Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Shotgun Finn Turns Five

Fall is the beginning of harvest, the beginning of school, and in our house this year it was the beginning of Applied Behavioral Analysis.

If you're unfamiliar, harvest is the time of year that I orphan my children so that I might provide the world with delicious booze. The beginning of school is the time of year that, like fine wine, has become something very precious and sweet with time. Applied Behavioral Analysis is something that sounds complicated, but it's just like dog training for kids.

The specialists in the field of autism have long encouraged us to get the boys going with ABA. "It can help them turn the corner" they said. My boys turn corners like they're on rails, so I don't see the point.

To be fair, the boys have some pretty classic autistic-y behaviors, like lining up cars.

Oh man, lining up cars. Lookout!! It's question number three on every autism test: Does your child line up cars? I can see Sally Struthers' voiceover now, "WE CAN'T ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN!"

Finn is the line-up car master. He can take the most inaccessible of flat surfaces and turn them into parking lots. So, naturally, we have two Behavioral Interventionists coming into our home for four hours a day, four days a week. They're great. No, they really are.

But because he's so great at lining up cars, and it's his FIFTH BIRTHDAY, we decided to encourage Finn's interests with one of these

Jodee built this while they slept

Which is better, watching your child unwrap a birthday present or seeing their reaction to a present first thing on a Saturday morning?

Answer: It depends how many parts it has.

I think we made the right choice:

" that?"

French toast almost wasn't enough to peel him away. So many spaces for cars to line-up.

After breakfast we headed to Nana and Papa's house for some next level spoilage. My sister Maggie's baby boy Cedar was is celebrating his first birthday and fortunately Finn is okay with sharing the limelight. We partied til the break of dusk.

The next morning we did more presents. These had fewer parts and therefore came wrapped. Luckily Liam was there to help since Finn was too busy gasping.

If it looks like we spent the entire weekend in our jammies with bed hair, it's because we totally did. Happy Birthday Finney my boy. If you're reading this after many more birthdays I hope you're still an all-singing, all-dancing, wacky, goofball, jackass, sweetheart. I love you more than words can say.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Best Second Day Ever

Finley was just fine yesterday. Hurling to a 4-year-old is what sneezing is to an adult; an efficient way to expel something irritating.

It's like their bodies are small countries with really xenophobic policies regarding immigration. If anything mildly exotic enters them it's immediately extradited. "You say you're a 'snow pea' eh? Nope. Don't like the sound of that. Out you go! No, not that way, back the way you came!"

So today was the second day of school, but Finley's first. He started "Transitional Kindergarten" today, which is reserved for kids born in the Fall who are a little too young for Kindergarten and a little too old for Preschool. Like Liam, Finley has been in special education up until now, and today marks his first day of mainstream education. Also like Liam, Finn has an aide, and as luck would have it, it's Liam's old teacher's aide Lupe. Liam pronounces it "Loopy". Loopy and Liam were total besties. I couldn't happier.

Finn was a little nervous at the drop off. As soon as he got out of the car his hood went up and his eyes went shifty.

"What is this place?"

This happened on his first day of summer camp and ended with him screaming pitiably while I fled the scene. When we got to his room I tried to be the comforting daddy, willing to stick around for a bit if the transition wasn't going well. I went in for a hug and he basically told me to beat it.


So I left. I wanted it to go easy, but not that easy. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Best First Day Ever

"Finn just puked."

I was sitting on the front porch, sipping coffee, anxiously awaiting the boys' arrival. I would never miss a first day. Earlier that morning I reflected back to the beginning of the summer. I mentioned to Jodee, "it seems like just yesterday I was blubbering after dropping the boys off at summer camp." Without exception, I've cried like a baby on every first day, whether it was the first day of school, day care, summer camp, what have you. I told Jodee today's mantra was "Keep it Together". She rolled her eyes. She figured I was doomed.

When my phone rang and I saw it was Erin, I incorrectly guessed she was just running late and wanted to meet me at the school rather than at my house. I only live a couple of blocks from Healdsburg Elementary, and I wanted to walk the boys to school their first day so that I could really let it all sink in. Jodee was right, I was doomed.

The news that Finn had just had, what the world of competitive eating politely refers to as "a reversal of fortune", was hardly surprising for some reason. Of course Finn puked on his first day of school, because Finn.

