Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ups and Downs

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity. It was recital weekend, two days of crazy busy as the youngers acted and danced their way through the school's production of Frozen.  This was the first year that KC had a real acting part, in addition to his 5 dances.  Lissa had a hip hop number.  It was a weekend filled with costumes and make  up, keeping kids fed and somewhat calm and rested.  It was a weekend where over the course of 2 days many friends and family kindly come out to watch and support my two dancers.

Fiona always comes home to go to the production with me on the last day. (the first day of production I was working back stage)  She has always been excited to do this and as the little kids always went into the Big City for all of her school events, she has enjoyed coming to see them.  After the last performance we also always go out for pizza.

Fi was happy and engaged during the performance and on the way to the pizza place.  However right after we placed our order it all went south. Really fast and quite badly.  She didn't want to get her beverage from the machine so I suggested she just hold onto the cup so she could get it later if she was thirsty.  She refused to sit in the booth with us and sat at an adjacent table, shaking salt all over the table and swishing it around with her fingers.

I tried giving her space.  In the grand scheme of things, I can clean up salt. LOL  I tried engaging her in private conversation after a few minutes--no luck.  Meanwhile I am also trying to keep things positive for the youngers who have looked forward to this and are shocked that big sis is acting this way.  We play some word games together and the food arrives.  I ask Fiona if she wants her pizza at her table or if she wants to come sit with us.  She bolts out of the restaurant.

I go outside to try and get her back inside.  She spewed angry words.  None of it made any sense.  Suddenly she was hating me. Hating the littles.  Wanting staff to get her immediately. (staff is 20 minutes away at best, so that can't happen.) Refusing to come in. Refusing to eat.  I was baffled because in all our years together the one thing Fiona has never done with me is bolt like that.

I felt really nervous because I had to leave the younger kids in the restaurant which was thankfully not crowded, alone while I tried to calm Fi and get her to come back in.  I did get her to walk inside so I could pack up pizza in a box for the kids to eat on the way to take her home.

Fiona cried a bit on the way but I know when she is that upset she can't talk, so I just played some music on the radio and got her back to the house.  Inside she screamed to staff that she wanted to be left alone and took off for her room.

It was a hard ending and not what any of us had expected or hoped for.  I think my calmness kept things from getting worse, but I do know that KC and Lissa were disappointed.  It also has made me table for the moment, going on vacation to NH with Fiona and the youngers.  I can't leave them home because of my wife's work schedule and now I don't trust that Fiona will not melt down 90 minutes from home, leaving me with a volatile young woman to try and stabalize with the two younger kids.  Logistically I am not sure I can keep everyone safe under those circumstances.

The hardest part of all this is that Fiona is still not really able to impart what triggered her anger and meltdown.  I can't fix something--or even plan to avert something--when I don't know what the trigger was.  There was nothing said that anyone argued about, so I have to guess it was something that somehow replayed an old memory that likely had nothing to do with any of us.  But it also marks the third consecutive visit with issues at some level.  Sigh.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Diversity on the hamster wheel

By and large I have always liked to get my exercise hiking in the woods.  I like the varied terrain, spotting cool plants and critters and, because I have a bit of excess competitiveness in my makeup, trying to beat whatever the guide book says is the average completion time for the trail.

Having kids changes things though.  First off, they (perhaps thankfully) are not blessed with the level of competitive spirit that I have regarding times of hikes.  Secondly, due to many family members going many different places on any given day, I can not drive to a distant peak for a day of hiking with any amount of regularity.

Solution?  I walk the track at our local park.  There is a great playground there which my younger kids love to play at.  They find friends there--kids they know from other aspects of our life often show up there as well.  But just as often it is new kids and they are fine with that as well.

So it solved the issue of how to exercise but for a very long time, it wasn't all that enjoyable to me.  It wasn't how I like to exercise and though I would do it,because fitness is important to me, I felt a little bit of 'oh poor me' inside.  I would half jokingly say to my wife that I felt like a hamster on a wheel.

Toward the end of last years walking season my competitive instincts helped out a bit. I would silently challenge myself to hold off a speed walker or a jogger for a certain length of time or track.  Obviously this involved a sort of home grown interval training and that was sort of fun.

This year I still do that but I have also come to realize something that I should have noticed last year.  First of all, I should be grateful that I live in a city with a really decent park system.  At this park on any given night you see the kiddos at the playground, walkers and joggers.  There are kids who are on a flag football team learning the rudiments of the game.  Some nights the high school baseball team is playing or practicing. Soccer is huge in our city and there are always people playing.  Sometimes it is pick up games, sometimes it is league practice. Sometimes it is just families having fun.  One night it was a group of soccer players who were all barefoot which kind of fascinated me.

