Monday, February 28, 2011

Different is good

"Guess what, Isaac?"

Ethan, Isaac's big brother, is used to leaning over into Isaac's gaze to get his little's attention. "It's my birthday today!  I'm 7!"  Isaac's eyes light up and he shouts, "WOOOOWWW!  You're birthday?"  Ethan beams as he grabs his brother in a bear hug and swings him around.  Isaac's jovial laugh echoes through the early hour of my kitchen.

Enter the freeze frame in my brain...

It is a wonderful moment when I see how my two very different sons complement each other:  Ethan's need for excitement and attention makes him center stage to a little brother who loves putting him on a pedestal.  Ethan feels loved with the physical interaction and reinforced conversation--Isaac gives it without question and feels loved and energized in return.  It is truly a beautiful dynamic.     

Back in the kitchen, my two-boys-with-bed-head eat their breakfasts as I snap back to reality.  We need to get book bags packed, teeth brushed, and boots on. 

Ethan makes me promise to bring a treat to his class.  I pinky swear I will. 

Later on, as Isaac and I carry cookies to Ethan's class, Isaac is practically skipping down the hallway.  "We're going to Ethan's class, Mom!" 

As we enter the classroom, it's subdued.  One of the little girls is reading a book to the class as they sit around her in a miniature upholstered armchair.  Ethan's teacher, Mrs. Seiple motions me to come in.  Isaac announces our presence as he loudly greets his brother.  "HI ETHAN!  WE HAVE YOUR COOKIES!" 

We get through a few minutes of Isaac rushing around each of the childrens' desks and reading their name tags out loud.  The kids start giggling, then...all out laughing as Isaac reads their names and rushes to the next desk. 

For a moment, I get defensive.  Are they laughing at him, or with him?  He is obviously enjoying himself, and soaking up the attention as he starts making funny noises and rhyming words.  Who knew Isaac was so much like his brother when it came to being the center of attention? 

Of course, it's still difficult for Isaac to understand social settings--what is appropriate in a structured classroom is unclear to him. this point...I have to let that go.  We still have time to work on that...and I can't help but love the way he loves being with his big brother--even if it means a little awkward emotional situation.

Happy birthday to my oldest son. I'm so glad Isaac has you, Ethan, to show him that being different isn't a bad thing--it's an amazingly beautiful thing. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

7 and 4

 It's hard to believe I'm going to be the mother of a 7 year old on Monday. 

Isaac's big brother, Ethan, will be officially 3 years older than him.  Believe it or not, we did plan for our children to be about 3 years apart.  I really felt like I invested time and cherished memories at home with Ethan and myself.  I felt ready to love even more...and felt confident Ethan could do the same.  And he has.

Being a big brother isn't easy all the time.  Isaac makes it difficult sometimes.  When we learned of Isaac's delays, I worried about their communication levels--Ethan, speaking in full sentences clearly at 18 months, and his brother, nowhere near that milestone.  I worried about their ability to play together...maybe having children 3 years apart wasn't as smart as I originally planned.  Different toys, different styles of play.  As time went on, I did more worrying.  

But I watched as my sons developed.  They are boys in every sense of the word, but oh, so different.  Ethan is the the party animal, and social butterfly--"Cruise Ship Director" if you will.  He's quick to organize a group and create some fun, new game with impossible rules.  Yet, everyone wants to join in.  (His latest one was coming up with a contest among his friends at school to see who could create the most awesome Lego monster.  The winner?  Would be judged by Ethan, and Ethan alone, and that boy would be rewarded with what else?  A sleepover at Ethan's house.  IS there a better prize?)

Isaac loves this sense of adventure!  He thrives on watching his brother get excited, and has gleaned bits and pieces from watching the ways Ethan responds with emotion.  Isaac will often repeat phrases with Ethan's inflection--getting pleasure out of feeling what his brother feels.  Who cares if they couldn't share toys.  They are sharing life. 

On top of this, Ethan is my "emotional" one.  He is tenderhearted with a tough exterior.  It has been hard to explain to Ethan why Isaac can't handle certain emotions; why Isaac can't process certain things the way he can."Mom..." Ethan whispered to me while tucking him in for bed one night, "I wish Isaac and me were twins."  I thought for a second.  "You're right, Ethan.  It WOULD be easy to have a brother who was the same age as you, who looked just like you, who shared mommy's belly with you...but even then, you could still be TOTALLY different.  And I'd still love you both the same."  

