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.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Non Fiction Fan

Movies are hard for my son. Too dark in the theatre. Too loud (especially the previews). And there's too much conflict in the story, usually, for him to relax. He can't write it off as 'just a movie.' It's a literal interpretation that he can't ignore. So, my dreams going to the movies together has had to be radically rethought.

I've lately had occasions to visit various L.A. Public Libraries; ones in different neighborhoods I hardly know. This is wonderful. And, when I'm done with whatever brought me there (a rehearsal, a performance, a test), I peruse the media shelves. I'm prowling for music I can add to my own personal library, and today, found a wealth of DVDs to choose from at the Edendale Branch.

Alas, at home, we practically struck out. 'Bolt,' a pretty recent Disney flick about a TV dog star who lives his life in front of unseen cameras in what he believes is just real life---proved too puzzling to my son. I really thought the 'mild peril' would be the stuff that would bum him out, but he stomached that OK. It was at around the 20 minute mark, when some snarky cats came by to make fun of Bolt--well, that's when the questions kicked in.

I think it goes back to my son's challenge in abstract thought. He's a pragmatist to the enth degree. He hardly watches TV to begin with, so even a fictitious TV star hardly resonates with him. It can make him unsure or even scared. And that translates, according to my son, to be the type of movie that gives him nightmares.

Knowing he likes a more gentle pace sometimes, older movies, say, I also checked out a classic, 'That Darn Cat.' The title sequence at the top of the flick still holds up. It's a more benign if simplistic level of humor. What's curious to me is how my son's sense of humor is more advanced that this by a longshot. He's sly, in fact. But then...Frank Gorshin does a slimy bankrobber bit, and another thug is pretty tough, too. And, seeing Elsa Lancaster as a Bank Teller held hostage, well, we're done before twenty minutes again.

Our third disk of the night was a winner. Big Machines
Non Fiction, how things work stuff, and something that a pragmatic language issue type of guy can eat up. OK, so, we got that going. And we'll build from there.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

P.D.D. yeah You Know Me

The ground constantly shifts with our son. It's hard to predict if it's going to be an easy morning or not. Mostly, it's been not this week, and yet, at school, he's mostly been in a good place. Focusing better academically; seeking less physical stimuli; and oftentimes being a kid who isn't too atypical of his classmates.

Exceptions to this can be devastating, however. On Wednesdays, a sweet retiree comes in the Library and works with M. on his reading. Reading is a non-preferred activity, and as such, can elicit rude comments and erratic behavior. And the past Wednesday, our guy ran out of the room after using some choice words on the volunteer. A letter or something of apology is forthcoming. But this is the type of wild swings that cross the line; that demonstrate atypically-developing kids.

Years ago when we were first working with all sorts of Early Intervention Therapists (for Speech; for OT; for PT...), we met with pediatric neurologist who had both good and bad things for our ears. That M was responding really well to the therapies and that by age 5, he would be 'mainstreamed' with his classmates. Well, didn't happen til almost 7, but we're there now. He also said that as parents of an atypically developing child, we would have to work about four or five times harder. It was like sentencing from a judge. Still, it gave us some sort of border, some sort of solid idea of what we'd be looking at. At that time, this Doctor gave no diagnosis for Autism. Rather, it was a general 'PDD' or Pervasive Development Disorder. More a big net that includes many things. NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). It took us a move out West before we'd get a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Movie Trouble

I took off late Friday morning to catch a movie. Catching movies for me doesn't happen as much as it should. On datenight, for instance, the talk of going to a movie usually melds into just sitting down for dinner, somewhere, where the food won't be room temp-to-cold before we eat. Sleeping in movies is more my style if it starts at after 9:45pm. So, I don't see enough first run movies in theatres.

