Home Now…

NEWS ALERT:  I AM A HOMESCHOOL MOM NOW.

Let me repeat that, just in case it didn’t sink in the first time.  I am a homeschool mom now. We are homeschool people.  We were never going to be homeschool people. I mean, never-ever-ever-ever-no-freaking-way-over-my-dead-body-ever.

And yet…

One of the most commonly heard phrases right now (at least in my neck of the woods) is “the struggle is real”.  I thought I got it.  Seriously.  Two parents with jobs and two kids and the daily crap that goes with that is enough.  Add in all the struggles and the emotional stuff and the autism stuff and my school schedule and the house that just won’t quit (breaking)… it was already way more real than was probably healthy. And now we’re homeschool people. I’d love to be able to tell you I’m having all the feelings, but I promised honesty.

I’m almost to the point of being afraid to feel my feelings.  My needle is swinging from numb to “Danger Will Robinson!” faster than Mason can say “can I have my tablet?”… actually.  No, that’s about the right speed, now that I’m thinking about it. I am frustrated beyond belief.  I am angry and disappointed and heartbroken and floating in a mist of uncertainty.  To put it bluntly, I’m terrified.

Kaleb has been riding an emotional rollercoaster his whole life.  But he was stable two years ago.  He was doing well and on a clear path. This is where we introduce the mommy guilt.  So many things have probably built up to contribute to this.  Our moving, my course load, our jobs and so much more. But really, the last 16 months have just been a downward slide of rejection, disappointment, heartache, and regression because he hasn’t been able to get joy out of the one thing he’s always found joy – learning. He hasn’t felt safe and secure in school, and that’s the one place that he’s always seen as his constant outside of home.

I’m not going into why we pulled him, not yet.  It’s too raw and I’m too damn tired to dredge it all up.  In the end, what it came down to was Kaleb’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And that’s always going to make even the most terrifying decision an easy one.  That comes first. So, we’re homeschool people now.

He’s emotionally regressed years. It’s going to take serious work to get him back to where he was, and then some. I’m talking about almost having to drag my nearly-12-year-old out of the grocery store today for behaviors he hasn’t displayed since 3rd grade.

This is scary as hell for us. How do we integrate socialization from home?  The truth is though, right now, we don’t.  We help him focus on his mental and emotional health.  And we support him as he remembers why he has a love of learning. I know this will be hard, and some serious sacrifices are going to have to be made.  But there are bright sides too.

For a start, Kaleb began virtual classes today.  In the last 90 minutes, he’s completed over 12% of his entire math course with all A’s (man, you should have seen how pissed he was when he realized he had to start with the number line).  He’s happy and shiny and pleased as punch with himself. He’s bouncing in his seat – not the erratic, anxious, picking-his-skin-until-it-bleeds kind of bouncing either.  What I’ve got here is the bonafide light, happy, “I’m doing something that makes me happy” bouncing.

Not that it was easy to get him there.  First, we had an hour-long argument over why there was an estimated completion time at the top of his list of assignments that he felt was way off the mark because he could do it in less than that time easily, and it didn’t make any sense…. we wasted an hour on this. Something I ended up coloring over with a sharpie while practically vibrating with frustration. We then had a 40 minute struggle over the set-up of the course.  It went like this:  Me: “click this button, do the lesson, then click that button to do the assignment.”  Kaleb: “WHY ISN’T THE ASSIGNMENT RIGHT AFTER THE LESSON THAT’S STUPID AND IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE AND WHY WOULD ANY LOGICAL PERSON DO THAT AND…

Do you feel my pain yet? It took everything I had not to shriek that I didn’t know because I didn’t design the damn thing. Only, louder. And more “mommy’s on the verge of a panic attack so just why do we have to fight about this innane bullshit?!” But I didn’t. Shriek. Or have a panic attack.

This is the point where I pause and remind myself that this is exactly why we are homeschool people now.  Because all of a sudden he needs an answer to every single thing, every single time even when there are no answers to be had. This isn’t new.  In fact, it’s old. Very, very old.  This is kindergarten Kaleb peeking through the curtains. And it’s got me completely off balance.

That is really the biggest benefit of this.  The idea that we can help to get him back to a good place. Without having to worry about school, we can tweak (and hopefully remove) some of his medications. We can adjust our expectations based on what we are seeing, not the snippets we are hearing. There are good points, they’re just hard to see through the fog.

The truth, as I’ve promised, is that I’m drained. This is just one of a dozen different things that have gone so unexpectedly sideways lately I feel like I’m never going to get a proper grip on anything again. The emotional temperature of these kids is all over the place and it’s got me running in circles with no clear direction. There are so many more unanswered questions than there are answers and so much is unknown. But we’re doing it. We’re homeschool people now.

Send wine.

SarahRichterArt Pixabay

Human Behavior…

I am supposed to be doing so much homework right now,  it makes total sense that I’m on here instead, right?  Okay, maybe not.  But I can’t concentrate.  Well, I can’t concentrate on coming up with a reasonable thesis about the necessities of a reader understanding the social and political climate in order to fully appreciate a satiric novel.

Instead, I am completely consumed with the ideas of behavioral reinforcement and/or punishment.  More to the point, how in the hell am I supposed to help my kid change unwanted behaviors when said child could not give a shit less about consequences?