I'm proud of both my boys.  Watching their relationship change and grow is a tangible, daily experience.  I watch them share moments...and then I have to separate them...then watch as they go back to playing as if no one was ever harmed.  Brotherly love isn't without it's bumps and bruises, but it's characteristically marked with persevering tenderness and strength. 


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bridge

It's happened.  Overnight, all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye.

I've become the third wheel. And honestly, I couldn't be more thrilled.

Isaac has gone into an all out Daddy frenzy--"I want to sit with Daddy."  "I want Daddy to take me upstairs."  "I want Daddy to come with me."  "Where is Daddy, Mommy?"  "Daddy wants to play with me..."  Daddy, daddy, daddy...

Dan is a phenomenal dad.  When we were first dating, I remember the thought popped into my head while we were at dinner one night when he visited me down at college..."This man is going to be a great father."  He has proved me right time and time again--from changing diapers after 3 am feedings, to taking both of our sons out when I needed some alone time without a complaint, to making homemade cards with them for me and breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, to working hard so I can be home with our children.  My husband has patience, honesty, and an easy-going attitude that brings peace to our house.  Isaac gets that.

Dan has always been supportive and's just taken a while reach Isaac.  Mother's have the ability to connect while their child is growing within them.  We feel the kicks, hiccups, jerks into our bladders even before Dad has a chance to hold his child.  It's a bit harder for a father to connect with the fact that he's going to be just that until there is some kind of relational bond later on. Add to this Isaac's delay and inability to communicate.  It left the both of them on either side of a chasm of silence. 

Still, you don't need words to have love.  Bridges take time to build.  Thankfully, Dan is patient.  Thankfully, Isaac is dedicated.  I watched a relationship blossom as both son and father met in the middle.

I watch as Isaac plucks the strings on Dan's guitar as he's practicing, both of them smiling.

I watch Dan come in the door from work and Isaac run, full force, into his father's arms shouting, "DADDY!  YOU'RE HOME!" 

I listen to Dan tell Isaac he'll be big like Daddy someday.  Then, I hear Isaac ask me for another cheese stick so he can be big like Daddy.

I watch both of them snuggle on the couch.

I watch as Dan disciplines in love...and how Isaac keeps some of the longest eye-contact he can manage when Daddy is instructing him.  He knows Daddy's voice.

I snicker as I watch my 6'2" husband lay next to his son in his toddler bed, legs sprawling and looking uncomfortable--but still reading at least 10 books before tucking him in for bed.

I hear him praying softly over this son that he finally can connect with.  It's miraculous.

Thank you, Dan, for never giving up, and hoping along side of me.  Thank you for loving only as a father could.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

People Pleasing

Isaac is a blunt, straight-forward kind of kid. 

This is good...and this is...awkward.  Especially in public places. 

One time, leaving a parking lot, he spotted a motorized wheel chair being transported from the back of a large passenger van.  The man who it belonged to was carefully maneuvering himself into the red patented leather seat.  The rest of the machine looked like one of Dorothy's ruby red slippers with wheels--it sparkled in the afternoon sun.  Isaac couldn't take his eyes off the thing. 

Stopping mid-stride he says loudly, "Mommy!  WHAT is THAT?"  Since we were literally 4 feet from this gentleman and his dream machine, I had to choose my words wisely.  "Well...that's a motorized wheel chair."  "Ohhh, a motorized WHEEL chair!" He echoed.  I smiled at the man as he whizzed by us without a look.  I started wondering, should I have called it a scooter instead? 

This wasn't the first time this sort of situation had come up.

When Isaac was younger, taking him places was a challenge.  Going grocery shopping was even more of a chore.  I remember one time, I was standing in the produce section at Trader Joe's when Isaac was only 2.  He was doing much more stimming then, and it would usually be in new or strange places, and more often, when he was excited.  Nothing was more exciting to Isaac back then than a massive bin of bananas.  The kid loves em'.  When I was picking a bunch, he began to shake his head from side to side and flap his hands.  I'll never forget the look I got from the woman next to me.  Burned into my mind's eye is the disgust and confusion behind her eyes.  I wanted to tell her my son was fine, he was just excited.  I wanted to tell her he was just like every other little boy, but he just displayed his joy in a physical way.  I wanted to say many things to this woman. 

