Thursday, August 18, 2016

Season Three

It's the first week back-to-school for kids in Los Angeles Unified School District.  Across LA, moms and kids wake up earlier and rush to get to school before that 8 am bell.  I see proud pictures that my friends post of their kids, in front of their school, proclaiming their grade level.  Liam would be in 5th grade this year.  So, I figured we should slide back into it as well. On Monday, we opened up the ST Math program and picked up where he had left off, 25% through the 5th grade program when we took a break for the summer.

I was pleased to see he was into the puzzles, and after a few minutes, he was back to where he'd been months ago.  We've also been pushing forward with the animation program from JAM - "Animate with the Cartoon Network" (https://jam.com). The course has kids building an animation short from brainstorm to post production.  Coming up with a basic story line and honing characters is a great way to ease back into writing.  And communicating online with the instructor and mods helps him be specific in what he writes.
A synopsis of Liam's idea.  Drawing done in a coffee shop.

A free-form spider diagram of the second version of his Spiffyman Show Idea involving the Russian letter "Yus."
Actually, that last bit is important, since Liam is used to using text in a graphic way - playing with fonts and texts and not so worried about content.  He typed a note in the comments section of one of his assignments and sent it before I had a chance to proof it.  It was just a few, fun-sounding words that had nothing to do with his post.  Unfortunately, I couldn't delete the comment, so I did the lame "autocorrect!" follow-up and talked with Liam about what his words meant.  My husband had a brilliant idea of setting up an IM account between us, so Liam can get used to communicating on screen.  I'm excited to see how this idea pans out, as it could really open up some new possibilities for him.  Keeping it inter-office, so to speak, will let us work out the kinks before he heads off to the wide world of online social interaction.

Yesterday, Liam wanted to go to a coffee shop we've been going to since he was in a stroller.  I brought his sketch book and iPad, so we could complete one of his animation assignments and post it to JAM.  I smiled to see that, just like me, he loves working at a table with a drink, a pad and a pencil.
The story has changed to include characters that are mash-ups of Mario Brothers and his original Spiffyman Show designs.

There will be Mario-esque spikes and "Spiffy-Thwomps!"  Danny Tree has been replaced by "Spiffyguy."

Working on a detailed drawing of "Spiffy Thwomp."

Today was a slow day.  I've been sleeping poorly lately, due to some kind of repetitive stress injury to my shoulder.  I was up and down all night long and really hit the wall around 2pm.  Today was a day that I was very happy to be free of the morning rush, and the need to head back for pickup by 2:30.  Liam had a piano lesson at 1 and learned a five-finger drill along with a review of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor."

When bedtime rolls around, Liam is allowed to read with a flashlight until he's ready to sleep.  He's been taking a book of Japanese Hiragana and Katakana to bed along with a Magna-doodle to write out the sounds and words.  Listening to him happily reciting in Japanese, I'm grateful to be able to allow him to learn as late as he wants, and wake when he's ready.
Hiragana blocks.

Sometimes it takes a show a couple of seasons to find it's feet.  This year feels like the third season of a show that finally clicked.  We know our roles and it is going to be a very exciting season.  Stay tuned. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Well, That's Not What I Expected. . .


I was sound asleep.  Finally.  Sometime after Liam's endless serenade before passing out, and despite at least one full-costume change due to night sweats, I had managed to fall into REM sleep.  I know it was REM sleep, because the next sequence of sounds first worked their way into my dream world (the denizens of which fought bravely to keep me unconscious).  But, "mom brain" clicked in and at my cat's "alarm mew" and the sound of something very large flapping.

I could tell from the force of the wings hitting the floor and then the window, that the mystery animal was about the size of a bat.  I lay very still.  If it was a bat, shouldn't I hear some cries?  I did not want to open my eyes, let alone wander around in the dark to be sure, but I managed to follow Jake's chirpy, hunting mews behind the bay window curtain in the living room.  To my relief, I didn't see anything dark and furry, so I stumbled to the couch and tried to find that happy, sleepy place again.

Whatever was hiding behind the curtain didn't have enough sense to stay there.  I could hear the epic battle winding around the living room.  I hoped Jake would have the decency to drag his kill onto the back porch.  Part of me felt bad for the creature being tortured to death by my indoor kitty with no clue how to finish off his prey.  And part of me was happy that my 15 yr. old cat still had the energy to hunt like that. I decided to let nature take its course.

