Why "Running with Bunions"?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Why I Attend School Field Trips (Class Parties/Musicals/Open Houses/ Showcases/Celebrations/Ceremonies)

The bright yellow bus squealed to a stop. Doors opened and Wonder Boy popped out. Talker draped across his chest, aide close. “Are you ready to roller skate?” I said.

I attend field trips to be with my (grand)kids. But there are more reasons:

1. Because I Can.

Don’t call me “lucky”! My once-upon-a time role as at-home mother and now grandma Nonnie-on-the-Spot represents a family’s effort and resolve: purposeful, intentional, planned. Sacrifices were made. Lifestyles modified. Goals and ambition altered. It’s the hardest job I ever loved. Among the happiest perks of this challenging occupation? I’m first to greet joyful faces that emerge from buses at the end of the day. Flexibility to be present for successes, failures, tears, triumphs. And field trips!

2. To Meet My Child’s Friends.

Kids once played together after school. Rode bikes to one another’s homes. There was cutting through backyards, tapping on windows. Waiting on stoops until a buddy’s homework was done. There was public access to family phone numbers – and addresses! Now? It seems everyone has their own unlisted cell phone. Kids aren’t home as they split time between households or attend after school care. And when they are around? Kids watch TV in solitary bedrooms instead of rushing out to climb a tree. In a world of on-purpose play, field trips can help one keep up with how a child is doing socially.

3. To Connect with Teachers and Administrators.

This child with learning differences? This child with autism? This child who has been hurt? Who has just one involved parent? She is an intuitive, empathetic, sensitive overcomer who absorbs emotion, feeds on knowledge, uses imagination as a shield. He is bright, able, athletic and understands what you feel before he comprehends your words. This sometimes challenging, distractive child is interesting, unique, loving, loveable, smart and positively brimming with potential. This child is strenuously supported and wholly, deeply, perfectly loved.

The most important truths are often best relayed wordlessly; through one’s presence. During field trips, for example.

4. Create Memories.

I’ve picked pumpkins, bounced on trampolines, huddled in a balloon. Fed goats, bathed in corn, watched a lion nap, laughed at a curious monkey, ridden a streetcar, played in a treehouse, driven carts, climbed aboard a fire truck, sipped cider, explored, tasted, adventured, flown, danced, sang, jumped, slid, swam. And more. With my grandkids! How great is that!

5. Because it’s Fun!

Neon lights glittered on the smooth rink. Silver balls reflected shiny patterns. Wonder Boy shaded his eyes to view first one color, shape, sparkle, then another. Laughter, screeches and shouts echoed the sound of happy children roller skating.

I waited.

Wonder Boy moved his hand away from his face. He smiled. He reached for my arm and tugged.

I prompted, “Skate with me.”

“Skate with me,” he said.

Together, we circled the rink. Arm in arm. Front to back. Side to side. When offered a break, Wonder Boy said, “No! I want to skate more!”

So, we did.

And then? Ever making memories...I fell and broke my arm. The right side this time.  I'll be back!

*All photos by June. Thanks, June!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Holding on to Happiness

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
-Forrest Gump, in the movie.

For weeks, Wonder Boy had colds and repeated strep and ear infections. There was agitation, loss of language, refusal to use his talker, jump on the trampoline (a favored activity) or play on his own. He woke from a sound sleep in tears, required constant adult attention, was not coping in school.

One day after Wonder Boy’s sedation dental procedure, his unhappiness, discomfort and unrest began to improve.

The first clue to the coming joy was the silence.

Wonder Boy is not a morning person. He does not like getting out of his cozy bed in the early light. But this week? He rose without sound. Giggled while he pottied. Danced while he dressed.

Transitioned smoothly from one activity to the next. Ate all his breakfast. Brushed all his teeth.

And while he waited for his bus? He read his books. Stimmed his trains. Played piano. Asked to go outside. Where he played some more.

Wonder Boy’s teacher reported better days at school.

“Our independent (boy) seems to be coming back…He…walked down the hall and out the recess door by himself…”

Wonder Boy took turns. Played alone. Ate lunch. Did his work.

And when he arrived home, he told his bus driver good-bye with words and a fist bump. Fell into his grandmother’s arms. Requested a popsicle using his talker and returned to the talker to specify the color of his popsicle. Played in the sand. Climbed a mountain of dirt. Did his piano lesson and greeted his therapist with zero screams-hits-tantrums-refusals.

He raced his therapist to the door for outside breaks. Jumped on the trampoline! Played on the slides and swings.

At the end of the day he chose his own bath bomb. Sang head-shoulder-knees-and-toes. Perused a book.

