Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Charleston Chickens All Percussion Band

It all started with this book and CD:

It is very very funny and we love it so. It is the kind of children's music that is appealing to little ones and easily tolerable for adults. As with most things Sandra Boynton, there is wit and intelligence in her lyrics. And famous people sing them. People like Kevin Kline, and Meryl Streep. Also Erik Stoltz and Scott Bacula--not quite so famous, and yet funny nonetheless. You can listen to the whole CD for free right here. We know all the lyrics by heart, even the girls who got to enjoy it in the car with us last Christmas when we drove from Chicago to South Dakota. They love it. They might even admit it without rolling their pretty little teenage eyes.

It's all thanks to Grandma, who first spotted the set at the Chicago Symphony gift shop. She had season tickets last year and bought us a book/CD every trip it seems. Boynton has four of these sets now and we have them all. Philly Chickens is still our favorite, but this one is closing in:
This one is especially cool because it has actual musicians singing and not just movie stars. Our favorite on this one is the title hit, performed by John Popper and Blues Traveler. Alison Krause, Spin Doctors, Five for Fighting, and the one-and-only Weird Al Yankovic are featured, as well. There is this weird "Cows from Another Planet" theme running through it with 3 or so song clips, but we just skip those. Other than "Dog Train", our very favorite song of late has got to be "Pots and Pans" performed by the Bacon Brothers (yes, Kevin Bacon and his brother) We love it so much, it inspired this impromptu jam session in the kitchen. I'm not sure they are musically inspired, but they are certainly musically inclined.
I'll go with that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Won the Sandbox!

Not true.
But I have fond memories of that hilarious Ernie and Bert sketch from Sesame Street circa 1970. Check it out here.
So, we didn't win it. Nor did we eat it. But, we did buy one from Target with Ben's birthday moolah from Grandma & Papa, Great-Grandmo and the McCollums. Thanks guys!

Putting it together was ridiculously easy. Allen wrenches and those little internal nuts you just pop into the predrilled holes are brilliant. Ben and Will were very into helping build the sandbox. "I'm a worker!" Ben makes sure you know his role when he's pretending. We're used to "workers" around here with all the new construction going on. There is a new house going up (well, it's up, they are currently roofing) in the lot that aligns with our backyard. So, this was a great project for us right now. The best part was when upon opening the box, we found TRUSSES! Watching the crane lift and place the trusses on the new houses is the most exciting part of the building process for the boys. So, it was ultra cool to have our own to lift and place. "I'm a crane!"

Now that it's placed and filled, it's been non-stop sand play here. As the ultimate open-ended play material, I am happily observing and enjoying the boys' interactions with both the sand and each other.

Oh, be still my constructivist heart!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ben is FOUR! (How did this happen?)

We had a party today after the Nap. As requested, there were balloons. And hats. Presents, naturally. Singing, blowing of candles (one single blow this year--yippee!), and the most awesome yellow digger cake you ever saw. It did not look like this:

This is the inspiration, however. Ben saw this cake in Family Fun magazine and HAD to have it. No matter how gently I would try to lead him toward something a bit more baker-friendly, his mind was made up. The baking part wasn't that tough, really (even though Family Fun tells you to use a frozen pound cake and some twinkies to put it together!) It was the decorating and assembling that was tricky.

Due to ongoing intestinal "issues", the boys are both on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The SCD is also a popular alternative treatment for autism, so a two-fer for us. The diet is all about healing the gut, whereby any stray molecule of an illegal food could screw up the delicate balance of good/bad bacteria in your intestines and you're back at square one, so you must, according to Elaine Gottschall, the diet's author, follow the diet with "fanatical adherence". There are no complex carbs allowed on this diet. The idea is a bit daunting at first. So that's no sugar, no grains, no starch. We are already also dairy-free. Holy Moly! Now, go forth and make cake--ha!

But, I did it! It's banana cake with honey frosting. The wheels, dozer, and excavator claw are made from pumpkin muffins. I decorated with raisins and fruit leather. Wheeeeeee! It's not exactly magazine quality stuff, but the man of the hour was satisfied. Along with his partner in crime, who has requested both a dump truck and a crane truck for his birthday. Um, yeah. We'll see about that.

Other highlights included trucks, trains, and cars, naturally, with a little bit of wistful storytelling of May 9th, 2004. I knew it would go by fast, but wow. This blog helps keep me ever-mindful to soak it all up. Every insane little minute.