When I finally woke up for good, I'd almost forgotten to look for what remained of last night's fight.  I might not even have seen the body as it blended so well into the colors of our dusty-blue, living room rug.  But a beam of morning light revealed the bump on the carpet.  I slowly approached the body of a moth as big as my hand.  Holy crap.  My cat killed MOTHERA! Upon further investigation, I discovered that, sadly, MOTHERA was still clinging to life, so I gently placed him in the garden and wished him swift passage.

The past few weeks have been full of funny little surprises like that.  Not bad, just unexpected.
Like pushing forward with the "becoming a spin instructor" part of my "Mom Reset" (see previous post).  Vanessa Giorgio, the owner of Lotus Kitty Hybrid Fitness, had been coaching me to lead a class.  I had to prepare examples of a spin set and floor work (abs and arms).  I was surprised by how happy I felt, revisiting some of my favorite tunes and exploring new music to add to my sets.  I was dancing around my bedroom, counting out moves and having the time of my life.

As a mental exercise, I began to construct sets to substitute teach any spin or combo classes on the Lotus Kitty schedule.  I played a game with myself, tweaking sets just before going in to take a class, as if I were being called in to teach it.

While waiting for a slot to open up or a chance to substitute, I showed up to take a 5:30 pm class and fond the sign-in sheet missing.  The class was about to be cancelled because the teacher's car had broken down.  "Hey! I'm a sub!"  A quick phone conversation with Vanessa allowed me to be the surprise guest teacher of my first class. 

And as the new school year dawns, I am surprised by how easy it is not to think about what other 5th graders will be doing.  We've been finding our rhythm, both in how we learn and how we relax.  Last year, our first "full" year of homeschooling/unschooling, I still carefully constructed a series of lessons and time tables, which relaxed more as we incorporated more music, art and time with Urban Homeschoolers.  I had expected to have to muscle through lessons and push my son and am happy to have discovered that the best learning comes from things sketched in ever so lightly - easy to erase or fill in with vibrant color.

I will sit down tomorrow to do my "sketching" and thinking about where we are and where we might go -  no longer worried about outcomes, but seeing what comes.  And it's usually better than what I expected.




Friday, July 15, 2016

Mom Reset

Homeschooling is a full-time job for all parents on this journey, but homeschooling a child with special needs is 24/7.  I used to hate that term, "24/7," since it was usually used as an exaggeration, so know, when I use it, it REALLY means all-day, every-day.  This is a commitment like no other.  I have to admit that I'm a little envious of families who can send their kids to day or sleep away camps, then enjoy some child-free time.  If Liam goes to a class or camp, I go too, since his language processing and pragmatic speech problems might get in the way of his or others' learning.

This summer, I became a roadie for my son in his rock band.  I follow along to art class (and sit in the next room, but ready if I need to step in and help re-focus him) and attend classes with Liam at Urban Homeschoolers as well.  I actually get more of a break during private, at-home sessions in piano and Mandarin, since I can go into another room and still be close enough if needed.

In the beginning, I didn't know how we'd handle all of this togetherness, but we've found a balance.  My husband and I work from home, so there are times I retreat into my studio, my husband goes to his studio and my son happily creates in his room.  I am forever grateful that we have three bedrooms - three retreats.

My husband and I also have a regular workout routine.  He does Muay Thai and I Spin (indoor cycling classes).  We've been doing it since our son was diagnosed, seven years ago.  With all that has come and gone, I'm proud of us for our commitment to fitness.

Over the past year and a half, in addition to adjusting to our homeschooling/unschooling life, I hit the "pause" in Menopause.  I was thrilled.  No more missing exercise class because of random bleeding, or watching the return of fibroids (for which I'd previously had a major surgery).  Yes, there are residual hot-flashes and night sweats, but my body is free from the hormonal roller coaster!

The celebrations were dulled slightly by an almost immediate gain of 5-7 lbs.  Even though my weight had crept up a little since Liam's birth, I had not had to buy a new pant size until last summer.  A need which revealed itself, inconveniently, as I was getting ready for a party and found that ALL of my pants were now too small.  Harmmf.

