I asked the Owl yesterday what his kitchen would be like when he grows up. What would be in his refrigerator, cupboards, etc. His answer was fries, ice cream cones, and oreos. Not bad! I asked him if he would be the one making the oreos (we have never found any store-bought sandwich cookies that are safe for him). He said he would make them and let me eat them! Then I asked him what he would serve for dinner if I came to visit. He got very thoughtful and then responded, "hmmm, maybe something like fries and Plentils, and chocolate ice cream cones for dessert." (Plentils are lentil chips.) He grinned thinking about the prospect of having me as a guest for dinner. I'm looking forward to it!

I'm not sure if very many people are really following this blog, but to the few who are, I am sorry to have left you hanging for so long after such a downer of a post. The quick update is that things are good, actually. I talked to a counselor, and together Herbie and I have met several times with a very helpful psychologist. Every time I have left her office, I feel so much lighter and we are both smiling. We go out for coffee/juice or ice cream, and my son comments that he enjoys these "mama afternoons." I wonder if it is a good or a bad thing that our mother-son bonding involves psychology appointments. The school has been sort of horrible about implementing changes, but the great news is that the principal is leaving at the end of the year for another district. After praying so hard about where to place him for next year, we got the news and felt it was going to be OK to leave him at his current school, where he wants to stay because for the first time in his life he has a group of friends. I finally see my child back to his old carefree self, enjoying life, and in fact having almost no anxiety at all about school. I think that this whole ordeal is taking me longer to process, so I am trying to take my cues from him.

I am starting to finally relax during the school day. Herbie has been great about telling me more information about his day without worrying about how I might react. So the Owl and I have been able to get out and do fun things again while Herbie is at school. We went to the Arboretum a few days ago to enjoy the sunshine and it was quite therapeutic. The Owl really lives life at his own pace, taking his time to look at absolutely everything. So we stopped to read every sign, smell every flower, try out each bench, examine sticks, pick up pine cones, and chase geese. We checked in at all the usual spots, had a snack in the cafeteria, counted the plastic caterpillars in the conservatory, and sat in the library for awhile resting and reading about roses. After several hours, we may not have covered that much ground, but we sure saw a lot of amazing details, and my spirits were lifted.

I think that God has been trying to get my attention recently. (Well, He's probably been doing that for a long time but I'm just noticing it in a new way right now.) I've been pretty stressed about school stuff and my loss of trust in Herbie's case manager. I've been thinking about Owl and kindergarten next year. (Why does that come up so early, really? The school should stop sending me paperwork for that until I am ready.) Anyway, suffice it to say that I have had some days where I am really on edge, dropping things, snapping unnecessarily, etc. One particular day when I was cooking dinner in a bad mood, Herbie came over and put a piece of paper on top of my cookbook. It read, "I can nevr stop loveing you." He smiled, gave me a hug, and walked away. How did he know how much I needed that?
At bedtime lately, my kids profess their love almost like a contest. They say things like, "I'll always love you even if you're lost in the desert,"and the other replies with, "I'll always love you even if you're in a volcano." I got the best compliment from Herbie the other day, who said, "I love you more than the i-pad!" Wow, that's big time. :)
So when I get lost in my thoughts and wonder how God is going to get me out of the worries that consume me, He answers me through my children.
Every year I wonder who came up with all these Halloween traditions and why do we have to follow them? But every year we go through with the costumes and trick-or-treating and are rewarded with the joy of huge smiles and laughter from our kids.

This year, I volunteered at both of the boys' classroom parties. The amount of energy in those rooms is amazing, I was exhausted! The Owl was so giddy about wearing his costume, but Herbie, as usual, did not want to put his on, even though he had been excited for weeks leading up to the day and I had made sure to create something sensory friendly so it would not be unpleasant to wear. I coaxed him into it, and it was fun to see his transformation from feeling nervous and awkward to beaming with pride; every time a kid exclaimed that he had a cool costume, a little smile came over his face, getting bigger and bigger as more and more kids commented. I was particularly pleased that this year, both classes had candy-free parties, and none of the kids even seemed to miss the candy. They all know there will be plenty of candy to come from trick-or treating, so who needs it at school! 

They loved trick-or-treating, which is funny to me, since the Owl can't eat any of the candy and Herbie doesn't really like it. I guess it is just exciting to be given candy! Getting the Owl in and out of his wagon at every house was good exercise for me (justifying me eating some of that candy they didn't want anyway). It was irritating, though, to hear the number of people exclaim, "what did you say?" to the Owl when he said, "trick or treat!" Seriously, when a child in costume rings your doorbell on Halloween night, what else do you expect him to say?!?!?!? I know he gets frustrated when people don't understand him, but he really wanted to say "trick or treat" at every house. So he persisted, and the fun of the whole day kept him in a good mood despite people's stupidity.