That wasn’t rhetorical.  I’m open to suggestions.  Only, don’t suggest building a giant velcro wall using the trampoline base and sticking my kids in velcro suits so I can launch them Ninja Warrier style onto said velcro wall, where I can watch them like flies on fly-paper until they’ve agreed to stop doing really absurd shit.  Todd already said no to that idea, the spoilsport.

Last time I was on here I did a mini-dive into the anxieties my kids face.  But now I want to look at a whole different monster.  Because anxious or not, actions still have consequences, and I have hit a wall when it comes to effective measures of dealing with unwanted behaviors. As usual for me, I have done far too much research on this, hoping to find some kind of method or idea that we haven’t already tried (and watched fail), but I’m at a loss.

So, let’s start with the basics.  In psychology there are 4 main methods of either reinforcing or punishing behaviors:

  1. Positive Reinforcement – Adding something positive to increase a response.  Think about offering dessert for eating all of dinner.
  2. Negative Reinforcement – Taking away something negative to increase a response. Such as, my constant badgering to brush teeth stops when the kid brushes his damn teeth.
  3. Positive Punishment – Adding something negative to cut out a response. Such as having a child do an additional 30 minutes of reading at home when he refuses to do his work in school.
  4. Negative Punishment – Taking away something positive to cut out a response.  Like taking away electronics time when a major rule is broken.

So, the basic idea is that any time you want to reinforce a behavioral change, one of these four methods is implemented.  But how do you know which one to use?  Or, in our case, what the hell do you do when you’ve used all of them in various ways over the years and it doesn’t make any difference?

This, friends, is one of the most frustrating things about life with autism I have come across yet.  Meltdowns can be next level, but I can usually see them coming.  A need for routine and a constant desire for fully understanding the ins and outs of everything from the logical to the downright absurd (think going from reading stereo instructions to asking why cows need four feet), okay, fine.  I can work with that, even if it is frustrating.  But this?  Figuring out how to curb unwanted behaviors in kids who don’t really give a rats ass about consequences? This is a bitch.

Allow me to lay this out for you.  We’ll start with the littlest first.

Broadly speaking, Mason does pretty well with a combination of positive reinforcement and negative punishment.  Here’s what that looks like right now:  We have a points system we use in the house.  Points are like currency.  He earns points by doing well in school, maintaining basic hygiene, and managing a couple of small household responsibilities (making his bed, putting his laundry away, etc).  He then gets to spend those points on things he wants, such as time on electronics.  Until recently, this was a fairly lax system for Mase, as he was able to earn enough points each day to get his tv or his tablet or whatever.  However, when his behavior at school started sliding downhill, along with his grades, we changed it up.

Now, I’ve taken away the access to all electronic devices on weeknights (negative punishment), and he has to earn enough points throughout the week to have them back for the weekend (positive reinforcement). In addition to this, there are weeknight privileges he can earn as well, and a bonus point system.  For example, if he earns a minimum of 7 points today, we play a game of his choosing for family game night. If he earns 60 points throughout the week, he can have his tablet on the weekend after his chores and 30 minutes of reading are done.  If he earns more than that 60 points, the left-over points are saved, and over time he can earn things like a day at the zoo, etc.

Strict?  Yes.  Has he done better in school?  Yes.  He also sleeps better because he doesn’t have his face crammed into a screen for two hours a day.  He’s more engaged, and pleasant, and is forced to spend more time interacting with the rest of the living creatures in this house. Of course, he hates being unplugged all week – but he’ll live.

Then, here comes Kaleb.  This kid.  Without going into too much detail, let’s say that he has absolutely zero compunction when it comes to other people’s personal spaces or stuff.  And yet, if his personal space is invaded you bet your ass there is a war on the horizon.

Okay, once again, I get that this is par for the course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  Nor does that mean I have to be content with raising a hypocrite. So, moving on.

In the span of a week, Kaleb has had his hands in lots of pies – and none of them were his.  Devices that were not his to mess with have been altered or reset.  Rooms and workspaces that were not his to enter were violated without hesitation.  So, what do we do here?

Let me point out, Kaleb runs on a points system much like Mason’s, since they were both doing poorly in school.  Which means, he only has his devices on weekends.  So, when he does what he did this past week, our immediate inclination is to take away the ability to have the electronics at all for a certain amount of time and try come up with a different positive reinforcement goal.  He cares about this… for about 10 minutes.  Then he’s reading a book or running back and forth through the house humming Windows 98 tunes or whatever at the top of his lungs with the sole purpose of driving all of us completely mad.

Here’s where the problem lies – none of the reinforcement/punishment strategies do shit with this kid.  Positive reinforcement – okay, first of all, how do you positively reinforce someone to not take shit that isn’t theirs?  Here kid, have a cupcake every time you don’t go into my room and riffle through my stuff and take my tablet without my permission?  How does that work?

I’m not being sarcastic here, or at least, not intentionally.  I’m dead serious.  If someone has a strategy for positive reinforcement in this instance I am all ears. And before it gets suggested, we have gone so far as to lock all the stuff up in a cabinet with an actual lock. But that isn’t the point.  The point is, I should not have to do that.  I should not have to hide my tablet from my 12-year-old.

Now we look at negative reinforcement.  Look, I don’t know how many of the people who read this have met me in real life, so I’ll explain something real quick.  I do not have a deep voice.  And when I get worked up, I really get pitchy.  You wanna talk negative reinforcement?  How about not having to listen to me lecture your ass?  Again, I’m not joking.  One of the things Kaleb hates the most in the world is having to have “conversations” with me when he’s done something foolish.  He thinks it is torture to have to sit out here and discuss what has happened and what should be done about it.