And Amaze Girl? It’s hard to be a sibling of autism, especially during periods of unrest. Amaze Girl has thrived in her brother’s happiness: joy-filled mornings. Breakfast conversation. Successful time tests. Climbed a tree. Ran for the bus.

She’s received positive reports from her teacher. After school, she raced home, arms extended, shoelaces flying; poured giggles into her grandmother’s arms. Hurried outside without bothering to snack. To her tree and sunning place. Where she climbed a mountain of dirt.

When it was time to work, she said, “okay!” and came inside. Completed homework, wrote poems, collected vocabulary, read books, did puzzles, played piano, sang songs, danced.

She cheerfully ate all her dinner. Finished bath on time. Built a pillow fort.

After their story times with Daddy, both shared kisses, hugs, squeezes,“ I love yous.” Lights out. Sleep. Peace.

Until the next wonderful day full of laughter, communication, connection, family reunion:

                                           Our Katie has returned to Kansas City!

 And language: “Good catch, Nonnie!” “I want Daddy.” “I’m hungry.” “Let’s go eat.” “I want to go outside.”

Autism and learning differences present unknowns that challenge communication, interaction and – sometimes – one’s ability to cope. But for this moment? Today?

We’re holding on to the happiness where it appears.

Contented Morning

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Water, Concrete, Mud: What It's Like to Add on to a House

Rain streamed from the sky in roaring sheets. Hubby peeked through a gap in the plywood nailed to the recently cut opening between the home’s existing foundation and the newly-poured addition. The concrete slab surrounded by smooth cement walls was now a wading pool.

Inside? At his feet? Rainwater crept over the threshold and drained into the existing basement.

He slogged outside and dropped a sump pump into the concrete pool. As rain pelted his skin and wet his hair, he plugged the machine into an unprotected extension cord. He trailed the wire through the garage and prepared to plug it into an outlet. Lightening flashed.

What’s it like to add on to a house?

It’s a toilet in the front yard.

It’s two years of dreaming, planning, revising, finalizing. It’s interviewing disinterested contractors. It’s lining up subcontractors who go out of business before work begins.

It’s gravel, cords of wood and rebar dropped on the driveway while you’re in the bathroom.

It’s pumper truck hoses raining concrete into cavernous holes. While dangling over the house. It’s gloves, cigarette butts, paper bags, crumpled plastic and concrete blocks. Dropped in the yard.

And it’s mud. Outside, inside, everywhere. Garden ruts the size and shape of backhoe treads. Waste concrete dumped wet and dried hard. Pebbles in the bathroom. Clogged drains. Late night trips to Home Depot. Nail guns, tape, sump pumps, shop vacs. It’s remembering to use the wood ladder and not the metal when it’s storming. It’s air billowing through a boarded-up door. It’s snow in April (and other delays).

It’s strangers with clipboards. Pickup and pumper trucks, semis, trailers and cement mixers in the driveway. It’s flatbeds laden with “two-bys.”

It’s burst pipes and broken wires.

It’s borrowed money. Late nights paying bills. Screeching, rumbling, shouting, laughing, thrumming; noise.

It’s (finally) getting-to-know-the-neighbors. “We want to add on, too” and “will you do one for us?” It’s a room for him, a space for her, an area for Mom and Dad. It’s the promise of closets, storage, no-wait bathrooms, another bedroom, a library. It’s a two-car garage reconverted to its original purpose (ie, cars, not boxes).

It’s a thin blog, posted late.

And it’s electrical connections exposed to rain.

Hubby plugged the cord into the outlet. Outside, the sump pump groaned to life. Inside, the basement leak slowed. No sparks.

When the rain stopped, he would rerun the cord through the foundation opening. Raise it safely above the puddle. Cover the plug’s connection with plastic and tape. Dry and replace soaked towels. Mop.

He returned to the sloozy outdoors. His hair and skin glistened. Chunks of earth dropped from the yard-length mountain of wet dirt and settled at the silt screen that protected the neighbor’s space. Rain slowed; the air cleared. Stars shimmered around a full moon.

Water gushed from the sump pump’s hose, balanced over the new foundation wall. He wrenched a boot free from the oozing sludge and held it to the stream until his shoe was clean.
Ready for the next challenge.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Popsicles and Netflix, Sedation Dentistry

“…If allowed to remain on the teeth, bacteria begin to attack and break down tooth enamel, which can lead to cavities and tooth decay…”

Until he was 5 years old and before he lived with Super Daddy, Wonder Boy purportedly subsisted on sugary foods, pepperoni and sweet juice. He rarely, if ever, brushed his teeth.

Later, and before he had words, he persistently pushed his mouth onto soft things, like pillows and blankets. He progressed to holding his face to people’s arms, legs and toys. Finally, he pressed other people’s fingers directly onto his teeth.