My seven year old son has been to the movie theatre maybe four times in his life. Usually it's a problem; too dark, too loud, too scary with insufficient warnings to transitions and, yes, surprises. I took him to Dumbo at El Capitan in Hollywood when he was five. A beautiful and ornate palace, it features a live organ in the orchestra pit for the preshow. Dumbo was being re-released prior to a DVD reissue. Thankfully, it was a slow day, the ushers let us sit up close despite no extra pricy reserved ticket. When the lights went down, Matthew's anxiety spiked. I put my arm round him and told him things were OK; that this is how it is at the theatre. (I'm sure I gave him some sort of pre-show prep talk.) We had prearranged to visit the concession stand for popcorn, and we were maybe twenty minutes in when I got summoned for that trip. It was a time to confirm that all was O.K., and that, no, they can't turn-on the lights to watch the movie. We made it through alright, and it was chalked up as an 'adventure.'

I next took him to the Egyptian for a new version of Lassie, and it was again a challenge to stay in the theatre. But I listened to him and was ready to leave at anytime, if requested. I tried for months maybe years after to get him to go back. All his friends would talk about movies like Happy Feet, or Ku Fu Panda and it hurt that he refused to go. Playdates got aborted, or redirected. Even school programs could be a challenge if a movie would screen in class that had bad guys or even a whiff of antagonism. We made it clear to his teachers and his B.I. that if it was causing our son to be upset, you can't force him to watch. You must let him walk away.

One bright spot came along with the DVD release of Cars. That's one he loves to this day, and gives me hope that maybe Matthew can someday enjoy movies. I know that when I see movies now, a part of me always wonders how he'd fare at whatever I'm watching. I thought, for instance, that Ratatouille would be great to see. It's Disney, rated G, it's a rat... Except, to my horror, within the first five minutes, the Hero was getting attacked by a shotgun-shooting Granny. This is rated 'G'?

Right around January during First Grade, we had to be out of the house during the evening. Carpets. So, Matthew and I went to the most family friendly restaurant near our place, Andre's, for dinner. Then off to Coffee Bean to do his homework and then because we still had to be out of our apartment, we went to see Chaplin's City Lights. It was playing at a neighborhood art/revival house and I had recently learned of on Facebook. I'm overly well-versed in Chaplin, but still I tried to run the movie through my head first to think of any possible problems that we might have. OK, I think. And, since we were just now trying to get more practice with reading, I felt like a genius that since it's a silent movie, we'd have the title cards to play with. We got our seats, then got popcorn before the show, and I flashed back to being a kid myself. I used to sometimes see old comedies with my dad. The popcorn guy, who may have been the owner of the New Beverly Cinema, had kind of a twinkle in his eye as my son was by far the youngest patron on this Monday night. Still, the theatre was dark. The title cards afforded us some lee-way to talk, even if I did try to keep it down. And except for the gun toting burglars at the end of the movie who overpower the good guys, we did fine. Better than we have. But man, how many movies today have the quiet sensibilities of a 1931 silent?

So this morning, when I went to the new Star Trek, I wondered: Could I possibly take him here? Almost immediately, I knew 'no way.' Maybe it was the rumbly soundtrack; maybe the explosions. It would have been over quick had I taken Matthew. Not that this is the type of film I would try. But any movie now, no matter what or where, there's a part of me that wonders, how would Matthew see this?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Two Dollar Bill

Yes, they still make them, and a $2 Bill can be a fun incentive to getting to 'Yes.' Stop me if you've heard this one before. For compliance and validation, my son loves to have something concrete to pin his achievements on. (Who doesn't?) We've often gone visual to help him really see what to expect when simple transitions have proven difficult. Another entry, another time.

This time, it's the index card with, say, ten empty boxes. When we effectively get to Yes, he earns a Star or a Checkmark. Different colors from highlighters is what we've used lately. And when one is filled, it's onto the next card. In the past, he could trade (x) amount of cards for a prize. This echoes/reinforces behavior from Kindergarten and now, 1st Grade. When he delivers, he gets positive encouragement; something tangible.