I downed the rest of my coffee and jumped in the car. Erin was going to stay home with Finn so I had 20 minutes to make the 40 minute round trip drive to retrieve Liam. When I got there Finn was surprisingly chipper and happy, until he realized Liam and I were going to school without him. Hopefully that means it was a one-and-done episode.

Liam looked great:

The first day outfit is critical. You want to look cool, but you don't want it to look like you're trying really hard to look cool. Mom nailed it.

Showing up to the first day of school 20 minutes late is actually kind of ideal, as long as you have a rock solid excuse to deflect the judgemental vibes you're going to get from the admin office. Rather than tossing Liam headlong into the fury, we got to take is slow. It was nice and quiet, and I didn't have to shout over the turmoil when explaining to Liam where we were going and what he could expect. He strode through the place excited and confident and when we got to his classroom his face got a little scrunchy, but he didn't do his usual pill bug impersonation.

The moment we cross the threshold into a new classroom is usually the moment I need to be talked down off the ledge. Liam has been attending special education classes his whole academic life, and please forgive me if this offends anyone, but the first day in a special ed class can look more like an asylum than a classroom. Leaving your child in a room like that can sometimes require a person to ignore every parental instinct in your body. In my limited experience, it's pretty heart-wrenching.

But this year Liam is going full mainstream first grade. Last year we'd had it, and while it's a long story, in a nutshell we had to convince the school that Liam's poor performance had more to do with his being bored than anything else, and it was time to challenge him. It took a handful of lawyers to get the point across, but they tested it out by putting him in a regular class with an aide for a couple of months at the end of the school year, and he thrived. Trust your instincts parents. No one knows your kids better than you do.

Walking into Liam's new classroom, this time, was like crossing over into paradise. I swear the room glowed. Everything was sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops. About twenty or so fidgety kids were sitting in their assigned seats, looking deceptively angelic. My entrance elicited the usual gasp I get every time I enter a room full of children, but a few of the kids whispered "Liam!"  My heart swelled. He put his backpack in the appropriate place and his new aide, whose name I committed to memory for a full eight seconds, showed him to his seat. I stole a quick smooch (from Liam), made my exit, and did not cry a single tear until about five minutes into typing this blog.   

Friday, July 8, 2016

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

I take pride in the fact that, despite my advancing years, I still have my finger on the rapid, thready pulse of nerd society. I hosted a Dr. Who trivia night prior to a viewing of the 50th anniversary special, I'm the one my friends turn to when they need the post-credit eater egg following the Marvel Cinematic Universe films explained, and yesterday I was one of the first to download Pokemon GO.

Here's a bit about it on NPR

Did you not follow that link? Of course you didn't. In a nutshell, the Pokemon people are using the GPS and camera on your phone to create an "Augmented Reality" game. AR is going to be the way of the future. Within a decade kids will be running through the park wearing goofy goggles and fighting dragons, making Pokemon GO seem pathetic, but for now it's AWESOME. The object is to walk around in the real world and capture little creatures in real places like the park across the street or the fountain downtown. You train these creatures to evolve from cute little cuddlies into ferocious killers and then you pit them against other players' creatures at cock-fight style arenas called "gyms" that are, again, in actual places. The reality of this world can only be seen through your phone (for now) and it looks like this.

That's us at home on the porch. The purple ring is "incense" to attract Pokemon

The park down the street has 8 Pokestops and a Gym where we can do battle once we reach Level 5

There was an "oddish" in our walkway! Liam is pretty good at throwing Pokeballs to catch them

This pig statue in our park is a Pokestop

So is the canoe in front of Liam's Boys and Girls Club. They give you Pokeballs and other cool stuff.
This game forces you to walk all around town, get exercise, enjoy nature, battle animated creatures. I'm into it. Liam is BONKERS over it. I can't wait until I get him back home on Wednesday. I should have leveled up by then and I caught this today in the parking lot at work.

I've named him "Liam-ra the Mighty" and he's destined to be the defending gladiator champion of the Giorgi Park gym, MARK MY WORDS!

All, for the kids...of course.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer 2016

I may have tried to intimidate a room full of grade school kids. Just now.