At my recent yearly exam, my GP affirmed that "from now on, maintaining weight will take a lot of work - and losing weight will require a Herculean effort."

I am of Polish/German heritage and, don't get me wrong - I love and respect my parents, but I watched their gradual transformation into Keebler Elves as they aged and am determined to "fall far from" that cookie "tree".  I decided to fight my genes to fit into my jeans.

So I said "Cue Hercules!" and made some big changes before my 52nd birthday:

First, I upped my fitness game.  I'd been toying with becoming a spin instructor for the past few years.  So I registered and did it (and got my CPR certification too).

I lost a few pounds after certification, but needed to drop a few more to avoid endless letters from Kaiser Permanente reminding me of how I was still "overweight" according to my BMI.

So, I did something I had not done in my entire adult life.  I signed up for a diet. As someone who had a teenage eating disorder, I've been wary of anything which makes me pay attention to a scale. Technically, what I was doing was a cleanse, but I knew that one sure result would be losing the final 5-10 lbs. The diet was appropriately called "Food Reset."  I realized that a reset is exactly what I wanted.  Not a reset to my 20s or 30s, but a reset to what will be my new normal. 

I know full well that it will take focus and attention to keep myself fit, but it is essential for my own well-being and for my son.  I'm almost 52.  He is 10.  He will need me for a long time.  I will need me for a long time.  And, yes, there is more than a little bit of me that wants to look as good as my husband does with his boxing-toned arms.  One final treat has been reconnecting to my favorite music as I build song-sets for classes.

How does all of this fit into unschooling?  I now understand that the core principle of unschooling is allowing children to learn based on their passions.  In that spirit, I believe it is important for Liam to see us pursuing OUR passions and taking care of ourselves.  Unschooling is a lifelong adventure that we take together and it is important for all of us to be well and strong.

If you're on this path, make sure you check in with yourself to see what YOU need, physically and psychologically and look to friends and community if you need help to get there.

If you have a favorite way to reset - let me know in the comments section!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Isn't it Romantic?

With Band Camp over, it's time to find another focus and, just in time, DIY announced it's relaunch of their popular courses.  Liam took two stop-motion and one special effects course when it was called "DIY Camps."  Now, as "JAM," (https://jam.com/) they're relaunching with what looks like an even tighter program with online monitors who comment on posts and encourage the kids (we had to fix our intro video because mentioning our city was in violation of their safety policy - good catch, guys!).  We're taking an animation course run by an animator from Cartoon Network.

At first, I thought it would be cool to have Liam write out everything he would say for his introduction and other posts and read it like a teleprompter.  It worked, but he was a little stiff. I reverted to an interview style in helping Liam post his videos, since linear thinking is tough for him.  We had to restart a few times when the interview strayed too far from topic.  On one of the last passes, as we were discussing his favorite characters, Liam revealed, much to my surprise, that his favorite part of most of the movies he'd seen were the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships!  I dared to ask if he liked someone and he said, "yes!"  I will not reveal his crush, but it made me smile.

He also showed that he was pretty well aware of the major plot lines in the films (if not the minor ones).  It's not surprising that a 10 yr. old would like girls, but since Liam never talks ABOUT anyone or anything, I never knew his secret love of romantic themes.

Of course, as I write this, he's staging a major battle to the death in Blocksworld.  Boys are funny like that.  You never know what they're thinking!  Oh, and if you were wondering how Rock Band Camp worked out, you can see the mini concert they gave for friends and family here: https://youtu.be/R70GGk_9ywE.  Peace, Love, and Rock and Roll!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Tribes

At the heart of unschooling is the idea that a person should let their passions guide their learning.  As Liam's interests bring him in and out of various groups, I also hope he will find people with whom he can connect - his "tribe."

It happened at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, when we met a couple of young adults who were happy to cast spells and write about them in special spell books, excitedly and lovingly sharing details of the movies with Liam, a new inductee into the fan-world of Harry Potter.  I could see that in this group, he was immediately accepted.

It happened the first time Liam sat at the keyboard during Rock Band class, he was fully engrossed in the musical conversation and was able to follow along.  He "got it" and he was in.

