUST THINK I AM THE WORST MOTHER EVER.

gastomg

As it turned out, Sam had just sneaked into the bathroom without telling anyone and was spotted going in there by another dad. Kyle knocked on the door, Sam yelled at him that he was almost done leave me alone dad gawd, and crisis averted.

The rest of the party was great. Everyone enjoyed the baked goods, everyone sang happy birthday to Sam, everyone got to be pirates of some flavor, and then it was time to head home with babies barely conscious and Sam flopping all over me like a fish out of water. He was happy, beyond happy, but he was exhausted.

And, of course, the van was making rattling noises, so my parents agreed to follow us home on backroads (because it’s better to break down NOT on the state’s main thoroughfare), and we headed back, all of us in a kind of “well that was a lot” fugue. Once we returned to the house, Sam opened all of his birthday presents in a hyperactive flurry, dove into building his new Lego sets, and snuggled up in his new Stitch kirigumi, hours before bedtime.

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(this is adorable, but I am biased)

At bedtime, we brought the babies up first, and then started to go through Sam’s bedtime routine. This is where the third catastrophe struck because, you see, we couldn’t find Puppy.

Puppy has been Sam’s best companion since his first birthday, when Kat bought him as a gift, delighting in Puppy’s resemblance to Sam’s Nana’s dog Greta. Since then, Sam and Puppy have been inseparable as much as a boy and his stuffed dog can be. He counts Puppy as a member of the family, as his conscience, as the devil on his shoulder, as co-creator of the universe (his theology and science are a little spotty).

On Saturday, Sam insisted, as he usually does, that he bring Puppy in the car with him. We agreed, with the caveat that Puppy must stay in the car so he didn’t get lost.

Ha.

tenor

Saturday night, as we went to tuck Sam in for bed, he asked us, “Where’s Puppy?” and we realized that we didn’t know. Nobody could recall seeing Puppy after we reached the mall, and nobody thought anything of it because we’d been hauling so much into the house, between baked goods, presents, and children, that a missing stuffed animal didn’t seem that much out of the ordinary. We figured that Puppy must’ve gotten caught up with the other presents, put somewhere he wasn’t usually, maybe even left in the car.

But repeated searches of both the house and the usual places in the car turned up empty. Sam slept heavily because he was so exhausted by the party, but told us in the morning that he missed Puppy very much.

The morning was, by the way, Mother’s Day. Kyle let me sleep as much as he could, which my body interpreted as “it’s the exact same time you usually get up, why aren’t you awake yet?” I came downstairs to receive all the children on my lap and to hear Kyle tell me that the remote control for the TV and cable had somehow gotten disconnected from the TV so that we had to adjust the volume manually.

All’s good. We hunted for Puppy some more, turned up nothing, watched Game of Thrones (long, exhausted sigh), tried to sleep. About halfway through the night, I blearily awoke to Sam trying to climb in bed with me and Kyle because he’d had a nightmare (according to him: Isaac was sick and had no legs or hands and Sam had no legs or hands so he couldn’t give Isaac his medicine). Our bed isn’t quite big enough to accommodate Sam right now (since he, being Kyle’s son, is extremely long), so we set up a nest for him right next to our bed and carried on with the night.

Monday morning dawned cold and rainy and Sam’s actual birthday. We still had no idea where Puppy was, and we had plans to bring Sam to Chuck E Cheese for this, his last birthday where he didn’t have to be in school. And that we did, and he had a blast, running from game to game and ride to ride until he was exhausted…

…but not quite exhausted enough that our attempt to put him to bed without Puppy was successful for the third time. Half an hour after we tucked him in, he shuffled downstairs, telling us that he absolutely could not sleep without Puppy anymore, not if he didn’t want to have nightmares. Kyle and I got up to do another thorough search of the house, though now we couldn’t search the van as well, since Kyle had dropped it off to get the rattling inspected.

We worked off Sam’s clues, including his insistence that he’d brought Puppy inside and tossed him the air a few times before bringing him upstairs. Those clues turned out to be duds, and we simply could not find that stuffed dog. The only thing that made Sam content enough to sleep was when I called Kyle and had him pretend to be Puppy and pretend to tell Sam that he was coming home soon. After that, Sam slept well, but Kyle and I were in a state.

Because on the one hand, there’s the cold reality that if your child brings their favorite lovey everywhere, the chances of it becoming a Lost Toy are extremely good. We know Sam didn’t bring Puppy out of the van at the mall, but that didn’t preclude the possibility of Puppy falling out of the van and nobody noticing. And on the one hand, there’s this harsh logos part of the brain that wants to say, “Well, now you know not to bring your toys everywhere so carelessly.”

I told that part of my brain to fuck off because, really, brain?

The other hand is, of course, the heartbreaking possibility of your baby’s favorite lovey being gone forever and how you’re supposed to help him cope with that. The internet, I have found, is not very much help for this issue, as most of the suggestions are along the lines of “buy an identical replacement!” And yeah, that was entirely possible until Toys R Us (the store Puppy came from) closed and FAO Schwarz (the manufacturer) revamped their husky puppies to look completely different.

In the end, we planned to use some mixture of our own storytelling capabilities and Toy Story lore, combined with Amazon’s new one day shipping (they are evil, but they get things here fast) to bring Sam a reasonable facsimile along with some story about how Puppy had to go away for a little bit so that he could grow up, just like Sammy was, and how he has a different face and looks cleaner but he’s still Sammy’s Puppy in his heart.

And, knowing Sam and how he is the world’s least bribable kid, and how he sees through literally every line of BS we sell him, it would fall flat and we’d have to go the cold world route, whether we wanted to or not.

elsafuck

Thankfully, though, the story has a happy ending. Kyle picked up the van this afternoon (diagnosis: power steering was cracked and leaking and the struts are starting to get wobbly) and dug through every corner of the thing for anything we missed. In his digging, he remembered that Sam likes to hide things in compartments and pockets and so opened the compartments on either side of Sam’s seat in the back. Sure enough, nestled into one of the compartments was our beloved wayward Puppy.

Sam’s reaction to seeing Puppy on Facetime was beautiful, and I won’t pretend it didn’t make me cry. Bedtime was much simpler and faster, and this weekend’s crises have all been put to bed.

But MAN, I am exhausted, emotionally and physically and mentally.

So. Happy birthday to my beautiful firstborn son. I hope we managed to keep the craziness of this weekend under wraps enough that it was a fantastic one for you.

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