Monday, October 27, 2014

Costumes & Parties, Anger & Smiles

Kai and I arrived at his boxing class on Saturday and saw several other kids in their Halloween costumes.

Uh oh, did I overlook an email about that?

It turned out that we were left off the email list, but Kai didn’t care about the reason. He was just upset that most of the other kids were in their costumes and he wasn’t.

I tried to calm him down, telling him that it was not a big deal, and that it would be too hot for him to do all the exercises and sparring in his costume anyway.

I should have known by now that everything is a big deal to Kai, and that there was no calming him down.

He ranted about what a terrible place this was, and he “fired” the instructor. He said he wanted to go home, but stayed when I told him we could leave but then he would forfeit his iPad privileges for the day.

He grudgingly went through his exercises. But it wasn’t until he went in the ring that he finally released his anger.

As he sparred with the instructor, he attacked with full force. Normally Kai is a bit tentative in the ring, too often pawing at his instructor rather than throwing punches.

But not this time.

He whaled on the instructor.

And when his time was up, the teacher praised him for a good session.

A bit of a smile crossed Kai’s face.

And he seemed content as he sat and watched the other kids get their turn in the ring.

Ha! The boxing turned out to be a good release of his anger, in this case anyway.

* * * * *

On Sunday, I took Kai to a classmate’s birthday party at one of those places with giant inflatables where kids can bounce, slide, and play.

In years past, he would want me to join him on the bouncy slides. But this time he seemed very content to play by himself or with his classmates. He seemed to be interacting relatively well with them so I mostly stayed off to the side with the other parents.

The one time I interrupted his play was to ask him if he had tried the biggest slide. He hadn’t, he said, but he would go over and give it a try.

To get to the top of the slide, kids have to climb a tower that had big rubbery bands stretched across at different levels.

As I watched Kai climb, I recalled that he had tried this once before and had given up that time because it was too difficult for him. He was struggling this time as well. The bands are not taut, making it difficult to maintain balance. I could see that you need strength to pull yourself up to the next level, while Kai kept falling back to the previous level.

I expected him to give up again and tell me that it was too difficult for him. But as he kept trying, I encouraged him and tried to give him tips. Finally, he made it all the way to the top.

He did it!

And when he came down on the slide, he was very happy and proud of his accomplishment.

Kai enjoyed the rest of the party, which was a big success, much to the relief of the birthday boy’s mom. All the kids had fun and there were no incidents.

As we were set to leave, we stopped by to wish Kai’s classmate a happy birthday one more time. The young man stuck out his hand to shake mine, and told me that I was a handsome man. I thanked him for the compliment, telling him that it had been a long time since anyone said that about me.

And so Kai wasn’t the only one leaving the place with a big smile on his face. We had both had a good time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mom’s Birthday Weekend

It was a big weekend as my wife celebrated a round number birthday.

Kai’s grandparents treated us to lunch on Saturday. My wife picked her favorite Japanese restaurant. Kai had his usual – shrimp and octopus sushi, along with edamame.

My wife and I each had the bento box.

You can see there were a great variety of dishes including karaage (fried chicken), tempura, cod, sashimi (raw fish), daikon (Japanese radish), pickled cucumber, rice, and miso soup.

It was all very delicious. Kai even limited his iPad time (somewhat) at the restaurant without making a fuss.

It was quite a treat for us. Though Kai’s grandparents would give us an even bigger treat the next evening.

* * * * *

Before we get to that, on Saturday night we went to the Highwood Pumpkin Festival. In past years, the festival had a goal to break the world record for most lit jack-o-lanterns at one time. This year the event benefitted the Autism Society of Illinois and they had a goal to light 52,000 jack-o-lanterns, one for each of the 52,000 individuals with autism in Illinois.

We have been going to this festival for several years now and Kai was very excited as we go there this time. He said he wanted to both carve and light pumpkins.

We saw a number of people at carving tables, but had a hard time finding a table with extra carving knives. We also could not find anyone handing out candles to use to light the pumpkins.

Kai got very irritated.

The speed with which his excitement turned to anger was a bit surprising. I thought he had learned to be more patient but that was not evident on this evening.

I grabbed a pumpkin to carve and then my wife and I desperately searched around for a carving knife. That pumpkin was getting heavy as we walked around the festival grounds. Kai got angrier and angrier.