He wouldn’t allow the first dentist to look in his mouth. A second dentist got a quick view. A third saw cavities. Four, in fact. Which would need to be filled.

Cavities in baby teeth should be filled because “…tooth decay, particularly if left untreated, can result in infection, chewing difficulty and even malnutrition. If the decay is bad enough, abscesses may develop, affecting the health of the child’s permanent teeth…”

The procedure would take time. It would be uncomfortable. Due to his autism and the accompanying difficulties treating Wonder Boy, it was decided he would be sedated.

Wonder Boy would be made chemically asleep while his cavities were filled.

The appointment was scheduled two months away; payment required in advance. No eating or drinking 12 hours prior to the procedure. Wonder Boy should wear pajamas and bring a second set of clothes, “just in case.”

As time went on, Wonder Boy became increasingly agitated. He had repeated bouts of strep throat and an ear infection. He rejected his toys, stopped playing independently, required persistent adult attention, and refused to jump on the trampoline, a favored activity.

On procedure day, Super Daddy took the day off work. He arrived early at the outpatient clinic. Alone, he carried his son into the room where the dentist, anesthesiologist and others would sedate and treat Wonder Boy.

"Sedation dentistry is used to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for certain people receiving dental treatment. It enables individuals too afraid to go to the dentist to receive the dental care they need while avoiding...apprehension..." 

When the procedure was done and his time in the recovery room time complete, Wonder Boy would enjoy a Netflix marathon, beginning with The Robinson’s. He’d eat a bowl of popsicles, drink cool water, nibble animal crackers. He’d spend the day wrapped in his weighted blanket, with his daddy and favorite snugglies close by. He’d wear a hat, because he likes that. The next day, he’d go to school, participate in therapy and jump joyfully on the trampoline for the first time in many weeks.

But first? He wobbled out of the clinic on his own steam. He paused, turned and tottered toward Super Daddy. “I need help,” he said, his words slurred.

Super Daddy circled his arms around his son. Wonder Boy relaxed into his father’s chest and sighed.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Words In-Between

“By 18 months, babies have heard 4,380 hours of spoken language…If AAC learners only see symbols modeled for communication twice weekly for 20-30 minutes, it will take 84 years for them to have the same exposure to aided language as an 18 month old...”
– Jane Korsten, SLP, and author of Every Move Counts, QIAT Listserv 2011

We like to read...
Bodies close. Shoulders touching. Knees entwined. We are huddled around a book.

Twenty little fingers caress smooth paper. Four blinking eyes watch letters dance, absorb color and texture. Two little noses delight in new book smell.

Amaze Girl interrupts the story to comment. Wonder Boy giggles. There is a torrent of unrelated-to-the-tale language.

Reading lights a child’s imagination, incites curiosity, fuels play. It’s a sensory experience; chocolate for the brain, a hot toddy for the heart. It’s I love you and You’re more important than Reese’s Cups.

But reading is not the best way to grow a child’s brain.

What’s more important than reading? The words that happen in-between.

“Parent talk is…the most valuable resource in our world…In the same way, the lack of language is the enemy of brain development…”
Thirty Million Words, Building a Child’s Brain, by Dana Suskind

A University of Kansas study shows that children whose parents talk to them from birth to age three adopt language more quickly and are more successful in school by the end of third grade. (The Early Catastrophe)

The study revealed a correlation in the number of words a child hears to socioeconomic status: children from wealthier families heard more words than those raised in less affluent households. Thirty million more words, in fact.

“Talking and language…is food for the developing brain. The words you speak, and how you speak them, (build) baby’s brain.”

No, tv doesn’t count. Neither do video games, texting, computer or phone apps. Parental imperatives like “pick up your socks/sit down/do your homework/brush your teeth” add to the total number of words a child hears but are not brain boosters either.

What matters most? Dinner table conversation. Bath time chatter. Focused narration, description, recitation, affirmation. Counting bath bubbles, relaying textures, color, likes and dislikes. It’s everyday use of consequential words to share ideas.

A daily dose of focused parental patter lays critical groundwork for a child’s future literacy, discipline and academic success.

What about kids who arrive at elementary school language-deprived? Children neglected in their early years, those raised on tv? Kids with difficulty communicating due to autism, ADD/ADHD and other learning differences? Will increasing the quality and quantity of parental talk help them succeed? Does modelling use of a child's talker matter?


Dana Suskind founded the Thirty Million Word Initiative, which seeks to close the word gap. She recommends parents employ the Three T’s:

Tune In: turn off the tv. Put down the phone. Engage.

Talk More: ask questions, narrate tasks, use rich words.

Take Turns: gestures, babbles, scripting and aided language are conversational; respond with words to keep the talk going.

And then? Maybe? Snuggle close with a good book.