Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Challenges Begin

Our vacation had gone relatively smoothly so far, but this morning in Hakone we faced a few more challenges.

Our day started out fine with a nice buffet breakfast. I had a mix of western and Japanese dishes including tsukemono (pickled vegetables), kamaboko (processed fish), miso soup, and shumai (Japanese dumplings), along with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, eggs poached in the hot springs, and French toast.


After breakfast we drove up the winding mountain road to Owakudani, which is famous for kuro-tamago (black eggs) that are hard boiled in the sulfuric hot springs. Legend has it that eating one of these black eggs will add seven years to your life. (Japan has many of these types of legends).



Getting to the area where the eggs are boiled requires a short walk up a steep path. And that is where our problems began.

Similar to other times when we had to hike, after just a few steps, Kai started to complain loudly that he was too tired. And that it was too hot. And that he just could not do it.

Yes, it was hot. It was steep. But it wasn’t that long of a walk. Other kids much younger than Kai were bounding up the stairs with no problem. Is it too much to expect that he should be able to do the same thing without making it an ordeal?

I tried to encourage him up the hill but lost my patience when he kept complaining when he reached the top where there was actually a nice cool breeze.

I looked around and took pictures of the hot springs while my wife and in-laws took Kai back down.


I also bought a package of black eggs for all of us and then headed back down.

When I reached the bottom, Kai was much happier, and apologized to me.

Kai was intrigued by the black egg and wanted to live longer so he gladly ate one. (The photo shows him holding one that I already peeled.)


After that, we went to cool off and he had a snow cone that made him even happier.


But his good mood did not last long. We drove over to Hakone Sekisho, and Edo-period checkpoint. As we started a short walk to see the sights and exhibits, Kai was again loudly protesting.

Sigh.

This is going to be a very long vacation at this rate. This heat will be nothing compared to the days when we will be walking around outside for much longer periods of time.

His whining made me feel like putting him in jail.


After that, we were all ready to head back to Tokyo. Kai’s grandfather drove us down the road that wound around and down the mountain. It was too cloudy to see Mount Fuji, but it was very scenic nonetheless.

As we were driving, Kai started to complain loudly that he wasn’t feeling well. When a boy complains as often as he does, it is sometimes difficult to tell when he is really ill and when he is not. But this one seemed real so we asked his grandfather to find a place to pull over.

This road has very few places that have shoulders but luckily he found one quickly. My wife and I rushed out of the car but before Kai got out of the car, he threw up all over the floor in the back seat.

That just capped the morning we had had.

We drove back to Tokyo without further incident.

Kai’s grandparents ordered Domino’s pizza and Kai gobbled up a third of it all by himself. Obviously, he was feeling better.

After some time to relax, we temporarily said goodbye Jiji and Baba and headed to the Shinjuku section of Tokyo where we would be staying for the next few days.

My sister and her family would be arriving soon and the next part of our adventure will start.

They all arrived at the hotel around 7PM, very tired from having started their travels about 24 hours earlier with little sleep since. But they seemed happy to be in Japan, and we were happy to see them.

We found a small noodle shop for dinner. Kai had octopus and shrimp tempura. My brother-in-law had a curry dish. And the rest of us had various forms of udon, along with kara-age (fried chicken).



Now we have a big day of sightseeing ahead of us. No doubt it will be an adventure. Let’s just hope it will be a mostly pleasant one.


Hakone

A couple hours southwest of Tokyo, Hakone is set in scenic mountains. The five of us, including my wife’s parents, left Tokyo on Tuesday morning, with my father-in-law impressively maneuvering through rush-hour traffic. Streets are very crowded, of course, but the challenge is also that they are a bit narrower than many of the roads back home. And it’s not just the cars that crowd the narrow streets, but bicycles as well. I think it would be a challenge for me to drive, but I felt in capable hands with my father-in-law.

We arrived in Hakone late morning. Kai got mad when the wifi at the hotel didn’t work on his iPad. I had no sympathy as he had been on his iPad for a long time before we left his grandparents’ house in the morning. Could he not go more than a couple hours without having to get online? I swear the boy is going to push me to cut off his online time completely if he can’t accept some limitations like this.