Finally, we found a knife.

I started to carve but Kai said that he wanted to do it.

I was afraid that he might cut himself as he kept stabbing at the pumpkin and responded with anger when I tried to advise him. But I considered it a win when he was able to finish his task without bloodshed.

Next, we wanted to find a candle to help light the pumpkins. It took almost as long as finding that knife but my wife finally found a candle.

We each took turns trying to light the pumpkins.

Finally, Kai was happy again.

We walked around to see all the lit jack-o-lanterns one more time before leaving.

“We had a lot of fun at this festival, didn’t we, Dad?”

The way he said that made it sound like he wanted confirmation.

Yes, we did Kai.

Though next year we will bring our own lighter, and perhaps a carving knife, too.

* * * * *

The next afternoon, Kai’s grandparents picked up Kai from his group exercise class and then watched him for several hours so that my wife and I could have a rare evening out alone.

We saw a movie and then had a scrumptious dinner at a French bistro. My wife had gotten recommendations from friends. From the outside, it looked like a nondescript place in a suburban strip mall. But the inside was charming and the food was exquisite.

We were happy to find out that everyone had a nice time at home as well.

And we celebrated my wife’s birthday with cake and a few presents.

Happy birthday to my beautiful wife!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Return to Didier Farms

We have been going to our local pumpkin farm most years since Kai was 4 years old. Last year we heard that the local government was going to take over the land to build a reservoir, but they are still in business so they must have held the government off for now.

We went back there on Saturday for our latest visit.

First up on Kai’s agenda is the giant slide. It has become a father-and-son tradition for us.

He wanted to go on it several times.

Next was the hayride through the corn field.

And for the first time this year, Kai wanted to go into the corn maze.

I had never done one either, and was impressed that you really can’t tell the right way to go when you are inside the maze.

There are numerous corny signs.

Kai enjoyed leading the way.

It seemed like we always chose the wrong path that led to a dead end. But at least we didn’t keep going in circles.

Though after a while, it seemed like we might never get out. Then another boy came running by to tell his family that he had discovered the way out. And so we followed him to the exit.

Next Kai wanted to ride on the mini dragon roller coaster.

This ride is for kids much younger than Kai. But I suppose it is progress of sorts that he wanted to ride it after all these years. Maybe next year he will want to try a real roller coaster at our local amusement park.

We couldn’t leave without getting a pumpkin and taking our annual photo by the measuring stick.

And though it doesn’t always seem like it, I guess these photos prove that our little boy really is growing up.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Full Weekend at Door County

We returned to Door County in Wisconsin for our annual fall camping trip.

It’s always exciting to get there to put the tent up. Kai wanted to play with the campfire.

He was especially looking forward to making s’mores.

And they turned out great!

The next morning we went to Eagle Tower. If you squint, you may be able to see Kai and my wife about a third of the way up the 75-foot structure.

My knees told me that the tower was taller this year, though Kai had no trouble hiking to the top. Here’s the view from the top. Please pay attention to the little island that you can get a glimpse of on the right side of the photo. That is Horseshoe Island (more on that later).

Next, Kai wanted to go to the beach. My wife volunteered that I would go in the water with Kai. ☺

The water was really cold. I mean, it was REALLY COLD. Even Kai thought it was cold, and he is a penguin when it comes to going into cold water. Nonetheless, he still wanted to walk all the way out to the boundaries of the swimming area.

Next, we wanted to try kayaking.

After our experience kayaking the Skokie Lagoons, we felt like taking on the challenge of kayaking in a bigger body of water. The man who rented kayaks told us of a few places we could go to. He said that it would take 20 to 30 minutes to kayak to Horseshoe Island. As we only wanted to go out for an hour, we thought that was perfect.

We rented a kayak large enough for the three of us, though Kai only sat with his back to Mom and did not paddle.

Here you see us with our destination in the background. This picture was taken when we had already paddled out nearly halfway. We still had a long distance to go.

We learned that kayaking in a large body of water like Lake Michigan (or technically, Green Bay) is much more difficult than kayaking in the small, calm waters of the lagoon back home.