This was the first week of summer vacation. As a kid, the first week of summer was the single greatest week of the year. As a parent, it is the opposite.

All kinds of cool
This summer we decided to send Finn to the very posh Fitch Mountain Day Camp, while Liam is attending the good ole' Boys and Girls Club. A lot of factors went into making this decision, but ultimately I think we figured Finn was going to need the fancy camp with it's daily swimming, water slides, bouncy houses, carnivals, endless games, and high ratio of adult supervisors to campers, while Liam needs to see a little more of the real world. With his 7th birthday looming, he's practically a man, and we don't want him to lose his edge. The Boys and Girls Club is kind of like that low-rent gym Apollo takes Rocky to in Rocky III. Eye of the tiger, baby.

If you're thinking, "Way to toughen up and send that boy out of the nest, come what may," it's because you didn't see me on the first day. Finn cried out pitiably as I left him behind at his new Kinderspa. I knew he'd be okay, but it was enough to spark the waterworks. Liam and I walked into the Boys and Girls Club and he was mesmerized by the sight of it. There were about forty kids there already, a few teenagers lurking in the corners, and maybe three or four young adults trying to manage the chaos. I walked him around a bit, showed him where the bathroom is, panicked a little because I was just allowed unsupervised in the bathroom with a child and no one really knew who I was so who the hell is going to prevent some pervert from....(breathe, breathe), checked in with the club's manager, and said my goodbyes. He said, "goodbye Daddy", and, with nervous determination, plunged right into the mix. I managed to keep it together halfway across the parking lot before the image of him, getting bullied for not being able to speak properly and ending up playing all alone in a dingy side room with some busted old Legos, came flooding into my mind's eye. I couldn't go back to work for an hour afterward.

I insisted on being there later that day for the 1pm pickup time for both boys. Finn was fine, of course. No surprise there. I readied myself to go pick up Liam, certain I'd find him in a state of abject misery, which was of course the opposite of what I found. His group was in the art room doing some cool clay sculptures and when I said I was there to take him home, he had a little meltdown. I let him stay for another hour and went away to berate myself for freaking out every time.

The entire week just got better and better, with the exception of two small hiccups. On Tuesday my phone buzzed and it was the number from the Boys and Girls Club. This image from around this time last year immediately came to mind:

Summer 2015. Boo.

I answered in a panic and the club director said "LIAM IS FINE, but he had a little accident". Two days later I got an identical call from Finn's club. Both boys are in strange new places with more independence than they're used to, so I wasn't too surprised. I figure Finn's resort has everyone in swimsuits all the time, so I'm sure 95% of the kids, and 30% of the adults, are peeing their pants most days anyway. Liam had me worried though. Grade school feels like it wasn't all that long ago. I remember how we were. We reveled in our abuse of the kids who embarrassed themselves. We were merciless and cruel. We would search for any ammunition we could, and would use it indefinitely.

So at this morning's drop of I found myself standing a little taller and doing my best to look sinister. I didn't really plan to put on a show, but I hadn't dropped Liam off since his first day, and some animal instinct kicked in. I thought why not? I'm 6'8", 230lbs, and my angel son isn't well-equipped to defend himself. I walked him to his cubby, making sure to make eye contact with any kids looking my way. There were quite a few, ha HA! I knelt down and gave him a manly hug before walking out, making sure to duck slightly under the doorway as I left. Yes, I'm a little ashamed.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Yin and Yang

Liam is, as of last week, out of special education and in mainstream Kindergarten.

My hero.


I could go on for days about what it's been like leading up to this, how much sleep was lost, battles fought, hopes wavered, hearts broken, tears shed, and so on, but BAH!! How about we just talk about ice cream.

So CLEARLY, with this achievement, Liam has earned himself ice cream forever. He, Finn, and I headed out Sunday night after dinner. I'd devised a route from our house to Nobel Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar that takes us along the longest blocks because they afford me a little extra time to sprint and catch up to Finn before he can launch himself into traffic. While Liam has made all of my hopes and dreams come true, Finn is still a bit of an asshole.

To Finn, there is no greater form of comedy than forcing others to save him from mortal peril. My shouts of "FINN STOP!!!" in my burliest dad voice are always answered with belly laughs. Once we get downtown, the blocks aren't as long, so I can't let him loose for a second. Instead, he gets the death-grip hand hold which makes his knees stop working.

