Sunday, June 17, 2018

Special Olympics and a Trip to Springfield

We made a trip to downstate Normal, a two and a half hour drive for us, to see a bit of the Illinois Special Olympics. A boy in Kai's swim group won gold in the 400 meter freestyle in our regional meet this past spring and qualified for the state event which was held this weekend. We went to cheer Conner on, and also give Kai a preview of the event. Kai was unable to compete in the regional meet this year but we're hoping he can next year.

We arrived at around 11 am on Friday and got to see Conner and his family as they awaited the start of the competition. Then as the swimmers entered the pool to warm up, we went up in the stands to get our seats.

We watched the first race and then it was Conner's turn to swim in the second race. Kai's swim coach, James, was on the deck with Conner and had him ready to go.

Conner swam closest to us (the nearest lane was not used) and the boy just on the other side of him got off to a very fast start. We weren't sure if that boy would be able to keep up that pace - 400 meters is 16 lengths of the pool. Conner edged closer in the last few laps as we cheered him on.

The other boy hung tough, though, and Conner ended up with the silver medal.

It was an exciting race and very fun to experience. They didn't post the times when we were there but we're pretty sure that Conner swam his personal best. We got see the medal ceremony and congratulate Conner before we left.

Kai enjoyed it and it was great for him to see this. James pushes him hard during the biweekly training sessions but now he got to see how it paid off for Conner. (We didn't stay for the second day but the next day Conner won the gold medal in the 200 meters!) Both Kai and Conner have trimmed about a minute off their 400 meter times in the past few months. Hopefully this helps motivate Kai to keep up the good work and give it his best next year.

After watching Conner race, we drove about an hour and 15 minutes further downstate to Springfield. The capital of Illinois, Springfield is most famous as the place where Abraham Lincoln lived from the time he was a young man until he became the 16th President of the United States.

As residents of the Land of Lincoln, I thought our trip downstate was a good occasion to learn about our state's most famous citizen.

Our first stop in Springfield was the home where Lincoln and his family lived.

In Springfield, Lincoln worked as a self-taught lawyer and entered in politics serving in the Illinois House of Representatives. Touring the house, we got to learn about what Lincoln's life was like in those days.

After the tour, we checked into our hotel and Kai got to use the pool.

For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant. Kai loves calamari!

After dinner we walked around downtown Springfield. The following is the old capitol building, the one used when Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature.

Kai enjoyed seeing the life-size statues of Abe and his family.

Lincoln, at 6 feet 4 inches, is still our tallest President ever.

The next morning, we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. I had read that the museum is considered one of the first "experience museums" and we got to see what they meant. Created by a company whose founder got his start at The Walt Disney Company, the museum combines contemporary storytelling technologies with historical artifacts to create an amazing experience for visitors.

One technical highlight of the museum is the use of holavision special effects to bring to life ghosts of Lincoln, his wife Mary, and Civil War soldiers. Another highlight is a movie full of special effects that tells the personal and political dramas and key issues of Lincoln's presidency, especially slavery.

Two main areas of the museum document two different stages of the president's life: The Pre-Presidential Years where you enter through a life-size replication of the log cabin that rep Lincoln lived in as a boy, and The Presidential Years which you enter through the White House. In one part of the museum, Kai got to go behind the presidential podium and give the Gettysburg Address as it was displayed on the teleprompter.

I was happy that the museum made it so fun to educate Kai, and all of us, about Lincoln's life, and the great man who preserved the Union and abolished slavery.

After learning so much about Lincoln, it was fitting that we visited his tomb on our way out of town.The tomb is the final resting place for Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of their four children. (The three children here all died before reaching adulthood. Along with the assassination of her husband, you can understand why Mary suffered depression.)

This was our first trip as a family to downstate Illinois, and it was well worth it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Middle School Graduation

Kai's middle school graduation ceremony was yesterday.

Ahead of the ceremony, I was not overly excited about the occasion. After all, in this country, pretty much every child completes middle school. It's not like a college graduation which is the culmination of years of education, or even a high school graduation which is a significant rite of passage.

And so I was surprised by how emotional I got during the ceremony.

