Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Day at the Observatory

How To Make A Comet from James Schneider on Vimeo.

A day spent at the Griffith Observatory last June proved to be a gem. Having never been, we were thrilled and in awe of so many things. We could not tolerate the 'Big Bang' movie experience---to intense in the dark. But this show in the Leonard Nimoy Theatre was a joy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Second Grade to None

Summer's over. School has started, and everything seems faster and more intense. Time to schedule a massage, or mix a cocktail. Meantime, here's looking forward to more frequent postings. Having written extensively in the journal that goes to and from school for my son, I am usually 'over it' by the time blog considers surface.

While not willing to bail, I try to imagine a sharper focus on this wide world of niche parenting. Stay tuned, and thanks. All in the effort to continue getting to 'Yes, Dad.'

Friday, July 3, 2009

Coyote Crosses the Road

So, um, a month has gone by without a post. Write it off to 'Life.'

Anyway. First Grade is out; we've had two weeks of no camp, no school, no real routine. I've had heartburn which is probably a heartattack just testing the waters. I've gone swimming more than ever...of course taking the kids. It kills me to see them inside, doing nothing, watching TV. Yes, that's what I probably aspired to at that age, but I just can't bear the image of them slipping into StupidVille. Fresh air. Sunshine. Exercise. A fine start.

Summer school starts next week--and already we're in for a struggle. The State has moved Summer School to an offsite school, necessitating transportation. If only we could walk across the street like we normally do during the year. Ah, California. The crime is we're at an excellent public school. OK, moving on. I have tried to intice my son to read and write some before he loses all his year long progress of these skills. It has proven fruitless. A few unconvincing stabs is all we've achieved. I try to convince myself that, for atypically developing kids, this is probably typical.

So, today, after securing real summer camp for him in August, I took my son on a field trip. As we're not going back to our hometown this July 4th, I am trying to visit neglected, nearby places of interest. I also hoped to find some form of education or activity that encourages brain waves. The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles couldn't have been a better choice. Renovated a couple years ago to the tune of about $93 Million, it is an amazing facility with much to offer. Interactive yet old-school exhibits; helpful, knowledgeable staff; science made fun --- we will be back. My son's behavior of late has suffered from a lack of routine and of structure, and a place like this will hopefully start the wheels turning again. A desperation move on my part, perhaps, to give up most of the entire weekday---but heck, it is a holiday weekend coming up. Not 100% perfect for our needs, however. The Dome-movie about the Center of the Universe was too scary. A minute into it, we had to leave the theatre. Maybe the anticipation of The Big Bang was too much to sit for. Maybe just the whole enveloped feeling of being lost in the celestial night was simply more that we could handle. He and I processed it later, and happily, my son still can't wait to go back to The G.O.

As we drove away, down the road from the Observatory, a scrawny canine-like creature crossed in front of our car. So glad I wasn't texting or something equally distracted, as I would have run over the beast. It turned around and looked at us. It had to be the saddest, hungriest, skinniest coyote I've ever seen. It was, in fact, the only coyote I've ever seen. He stood his ground without any bravado or terror. A colorful sendoff to a fun, exhilirating day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Beans and Rice

My 7 1/2 yr old son wants me to go out tonight and buy some beans and rice. Not to eat, but to play with. When he was as young as 28 months, we used to buy beans and rice in bulk as a sensory integration activity. Whaaah? Yes, we'd pour them in a box or container and he would squeeze the beans and/or rice to kind of wake up his sensory input abilities.

We'd lay out a plastic mat, then the container, then add the beans and he'd sometimes sit right in the container. Often we'd bury little dinosaurs under the beans to motivate him to dig around and find them, thus creating some fun for him, too. We've had to do these kinds of activities with our son since he was under two years old. While at the time, no diagnosis of Autism was given, we still had the more generic blanket of Sensory Integration Disorder. S.I.D. covers a lot of ground, and of course, shouldn't be confused with SIDS.

He's come so far, we've long moved on from our 'Bean Work.' But sometimes something will set us off to revisit our old 'friends.' Today, after a solid morning of Adaptive Gymnastics and later ball play with the good folks at Leaps n Boundz in Play Vista, CA, I took my son and daughter to the local fruit store. There we sample almost anything not nailed down while still making enough purchases to avoid any manager's Evil Eye. In one row, they had boxes of nuts: Walnuts, Brazilian nuts, Pecans in the shell, etc. And a couple big scoopers. Granted, M. has been on an excavation kick since watching the Big Machines video. But the scoops and the hard nuts mesmerized him (daughter liked it, too, but she's partial to almost anything her older brother is). This helped me get some shopping done, keeping them ocupado. For the rest of the day, however, M. keeps asking about wanting to work with beans. He's always been sentimental, and part of it could be the attraction to old routines and patterns. (That's pretty important on the Spectrum). So tonight, after finding nothing that would really fill the bill for him to do something sensorially this way, I mentioned maybe I could go to the 24 hour grocery store.