I didn't. 

After that day, I let her fear become my fear.  I started feeling the need to explain Isaac to people.  I started putting up a defensive wall.  A deep rooted struggle in my own life was coming to the surface while I dealt with Isaac's delays:  People pleasing. 

It took me many times of pushing myself and my son out of our comfort zones to realize one thing:  Who cares.  Who cares what people think?  Who cares if they can't understand?  Who cares if they can't offer a smile or an encouraging word? 

As Dr. Seuss said: “...those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

I'm done with letting others opinions and their ignorance define Isaac's and my identity and limitations.  I know who made him, and I know that Isaac's Creator knows more about him than any person, or any label can describe.  My Creator knows me too.  I am trusting in that.  I'm holding onto that.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

12 Pounder

For a friend's birthday, we celebrated by going bowling this afternoon. 

It was a day for Mommy and Isaac, since Daddy and big brother Ethan were off to Monster Jam.  (The loud noise and intense crowd wouldn't bode well for him, so this was a welcome diversion...)

Isaac was particular in making sure he picked out the heaviest ball he could find.  Forget the 7, 8, or 9 pounders.  Oh no, those were the balls for sissies; the kids who couldn't own up to the challenge.  Let's get the 12 pounder. 

I tried to convince him to try a different one.  He refused.

My son; little 4-year old back hunched and skinny legs pushed to their limit--carried that ball down the long walkway of obnoxiously colored carpet and extremely loud bowlers.  He was focused despite it all.  I walked along side of him, trying to figure out a way to help. 

Finally, he put the ball down and looked at me. 

It was my turn to carry the weight. 

When we arrived at our lane, I put the heavy ball into the ball return.  When Isaac's turn came, he didn't even use the ball he had so back-breakingly hauled from the other end of the alley.  I had to smile.

Sometimes we have to carry the load, even if it's not going to make sense at that moment--even if it's someone else's and they can't do it alone.  Somewhere down the line, we're going to see that 12 pounder, that experience we had, and remember how we got here.  We can use it to knock down the pins of fear that we can't accomplish or follow through with something.  Even if it doesn't seem relevant at the time, or we forget--there will come a moment when remembering is what will bring back the courage to keep going. 

Isaac used that heavy ball once the whole game.  But it was the ball that got him his only spare.  My tenacious little man.

Next time, it will be a strike.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Let's Pretend...

"I'm Yoshi, you Mario, okay Mom?"

Isaac's power of persuasion gets me every time. Maybe it's the way he makes such exaggerated inflection...maybe it's the way his little eyebrows raise and his face lights up.  

Even if he didn't say it with such cute, eye-batting manners...I'd play with him.  Because not too long ago I dreamed we could do this together.

Prior to Isaac being 18 months old, Dan and I started noticing something was different about the way he played.  He was extremely introverted, often times pushing me physically away and out of the playroom.  He liked to play repetitively for hours with the same toys (most of them younger than what he should have been playing with).  He would roll balls back and forth, back and forth.  He would lay on his belly, watching and calculating the trajectory as they ricocheted off the floor cabinets in the kitchen.  He would be infatuated with the parts of a toy, rather than the whole of the toy or it's function.  He didn't respond to his name.  He didn't speak except for gibberish to himself.  He would panic if there were new people around, loud sounds, or unfamiliar settings.

Oblivious, and often ignoring anyone else, there was little we could do to join his "play."  I remember coming down the stairs to find all of the condiments taken from my refrigerator, lined up in height order across my counter tops.  Isaac's doing. Once he even closed the door on me when I came to see him in the playroom.  I felt guilty of something...felt hurt, used, and not appreciated by my own son (he still hadn't called me Mommy, and wouldn't until  he was 2 1/2).  There is nothing more detrimental to a mom's heart than when her child cannot speak, yet his actions shout loudly  "I don't want you." 

I couldn't take it personally.  This was Isaac's struggle.  It was my job to love unconditionally.   After all,  I just thought loving like that was something that came naturally, especially as a mom.  With Isaac, I had to learn to love in a way that had absolutely no need for reciprocity: no special looks that connected mother and child; no moments of relishing the way he spoke my name with his little voice; no good mornings, good nights, thank yous or pleases.  No discovery or conversations that meant anything.  I had to love despite it all.  He needed me, he just didn't realize it; he loved me, I just didn't realize it. 