We got home, dumped out the loot, from which I took a few favorite things and promptly gave the rest to the lucky group of kids who rang the doorbell at that moment. My boys raided the pantry for their favorite candy--Wintergreen Lifesavers--and I gave them each some Nana's No Gluten Ginger cookies, way better than any of that cheap candy anyway! And they went to bed happy and exhausted, counting down the days until they can do it all again.
Our community education department is trialing a new program with high school volunteers to be buddies with kids who need extra support. Special-needs parents probably look at that community education catalog and think, "I wish I could sign my child up for that, but it probably wouldn't go well." I used to get upset about it, then I would realize that my kids don't want to be left in a class without support, so they weren't asking me to sign them up. I didn't worry about it too much. Then came the announcement for the Angry Birds Art class, 4 weekly sessions after school. It sounded right up Herbie's alley! He loves Angry Birds and he loves art. What could be better? In a discussion with some other parents, I commented about how I would love to be able to sign him up. There happened to be someone there who could do something about it who told me to go ahead and register him. I almost wished that I hadn't said anything, I didn't want to set Herbie up for a bad experience. But I went ahead with it, and we got our high school buddy. She has very little experience with kids or special needs, but she has a heart of gold and wants to make this work. It is obviously a high-interest activity, so I am not hugely worried about him not wanting to participate. I mainly wanted him to feel supported and to have an extra set of hands to intervene if he got off track or tried to bolt. And so far, so good! I love seeing his little projects and how excited he is to show them to me. It is awesome that this teenage girl can commit a few hours of her time and make such a huge difference for a child and his family!
For years I feel like speech therapists have been telling me to work on greetings with the Owl. Say hello when you see him in the morning, say good bye when you go upstairs for a minute, intentionally greet everyone you interact with all day, prompt him to say these things, too, or at a minimum to wave. I went through spurts of heeding this advice. It gets old, so I admit that I'd given up on it lately because there are plenty of other things to think about. But all of the sudden, he is saying good-bye to everyone. His teachers at school, his buddies from social skills group, the receptionist at the OT clinic, even me when I just go upstairs for a minute. And it's not just one good bye, it's 7 or 8 in a row. It is super cute and made me stop to realize what a great achievement that is for him, especially after I had let it slide to the bottom of his list of goals. We still need to get him to say hello without maximum prompts, but I am inspired to really work on that again!
I am embarrassed to admit how often I end up yelling at my children. If any of my neighbors walked past my house at 8:30 a.m. any weekday, they would wonder what is going on. We do fine with the morning routine, of course there are reminders to brush teeth and all that, but everyone gets dressed and we theoretically have plenty of time to get Herbie ready for the bus. He'll play happily as he gets ready for his day. The problem starts when I ask him to get his shoes and socks on. I give reminders and tell him only a few more minutes playing, set a timer, etc. But when the time comes, it is complete meltdown time. There's always a bump in the sock that cannot be fixed, the socks go on and off, we try 4 different pairs, and then the bus pulls up. Thankfully, one advantage of riding the mini-bus is that the driver is ready for delays and waits for a few minutes. What on earth would we do if we had to be at the regular bus stop on time??

One day, after all my yelling about putting his socks on and all his yelling about not wanting bumps, the socks and shoes were on and I opened the door and hugged him good bye. Herbie just stood there, not going out to the bus. He took my hand and said, "you walk with me." We walked across the yard, up the bus steps, and he didn't let go of my hand until he sat in his seat. Then he smiled and said good bye.

After all my yelling, he just wanted me to hold his hand to the bus, his way of showing me he wasn't holding it against me, that he still wanted to be with me. When he got home, I gave him a big hug and thanked him for letting me hold his hand in the morning. He just smiled and lingered in the hug. The next morning went a little better, and again he grabbed my hand to walk to the bus. When the bus pulled up at the end of the day, he wasn't getting off, so I walked outside to see what was up. I got on the bus and then he stood up, grabbed my hand, and we walked inside. We have done this a few more times, here and there. It makes me smile, knowing that I always get another chance with him after I mess up, that he still wants to hold my hand.

I get a good laugh every day out of my kids' re-enactments of Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes. Every time we go to the library, they pick 3 or 4 DVDs to check out. Herbie's favorite is "Spinning Things." Why am I not surprised? It's actually pretty hilarious. He has the whole thing memorized. Any time we go somewhere with a revolving door, they have to act out a scene from the DVD. We probably get a few strange looks, but I am laughing too hard to notice.

Do other little kids even know who Bill Nye is? Does anyone besides me get their jokes or understand why they add an enthusiastic "of science!" to the end of everything?

I have seen this quote shared on many blogs, and I'm going to share it here, too, because it is just so awesome.