Hakone is famous for hot springs, and the main attraction of our stay there would be the Yunessun, a hot springs spa and water amusement park, which was right across the street from our hotel.

The first thing that Kai wanted to do was the water slides. This was a major change as before he was always too scared to go on slides, especially body slides. And in places where swim goggles are not permitted, like this, he would get very anxious at the thought of getting water in his eyes.

So I was pleased that he wanted to go on slides. The first time, he spread his legs and arms to slow his speed. But at least he went down. And then wanted to go down again.

We did it several times before the grownups got hungry and wanted to eat lunch.

As walked back through the main indoor pool area, a simulated storm was brewing complete with thunder sound effects and flashing light.

Kai got scared and angry.

He started yelling how we had to leave right now. And what a terrible place it was.

I asked him why he was scared. He said that storms are dangerous and you should not be in the pool when there’s a storm. I told him that it was a fake storm, and that fake ones are not dangerous. He did not seem to care.

His anger escalated as the line for lunch was long.

I took him back to the slides while Mom and Jiji waited in line to get lunch.

When we got back to lunch, he was a bit settled down.

After lunch, we went to the other side of the park, the place where they have numerous hot springs spas. We tried each one.

We went in the coffee spa, which is said to contain real coffee made with hot spring water.

Then the green tea spa. And the wine spa. And several more.

Kai didn’t particularly care about those. And after a short time he had had enough. He wanted to go to the hotel to relax, which is his code for using his iPad.

I told him that once we left, we would not be able to get back in. He didn’t care; he wanted to leave. And so, before 2PM, we had finished up the main thing we drove up here for.

We went to our hotel room and I was able to get his iPad to connect to the wifi. My wife went for a massage.

Later, Kai and I went to use the swimming pool.

It was the largest hotel swimming pool I’ve ever seen.


The odd thing about the pool is that it is very deep. It was 1 meter deep on the shallow end, quickly drops to 2 meters, and then is 3 meters on the deep end. For those of you who, like me, can’t do the conversion, I could touch bottom at 1 meter, but even before 2 meters I no longer could.

Kai is now an excellent swimmer with great confidence so he wanted to race to the deep end. But as I have no such confidence in my own swimming abilities, I told him that we should stay at the shallow end. I didn’t want to put a damper on the vacation by drowning.

We stayed at the pool a good long time, long enough for Mom to finish her massage and join us.

And then it was time to use the Japanese bath.

For those not familiar, it is a custom for Japanese to take public baths together, particularly at onsen (hot springs) like this. Men and women are in separate areas, but otherwise you are naked with total strangers.

Kai has never been shy about his body, so he had no qualms about going to the bath. I, on the other hand, had to put my shyness to the backburner to partake of this custom.

I took Kai into the men’s side where we disrobed and then went to the shower room where we could clean ourselves before going into the bath itself. There were a few other people in the room, including the cleaning lady.

I made sure that Kai cleaned himself and rinsed off nicely. And then we went to the outdoor bath.

The water in the onsen is very hot. Kai does not like a very hot bath at home but he went in this one without complaint. Once immersed in the water, you get used to the warmth and start to relax.

We didn’t stay long, but it was long enough to get me to relax.

Later we went to the buffet dinner at the hotel. Kai loved that he could get unlimited dessert, which I allowed as he had eaten a full portion of some main dishes.

And so we had experienced a few bumps, but the day ended on a happy note.

But the challenges would build the next day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beginning to Explore Japan

After arriving in Tokyo on Sunday, we began exploring on Monday. We have a few days here before my sister and her family arrive so we decided to take the time to do things that Kai specifically might enjoy.

My father-in-law drove us the Rainbow Bridge over to Odaiba, a man-made island that is home to many forms of entertainment.