The principal of the school gave a great speech, reminding all of what an achievement this marked for the graduates of this school in particular. He talked about how people who face adversity turn out better for it in life, but that for the kids at this therapeutic school, they have faced greater challenges at a younger age than many do. He quoted Hemmingway from Farewell to Arms: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

Later in the ceremony, several of the students gave very touching speeches. A boy in Kai's class gave an especially moving speech, talking very openly about all of the trouble he had caused at the school, and how he had to go away to a residential school for a time, and then how he was able to turn around his life in the past year to the point where he was chosen to speak for the 8th graders. His remarks give hope that situations that seem so dire (to his parents, especially, I'm sure) were not hopeless. And that this school played a big part in helping to turn this boy's life around.

Kai had many challenging times in middle school as well, but when we step back we see that he is a very different boy than the one who started at middle school. As he walked down the aisle when the students made their entrance to the ceremony, he seemed calm and poised. And when he walked across the stage after he received his diploma, he raised turned toward the audience to move the tassel on his cap from right to left to indicate that he was a graduate. (Few others did that). And then he raised both arms briefly in triumph.

And so, this ceremony, from start to finish, was a reminder of the journey we have been on with our son, and of the progress he has made, and how he emerged through some rough times to emerge "strong at the broken places."

After the ceremony, we spoke with several staff and they were all effusive in their optimism that Kai is ready to go to his home high school.

Thanks to all of the staff who made such an impact on our son. Here are a couple in particular that we were instrumental with Kai:

Kai's primary teacher in 8th grade... Kai bonded very strongly with Mr. Howard who made a big impact on Kai:

Kai's classroom therapist for his three years at the middle school, Ms. Levin, who persisted through all the tough times:

And of course we were also very glad that Kai's grandparents could be there for this big occasion.

Later, we had a barbecue at home to celebrate with other family members who could not make the graduation ceremony.

And so marked a milestone that was indeed very special.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Our Memorial Day Weekend

We had a nice holiday weekend in Michigan with Bubbe and Papa.

The first activity was to go the Mermaid Megafest.

The big event of the festival was the gathering at the pier to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as mermaids.

We couldn't count how many we saw, but everyone seemed confident that with well over 400 mermaids, the record would be broken.

It was fun to see all of the mermaids and pirates gathered in the one spot.

Kai's favorite activity at his grandparent's house is going to the beach. And after the worst spring in my life, the weather warmed up just in time and we were able to go to the beach every day.

Of course, just because the air temperature had warmed up didn't mean that the water temperature was warm. But the frigid water didn't bother Kai.

I went into the water with Kai to take pictures and keep him company while my wife stayed warm ashore. I asked why I always had to go into the cold water and she said it was a time for father-and-son bonding. Ha!

But when Kai got back to land, he made sure to press his ice cold body against Mom.

Another favorite activity is to play games with Bubbe and Papa. This weekend we had several matches of Rummikub.

Papa is a particularly competitive player so it is extra satisfying when Kai and I teamed up to beat him a time or two.

On our last evening, we strolled back to the lakefront to see the sunset.

Of course, the time went fast and then it was time to say goodbye. We took one more photo before leaving.

On the way home, we made a side trip to go to Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, a restaurant in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago on old Route 66 that specializes in fried chicken. My wife saw it featured on the Food Network and suggested we could go there to celebrate my birthday since I love fried chicken but don't get to eat it too often.

We ordered chicken wings, sauteed spinach, baked mac and cheese, and the fried chicken, of course!

I loved the fried chicken!

And so went our weekend. Hope you had a nice one, too!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Success Assembly

Kai's school has a Success Assembly a few times each year. Invariably, he has had some of his worst days on these occasions.

Kai never receives an award - his behavior at school is not worthy of recognition. But rather than be understanding that he is responsible, he gets very angry with the school staff and at the students who are awarded. Many times he becomes disruptive during the Assembly and has to be escorted out.

The latest Assembly was scheduled for Thursday of this week, and from Monday Kai was already upset. At our family therapy session with our private social worker, Kai was seething about how terrible the day would be and how undeserving some of the winners are. Our therapist noted that Kai was feeling very jealous.

We all spoke about how he should go into the assembly ready for disappointment. He cannot control the results. He cannot change the results. He just needs to accept them.