If I do this, I will still get the Evil Eye. But this will be from my wife who doesn't want or need any further messes in the house. Yes, it would be messy. Yet, if it gives him comfort and helps him, this is just the kind of messy we've been working with since almost the beginning of his life. I'll stretch my legs soon, and expect to pop out to Ralph's to see about their bulk.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Little Z

Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs had a meltdown Wednesday rivaling that of my son's on the same night. The difference? Big Z got violent while little M got insolent. In both cases, it was all about attitude. I couldn't get my guy to read; I couldn't get him to listen; I wasn't going to argue or negotiate or placate. Tonight, a day later, things are much better. We don't know why, but he had a good day at school, and though we were delayed with finishing our homework, we did it.

We banged out our spelling sentences. This has transformed from a loathed Thursday chore, to something he (and I) actually enjoy doing. I take the dozen spelling words of the week and form a half dozen sentences for him working with his week's list. And while we do this, or before or after maybe, there's a chance to talk about other stuff. I really wanted to revisit last night's mess. He had already broken the ice earlier with a heartfelt and unsoliticited apology. Yay! So now, with dust settled, we talked about it.

Earlier, I had heard of the cost to Zambrano for his own blowup: Six games and a few thousand bucks. And it was a gimme to connect the dots and help M. understand the price of these explosions. Any opportunity to talk baseball or hockey or now, even basketball, helps. His face lit up when I mentioned the Cubs (though he's more of Dodgers fan), and his face fell when he heard about Zambrano's tantrum and the penalty. Similiarly, I pointed out the Bozo on the Nuggets who got a Technical foul against the Lakers with a showboating routine. Thank goodness for these role-models athletes.

It's fun, these off-the-cuff conversations. It's fine to be passionate, I told him. (This sidebars into a 'passion' definition). It's great to have feelings and express them, I said. (These being some of his lifelong challenges---getting in touch with what he's feeling or what's going on within his body). But no matter what you feel, it's all how you express it.

And though I didn't think it til later, I'm now put-off by Zambrano's antics. Sure, it feels good to pummel a Gatorade cooler and bump an ump and yell and toss equipment around. But it's just not cool. Maybe the week off will help Big Z clear his mind. It only took a day for little M.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Read. READ.

I know when my first grader lies. I know when he fakes it. I know when he tries, when he gets frustrated and often, I can help him untangle the wires. I'm his translator. I'm his amplifier. I'm his interpreter. And sometimes, I'm simply his coxswain, yelping out encouragement.

His teacher assigns reading every night. Minimum fifteen minutes. Out loud. I had to ask her to clarify the Out Loud part cause otherwise, he won't do it. And when I sit by him, even when he does read Out Loud, he still skips over stuff, or bails or gets frustrated. And I gently push him back to the word he skipped. Or refused. Or screams about. 'Break it down. Try the first two or three letters...then the next...then then last. Put it together. Good!'

We will map out his summer soon, but we have a solid month of school left. We can't just run away from first grade. He's doing so well, and we're continually surprised at words he does recognize, or when we learn new word, it's all magic.

I can't believe the Junie B Jones books. Horrible grammar alone should have kept this out of the schools. Annoying can be fun, I suppose, but sheesh. My son already speaks really well---what a turn off to read the protagonist say, 'I runned all the way...'

Really? Really?

I did find a good Jr Dictionary at B & N. Paged through a bunch and found a solid choice. We still hope to read something with a narrative. But tonight, I can't fight. At some point, he's going to have to do it with or without me. And somehow, I can't simply be the circus-net that he knows is there to catch him.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Holidays are both a blessing and also the thorniest of times. If I don't organize something, then it seems the kids stay nestled inside all day. Makes me long for the glory days of backyards and easy neighborhood playtime. Still, we found time to go swimming on a perfect day. The four year old is dying to learn how to swim. I gave it my best, and now I pray we find something appropriate and closeby for the summer. The seven year old is really having fun now. Gone are the hysterics of getting accidentally dunked where the water in the eyes sounds like it was in fact, acid. He's always had trouble between his crazylong eyelashes and his penchant for primal screams. But now, he's come so far. Thank Poseidon.

We also went to the park a couple times. The big kid swings are also a source of pride. Forever, it seems, we couldn't get Matthew to swing himself back and forth. "Feet out, feet back." (Repeat fifty times, then bite tongue.) Now he soars. And Carly is getting there, too. Much better adept at this, perhaps it helps to have a model. The first time this weekend I really asked for it: M on his Razr, C on her new big girl bike, and Juno the schipperke gamely joining us at the park. Found some decent shade for the transport and little dog while the kids got to be kids. Nice to see that it wasn't just the nannies and me this time. It was a moderately populated neighborhood gathering. The water park portion isn't on, likely due to the drought. No complaints from me. The second time we went (today), it was even more packed, but still OK. They've done so much at this park---we had the sandbox area/play structure followed by the big kids swing and park a block or so away. How effing boring, I'm sure, but when you're watching and taking pictures and taking in some sweet weather, it ain't all bad.