Today, we're taking a bigger step and starting Rock Band Camp - three hours a day, four days a week for two weeks.  I hope the smile I often saw on his face during Band class stays.  I hope that music can be for him what Theater became for me.

I was the kind of kid who was perfectly happy to spend hours reading, drawing or writing by myself.  It wasn't until I fell in love with acting, that I found something that REQUIRED me to be fully engaged with a whole group of people.  Music may do that for Liam.  Or it might not.  At the very least, it will shake up our daily routines and that is never a bad thing.

Rock On!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Double Digits

Since Liam loves numbers, I thought it only fitting to share that he achieved double digits at the end of May. The big one-oh. On the day of, we returned to his favorite place, with a new friend from Urban Homeschoolers, Jasmine. Universal Studios gave him a birthday pin and he got lots of special treatment, from being invited up to do the show in Olivander's Wand Shop to front of line passes for his favorite rides.




On the weekend, we had a party with a theme Liam chose - a Goombirthday Party.  Temperatures soared over 90 degrees (and our back patio is all concrete), sooooo the outside party I'd planned was quickly re-invented as an inside party. We had 9 kids and 11 adults in our little house. I set-up t-shirt painting using drawstring garbage bags as aprons and larger, cut-open lawn and leaf bags as a dropcloth in our newly-airconditioned sunroom.

Around the house we set up "Goomballoons" - balloons with sets of eyes I drew, attached with double sided tape and mouths drawn on with a sharpee to look like Goombas from Mario Brothers. Brown cake plates were cut for feet. Liam created a Goomba cake topper too.

After the planned activity in the sunroom, which is usually our gym, the kids spotted the mini-tramploine leaning against the wall. John helped break down the tables and chairs and what started as a "bounce-off" turned into a full cage match. The girls at the party are both studying Krav Maga, so they were in the mix too (and kicking the boys' butts, by all accounts). In the end, my husband had a pile of kids on him, all trying to do a takedown. By that point, Liam had retreated to his room, as he had off and on throughout the party. He never minded kids coming in and joining him there, but I think the chaos of so many people kept him out of the mix.

For the record, it was Liam who insisted on a party. And ironically, every year, he insists on having a cake, which he never eats. I think he just associates birthdays with blowing out candles on a nicely decorated cake while everyone sings "Happy Birthday." And so we did. This year, I picked the cake - Chocolate Grand-Marnier Mousse from the best cake-shop in town - Porto's Bakery. The kids may have come for the shirt painting and cage match, but the grownups come for that cake!

And I know it was a great party. Because I forgot to take a single picture of it. That's right. Not one picture! Later, John and I joked about the Louie CK routine about parents watching their childrens' recital through the lens of a video camera,"Check out the definition of the live performance - it's incredible!"

There may have been no pictures, but I got several wonderful take-aways from that day.

1) Our friends are awesome. The people at that party came from many different areas of our lives and they all meshed together so nicely.

2) Liam is different than other kids, and kids are cool with that. There is something about Liam that engenders acceptance and kindness in kids around him. Liam recently got hooked on singing old nursery rhymes and was singing a few during the party. Instead of teasing a 10 year old for singing kiddie songs, the others joined right in!

3)  Planned things are fun, but unplanned things are even better. I was a little worried that I wouldn't have enough in our wee space to entertain the kids. I forgot how easily a group of kids can make their own fun.

After the party ended, we left the Goomballoons to gradually deflate and have enjoyed watching their expressions change. Here is all that is left of a happy, 10th Goombirthday!




Happy birthday, kid!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Free-Falling

Bringing a child into the world was amazing and terrifying.  Holding a new life in my arms, I was overwhelmed by feelings of love, protectiveness, devotion and the sudden, jolting realization that I had brought both life and death into the world.  After all, we can only promise one thing about life, that it will end.  His life, my husband's life, my life are finite.  What could I give him between the entry and exit points on this trip?

No parent outruns these thoughts.  We all race to provide enough of a foundation, enough education, enough wisdom to see our children off onto a future we may or may not join.  We all feel, from time to time, that we cannot possibly be enough.  And if your child has special needs, there is another, terrifying thought, "what if they CAN'T make it on their own?  What if life claims its promise of us before we can prepare them to make their way, or protect them from those who could harm them if they can't?"