So, where were we?  Oh, right.  Positive punishment – add something negative to stop a behavior.  Once again, I’m at a loss.  I can add chores, or essays, or jumping jacks or a dissertation on nuclear physics (probably not a punishment for him but it sounds like hell to me), but how do I make him do it?  He’s not 3, I cannot have him clean the bathroom hand over hand like a toddler who needs to pick up his blocks.  How do you make that stick?  As far as negative punishment – I’m pretty sure I already mentioned the removal of the electronics…

Where we are at right now is this:  Kaleb did a lot of big no-no’s over the last week.  Impulse control is an issue – always has been, and will likely be something he struggles with for the rest of his life. Impulse control in Kaleb’s world isn’t like it is for the rest of us.  When I talk about it,  I don’t mean choosing not to buy that Snickers bar while you’re standing in the checkout lane.  I mean actively making the decision not to rob a bank because your paycheck was crappy.  It’s a whole new level.  And, to make matters worse, this is not a simple matter of impulse control.  This is a matter of knowing right from wrong and choosing wrong anyway because it suits what you want at the moment.  This is hiding the stuff he’s gotten into because he knows he’s not supposed to have it, which shows he is not only aware of what he is doing but that he intends to continue doing it.

What the hell do we do?

He wants all these freedoms – and yet time and again we are unable to give them to him because he is constantly pushing his boundaries too far.  He wants to be able to be on a computer unsupervised (he screwed the desktop up so badly we had to completely reinstall the operating system and start from scratch – a fact he acts almost proud of).  He wants to have unrestricted access to YouTube (don’t even get me started).  He wants a laptop. He wants, he wants he wants.  But each and every time we get to a point where he starts to show a bit of restraint and we start to think he’s ready to take on the responsibility that comes with a new privilege, he turns around and pulls some shit like this. Which leaves me at a total loss.

How do you trust him to make wise choices, when he’s completely ruled by impulse?

We’re trying a new system this week – one that largely entails that he spends every waking minute in the presence of an adult until he is so damn sick of us both that by the time he gets his freedom back he might think twice before repeating the same mistake.  Except… we’ve thought that before, and we’ve been wrong. I am entirely open to suggestions here.  Because now I’m back to feeling more like a prison warden than a mom.

Once more for good measure, I’ll ask it again, what do you do?  How do you get through to a kid nearing teenage years who has a stubborn streak that could cross half the continent? A kid who will dig in his heels and starve rather than eat something he finds unpleasant?  How do you help him curb the behaviors?  How do you get him to see the seriousness of what he is doing and how it impacts other people?

I’m fresh out of ideas, and it’s beyond frustrating.

Walking Back to Happiness

Earlier this morning, as I was sitting on my porch working, Mason (my 7-year-old wildlife lover), made an exhilarating discovery.   I was startled to the point of nearly falling out of my chair when he started bellowing for me to “Come here!  Right now!  Bring your phone!  Hurry!”  Now, I figured this had something to do with some form of backyard wonder, since already today he had captured and studied a snail, a roly-poly, a few ants and a slug.   I was not, however, expecting his enthusiasm to be over a pair of mating lizards, furiously going at it on the screen enclosure.  He frantically waved me over as I got closer, like some manic supporter at the finish line of a marathon.   “Look!” he practically screamed at me, finger outstretched and pointing to the lizards.  “Look mom!  He’s smiling!  Take a picture!”  As I attempted to open my camera app while holding back my laughter,   he said one more thing that would bounce around in my head for hours.

“He’s just so happy!”

Lizard Love

Well isn’t that just the damn truth.  From the looks of it, the little guy had plenty of reasons for the big smile on his face.  But it got me thinking.  What is happy?  What does that mean?  The answer is likely different for everyone.  Theoretical physics makes Kaleb (my 10-year-old going on 20-year-old going on 5-year-old science nerd) happy.  It does not make me happy.  Instead, it makes my head hurt and my eyes feel like they’ve just gone for a run through the clothes drier.

Seriously though, what defines happiness?  How do you measure it?  Can it even be measured?

A couple years ago, after the reality awakening experience I wrote about the other day, I picked up a couple of self-helpy type books that focused on habits and happiness.  One of them was Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.  It was a good read.  Insightful, funny, and full of ideas about how to perceive and improve your own happiness.  I enjoyed it immensely and vowed to work on my own happiness.  But I did so with a narrow focus, and no real inner rumination past the point of one goal.

I had decided that my key to happiness was paved with college courses.  That if I could just go back and finish school, I could finally be what I was supposed to be, and that new level of self-sufficiency would make me happy.  I wasn’t entirely wrong.  But I was nowhere near right either.  I looked at one tiny corner of my great big life, and decided it was going to be the thing that saved me.

Nevermind that I wasn’t happy with my health, especially after having quit smoking, thus eating my cravings and steadily putting on weight in all the wrong places.  Nevermind that I felt like I was juggling the kids and the house on my own with little to no support.  Not that I ever said these things to my husband, for a variety of ill-conceived bullshit excuses.  I don’t want to start a fight.  Maybe I’m the problem.  This is how relationships are supposed to be.  I’m not holding up my end of the deal.  So on and on the cycle continued.

I figured I would go back to school, and everyone else would have to step up to help me.  They wouldn’t have a choice, because I’d be too busy to do it all on my own.