At home, we had him talk out some strategies for coping that day, and then had him write them down on a sheet of paper. One thing he said and wrote was "cover my mouth with (imaginary) duct tape."

I suggested was that he should pretend that my wife was at school with him... I asked him how would he act if that were the case. He said that he would behave as a gentleman. I thought that it might be good to have a physical reminder of Mom that he could take to school with him. And so my wife and I found a photo of Kai and Mom that we cut out and attached to the list of coping strategies that Kai had written.

We reviewed the coping strategies with Kai every evening this week. And he took them to school yesterday along with the photo of he and his mother.

But would that be enough?

We were really nervous that this would be another terrible day.

And so it was with some anxiety that we opened the email from school yesterday afternoon.

It said that Kai "did a great job during the assembly and was able to sit through the entire time." He even seemed to be a good sport as he "was extremely proud of our class for having the highest number of award recipients!"


We were very happy to read that, but probably feeling relieved than anything else. Especially so when we read that an administrator from Kai's future high school had been in attendance as well.

And so, though Kai did not win any awards, this Success Assembly was a true success for Kai. And looking forward toward high school, gives us hope that maybe Kai will be ready for his new environment in the fall.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mother's Day - 2018

We've been slowing giving Kai more chores at home and trying to teach him independence skills, so Mother's Day was a good occasion to try teaching him how to make pancakes for breakfast.

He did fine with stirring the pancake mix and water together.

But had a little trouble with the flipping part.

Still, we had a couple of good pancakes for Mom (while I ate the ones that didn't come out as good) and it was a small step toward building a repertoire of meals he can make on his own.

My wife said that what she really wanted for Mother's Day this year was to have the inside of her car cleaned. So, I taught Kai how to wipe down the dash and other parts of the interior, vacuum the floors, and wash the floor mats.

Late in the afternoon, we went back to King Spa, where we went a couple of months ago when our hot water heater went out. At that time, both Kai and my wife enjoyed it very much and my wife said she wanted to return for Mother's Day.

The last time we came, my wife did not have a massage as we did not know how long Kai would tolerate the place. But after seeing how long he wanted to stay in the bath area last time, my wife decided that she could enjoy a 90-minute body scrub and massage this time.

So while she was doing that, Kai and I went to the men's side and soaked alternatively in the really hot tub and the cold one. The cold one feels way too cold at first, but after a good hot soak it is very refreshing. And conversely, cooling off enables you to return to the hot side for a few minutes before it becomes too hot and you need to cool again.

We stayed in the bath area for over an hour, and then put on clothes to come out to the coed area where there are several dry hot rooms where you can lay down and relax. Kai didn't particularly want to stay in those too long so I had him wait in the lounge where he could use his iPhone while I tried a few more rooms.

And then Mom came out and we met up to have dinner at the Korean restaurant on the premise. My wife said that she really enjoyed the scrub/massage and she seemed really relaxed.

We ordered fried dumplings and Korean vegetarian "pancake" for appetizers.

For the main dishes, my wife had Soon Tofu, a Korean soup made with kimchi. Kai had kalbi beef. And I had grilled eel.

Everything was delicious!

It was a lot of food for us, but we saved room for dessert. We shared a strawberry shaved milk ice.

The shaved ice was different than the kind we had in Hawaii last summer; the ice was so soft that you weren't sure it was really ice. It tasted really yummy!

And so this Mother's Day had some things for Mom and some learnings for Kai. All in all a good day.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

High School Decision

Kai has been attending a public therapeutic school since the middle of his kindergarten year... that is about eight and a half years.

For the last several months, as the end of his middle school days drew nearer, we have been stressing out about where Kai will attend high school.

There is no doubt that Kai has come a long way at his therapeutic school, but it has also been hard to see other kids come and go, returning to their home school while Kai hasn't made enough progress to be considered for a transition. In the last few years, Kai's attitude about school, and himself, has gotten increasingly negative. He hated school, and thought less of himself. He seemed to give up on thinking that he could be anything more than a problem child.

It made us wonder if a change in scenery and a fresh start at a new school would do him good. With the transition to high school coming in the fall, the timing seemed right for a change to a regular school, albeit by spending the majority of time in a special ed classroom.

But it wasn't a decision that we could make on our own; our community's high school would have to agree to accept Kai.