But what i noticed more this year was that there isn't just a huge diversity in usage of the park, there is a huge diversity in the population.  There are women who walk the track in headscarves.  There are people from a number of South American countries, people from a variety of African countries, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and more.  This is what is good.  All these people were getting along.  The kids all play together. The occasional glitches in language are overcome.  I hear a melange of music as I walk, from salsa, to drum beats, to hip hop.

It is worth the hamster wheel effect to be part of the mix and for my kids to be part of it as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Summer is my most favorite time of the year.  Lissa has been counting down  the days to our first campout which is Memorial Day weekend.  The weeks before that are busy--Dance recital approaches and KC is very involved again with 5 dances and several speaking parts.  There have been extra practices and busy-ness surrounding that.

But the campout is the following weekend, and it sort of glistens out there on the horizons of our consciousness.   Much as a water starved person in the desert sees an oasis in the distance, the plans for our campout are that balm to the spirit for us.  We have never been to this particular campground, which is also something that appeals to us.  We like to try new places and we will be there with good friends.

So that is the official launch to summer.  We have a lot of fun all ready on the books so to speak.  This year we are after a 2 or 3 year hiatus returning to the community gardens.  I can't WAIT to nosh home grown tomatos!

We always go to our citys starburst festival in June, our city's summer stroll (typically KC also dances with the studio at this.  It is fun to watch the kids dance in the streets and see bystanders joining in )  We are going to NH with Fiona in June for 2 nights and 3 days.  This will be her first vacation with us and it is exciting.  We are not camping with Fi.  She is not really a camping kind of gal and I think that the fact that sometimes it is hard for her to maintain control and her need for separate space when she is upset make tenting not the best option at this particular juncture.  We will be in a condo in the Lakes region of NH. We will hopefully take a boat cruise on one of the large lakes there, visit a wildlife refuge and visit her favorite place of all--the outlet mall.  Late in June we are doing Christmas (yes you read that right) with my inlaws. It is odd but we could not all get together at the appropriate time so it will be in June and it will be fun!

July 4th we are hosting an Independence Day BBQ.  Friends and family will join us.  Later in July we are  camping with another group of friends.  My wife and Chet and Rob will be with us as well.  July is also dance camp for the littles and a weekend quick camping get away for the littles, my wife and I.  This is the famous tipi camping place so it is an easy venue and also very close to KC's favorite Christmas themed amusement park.  In July our city is having its first ever comic con and it is supposedly family oriented and the kids and i plan on attending this. KC loves to draw comics and anime so I think he will really enjoy this.

August gives us a chance to camp again with another set of friends. This is in a different campground--another new one.  This campground places us near a place that will allow Lissa to try horseback riding. She has wanted to do this for so long and most places require you to be 10. I have no idea why; I rode way younger than that!  But anyway, this one allows you to ride if you are over 8.  The princess is 9 so she and I will go riding during that campout.

There will be more. There will be movies and berry picking, laying and watching meteor showers on blankets and hopefully a mountain or two to climb.  As always the docket looks full and rich, with opportunities for new experiences and old favorites alike.  I can't wait!

Derby Day and Fledging Chicks

Wasn't it only yesterday that I was helping the kids make egg carton tulips? I remember helping them parade into my wife's bedroom, the elders holding a cup of tea, another a tray with breakfast, the youngest with a platter of gifts and the home made flowers.  Now they are so much more grown up.  Gifts were gift cards and things they purchased on their own--though two of them still made hand made cards.

It wasn't that her celebration was any less heart felt or meaningful.  But it was suddenly so different.  They can help cook, and in some cases totally cook on their own.  We are still needed but in different ways.  Most of the chicks are in various stages of fledging.

We see this too in the way long time family traditions have been changed or tweaked a little in recent years.  For instance, the Kentucky Derby is huge for me and I have always celebrated it   We made hats for years and we always have a special Derby cake and eat in the living room watching the race.  We each choose our horse to root for and then cheer and yell like crazy people all through the race. My mom watches up in Maine and always calls us afterwards to see who we rooted for and share thoughts on the race and that years field of 3 year olds.

One year Rob's friend was at our house during the Derby and he got in the action, making a hat, choosing a horse etc.  This year I saw him at church and he said he thought of us yesterday, and still remembered how much fun that was and that he wished he was with us.

This year though, Rob had to work during the Derby.  The restaurant though was having a Derby event (odd for our New England community) and he got a glimpse of the line up of horses while he worked.  Just before the race went off, he texted me his pick! I texted him ours and at least through the magic of smart phones we were still connected at a moment that is special to us.

I can see more changes up ahead for us.  Rob likely graduates next year and at that point he hopes to sign on to work for a cruise ship.  KC is entering Coming of Age and stands at the threshold of the teen years.  Lissa is only 9 but is a 9 going on 19.  (smile)  Seriously older than her years, they are all increasingly independent and ready and eager to challenge the world.