Let me just tell you, it did not work out that way.  Shocker!  I know.   Instead, I ended up juggling a full-time school schedule, a 30 hour a week job, and coaching Kaleb’s tennis team so I could adjust the schedule to fit around Mason’s baseball practice.  All while doing the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the resentment building.  Man, I mastered the art of that last one.  I may never be America’s Next Top Masterchef, but I could win some pretty intense awards for hanging on to anger and resentment.

So, the whole time I’m doing this thing for me, and in the long term, my family, I’m secretly getting more and more angry.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that is probably not the most effective path to happiness.  In the meantime, my husband was sitting on the other side of this grand new endeavor I had taken on, stewing in his own resentment.  Because I had no time.  I don’t have time to talk about your day, I’m sorry.  But I’ve still got two hours of work to do, a ten page research paper due in two days, I have to leave in fifteen minutes to take one kid to one sport or another, and I can’t remember the last time I ate.

In short, I did not find my happiness, or improve my life.

Do not get me wrong. that doesn’t mean I gave up.  Instead, I plowed forward with all of the stubbornness I could muster.  I put my head down and I worked my ass off through three semesters of school, all while dealing with the boys’ school stuff, work, birthday parties, holidays, and the chaos that came with buying our first house.  And then I took a break.  I took the spring semester off, so I could work on taking our new disaster, oh, um, I mean house, and making it our home.

And still, all of this time slipped by.  All of these warning signs, meltdowns, problems, and cries for help slipped right past me.  Because I was doing what I said I would do with a single-minded focus.  And tunnel vision.  See, I still hadn’t broken out of my fog.  I’d just… expanded it a bit.  Until the fateful yoga class (thank you leaking-firehose-breather for keeping my mind present and helping me to find my moment of clarity).

I still don’t know how to define happiness.  Is it writing this right now?  I can’t say that dissecting all of my flaws and past mistakes is an exercise that makes me happy.  But it makes me feel better.  And isn’t that kind of the same thing?  Does working on a manuscript or reading my book make me feel happy?  Yes.  But they’re also distractions, and habits I fall into very easily when I don’t want to focus on what’s going on right in front of me in the present moment.  So I have to be careful there.  Yoga makes me happy.  When it’s done.  Not typically in the moment unless it’s aerial.  Usually, I’m too busy thinking Would you just please shut up and tell us to get out of this pose from hell? to be happy in the actual moment.

All of these things, and many others, make me happy in the temporary, and all of them help to make up parts of the whole of who and what I want to be.  And probably, that’s the key to happiness.  Finding all of the small things that work together to form a big, messy, complex picture.  I’ve decided that like Mrs. Rubin, I’m going to start my own happiness project – as I mentioned before.  But mine’s going to look a lot different than hers.  As it should, considering we are wildly different people.

First, I’m going to focus on the things I feel I fail at the most.  Self-care.  Real, honest and open communication with my kids and my husband.  Being present, even when it’s painful.  Those, I believe, will be the next three post topics.  Because each one is worthy of a deeper look.  And because I spent seven years -missing out on all of the great my life has to offer because I couldn’t see past the bad.  I couldn’t see past my own failures, even when those closest to me looked and saw only success.

Because that’s what depression is.  A constant state of steaming failure.  And that’s what is going to help me walk away from it  Because that’s what success is.  A constant state of accepting your perceived failures and trying again anyway.

Today, we are celebrating our country’s independence.  And today, I will celebrate my own independence from a miserable existence of only doing what is necessary to get by.  I will sit on a picnic blanket in a park with my family, and I will enjoy every moment.  Even the miserable ones.  Because I can.  Because being present, even in the miserable moments, is true freedom.

The Munsters…

I’m baaaaaaack…

Though why I felt the need to make that sound like an ominous thing I have no idea.  Clearly, I’ve been gone for a while – and for that I apologize.  It’s been a simply insane 6 months.  So, today I’ll play catch up, and I swear I’ll do my best to get back on track with the Monster reports!

Let’s see, where should we start?

Oh!  I actually got married (those of you that know me are probably still pondering such a miraculous event, and those of you who were directly involved with the sanity *AKA Miss Lisa* are probably still sending thanks to the universe that it’s over)!  Growing up I never figured myself for the marrying kind.  I mean, let’s be honest here – I am a giant pain in the ass.  I’m stubborn, have an issue keeping my thoughts to myself, I absolutely loathe dishes and laundry (the two things that just never seem to go away), oh and then there’s the whole ‘crazy as a loon’ thing I’ve got going on too.  Somehow or another I managed to wind up with a man crazy and brave enough to want to marry me – and the fact that he still wanted to marry me in the midst of all of my fanatically insane wedding planning is a testament to either his own brand of lunacy, or the size of his you-know-whats!  So, anyway, here we are, married.  Eventually I’ll throw some pictures up for your viewing pleasure – after I finally pin the silly man down long enough to go through them.

So, now onto the more important things – the Monsters.

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Let’s start with the main man, Kaleb.