“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.”
Jerry Newport, Your Life is Not a Label

Last summer, I remember stressing over who would be in Herbie's kindergarten class and who he would have for a teacher. Of course, I had only heard good things about all of the teachers, but still it is my nature to worry. After all was said and done, kindergarten was a huge success. He made great strides in so many areas and there were over a dozen staff members who knew him personally and so clearly cared for him. It was awesome. So at his spring IEP meeting, when the topic of placement came up, I was uncharacteristically relaxed. After the autism diagnosis way back when, I imagined myself becoming a parent with a plan all figured out. ("He needs to have this teacher, and be sure that these particular kids are in his class, etc.") I felt a lot of trust in the staff to place him in the best spot. A few days ago, we were notified of who his teacher would be for first grade, someone we have heard good things about. The group of kids in his class will be very different from his class last year, but the kids who will be familiar faces are all wonderful, in particular one sweet little boy that he loves to play with.

Today we popped in on his teacher, as she was setting up her classroom. We didn't have much time to talk, as we were coming from another meeting with the preschool teacher, but I was impressed with her in our brief conversation. We'll get a chance to talk more at the open house in a few days, but so far I am feeling great. We also ran into his former kindergarten teacher who was saying how we lucked out last year having such a small kindergarten class (15). She has 23 this year. It just reinforced my feeling that God is watching out for my little angels, making sure they are where they need to be and with the right people. I am holding on to that and feeling secure in my hope that first grade will be a great year.

The Owl's preschool class this year is in the primary school, and we met with the teacher and assistant today also, to go over his snacks and emergency action plan. It was a refresher after the long meeting we'd had in the spring, and mostly to drop off food and medicine. I thought it would be a quick meeting, 10 minutes or so, but we were there for over 30 minutes. (My kids, amazingly, played mostly quietly with the toys in the room and CLEANED UP AFTER THEMSELVES!!) The teachers had several questions for me and we had a wonderful conversation. What a gift that they are willing to spend the extra time on one student to keep him safe.

The month of August has been exciting, although exhausting. Whether it is the addition of the SSRI the Owl has started taking this summer, or the effects of the chiropractic care we have added to his list of treatments, or all the fresh air and playground time, he has been making progress. He talks more, he is more active (in spite of the fact that we quit PT for the summer while we are on the waiting list for a new clinic), he pedaled his bike halfway down the block (he previously could barely make it to the end of the driveway), and today he took a sip of chocolate coconut milk for the first time and ate another new food (an ice cream cone--no ice cream, but hey, it's something new!). Even better, our babysitter took the kids to the playground a few days ago while I got my haircut (yay!) and when I came home, she excitedly reported to me that at the playground when another kid came up and asked the Owl to play, he played with him!!

I wonder all the time what it means to let go of my cares, to allow God to shoulder the burdens. I still need to research therapies and practitioners, right? I need to figure out plans and social stories and new recipes and go to doctor's appointments. But this summer, I have prioritized playing with my kids, I have not spent as much time researching everything and analyzing every little detail. I've taken advice on supplements and medications from trusted practitioners without spending weeks on the internet evaluating every single option, and gone with referrals to new places without reading a million bios and googling all of my options. And I have more relaxed kids to show for it. It's not often that I can detail such results from my work, I usually work so hard and have nothing to show for it but a filthy house. But when I stepped back and worked less, I didn't mess up God's work, and He is much better at all this than I am!

So here's praying that my trust continues into the school year and I stay out of God's way while He does cool stuff. And that I am able to appreciate any progress as a gift. The Moravian Daily Texts that are emailed to me every day were particularly fitting for me today. As I am feeling so thankful, they remind me who these good gifts are from.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords, who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:3,4
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. James 1:17

I frequently take my kids to a little local grocery store by the clinic they go to for speech & OT. It has a nice produce section and a handful of specialty foods that we can't find anywhere else. So if we've had a good day at therapy (actually, therapy is always good, it's the getting in and out of the car without running away from me part that is a challenge), and if they will both hold my hands the whole way to the store, then the reward is a walk across the street to pick out something to eat. Today, Herbie picked out 6 containers of his favorite hummus (and he will eat that all in about 4 days). The Owl picked up a couple of bags of fries. I got a few other things and we headed to the checkout. There was a big display of s'mores supplies right at the front. As I got into line, both of my boys saw it and simultaneously exploded into cheers of "Yeah! Yeah! Marshmallows! Yeah! Can we get some? Yeah! Yeah!" as they jumped up and down holding a bag of $0.99 marshmallows. Of course I got them, smiling at their enthusiasm. But the best part was the response of the man in line behind us. He was grinning from ear to ear and looked right at me chuckling and said, "that just made my day!"

My kids have these hilarious reactions to simple little things. They get a lot of joy out of the ordinary. Discovering a sprinkler head that they had never noticed at the playground, driving past a tornado siren we'd never seen before, finding a vending machine with Fritos, these are moments more joyful than you can imagine. How fun that someone else enjoyed their reaction today, too, and reminded me of how sweet it is that they find pleasure in unexpected places.