We spent the morning at Joypolis, and indoor amusement park run by Sega. There was a line to get in, and the noise at the entrance was quite loud between the crowd, blaring music, and all of the greeters shouting enthusiastically as patrons entered. Frankly, it was too much for me, and I was hoping that we would get inside before it all became too much for Kai. Thankfully we did.

We rode on several different rides. Kai was anxious as we waited to go on a simulated glider ride. It was a thrill ride, but I saw smiles on his face throughout despite his early anxiety.

Next was a simulated river raft ride.


My wife and I were happy that the announcements that you might get wet was in Japanese. Alas, Kai saw the pictorial signs and figured it out, and that got him anxious. But once again, he was all smiles during the ride itself.

My personal highlight at Joypolis was the men’s room where each urinal featured an animated video that activated when you started peeing. The video at my urinal was of a statue that peed into a fountain, and it measured your pee in ml, stopping when you stopped.


After that, we saw the Statue of Liberty.


Then, it was time for lunch at a buffet restaurant.


Then we walked over to the Sony ExploraScience Museum. It was not a big place, but every exhibit was interesting to Kai.


We then went shopping as Kai’s grandmother had given him a gift card. He found Nanoblocks, a Japanese form of Lego that features miniature blocks about a fourth the size of Legos.


We went for dinner at a kaitenzushi restaurant, where plates of sushi and other goodies go by on a conveyer belt. You take a plate of anything you want to eat.


At the end of the meal, they come by and count your plates. As you can see, we had quite a few.


And that was our Monday. We’re off to a busy Tuesday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Have Arrived!

The flight over to Japan was gratefully uneventful.

After a bit of anxiety at takeoff,


Kai was in bliss the whole 13 hours on the plane, watching movies on his iPad the whole time except for a couple breaks to try out the in-flight entertainment that including some video games.

I tried to get him to nap a little bit. I didn’t want him overly tired when we arrived, but I think he could go days without sleep with the stimulus of digital entertainment.

I tried to nap as well, but it’s hard when your son keeps interrupting to tell you where we are in the flight, or asking you to open the window shad so that he could look outside.

When we landed at Narita, Kai was well behaved waiting in line to go through Customs, and was happy to see his grandfather who met us at the airport.

Kai only got agitated when he found out that Jiji probably didn’t have wifi at his place (though we found out later that he does). The boy likes to stay connected, and the thought of going three days without wifi until we got to a hotel that had it was intolerable. That led to him laying on the ground and complaining that it was too hot. And we hadn’t even done anything yet.

But that episode didn’t last long when once we got in his grandfather’s car as he fell asleep before we reached our home for the next couple days.

We drove through a torrential rainstorm and Kai didn’t get too anxious.

Once we arrived, we had a hot Japanese bath, followed by a hearty Japanese dinner (fried shrimp for Kai, unagi (eel) for the rest of us),


My wife and I were soon ready for bed. Kai probably could have stayed up for hours, but we thankfully got him asleep so that we could sleep, too.

So we are off to a good start. But this morning will bring the first real challenges as we venture out to start our sightseeing.

Let’s see how it goes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Departure Day

As the day of departure for Japan has arrived, some of my stress has faded into the background as I am finally starting to get excited about the trip.

Kai has been more nervous than excited, but this morning he was up at 6:30, excited about the vacation.


Everyone asks how he will do on the long flight – 13 hours. I think that will actually be one of the easiest parts of the trip as he can watch movies on his iPad to his heart’s content.


We’re at the airport and have happy faces so far.



We’ll soon be off. Wish us well.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tanoshii: Anticipation of Our Vacation

Everyone at work asks the same question: “Are you excited about your vacation?”

And everyone looks at me quizzically when I say that I’m much more stressed out than excited. They look as if I’m crazy that I’m not heads-over-heels excited about our dream journey of going to Japan.

When my sister and I were kids, in the days leading up to our annual summer trips, our mom would always tell us that tanoshii ga ichiban i toki, meaning that the anticipation of the vacation was the best part. I don’t know if I fully agreed with that; the trips themselves were usually pretty great, too, but I now understand what she meant. The time leading up to the vacation is when you’re supposed to be excited.