So we run harder, faster from the fear and towards the hope of help from "experts" and those that came before.  Hoping that their answers will be THE answer to see us through.

Early on in the "race," my husband and I started to sense that "fear" and "hope" were far more the enemy than inadequacy.  Our son's brain is unique.  There is no expert who knows him as we do.  Our templates for how life is "supposed to be" and our "hopes" that he could have the lives we've had, needed to be re-examined.  What does HIS life look like?  What does HE love?  What is that thing we are filling in between jumping on and jumping off of this ride?  Do we want a life of constant therapy, working to fit into a school system that we don't see as all that useful, even for typical kids, towards a future we might have wanted for ourselves, but may not be at all useful or happy for him?

It can be hard to walk away from institutions and even well-intentioned friends, family and others "with children like yours" nearly shouting at you that, "you want to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE for your child, don't you - because look how well it's worked for other people and some people don't even have access to these services and what if he wants to go to college someday and I know someone who did this and their child is graduating with honors now and you have to try gluten-free, chelation, RDI, Dan Protocol, ABA, Special Oils, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Allergy Testing, or you AREN'T TRYING HARD ENOUGH!"

Enough.

One thing my autistic son is, is very present in his NOW.  He is usually happy in his NOW.  What if we let go of the supports and the voices telling us what we should be doing and let his strengths, joys and struggles guide us?  What would it be like to free-fall?  Scary?  Of course.  But liberating too.  Realizing that there is no ONE WAY to do something - that the ride is as different as each brain is different, is a source of power.

And that may sound lonely, but we've found that there are others walking this path, without judgement, offering friendship and sharing stories to take or leave if it serves us.  Facebook groups like Unschooling Special Needs and Homeschool/Unschool Bloggers offer tips and advice and you can ignore posts that don't fit.  There are blogs by adults on the spectrum that shed light on their personal experiences and what helped or hurt them.

And once you find some like-minded folks, you can even meet some of them in person.  Maybe there will be one group that is great for outings, another that has some learning ideas, or unschooling support.

And you will learn that the eclectic life you create with your child and family in mind, is perfect for you and for them.  And you'll learn to ignore the critics, and those with methodologies too rigid for your needs.  You'll find a community you never knew existed, and a life that is nothing like what you imagined, because you never imagined what free-falling would feel like -  glorious, terrifying, surprisingly fun, sometimes disorienting, but FREE.

For those of you along on this jump - welcome.  If I learn any cool tricks, mid-air, I'll be sure to pass them along.  And you are always welcome to share your own stories, ideas and observations in the comments section.

Allons y!





Thursday, May 12, 2016

What I Got For Mother's Day


The short answer to "what did I get for Mother's Day?" is "the stomach flu."  But in fact, I got hit with some life-lessons as well.

These are the things I wish I hadn't learned while curled in a ball in front of the toilet on Mother's Day weekend:

1)  The OxyClean boost in the Arm And Hammer laundry pods really does get out blood stains.

2)  The Dyson vacuum can pick up even the finest shards of glass.

3)  Advanced Formula Nature's Miracle will remove cat urine from wood, carpets and fabric.

4)  I would, without hesitation, voice a commercial for any of the above products.



These are the things I was happy to discover, while considering whether or not I'd need to go to the hospital for dehydration:

1)  My son is brave enough to pour Peroxide on his own wounds.

2)  My son can now empty the dishwasher and handle all aspects of doing the laundry (except folding) all by himself.

3)  My son now has a concept of when someone is feeling crappy and can ask about it.

4) My husband has my back and knows just when to step in and when to back away.

In case you were wondering, here's the expanded version:

With my brain wrapped in cotton, still shaking and sweating from the last, violent bout of vomiting, I staggered into my son's room, drawn by his cries and the sound of something shattering. My son launched into an autistic round of self recrimination and it took me a few moments to swim through the fog to see that his anxiety was not just about a broken coffee cup, but over the cut on his thumb, dripping blood down his arm. While my husband dealt with the broken shards, I steered my son past my my bathroom encampment and offered him hydrogen peroxide, which, after a brief protest, he applied to himself. I opened a bandage and sent him to the living room to await an all-clear on his room, then sank back to my knees on the thick towel before the commode in anticipation of the next round.