Oh, Kaleb.  My budding thief, word connoisseurfood snob *ahem, I mean critic*, scream king, master builder, tree house dreamer, beverage expert, and all around living breathing proof that insanity is hereditary.  First things first – it was time for a medication change.  After three years, we’d hit the limit with his current medication, and after his latest growth spurt (seriously, how freaking big is he going to get?!) it was no longer doing the job.  Allow me to explain that statement.  Kaleb went from a wily, crazy, creative, loud, messy monster to… well… the truth?  A total nightmare.  We couldn’t contain him.  And I don’t mean to sound like we didn’t try – because oh good golly did we ever.  But it so wasn’t happening.  He was completely out of control.  The violent mood swings and meltdowns increased 50 fold.  The ability to stop and listen long enough for words to sink in – completely vanished.  Grocery shopping turned into a marathon game of “get in, get out, quick quick quick before the screaming causes someone to kick us out”.  Dresser drawers destroyed, toys dismantled, books shredded, ear drums pierced.

Basically, it was time for a change.  Unfortunately, our family is more like the Musters than the Cleavers, and nothing ever goes right.  For starters, the boys’ insurance plans got changed in May (can we say pain in the ass?).  Which in turn, meant we changed pediatricians – something I’d been wanting to do for a while.  However, I clearly didn’t think through the consequences of changing doctors in the middle of a state-wide game of musical chairs.  Within days I had a call from Kaleb’s neurologist informing me that due to the new pediatrician, we needed an updated referral in order to go to our appointment the following week.  So, I immediately call the new doc, requesting the very simple act of faxing over a referral so we can go to his neuro to discuss the medication change.  And I was promptly informed that they wouldn’t do it without seeing him.  Which, due to the previously referenced game, they couldn’t do until October.  Ummmmm what?!  No.  Unacceptable.  Danger Will Robinison.  I cannot wait until October.  He needs his meds changed, and he needs it now.

He needs time to adjust before school starts.  We need time to decide the correct dosage, make sure there are no negative side effects (you know, like how he rabidly devoured anything with a hint of sugar within a five mile radius when he changed his ADHD meds last summer?), and you know – chill him the hell out!  So, now I had to play a new game.  Ring around the freaking rosy with the insurance company and every pediatrician’s office in the damn county.  After a week of frustrating phone calls, I threw in the towel and requested to be sent back to pediatric hell (AKA his previous doctor’s office).  Once done – quite quickly at that, I’m pretty sure the poor lady at the insurance company has started making signs to ward off evil every time she discovered it was me on the other end of her phone – I then had the delightful task of wrangling a referral out of the world’s worst doctor’s office.  Now, don’t get me wrong – it was never the doctor I had an issue with.  It was just everything else.  The fact that I’d show up fifteen minutes early for every appointment, yet never actually see anyone until two hours past my appointment time.  The fact that nobody ever calls you back – ever.  The fact that the dragon lady receptionist wouldn’t give you a straight answer if her life depended on it.

Regardless, there I was, making a very simple request – please send an updated referral to my son’s neurologist.  The very same one you have been sending once a year since he was 18 months old.  Not so difficult.  Or so one would think.  A full month went by with me calling the neurologist every three days only to confirm that they had not yet received the referral, then calling the pediatrician to once again request that it be sent.  Finally, the lady on the phone confirmed the doctor she was sending it to – who just so happened to be the sleep specialist Kaleb hasn’t seen in years – not the neurologist.  The next day we finally got to reschedule Kaleb’s appointment, wham bam thank you ma’am!  Of course, it was for three weeks away, pushing us ever closer to the start of school.  Now, we’ve got him on new meds – but of course we’re on the lowest dose possible to start, and have to wait six weeks to go back to increase the dose if necessary (which, it most certainly is).  In the meantime, Kaleb has been a busy boy – but more on that later!

Now, on to the Mini Monster…

Ah, Mason.  Little devil.  Seriously.  Yes, he’s cute.  He’s freaking adorable.  He’s melt-in-your-mouth-sweet when he wants something from you.  He’s inquisitive as all get-out, to an excessive degree.  I mean, how many times can one person hear “what’s that?” in a fifteen minute time span without starting the slide to complete madness?  He’s also stubborn, aggressive, picky, obsessed with cars (still) and deceptively manipulative.  Oh, have I also mentioned that the kid has an arm reminiscent of a child-version of Cy Young?  I’m not joking.  If you had any idea how many times I’ve been pegged in the head by that dead-on aim you’d end up with sympathy headaches.

Not too much has changed in the world of Mase in the past few months.  His vocab is better – strangers can almost understand him more often than not!  His fine motor skills… well, we’re working on that.  He still refuses to use utensils – not that he can’t, he’s just stubborn and lazy, and prefers the easy way (can you really blame him?).  He’s still obsessed with vehicles of all mode and make.  Trucks, cars, buses, emergency vehicles, trains, boats, planes, helicopters, you name it – if it has an engine and moves, we likely have a miniature version sitting somewhere in the house suspiciously positioned for maximum foot injury.  I have to get him a new copy of his “Things That Go!” Tag book for his birthday because he reads it so often it’s hanging on by a wing and a prayer.

Mason started full-day Pre-K this year.  Cue mom getting caught fist pumping and yelling “I’m Free!” in an elementary school parking lot.

All summer long we counted the days.  7 precious hours to actually accomplish something without having to drop everything every five seconds to prevent Monster 1 from strangling Monster 2.  Or Monster 2 from throwing a giant dump truck at Monster 1’s head.  Or the destruction of the house (massive fail on that one)… 7 chaos free hours, five days a week – imagine the possibilities!  Just imagine!  We certainly did.  Dreams of solo grocery store trips and actually eating my own lunch floated through my head like relentless torture.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my kids to death, and I’d do anything for them.  But holy crap.  Between Kaleb’s constant meltdowns and the two of them constantly at each other’s throats, it was just about impossible to even leave the house with them, let alone actually go do something fun.  Add in the cabin fever we were all experiencing by the end, and can you blame me?  I’m just proud I didn’t spend the entire first day of school curled up on the couch in my snuggy watching the freakin’ Vampire Diaries.