So, why am I not?

Maybe it’s because I’m thinking about all the stressful experiences we have had with Kai on previous vacations.

There was the time in the Great Smoky Mountains when Kai yelled and screamed the entire way up the not-all-that-long hike to the top of Clingman’s Dome.

Then there was the time last summer in the Tetons when Kai was barely able to tolerate the long wait for the boat that would take us back across the lake to our car. The agony of that wait still seers in my memories.

And then there was the awful time when Kai had a very huge public meltdown at the aquarium at Niagara Falls when he didn’t get his turn to feed the seals because they ran out of fish.

And so I’m pretty sure something will happen on this trip, too. It always does.

And as destinations go, Japan will probably be one of the more challenging ones for Kai.

Japan is a small country with many people. And so it is very crowded in the big cities. Kai hates crowds.

Many people smoke in Japan, and they don’t have the non-smoking areas that we have here. Kai hates smoke.

Summer is not the ideal time to visit Japan. It is very hot and humid there now. Kai hates heat and humidity.

There are many places in Japan that abound with colors, noises, and activities. For Kai, that translates into an overload of stimuli.

There will be plenty of magnificent sights to see. Everyone will want to take their time to take it all in as this may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of us. Kai doesn’t tolerate waiting very well.

And so, there is no doubt in my mind that Kai will get very upset. The only questions are when, where, how often, and how severe.

It is hard to deal with situations when Kai gets upset at home. It is more challenging when we face these types of situations in public.

But it will be even more difficult when things like this impact, not just me and my wife, but all of our family members who will be with us.

I so want this to be a great experience for everyone. I so fear that there will be major blowups that could ruin the trip for all.

Some have advised me not to worry about it. But that is an impossibility.

Besides, I think the best way to minimize the problems is to try to proactively act as best we can.

We have tried to set expectations with Kai. We have warned him of the smoke and crowds and waiting and all that. We have prepared a schedule so he knows what we might do each day. We are trying to come up with strategies for when challenges arise… for instance, my wife or I taking him back to the hotel to get a break.

But in the end I think there is only so much we can do.

And that reminds me of another of my mom’s sayings: shikata ga nai, which means it cannot be helped.

I oftentimes feel like I get disappointed when my expectations are too high. Maybe it will turn out to be the opposite this time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We Are Headed For Japan

We made the decision last fall, on the drive home after spending Thanksgiving with my sister and her family.

We had just dropped my dad off at his house where he was still living on his own at the time, but it had become obvious by then that he needed to move into an assisted living facility.

Our dream vacation for my wife and I had been to visit Japan with Kai, so he could see the country where his mother was born and raised, and visit his grandparents in their homeland.

We had been waiting to go until Kai was old enough to appreciate and remember the trip, but also until he was able to cope with things better.

But on that drive home after Thanksgiving, my wife and I were contemplative. Her parents are still very sharp of mind and very healthy. But seeing my dad’s decline reminded us both that we should not take anything for granted.

And so we decided that the three of us would make the big pilgrimage this summer to visit them and to travel around my wife’s home country. Better to go now, a few years too early in terms of Kai’s readiness, perhaps, than to wait and have regrets later.

As we drove home that day, my wife asked if I wanted to invite my sister and her family to join us. The more I thought about it, the more excited I was about the idea of all of us having this momentous adventure together.

It was also an ideal time for them, in some ways. Both of their kids, my nephews, would have finished college but not be so far along in careers or relationships that would get in the way of making this journey. The only question in our minds was whether the boys would want to go; would they want to travel with us old folks?

The answer, it turned out, is yes. Apparently it took them all of a few seconds to say yes when my sister and brother-in-law posed the question.

“What would make you think that we wouldn’t want to go?” one of them asked us later.

And so, we will soon be on our way to Japan.

It is an exciting time, yes. But as the trip has drawn near, our most prevalent feeling has not been excitement. It has been stress.