And my favorite part of today wasn't captured on film, but I will record it here since I bet it's the last birthday he lets me do it. I rocked my baby to sleep in our rocker with his head on my chest. Sigh.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Eye Color Update!

So, here we are at six months. Back in November, I speculated what color these peepers would end up looking like. I was surprised that they were not the deep brown her brothers' were at that age. I mused on the possibility of them staying blue, and even found a study that said it was possible, even if neither parent had blue eyes. But, hooray! They're greenish! Just like her mama--see?

Now we get to wait for her hair to grow. :)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Time in a bottle

I am having so much fun being a mama. Cliche or not, this time in my life is just so rewarding. It can seem horribly stressful and oh-so-dramatically frustrating to have 3 under 4 years old, but Man, when it's good, it's goooood! So, here's a snapshot of how I'd like to remember this time. Idyllic, ain't it?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

RDI update

Many of you have asked how things are going with Ben and RDI. I've been kind of stuck searching for a direct answer for that question. I'm fairly sure most people would just like to hear "great!" or "doing fine!" as a reply, but that would be a silly expectation when the person you've asked is ME.

There are stages in RDI. Ben is in Stage 1. This might be helpful information if development happened in a vacuum and progressed strictly linearly without other details mucking up the water. As with most kids on the Spectrum, Ben has "splinter skills"--things he's really good at and are developmentally appropriate (or above) for his age--right there along with his deficits. It makes chronological, linear progression sort of difficult to assess. And, you know what? I *like* that!

This is not a "one size fits all" deal here. RDI helps us help BEN. With all the detail-mucking bits and pieces and a couple of siblings thrown in for fun. It's really been a mind-shifting sort of experience for Mark and I. And it continues. We're learning to talk less and listen more--being *mindful* of each moment and slowing down to appreciate, evaluate, give opportunities.

Okay, here's an example of something we're...I don't want to say "working on", as it's not like an isolated 'skill'...let's say "giving focus to". 'Eye contact' is something many traditional therapies for children with autism have as a big number one goal. And many children with autism can learn/be trained to give eye contact when requested ("look at me" "eyes on me") and some even can learn which social contexts require eye contact and will do it at the appropriate times. What most of these children will *not* learn by meeting this skill specific goal, is WHY people look at each other when they interact.

RDI examines this in a much deeper, more meaningful way. It recognizes and appreciates the important piece of eye contact is not the act of looking, but the art of connecting. Dr. Gutstein calls it "experience sharing". Looking at others' faces is not just 'polite' or part of social conventions, it provides INFORMATION. It conveys agreement, disagreement, surprise, joy, anger, wonder, sympathy, interest, determination, distaste, silliness, affection, love etc. etc. etc. Knowing the names of these emotions is not important, though. The important part is that by looking at each other (RDI calls this "referencing"), we can connect.

So, Mark and I provide as many opportunities for Ben to reference us for information as we can think of. Ben's a great helper and loves to do "grown up" jobs like sorting the laundry, putting away the dishes, etc. He also loves turn-taking, one-on-one games. These have turned out to be excellent times for us to *stop talking* (hard for me!) and provide information through our faces and/or body language. So, instead of saying "not there" when Ben tries to put the sock in the shirt pile, I might gasp, wave my hand, or shake my head vigorously so he'll check out my face for more information. I might pause mid-sentence or start to stutter as another way to invite a look. Mark has this whole non-verbal routine down with Ben turning on and off the water for him while he shaves. It has been amazing. Without any direct 'teaching' of this, Ben has figured out the value of eye contact and social referencing!

We are simultaneously "giving focus to" several different goals other than experience sharing and social referencing with our complex little dude. And each goal builds on the others, of course. So, Ben will eventually understand how to regain someone's attention, reestablish a connection that's lost, repair a conversation breakdown, and other subtleties of interaction that we all take for granted. And all we're doing is providing the opportunities and environment for his brain to take it in. It sounds so simple, and according to our consultant, it's something we've been doing naturally all along, but there is worth in KNOWING and really understanding the innards of why and how. Learning it together has been really good for Mark and I, and having a common "language" to talk about it is something I hadn't expected to be so valuable.

We're at the very beginning of this journey, of course, with a long road ahead, but so far, we're really enjoying it. And it ought to be that way, don't you think? Parenting mindfully *and* joyfully?--um, yeah, keep me signed me up for that.