I am glad for that.  It is what we want for our kids, for them to charge out into the world with enthusiasm for change and the skills to make a difference.  But it is poignent too as some Mothers Day will be a card in the mail, or maybe a text or a call.  Some Derby day in the not so very far off future will be me sitting there watching, enjoying and remembering these days. And I'll be missing egg carton tulips.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fiona's New TV

I talked to Fiona last night and she has her TV set!  She has been through many TV sets since moving to her group home.  Previous ones have typically fallen victim to her anger, swept off a table or kicked when she was not able to control herself.  I bought the first two for her (off of Craiglist so they were not new but were really nice)  After that, I told her she was responsible for the replacements of any that were damaged due to rages.  If it just died, I would replace it.  A stream of TVs have followed, found by the side of the road, found on line.  Most met very untimely fates.

Part of it is the dynamic of group home life.  Her room is the space she is supposed to go to when she is out of control.  This makes her belongings at higher risk for destruction or damage. The Great School in the Big City had amazing "time out rooms" so this happened less.  Kids could go to their rooms, but there were also these rooms scattered through the school with gigantic bean bag chairs in them where they could also go to regain composure.

So back in the late fall, Fiona called and said she wanted to buy a TV set and wanted to save her spending money for it.  She subsequently showed me the TV set she wanted and it was gigantic.  Our living room TV is 42 inches and this was bigger than that. Crazy big, but to Fi, this was the TV of her dreams.  Staff and I worked out a budget so she could save for it, but I didn't really think she would follow through.  Long term planning is so very hard for Fiona because she has no time sense. So everything feels like forever to her,   Tomorrow, next Friday, a month from now?  It is all hugely far away to her.

I am excited though because she did it!  She now has the TV.  Best of all, staff came up with a plan to mount the TV on the wall (I think with a plexi glass shield over it) so it may even be protected when she is out of control physically.

This is such a positive experience for Fi.  She saved for something; she can literally see the fruits of her efforts.  I am beyond excited!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Make a difference!

This morning at breakfast Miss Lissa was telling me that she was thinking she had changed her mind about what to do for a career when she is older. She once wanted to be a hair stylist.  More recently she wanted to be a vet specificaly for exotic animals..   "I might like to be a policeman" she announced, "but Robbie said they don't make much money."

Big bro is all about earning the green these days, which is appropriate to his age and oh so typical.  I told Liss that police work very hard and that there are ways that they can make "a lot" of money if they are so inclined and we talked about the detail work and some of our police friends who do those.
Then I broached the idea that a career is not just about getting cash.  It is also about doing something you feel good about, and hopefully helping to make the world better somehow.  Of course her 9 year old eyes glaze over and I cut it short.  But KC had apparently been listening to our exchange.  Later as I was going out the door, he said, "hey Ooma--make a difference in someone's life today."

Sappy mom that I am, I smiled about that all day long.  My job is not a high paying job, but most days I do feel like I am helping people, and making a difference.  That doesn't have a price tag.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Elder Parents

Life is always about changes.  Recently, my mom who is in her early 80's has begun to feel less confident about living several states away from us. She has lived there for more than 25 years now and has strong roots.  But some of those friends that mean so much to her are becoming more frail.  She  feels less able to always do for herself and worries about what if she can't do for herself.

So she is thinking of returning to our state in the next couple of years.  Which in many respects would be wonderful.  We would love to have her closer and I worry about her driving these days.  I could more readily assist her and our communications would not be twice daily emails punctuated with monthly visits.  It would be much more connected.

The slightly scary part is that her first suggestion was that she move in with us.  Now I love my mom deeply but I can not envision her living happily here in our noisy chaotic home.  She likes to nap daily--and probably needs to nap daily.  Well in our house I can tell you from experience it is pretty darn hard to nap.  There is always someone coming and going, kids friends stopping by, or someone getting ready to leave for college, work or an activity.  And if the kids are quiet, the dog will bark! I am laughing as I write this but there is a BIG nugget of truth here.  This is just not a peaceful tranquil place.  Loving yes.  Peaceful, not so much.

I can't and won't tell my kids friends can't stop by.  Some of the friends have some mental health issues and may stop by because they need the support of just having a meal or a brief time to hang out in our home.  I can't and won't stop the epic air soft battles that punctuate winter evenings in our home.

So I have been trying to convince my mom that a senior housing apartment would be a better option.  She could be very close to us as there are a number in our city and she could spend as much time as she wanted with us.  She can be here for meals, come to church with us. I can take her shopping.  But she would have a sanctuary to go back to when the noise and bustle of our family life overwhelmed her.

She is not sure, but is considering.  Stay tuned!