More on that in my next post.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Weekend – Strawberry Picking and Water Fun

We went to up to Wisconsin this weekend for our annual outing to pick our own strawberries. The strawberries were the largest we’ve ever seen them. And the fields were crowded with more people than ever.

While the strawberries were large, they weren’t as sweet as ones we’ve had in the past. But Kai wasn’t complaining about that.



Though he did start to grumble about the heat. But after we had picked two boxes of berries, I think all of us were ready to go get lunch at our traditional favorite, The Brat Stop.

After we got home, my wife was ready to rest. Kai was ready to go to the beach.

So he and I went out for a couple of hours. The water was really cold, so after taking a dip up to our ankles, and splashing each other with water shooters, Kai was content to stay on shore and try to skip stones.


The next day, I took him to a birthday party at a home that had a large swimming pool. Kai had a great time swimming and playing with all the water toys, though he seemed pretty content to do his own thing and did not interact much with the other kids.

He’s a happy kid whenever there’s a swimming pool or beach so those will be our common weekend outings this summer.

Ah, if only life were one long summer weekend.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Challenges and the 5K

Our challenges with Kai have continued the past couple of weeks.

During the short break between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school, we went up to Michigan. We left Kai with his grandparents for two days/one night while my wife and I went to my dad’s old house along with my sister and brother-in-law to go through all of the stuff that is still there.

We had left Kai with his grandparents a couple of months earlier, and that time all went relatively well. This time, not so much.

Kai gave his grandparents a hard time, not listening and oftentimes refusing to do anything other than playing on the iPad. His grandfather is more like me in that he is not one to put up with such behavior, and apparently Kai didn’t like it when he didn’t get his way.

He fired his grandfather, apparently similar to how he has fired me and his teachers many times in the past.

Sigh.

You don’t fire your grandfather.

You can be sure that we had a good talk with Kai on the car ride home. But one of our challenges has been that reasoning does not seem to always work well with him.

How do you correct behavior when he does not seem to comprehend what he did wrong?

* * * * *

The day after we got home from Michigan, Kai started summer school. He also transitioned into his fifth grade classroom.

He did not have an auspicious start.

He had an incident in the very first moment of his first day of fifth grade.

He had some problem with saying the Pledge of Allegiance. We are not sure what his issue with the Pledge is, but we had heard from him before that he does not like it. This time he disrupted class and got him off to a rocky start.

It didn’t get much better.

He had other incidents during the week.

But the worst was at the very end of the week.

While riding the van back to school after a field trip to the aquarium in the city, Kai said that he had to use the bathroom. This, despite having used the bathroom just prior to getting on the van. When the driver could not find a bathroom, Kai dropped his pants and peed right in the van. While we can’t say for sure, it sounds like he did it out of anger rather than because he truly could not hold it.

* * * * *

The 5K that we have been training for was run yesterday.

We weren’t nearly as ready for it as I had wanted to be. Every time I wanted to increase the distance of our training runs, Kai complained about being too tired to run. Or that his leg was sore. Or some other reason why he could not run any more. So, the longest we had run prior to the race was about half of the 5K distance we would have to cover.

I was not looking forward to the race.

But Kai seemed happy prior to the race.


He even was well behaved during the national anthem.


And when we started he ran nicely.

But after a mile or so, he was barely walking, let alone running. Kai was loudly complaining that he could not do any more.

One of his classmates caught up to us, and he encouraged Kai to keep going. Kai kept whining but we kept moving, occasionally jogging for a while before slowing down to walk.

When we were within a half mile or so of the finish, we could see the end and hear the crowd at the end. Kai started to regain energy.

He ran that entire last half mile, finishing up with a strong sprint that outpaced his mom and me.

It wasn’t painless, but it was an accomplishment, of sorts.

He did it. Ultimately, he didn't give up. He finished strong.

UPDATED for the following photo of Kai and me crossing the finish line (courtesy of one of the staff at Kai's school):



Now, hopefully we can all persevere through our other challenges and find a way to the finish line.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Video of Kai’s Talent Show Performance

My wife reported that the talent show at Kai’s school featured quite an array of performances. There were kids who danced, and those who sang. Some played musical instruments, while others had more unique talents. One boy balanced peacock feathers on his hand, while another showed off his Jenga skills. One girl demonstrated why she may be the “world’s fastest paper airplane maker.”