Anyway, back to Mase.  He’s officially a big kid now.  No, that does not mean he’s potty trained.  I swear the kid fluctuates between being convinced the toilet contains the devil, or determining the sole purpose of the device is to wash his favorite dinosaurs and matchbox cars.  But he is going to school full time now.  Now, originally, I was seriously skeptical.  Like considering getting a variance and driving him to and fro every day for the next two years to keep him in the school he was in instead of the new one.  Why, you ask?  Because he was being transferred to the school Kaleb was at 2 years ago.  The one that suspended him 17 times in a span of 3 months because the teacher quite simply (and this is a direct quote from her) “didn’t want to deal with him”.

Yeah, remember that?  Fun times.

However, I’ve got a whole lot more confidence this time around.  The reason?  There are actually a couple.  First, Mase isn’t Kaleb.  Was I worried about his brother’s reputation preceding him and making the road a bit bumpy?  Are you kidding?  I was terrified.  However, we finally got a lucky break.  When I went to the IEP meeting to discuss this upcoming year, I couldn’t have been more thrilled – he was getting a teacher I actually knew (not well, but well enough to have faith that things were going in a good direction), and liked.  I’d met her on multiple occasions while Kaleb attended the school, and I have a great deal of admiration for her – in much the same manner I do for Kaleb’s current teacher, who has turned into no less than a walking talking miracle for him.  So, that right there was a great big chunk of balm on my nerves.

The icing on the cake?  The administration has changed.  I don’t know where the old principal went, and quite frankly, I don’t care.  I don’t hate the woman, I’m sure she’s probably a generally nice lady who did her best.  However, I don’t take well to my child being treated like nothing more than a pest that won’t stop circling your head.  As much as I’d like to say she went out of her way to help him – it just isn’t true.  The VP at the school he’s at now?  I could, would, have, and will continue to say that he’s gone above and beyond.  It’s an insane comfort to know the people in charge of my child’s school actually care about the children – because I’ve met plenty that don’t in my short lifetime.  So, new administration, new teacher, new beginning.

So far Mase seems to be loving it – though I do feel bad – nobody sees the Mase-train coming until it’s steamrolled over them a couple dozen times.

So, there we have it.  New school year, new meds, oh and we finally got a golf cart!  We then promptly destroyed one of the batteries.  Yep.  We’re definitely more of the Munster type of family on this block.

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Bug-A-Boo…

September 21, 2010….

I went into labor.  For approximately one hour and thirty minutes.  We barely made it to the hospital on time – and the poor kid who had the misfortune of working the ER door that night probably wet himself at some point shortly after our arrival.  Sho-Sho was intimidating…. but Mommy was a woman possessed… and you WERE COMING right that very minute, no matter what anyone said.  Of course, Mommy’s big, bad act was kinda stolen from her by your need to have immediate bathroom access.  Oh, well.  It won’t be long before Mommy gets years of practice at yelling at complete strangers – part of that yelling will be on your behalf, by the way.  

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Mason,

Happy Birthday Sweet Bug!

I’ve been trying to write this for a couple of days – but it’s just not easy to list all of the amazing things that make you, you!

I can’t believe you’re three.  I can’t believe you started preschool yesterday.  It seems like two days ago you were a little snug bug who was perfectly content as long as you were in Mommy’s arms.  I can still remember the way you looked at the world around you with such intensity and curiosity.  I just can’t believe you are three – I can’t even wrap my head around you some days.

You entered this world with some serious gusto, and you have taken life on in much the same manner.  Bull by the horns, so to speak.  You are one of a kind, my boy.  Every inch of you – from your head to your toes – from your unwavering love of cars to your hilarious dance routine every time you ask to hear “Radioactive” AKA “Mason’s Song!”.  You bring light, laughter, and joy to everyone who crosses your path.  All it takes is one smile, one giggle and you have the attention  of the whole room.

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You see the world in such a unique way, and it’s such a blessing to be able to look through your eyes.  You have always had this way of studying the things and people around you – I’ve honestly never seen a child so intently observe the world.  Daddy and I love to watch as the gears in your head turn as you observe and figure out the workings of everything you see.

You’re sweet, and smart, and funny, and oh so very entertaining.  I wouldn’t change a thing about you – and I hope you never want to.  You’re a beautiful, exciting, chaotic little boy, and every inch of that is what makes you so wonderful.  I have so many dreams for you, so many things I cannot wait to watch you achieve.  I hope you’ll always be true to who you are.  I hope you’ll always listen to that part of you that is so creative and curious.  I hope you never bring Poopcasso Jr back.  I hope you never flush another dinosaur down the toilet.  I hope you continue to love cooking with Mommy and watching Monster Trucks with Daddy.  I hope you always keep looking up at the world above you, as well as the world around you.  I hope you put that killer arm to use on a baseball or football field and stop pegging me in the head with cars.  I hope you always have a silly streak.  I hope you never let go of the joy you find in simple things.  I hope you stop eating markers, and your brother’s Legos.  I hope you never stop “collecting” memories.  I hope you never lose passion for the things you love.