I knew it was going to get pretty ugly. It always does. Lately any errand I run with the boys ends up looking like a kidnapping, but it wasn't like I was going to bump into some rock-star I'd idolized when I was a teenager or anything.

We managed well enough until we were only two blocks away from Noble Folk. Then, Finn started in on a sort of "suicidal contortionist" performance piece that pushed me to my wit's end and I shouted "FINE! If you won't hold my hand when we cross the street then we'll just have to go HOME!!"

Finn's bullshit detector is keen, so he called my bluff and started back for home. I doubled down and pretended I wasn't going to follow him.


I eventually caught up to him in the bulk food isle of our local grocery store.

Liam was on my tail and quick to remind me that ice cream was the other direction, so Finn got to ride the rest of the way over daddy's shoulder, which was fine with him since he was exhausted from laughing maniacally.

I just had the "water" I'd brought along with me.

I'd love to say it was smooth sailing after that, but Finn felt the best nightcap was a visit to the toy store, so he staged a sit-in.

My argument that it was closed wasn't cutting it, so we crossed the street and I let him wail on the locked door. Fortunately it didn't set off any alarms. Unfortunately, Finn's renewed rage meant it was time to sprint to the very busy street down the block. Liam and I managed to pin him down at the corner, in full view of the weekend dining crowd that wasn't sure whether or not to call the police.

I glanced up with my best "Ha! Everything is okay. No really," and there was Les Claypool of Primus, the lead singer of a band I went to see five times between 1992 and 1993.

"He doesn't seem too happy," Les Claypool said.

"No, he does not," I replied.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Hardest Working Man in the House

This kid.

We're really going for it with Liam. No more show and tell or coloring inside the lines for this guy. He's on the fast track to academic GLORY!

We've been challenging him for most of his young life to catch up to his peers and he's made great progress, but his 7th birthday is looming and he's not quite where he should be. So with the new year came this new regimen. His school schedule is jam-packed and he has homework every night. On weekends Erin is doing some supplemental reading work and I'm in charge of math. In a month we're going through another full evaluation at the Autism Spectrum Disorder Center in San Francisco which will likely grant us more speech therapy and applied behavior analysis. We've amassed an impressive team of doctors and lawyers on our side, all with the focus on getting Liam more aid and resources. Mainstream education or BUST!

Am I feeling like super-dad or what?! No. Exactly the opposite. I feel like a tyrant and the destroyer of happiness.

For the first few years you just have to keep your kids fed and out of harm's way. As they get older you kind of hold your breath and hope they develop just as they're supposed to. If they don't, then what? You educate yourself and learn ways to help them, but how much help do they need? Is more always better?

Your child only gets one childhood. On one hand you don't want to raise a spoiled rotten sociopath who can't function outside of your home. On the other hand you don't want a child to be robbed of this precious time when life should be fun and easy. It's a tricky balancing act that every parent needs to negotiate and it's different for every child.

With Liam you can sense that everything he needs to be doing in order to succeed is right there below the surface. I'm really hoping all the extra work is going to crack that thin shell that's holding him back. We're considering every recommendation the experts are giving us. Well, maybe not everything. Drugs are not an option for Liam as far as I'm concerned.

Finn is another story. When your 4-year-old ends up at the doctor's office because he doesn't want to poop on the potty, you've lost the battle. Bring on the drugs! "Encopresis" is not a term I'd ever hoped to become familiar with. It's earned Finn back his pull-ups and regular doses of Miralax until we can figure something else out. The war isn't over yet.

I haven't been blogging much. I like to keep it light-hearted and funny, but, as you can see, the stories lately have been tough ones to spin. So, on a lighter note, here are the boys running around on the grass, picking flowers, and hug tackling one another.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Girl and Her Snail

Evie turned nine on Wednesday, and her birthday wish was simple:

Yep, she wanted a snail. No big deal, right? WRONG! As it turns out, there aren't a ton of snails in my nearby radius during a rainstorm in January. I upturned every chunk of cement, abandoned 2x4 and water-filled flower pot in our backyard, all to no snavail. (Get it? Snail + avail! Hahahahaha!)