In all, there were 19 performers, which was nearly half of the students at the school. We were impressed that so many had the courage and confidence to get up in front of the whole school and perform. It was something I never would have been able to do at that age.

Kai had been practicing his routine for several weeks. We were initially very surprised that he wanted to sing at the talent show, and at first, my wife, especially, was concerned that he might make a fool of himself in front of the whole school. But as we had him keep working on his performance of “What Does the Fox Say?” we started to see him put his personality into his performance and I started to smile, rather than cringe, when I saw him practice.

As described yesterday, Kai did not perform live, and we were disappointed.

But during the show he sat nicely and watched the kids who did perform, which was a triumph of sorts in itself.

The video I took of him practicing was shown as the grand finale. Two staff members in fox costume got up and danced along while Kai’s performance was shown on the widescreen. My wife said it was a big hit.

Maybe next year he will be able to perform live.

But for now, we will enjoy this performance:



Thursday, June 5, 2014

School Year Winding Down, Emphasis on Down

Our son’s fourth-grade school year is rapidly coming to an end, and with the usual end-of-year changes, along with modifications to his medication, things are not ending on a high note.

Kai’s elementary school goes from kindergarten through fifth grade. Ever since Kai has been attending, there has always been just one fifth-grade class, always with the same teacher, Ms. S. When Kai was in second grade, he went to Ms. S’s class for math, and ever since then he expected that he would be returning to her class when he was a fifth grader. (Since then, he has been taught math individually as no one else in his school has been at his level).

We recently learned that next year there will be two fifth-grade classrooms for the first time due to the larger number of kids at that level. The “other” fifth grade classroom will be taught by Ms. L. who has taught third and fourth graders previously. Kai will be in Ms. L’s classroom.

From what I can tell, Ms. L will be a fine teacher for Kai, but he was very disappointed when he heard the surprising news that he would not be in Ms. S’s class. Kai perceives Ms. L to be the teacher of younger children, and he thought it reflected poorly on him that he was chosen for this classroom. He also was upset that most of his close friends will be in the other fifth grade class. All that is on top of the fact that moving to a new class is a bit anxious for any child, and that Kai, like many kids with autism, does not take surprises well.

Yesterday he visited his new classroom for the first time. It did not go well.

We were told that Kai was very disrespectful to some of his new classmates and the teacher. It is distressing to hear that he reacted that way, and we will have to find a way to curb that type of behavior.

Aside from the stress of transitioning to a new teacher and class, this time of year is also difficult because the regular schedule is disrupted for special activities. Among them are practice sessions for an upcoming talent show (more on that in another post), as well as practices for a group performance at the end-of-year recognition ceremony.

We also recently consulted with Kai’s psychiatrist about altering his medication. He had an okay school year, but we thought it would be good to tweak his medication and see how things changed.

We cut back on one of his meds that treats ADHD and it appeared that Kai got more distracted. It was hard to get him to focus on his homework, especially. His school reported increased silliness and less concentration on schoolwork. So, we have gone back to his original dosage.

We also eliminated the small dose of risperidone that had been taking to help control his anger. We were troubled by its side effects, including weight gain and longer-term health risks. During the first couple weeks after we eliminated this drug, we noticed no difference in his anger. But now that he is having more stressful times at school, Kai’s irritability and anger is noticeably higher.

Yesterday, my wife had to go to school to bring a new shirt for Kai after he chewed up the one he was wearing. This had once been a common occurrence, but we thought we had seen the last of it after many months of no incidents like this.

And so, we will have to consider putting Kai back on the risperidone, or finding an alternative drug to try. We had hoped that Kai’s improvements were the result of therapy and maturity, but apparently the drugs were at least partly responsible as well.

School year is winding down. We need to get our boy back up on the right path.

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