I could have kept loving him that way.  I knew the strength I had wasn't my own, and that God gave me Isaac because he knew I could handle it with HIS help.   But God didn't stop there. He showed me that loving Isaac through that time was like the love He has for those who don't always acknowledge him, push him aside, or ignore the fact that he's there, wanting to have a relationship with them.  When the sweet and savory moment when I heard my son say "Mom" and look at me...I understood God's heart when someone decides to love Him back. 

Now, when my exuberant little boy eagerly asks me to role play with him, I stop what I am doing and I play.  I laugh, I run.  I stop and think of how much I had wanted this time, and how distant it seemed only a year and a half ago. 

And even though we can now play pretend, there's no denying the love we have is anything but real.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The "do-it-myself" Club

Patience is a virtue for a reason.

I think any parent trying to get out of the house at a specified time will agree.  Especially ones who are trying to teach their children how to do things themselves. And especially ones who are controllers by nature such as myself.  Impatience, frustration, discouragement, and rushing--ingredients to make a recipe for disaster. 

I dished up a heaping sour bowl of it this morning.

Isaac, like any child, is learning how to put on his shoes, coat, and back pack.  He is extremely distracted.  Like the dogs from the movie, "Up."  It's as if Isaac is seeing squirrels every 3.8 seconds when he is trying to focus on a task. 

My job is to bring him back to the task, right?  Here's what this morning sounded like...

"Isaac, here's your's your coat,, no, please stop touching that.  Here's your...ISAAC."  (And so on, and so forth.)

I got angry.  I needed to get him to school since he has altogether refused to ride the bus in the mornings after riding it every day happily since he started last year.  I started feeling taken advantage of.  I started wishing Isaac would be more like every other kid.  Then, I stopped.

Isaac had put on his back pack.  The right strap was twisted and was upside down on his arm, but he did it.  He looked up at me, forgetting my nastiness, and said, "I DID IT!" 

I smiled back and took a deep breath.  "Yes, you did.  All by yourself.  You're in the do-it-yourself club!"  "YEAH!" He shouted. 

He is constantly reminding me that if I step back, let him (and myself) fail a few times, we'll learn.  We'll get the hang of it.  With encouragement, with kind words, with a little extra time. 

"Just give me a second, I'll get this on straight..."
I have to allow patience to do it's good work in me.  In Isaac.  In us both.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicken n' waffles

I'm not a huge foodie, per se, but I enjoy cuisine that is unique and flavorful. I'm willing to try new things (within husband Dan is better at this than I).  I've had cow tongue, quail eggs, various indigenous vegetables and fruits of foreign lands...but I've never, ever had chicken and waffles. 

Isaac however, loves it.

I know there are huge fans of this combo.  There are places specifically made to serve this interesting meal, and fans galore will flock there to partake.  Is it dinner?  Is it breakfast?  For is all of the above.  Serve with a side of Green Goodness and you've got yourself gourmet, baby.

For a while, Isaac was strictly gluten and casein free.  As a parent, I've heard all sides of the argument about how diet affects the mind and body, especially when it comes to children on the autism spectrum like my son.  Using the knowledge Dan and I gleaned from late nights researching articles and books, and frankly, just grasping at anything we could do to see if something would help Isaac come out of his "shell" gave us the push we needed to switch to GFCF.  He already refused to drink milk or do much dairy--and was very texture oriented (couldn't be too hot, too cold, etc) so we knew our boundaries.  Being sure to accommodate for the needs of a toddler at the time (calcium, protein, good fats, etc.) we did our best and spent lots of moolah on getting Isaac a diet that we hoped would help.

Not many people see change, but we did.  We saw clarity, we saw comfort in knowing what foods were available, and we saw Isaac enjoying what he ate, and not just picking at it or passing on meals. He began to show interest in food!   It was refreshing, and it gave us a sense that we could help in some way.

Eventually, we began introducing regular foods into Isaac's diet.  Slowly but surely, we would make up fun games to get him to try a bite of this, a taste of that on his lips...we would cheer for him when he made the effort.  Our labor has paid off.

I just find it funny that of all of Isaac's favorite foods, a combination like chicken and waffles would be his favorite.  Then again...with such a unique little boy, why should his tastes be any different?

Monday, February 14, 2011

I heart him.