Feeling somewhat better the next day, I returned to the encampment to break it down and disinfect the area, when I was knocked back by the strong scent of cat urine, just feet away. My husband's weekend house project had involved installing plastic sheeting around the doorway of his studio, across the hall from the bathroom. Perhaps it was the odd, flappy material, my unavialability, sounds of construction, or just plain, old-age-orneriness that drove the cat to pull down a corner of the plastic sheet and pee in such a way as to saturate the hardwood floor, doorjamb and studio curtain. I grabbed what was left of a gallon of Nature's Miracle and poured it everywhere, using a microfiber cloth to work it into the floor and door jamb, pulled down the curtain for a pre-soak, then washed it on "sanitize" setting (using more Nature's Miracle as detergent). My husband hauled the plastic to the garbage for immediate disposal. I briefly entertained the fantasy of including the cat in that package.


My son's thumb, the hardwood floors, my stomach and the cat are all perfectly fine now.

But the biggest lesson for Mom was:

Let the guys do more.  They can.  Be less available sometimes (not just when it's physically impossible). And always, ALWAYS keep a sense of humor.

It was a terrible weekend, but it makes for a great story, giving me a Mother's Day where my family took care of themselves - and me.
I also got these flowers!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Real Magic


Nothing has quite ignited Liam's imagination like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Hollywood.  It is the only place Liam has repeatedly asked to go.  He loves to take his wand and do the magic that makes the animations work in the shop windows at Hogsmeade.  Since there are a limited number of spells, I thought it would be fun to invent some easy ones to use on the staff (if they were up for playing along).

This morning, I thought about simple commands like "laugh," "sneeze," and "hop like a frog" and looked up their Latin translations.  I presented the new spells to Liam with accompanying wand movements.  He loved them and added them to the leather-bound "Ravensclaw" spell book that we got on our last trip.  Below are the spells he remembered from Universal and wrote in his book, including the placards in front of each window, as well as our "original spells."  He did the work all on his own and added drawings and descriptions of what the spells did.
This spell makes a large Quiddich ball levitate.

This spell makes a bubbling cauldron stop making the bubbling noise.

This spell makes wind blow, which plays a number of wind instruments and stirs sheet music.
This spell reveals a chocolate frog in the window of the candy shop.  The frog coaks and wiggles!
This spell lights lamps.

And this one makes plants grow and move!

This is one of Liam's favorites.  It makes the cakes spin on plates.  The second spell stops the motion.
This spell stops a pen from writing in mid-air.
This spell unlocks a box and all of the draws slide open.
This spell makes a dress-maker's measuring tape rise and fall in the shop window.
This spell animates a music box with a dragon chasing Harry.
The wizard in Olivander's Wand Shop used this in his show.  It watered a flower.
Here's the first spell I wrote - it makes someone dance.  The second spell stops it.
This is another original.  It makes a person sneeze.  The second spell stops it.

This is a fun one.  It makes a person jump like a frog.  Second spell stops it.

This is a laughing spell.  Second spell stops the laughter.

The full spell here is "Rhyme Loqui,"  which makes a person rhyme with everything you say.  "Prosia" lets them speak normally again.

The local wizards were playful and willing to let Liam cast his simple spells on them.  And we met two young men who were also doing a circuit of magical spells.  One was a park employee who went by the name of "Wolfman" (his costume during Halloween Horror Nights) and his friend, Ben.  Both were obvious Harry Potter fans and among the many, I've learned, who come JUST to cast spells, like Liam.  
 Wolfman had a similar book to Liam's with more elaborate drawings and spells from the movies and books and even some originals.  We traveled together for a while and Ben asked what Liam enjoyed doing. When I told him he was very into special effects and had taught himself how to use Adobe After Effects, Ben revealed that he was learning the same thing (and joked that he could use Liam as a tutor).  I wished I had gotten a contact, so we could come back when Wolfman was doing his studio tour, but I have a feeling we'll meet this pair again.

Meeting Ben and Wolfman doing the same things that Liam loves to do, made me feel that we were moving closer to Liam finding his "tribe" and his path in life.  Sweet, friendly, talented geeks with strong passions and generous hearts.  The spells may just be special effects, but the magic of making connections was as real as it gets.