Benefits include: discussions of the different U.S. dollar bills. Who's on what? It's fun and it opens things up that we both seem to find of interest. He can think money, while he's learning who's who. We've done the One Dollar bill, of course. But who's on the Two? And what's on the back of the Two? (And what used to be on the back?) It's fun to peel this onion. It's history, and it's a change of pace. Most fun is how it allows us to interact. Sometimes researching online and sometimes just jawing about what we learn while we get to the Goal. And this little adventure led me to dig out my old coin collection. He might not pick up on how the silver content changed in the quarters and dimes after 1964, but then again, he might surprise me in a month or two about this.

I hadn't look at it in years. It brought out stories of how I built my collection, how my mom helped spark the hobby. When we saw an old Peace Dollar that had gotten slimy from an old spongy holder, it was a great way to show how to take care of the coin. Ah, the family silver. The whole mini-adventure sprung from a calm, quiet place that started with him earning a reward. Here's to collecting more times like these.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Forty Digits

My kids often have long nails. I don't know if it's due to the California sunshine, or that they are eating machines that don't quit. Unfortunately, they have neither the capacity nor the will to trim their own nails. And, they don't want anyone else to give them a manicure, either. My wife is afraid she'll snip a finger off (or used say that when they were infants). Now, despite all my protests, I still have the job as the Chief Technician of The Salon.

I called it The Salon as a joke, but the name has stuck. I have discovered that they each are more responsive when attended to separately. Divide and conquer. My daughter is more pliable, and that's her nature. She's also less responsive to touch----so it's easier to get in, snip snip and be done without much fuss. My son, however, is a bit high strung----unlike, ahem, anyone, uh, I know. ANYWAY, it used to take a half hour (yes) sometimes. Now, the added time is merely the pre-amble to the action of the ten fingers and then, ten toes. The toes are the worst, but at times the most important, because if the toes scrape the shoes, well, that's pain that will last all day. Selling this point to him is darn near impossible. But usually (not always), usually I can get compliance.

It's like a piece of him is getting chopped off forever. He's very attached to himself. He hates change. And the whole touch thing, sometimes, is just too intense for him. Happily, he's come a long way. With tangible (if non-material) rewards, he will let me get to his nails. Just having some sort of acknowledgment like a star or a check mark will, almost always, carry the day. The only real pain comes about ten days later when I realize I never bothered with my own nails, which at that moment, are probably bending back on me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mother's Day

You know, it's not a bad idea to do something for Mother's Day. Call your mom, take out the mom of your kids, etc. My first Mother's Day as a dad (does that make sense?), we schlepped our son to a nice French Vietnamese restaurant, probably five blocks west of the Drake. Last year, as well as this year, it's to Joe's in Venice.

Meanwhile, there's seems to be some commercial advantage revolving around the holiday. Worth a look at least:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One plus One

I have two sets of friends each expecting babies in November. The pairs are worlds apart and, other than being caring, committed people who happen to be my friends, don't have much in common with the other couple. One guy is early 50's with two grown kids from his first marriage. His remarriage a couple years ago to a great gal with a busy career suggested that new kids weren't on the agenda. I was, of course, wrong, and am thrilled for them.

The other couple is in their early 20's, unmarried, and just finishing school. She'll be a great mother, no doubt, as she's had a lot of experience providing care. Professionally, she's a respite worker for special needs' kids. I was pretty shocked when I heard the news. They may have been more shocked to learn they're expecting twins.

Two worlds. Two vital, expectant mothers. Two dads ready to be there.

Before You Start

Prior to jumping in to the care of a new person, get over yourself. Do you know how selfish you are? So, it's a good idea to practice thinking of others; putting others first.

You may want to start small. How about a pet? Borrow your friend's cat for the weekend; see how that goes. Or, just jump in and adopt. You'll
soon learn if you can handle looking after someone else.

In our case, the first born was a Schipperke; a Belgian shipping dog. She'll be twelve in August, which isn't remarkable because she is well-taken care of. Juno responds with love and a gentle territorial protection that any parent would love. Our biggest challenge is keeping those teeth clean. Juno was the canary in the coalmine; proof that selfish adults can think and care for others.