In short – I hope you always remain exactly who you are – no matter who you grow up to be.

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I cannot wait to see what you do as you grow.  The things you will learn, from everyone and everything in your world, and the way you apply those lessons will surely make an incredible man one day.

For now though, I want to you to stay little.  I want you to remain a child for as long as you can, in a world that forces our children to grow up too quickly.  I want you to pull out your pretend binoculars and look for birds in the sky.  I want you to ride around on your “lawn mower” every Monday morning when the neighbors have their lawns cut.  I want to watch Cars with you over and over again.  I want to chase lizards in the front yard and butterflies in the back.  I want to see your excitement each time you spot the moon.  I want to see your face light up when someone gives you a “ring pop ring”, or when an emergency vehicle drives by.

Be good to your brother.  He’s the only one you have – and while you two have your ups and downs, you should always remember to be there for each other.  You will make each other crazy, but at the end of the day, you will always have one another.

And no matter what – always, always remember that Mommy and Daddy love you.  We want the best for you – we want the world for you.  And we will do whatever we can to make sure you have the best life we can provide.

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You are one incredible little boy.  I love you.  I’m so crazy proud of you.

Okay, I guess I’m done now – you can stop yelling at me, I’m coming to watch Cars right now.

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You and Your Parrot…

Mason has come up with a way to drive his brother completely insane.  And it is foolproof.  I mean it works 100% of the time.  0-200 in .5 seconds.  Perfectly happy Kaleb to complete and utter meltdown in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, Kaleb isn’t the only one being driven insane by this new habit of the Mini Monster – it’s going to put Daddy and myself right in the sanitarium.  Curious as to what Mason has got up his sleeve?

He’s become Pete the Repeat Parrot.

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He’s copying Kaleb.  Constantly.  Words, actions, facial expressions.  On top of that, he’s copying us when we’re talking to Kaleb – which is usually the final bridge that leads to meltdown city.  At first, we were letting it go to an extent.  I mean, it’s a good thing, right?  Mason copying Kaleb means he’s using more language, practicing words, etc.  Of course, we didn’t take in to account Kaleb’s volatile reaction to this.  At first, it was just a bit of whining.  The normal tattling complaint you will get from a kid when his brother is annoying him.

It didn’t take long for that to change.  Now it goes a little something like this:

“Mommy, I don’t want to clean up.”

“Mommy, I onna cean up.”

“No Mason!  Don’t copy me!”

“No Mayo!  Opy me!”

“Mason!  Stop it!  Mommy Mason is copying me!”

“Mayo!  Stop it!  Mommy Mayo opy me!”

“Masoooon!  You don’t copy!  That’s not nice!”  (Insert Kaleb whacking Mason on the head)

“Mason!  Knock it off, leave Kaleb be.  Kaleb, don’t hit your brother, stop screaming, and go pick up that mess.”

“Kaweb no hit Mayo go cean up mess!”

“Arrrggghhhhhh Mason STOP IT!!  Copying is not nice and you’re supposed to be a nice boy!”  (This is a new favorite saying of Kaleb’s)

“Argghehhherhhhh!  Opy not ice Mayo ice boy!”

*Insert extremely high pitched squealing scream*  Masooooooonnnnn!  Noooo!  Stop it!”

“Mason, get away from your brother, now.  Kaleb clean up that mess, now.”

“Kaweb cean up mess now!”

*shrieking I could not copy down on paper if I wanted to*  Kaleb runs at Mason and wacks him on the head.  Mason throws something at Kaleb and starts crying and screaming with enough talent to make a stranger think his toe nails were being removed with rusty spoons.  Mommy separates them both, only for them to go back at each other.  Inform Mason that I know he’s faking.  Inform Kaleb that the next time he screams or goes after his brother he will end up with the mother of all time-outs.  Only to be completely ignored by them both, and have them go at it again.

This has been happening multiple times a day, every day, for far too long now.  What’s worse, is when they’re going at it in the car or the store.  At least in the house we can separate them and get a few minutes respite from the screaming.  What are you supposed to do when they’re offering up ear-splitting shrieks in the closed, confined space of the car?  Turn the music up.  At least, that’s what I do.  And sing.  Loudly.  It doesn’t totally drown out the screaming battle going on behind me, but it’s a whole lot better than it was before.

What’s funny about this, is that just a few years ago Kaleb was guilty of doing this exact same thing to my nephew.  It drove the poor kid crazy.  And again, I let it go for a bit, because Kaleb was learning.  But once I saw just how nuts it was making my nephew I did everything I could to put the kibosh on it.  Of course, I was pretty much as successful as I am right now.  By that, I mean not at all.  Even now the kid runs like the devil is on his heels when Kaleb comes at him.

Hopefully we can find a way to get things calmed down soon, before we all go crazy and Mason ends up being the only sane one left.

Now that is a scary thought!

A Kind Of Hush…

Mason, the murderous fish Monster has struck again.

And this time it was catastrophic.  7 dead fish.  Every single fish left in the tank is now floating in the bottom of a bowl.  Life cruelly ripped away from their glowy fins.