And so we had a series of meetings and emails to discuss the matter. The high school expressed concern about being able to support Kai. But we were heartened that all parties involved, including the special ed representatives of our local high school as well as the staff from Kai's current school were able to be open-minded and were sincerely interested in determining what would be best for Kai.

There was talk about splitting time between the regular school and therapeutic school, or perhaps waiting to transition to the regular high school for another year, but in the end we were very pleased that the decision was made for Kai to attend our local high school full time beginning in the fall.

After eight and a half years, it is a big milestone for us and we are very pleased. My wife was in tears after the last meeting with the school officials where the decision was officially made.

Of course, we were also happy nine years ago when Kai started kindergarten at our neighborhood school. The following photo is from his first day of kindergarten.

That ended up being an extremely stressful time as we got reports from school every day about the difficulties that Kai had before the decision eventually was made to send him to the therapeutic school he's been at ever since.

This time we're going in fully aware that the transition won't be easy. Our community's high school is very large and the hallways are crowded and bustling. We don't know for sure what will happen when he goes there.

But we also think that he is much further along in being able to cope with the challenges he will face. He doesn't have nearly as many meltdowns as before, and he is much more reflective and self-aware than he used to be. And so we do think that he has a realistic chance to succeed, and that this change is just what he needs.

In four months, when Kai starts high school, our stress will start up again. But that is for another day. Today we mark a big milestone with a sigh of relief and joy in our hearts.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Belated Anniversary Celebration at Izakaya Sankyu

It was our anniversary a little over a week ago, but with everyone not feeling well, we decided to hold off on going out to dinner to celebrate until today.

We went to one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, Izakaya Sankyu, where we first went last year for Mother's Day.

The fun part of going to an izakaya is ordering a variety of food. Kai loves gyoza (pan-fried dumplings) so we had to order that. We also ordered fried oysters, mushrooms, yakitori (skewered chicken), karaage (Japanese fried chicken), chicken wings, kalbi beef, and tako yaki (ball-shape snack made with batter and filled with octopus), among others.

We could tell that Kai was feeling better as his appetite returned. We had to fight him off for the gyoza, mushrooms, oysters, and beef, especially.

We filled up, but had a little room left for dessert: green tea ice cream with kinako mochi.

Everything was yummy!

Hard to believe that we have been a family for 11 years now... my how time flies!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Kai's Latest Creation: Lickilicky

We ended our spring break trip last weekend with Kai starting to get sick again. Since then he got a lot worse as he was coughing a lot and feeling miserable throughout the week. He missed school every day so, including spring break, it has been three weeks since he has been in class.

While sick, he did not go swimming, of course, and did not feel like making his YouTube videos, but did do a lot of sewing and worked on his latest creation.

This character is a Pokémon called Lickilicky.

One distinguishing feature of Lickilicky is a long tongue.

Kai finished up Lickilicky today. I think his creations get better and better.

Kai is coughing less and talking more this weekend so hopefully we will finally be back in school on Monday.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

2018 Spring Vacation - Last Few Hours in D.C.

We started out our trip with Kai just getting over being sick. My wife then was sick throughout most of the vacation. And now, on our last day, we're coming full circle as Kai is back to coughing a lot just as my wife is starting to feel a little better.

We had the morning in D.C. to see something before having to head to the airport in the afternoon. Kai wanted to go back to the Museum of Natural History to take in some of the things we did not have time for yesterday. The Smithsonian museums do not have an entry fee so it is conducive for short visits and taking in a little at a time. If we had had to pay to get in, we may not have gone so late in the day yesterday when we knew we had only a couple of hours, nor this morning when we had even less time.

The section of the museum we went to first was a place where they had drawers of collections that visitors can see and touch. It included everything from fossils to preserved animals; from pressed plants to minerals, and more.

There were over 200 drawers in all.

Kai opened and looked through every single one.

By the time he was done, we had only a little time to see a few other things.

Before we left, Kai wanted to show Mom the Hope Diamond. As yesterday, there was a big crowd gathered around the display case.

And then it was time to go to the airport where we had lunch.

Our return flight was very uneventful and we made it home safely.

The ends of vacations are always a mix of emotions. But this time we're especially tired and happy to be home, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed.

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