Bus 42 pulls up at the end of my driveway.  I stand at the front door and wave, as a very enthusiastic little guy jumps off the bottom step of the bus and bounds up the driveway.

I open the back door to see sparkly blue eyes and a gaping mouth frozen in place. 

I chuckle "What IS it?  Did you have a party today?"  Isaac nods his head with a hearty yes...and keeps nodding..."Okay, you can come inside now" I remind him, and he hops into the foyer. 

(FYI, Isaac never does anything without enthusiasm--one of the many wonderful things I cherish about him)

As we struggle to take off his coat and back pack, I open it up to see what goodies he brought home. 

"Look, buddy!"  I pulled out a large blue gift bag with a giant smiling heart with arms and legs accordion-ing off the sides. 

He beams.

"Mom!!  It's a HEART!" 

Since Isaac was very young, he's had an infatuation with hearts.  He loves to love them.  He puts them up to his cheek, caressing them gently.  He traces them lightly with his finger and says softly, "heart..."  Valentine's day is a day where all that heart loving can go nuts. 

But this is the first year where the representation of the picture of a heart takes on an emotion for Isaac.  He's getting love.  He's processing what it means to love--how it feels to love--and how wonderful it is.  It's a milestone of grand proportions. 

I pick him up and we look at his bag of candy and Valentine's notes from his friends.  But what I love to love about Isaac is his ability to love freely...even those paper hearts. 

"Aw, I love you mom," he says with a head on my shoulder. 

"I love you too, Isaac."  You have no idea how much.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Green Goodness

I know my son loves me.  He gives wonderful hugs and makes silly faces when we cuddle.  He enjoys being with me, doing the most mundane duties.  When I tell him I need to go to the store, his face lights up and he asks, "Are we going to Marc's?"  He loves it there, and I know why.  It's where we buy his fix.  The stuff his dreams are made of.

Green Goodness

I know why green is the symbolic color for envy.  I envy the passion my son has for this juice full of healthy things like artichoke, bananas, apples, barley, and wheat grass.  I know he loves me...but I think he loves his Green Goodness more. 

Isaac has a picky palette, so when he was little, I discovered this smoothie full of great things I knew he'd never eat by themselves.  It was a hit.  From Isaac's 18 month to now, I'm confident we are keeping Bolthouse Farms juices in business. (We love their C-Boost, Mango Smoothie, and Carrot Juice too)  Isaac can drink an entire bottle by himself in a couple of days.  Unfortunately, they do not sell in 50 gallon tanks, nor will they ship to my house.  

Today, Isaac was standing at the kitchen door (wide open, of course) when I came downstairs to do some laundry.  I set the basket of clothes on the floor and peeked over the top of the door.  "Buddy, what are you looking for?"  His remorseful face spoke volumes.  "Where's the Green Goodness, mom?."  "You drank the last of it last night..." I raised my eyebrows as he looked at the floor.  "Maybe we can go to Marc's later?"  Slowly his head lifted and he smiled.  "Oh YEAH!!!!" 

Maybe GG and I can be allies.  We work together to make Isaac healthy and happy.  So, here's to a truce, Green-Goo-in-a-bottle.  You do your thing, and I'll do mine.

Marc' we come.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where's the sun?

This winter morning started with darkness. 

Isaac came, heavy feet pounding on the hardwood floors on my bedroom at 6:00 a.m. announcing the new day.  "Mom, the sun's up!"  I crack open one eye to see said sun, but to no avail.  It's cold, (4 degrees, in fact) looks like the middle of the night, and this little bright-eyed boy is telling me it's a new day.

This is typical Isaac. 

Always seeing the world differently (and usually, more correctly) than the rest of us do. 

If there would have been a glass of water on my nightstand, he would have seen it half full.  He is a positive force when I am a negative one.  We attract one another. 

I walk to the bathroom, being followed all the way by a little bouncy 4 year old who is flapping his hands lightly.  "Honey, thumbs up" I tell him in my morning voice.  He quickly changes the flapping to a controlled, vigorous thumbs up and smiles.  "Good job, buddy--thumbs up when we're excited!"  I hardly see the hand flapping, but when I's a sure sign that he's extremely happy.  No complaints there.

He cheers for me as I use the toilet and wash my hands while saying the ABC's.  He's my biggest fan.  I'd like to think I'm his.

So, the sun finally comes out.  Isaac knew it would.  Here's to a new day.