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And of course, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I’m writing this from the quiet comfort of Granny K and Grandpa Dave’s house in Massachusetts.  The fish incident happened on Sunday night – as Daddy and I were attempting to pack everyone’s bags, clean the house, and make sure we weren’t forgetting anything of relevance.  As I sat on the floor in the office switching Kaleb’s clothes to a different suitcase (I am constantly forgetting how big he is now – therefore, I always forget how much room he needs for clothes), Kaleb did something he wasn’t supposed to do.  I can’t even remember what he did at this point.  What I do remember is yelling “Hey!” which was followed immediately by a sinking feeling in my gut when Mason was the one to react to the admonition.

His reaction was typical trouble maker Mason.  He squealed, he laughed with conspiratorial joy, took off across the house, and when he thought nobody was looking he pulled a 180 and went back to what he was doing.  I asked Kaleb to find Mason and then tell me what he was doing.  Daddy heard this and went to look for Mason as well. Before Kaleb could tell me Mason was playing in the fish tank, I could hear the vein in Daddy’s forehead yelling (telepathically of course, I do know that veins cannot speak) for me to get my butt in gear and get over there before he succumbed to a stroke.

For two minutes we just stood at the counter (after properly yelling at and shooing away Mason) staring at the fish tank, wondering what on earth he’d thrown in it.  Finally, it was Daddy who figured it out.

“It’s Ritz Bitz.”

“What?  It can’t be Ritz Bitz.  I watched him shove practically the entire bowl in his mouth not fifteen minutes ago.  Where would he have gotten more?”

“He must have chewed them up then spit them back into the tank.”

“Why??  Why would he do such a thing??  Who spits half eaten Ritz Bitz into a fish tank??”

The answer, of course, is Mason.  Mason drags a stool over to the bar where the tank resides.  Mason removed the lid from the tank.  Mason spit a loaded mouth full of chewed upon Ritz Bitz into the tank.  And in doing so, Mason sealed the fate of the fish.

Daddy left to get a haircut, and I got to work on the tank – all the while giving Mason an imaginary verbal lashing the likes of which he will likely never see.  I emptied the tank, scrubbed it out, scrubbed the rocks, refilled the tank, and dumped the rocks back in.  Only to have a couple hundred tiny pieces of Ritz Bitz float out of the rocks.  Oh, Come on.  Really?

Empty the tank, clean it again, scrub the rocks again, fill it back up, dump the rocks back in… and still there are Ritz Bitz.  You have got to be kidding me – I would be pulling out my hair if my hands weren’t prunes.

Empty the tank, clean it again, say to hell with it and grab the small back of spare rocks in the cabinet, dump those in the water – no Ritz Bitz!  Pull out the filter and throw it in the trash upon realizing it’s covered in a gooey, buttery cracker layer.  Open up the new filter and run it under the water for a couple minutes, put it back in the tank.  Treat the water in the tank and start up the filter.  Daddy comes home from getting a haircut.

Finally, we transfer the fish back to their nice clean home.  And one by one, they completely spaz out.  Twitching, spinning, slowly sinking to the floor.  some of them seem to react when they get close to the filter.  Some of them just act all nuts for no visible reason.  Until, fifteen minutes after taking them out of the yucky Ritz Bitz infested water – they are all dead.

Kaleb watched this whole thing happen – and it was a bit disturbing to see how easily he took the whole “the fish are dying right now as I watch” thing.  One by one we pulled them out of the tank.  They ended up sitting in the bottom of a bowl on the kitchen counter because I was sad and couldn’t bring myself to flush them (yes.  I am sentimental about the fish.  The fish I didn’t even want.).  I then catch Mason throwing popcorn in the bowl of dead fish.  Oh child.  What on earth is wrong with you?  Why would you torture the already dead fish??

Anyway, I’m pretty sure we’re done with fish.  It was a nice idea.  In practice, it was traumatic.  Especially for Daddy, the fish, and myself.  I’m really glad we didn’t end up getting a hamster.

So, we are on vacation.  We’re spending one week with Daddy’s parents and family, and then we’re spending four days with my grandparents.  The last time I was up north Mason was barely a year old, and it was winter – so I froze my bony butt off.  But now… well, when I said earlier that it’s quiet – I certainly wasn’t talking about my kids (when are they ever quiet??), I was talking about the area.  We’ve lived in our neighborhood for a little over four years.  In that time I’ve becoming increasingly better at ignoring all of the constant noise happening around us.  But sitting here this morning, I listened to nothing.  Nothing.  I barely even knew what to do with myself.  There was no traffic, no planes starting up or flying overhead, no lawn mowers or any other kind of motorized noise.

It’s been so long since I’ve been around the quiet, when I first woke up I legitimately thought something was very, very wrong.  I knew I wasn’t deaf – I could hear Daddy snoring.  Zombie apocalypse?  Maybe.  But there are too many houses around for us not have heard some zombie-like noises throughout the night.  Nuclear bomb?  Well.  Really.  I happen to be really fond of myself, but even I know I’m not good enough to survive a nuclear attack that wipes out every other noise around me.

Of course, it was around that time that I fully woke up and realized it was just that quiet.  And as much as I relished it, a part of me was silently grateful when the kids got up and started running amok.  At least the chaos confirms that not only has there been no sort of apocalypse (after all, Mason needs at least three more years to finalize his plans), Hell has obviously not frozen over since neither of them were behaving.

Anyway, as soon as we arrived yesterday Mason jumped out of the car and headed for a mud puddle (it was raining).  Which he proceeded to jump, skip, and crawl around in with the kind of glee you rarely see on his face unless he’s making his brother crazy.  It will definitely be an entertaining week.

 

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