I did some attempted out-sourcing, calling pet stores (nope) and, in a desperately silly moment of mental washout, I called a nursery. Nurseries, as we know, don't really like snails, so I'm not sure why I thought they'd have one. But I called, and they didn't. I texted friends, posted on gardeners' message boards, and hit up Facebook. I optimistically erased the request and drew a picture in it's place, hoping that if I couldn't find a real-live snail, a chalk drawing of one might suffice. 

Luckily, Facebook came through, like it always does.

Meet Evie's pet snail:

Temporary name: Lenny

I got him (or her...I think they're one and the same) all set up in it's comfy new home full of water and leafy greens and a little cup to hide in, which it promptly scooshed past in order to crawl up the side of it's terrarium wall to the uppermost corner, where it stayed until it met Evie. 

I figured since it wasn't being cute anyway, I'd just go ahead and wrap it up: 

She'll have no idea what's in the big box!

Upon picking her up from school, Evie asked no less than six thousand times if I could just give her a tiny little hint about whether or not she'd be getting a snail when we got home. I was like, "no way dude, forget it!" And I made her open her boring book presents first, just for the extra torture. When she got to the big box, she was amazingly surprised! Like I wouldn't get her a snail for her birthday?! Psh, who does she think she's dealing with here, a total amateur??

"Oh my gosh mama, is it a snail?!"

Since he/she was still hiding, she had to work a little to find her new BFF.

But once she did, they were inseparable. I mean, literally - those things are super sticky.

Here is a heavily-cut video of Evie's snail - Flash - crawling. Because it's cute. Happy Birthday Evie!!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Number Two

January 4, 2015
Looking back at the blog I see that we got Finn his potty chair a YEAR ago. Since then, the main thing it's collected in its froggy head has been dust. He was okay with the peeing starting last November and there have been a couple of celebrated (though I suspect accidental) turds dropped here and there, but it wasn't until this holiday break that he finally embraced what is universally accepted as truth: pissing your pants is not cool.

Consequently we've recently declared step number one officially reached. In fact, he's so good at going number one, he'll often just sit and squeeze out a teaspoon so he can say "gummy bear", which I'm obliged to award him.

Such prowess with number one should mean that number two will be quick to follow, but this is Finn we're talking about.

Once again, the issue isn't that he doesn't know how to go, or when to go. He's in complete control of his bodily functions, he's just the kung fu master of stubborn. He will hold it from morning til nighttime diaper. I not sure how he does it, but then again his poops are 90% gummy bear these days.

During the daylight hours he's in underpants, with rare exceptions. On long road trips, or visits to locations too sacred to risk an accident, he'll get a midday diaper which he soils the instant the double grip strips lock in place. When he finds himself  truly desperate to go during the day he'll tell me "diaper?", which is my cue to sweep him into the bathroom so we can both sit for ten minutes while he doesn't poop.

Last Saturday, right after a hearty lunch, he said "diaper?" and I put him on the potty with inexplicable confidence. He hopped up, went to back to his room, climbed the bookshelf, retrieved a swim diaper left there from last summer, put it on, went into the closet, pointed his little finger out of the darkness toward the hallway and told me "go". I would have intervened but I was completely transfixed.

Jodee thinks we should try respecting his need for privacy by placing him on the potty and leaving him alone. I'm all for it, though my version might look a little more like solitary confinement than she had in mind.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Christmas 2015

I have a Clark Griswold complex. I go into the holidays with the same wide-eyed naivety every year and end up disappointed. At least this year the boys reminded me to lower the bar early.

To kick off the holiday I thought I'd take the boys to the mall for, what was destined to be, "the best picture with Santa...EVER!"

They'd watched the Rankin/Bass "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" at least 80 times and were Santa-crazy. Every decoration that appeared at all Santa-esque was dubbed "SAN KWAZ!" by Finley. I figured actually meeting the real Santa this year was going yield the most adorable moment ever captured on film. Here's what we got:

This was the BEST of EIGHT, just by virtue of the fact that all three of their heads are in frame. The first four shots looked like the boys were exploding out of Santa. After some blue lollipops that I'm sure were laced with sedatives (I have no problem with that) and the patented white-gloved death grip seen above (also, absolutely no problem with that) Santa managed to get this moment captured on pricey, high-glossed film. The cheapest package was $29.99.