Even though it was a calm day, there seemed to be just enough wind and/or current that it was challenging to stay on course toward our target. (Or perhaps, my wife and I were just not in sync and kept steering off course). Anyway, we would keep going too far to one side, then over-adjusted to the other. We were zig-zagging instead of going straight.

The choppy waves from passing motor boats did not help either, and were a bit scary as the thought of capsizing in that cold water was not attractive.

The final issue was more mental. In a small space like the lagoon, you can see every tree go by so you can tell that you are making progress. But in this big open space, we passed few landmarks and the island appeared to be far away no matter how hard we paddled. It felt like we were making no progress at all.

With nary a break, with our arms aching, we finally approached the island. But we had taken so much time to get there that we turned around without the planned rest on the island. We wanted to get back in our allotted time as the man told us that if we were late, they would send someone out after us.

The trip back was probably even harder than going out. But we made it! It was an accomplishment. And it may have satiated our desire to kayak for a while.

After a break for lunch, we got our bicycles out to ride on one on of the beautiful trails in the State Park. We had tried this last year but Kai tumbled off his bike in the first few minutes and we did not ride for long. We were hopeful of going further this time.

Kai did much better this year.

As incentive to keep going, we set our destination as the frozen custard stand just outside the Park entrance, about four and a half miles from our campsite. It was about the same distance as the loop we usually ride back home.

Kai generally rode well, though he often rode too slowly to make it up the hills.

But we achieved our goal and enjoyed some big sundaes.

Riding back was a bit more challenging. Kai was tired and I had to keep encouraging him to pedal faster.

“Keep going!”

“Pedal faster!”

He did not like my encouragement.


Oh, brother. I could just imagine what passing bicyclists must have been thinking if they heard Kai yelling that to me.

But we made it back to our campsite. The 9-mile round trip was probably the longest we had ever biked together.

And once we relaxed in the tent and played games, Kai was back to his happy self again.

We capped our day off by going into town to experience our first fish boil.

A Door County tradition, the fish boil involves a huge cauldron of salt water being brought to a boil.

Potatoes and onions are first put into the pot, and later fresh water whitefish steaks are added. At just the right moment, the boil master tosses kerosene into the fire beneath the pot, setting off a huge blaze that causes the water to boil over, dramatically carrying off the fish oil that had collected on top.

The fish, potatoes, and onions are pulled out and carried to the kitchen, where they are served with a generous drizzling of butter.

The fish was really tasty, though the service at the restaurant left a lot to be desired.

Kai is not one for regular fish (he likes shellfish) so he had the ribs, which he said was really good as well.

As you might imagine, we were very tired and slept pretty well in the tent that night.

The next day, we took a ferry over to Washington Island.

The boat ride took half an hour. And then we explored the large island.

One of the highlights was a neat-looking church. Before you get to the church itself, you walk on the “Prayer Path” through the woods.

Along the path are numerous Bible scriptures.

And then we arrived at the wooden church.

It was beautiful outside and in.

We also went to a farm museum. Here Kai is feeding a goat.

We had a long drive ahead, so we couldn’t stay on the island too long. We grabbed a take-out lunch to eat in the car while on the ferry.

Back on the mainland, we drove home, stopping only to buy some cherry pie to have later.

It was a fun weekend. We had done a lot. Frankly, I didn’t expect to be able to do all those things. We wouldn’t have been able to in years past.

And so it was a great weekend in many ways.

And best of all it portends more good times ahead.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cicada Update

I got home from work on Monday and heard that the cicada Kai had brought into the house was nowhere to be found. It must have died, we thought.

After dinner, I heard my wife scream.


Kai and I charged out of the kitchen.

“Where, Mom?”


It was on the floor in the hallway outside our bedrooms.

Kai went over and picked it up. It was still alive.

My wife suggested that he put the cicada in a jar instead of letting it have free rein of the house. I told Kai that it would die if he left it in a jar, and suggested that he release it outside.

He thought it over for several seconds. I think he wanted to keep his pet. But he didn’t want it to die so he made the decision to set it free.

He brought it out to our back deck and let it go.

“Be free!” Kai called out, and the cicada flew away.

It was kind of sad to see it go.

Well, perhaps not so much for all of us.

My wife was relieved to know that the critter was no longer in our house. ☺

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stomp Rockets, Pet Cicadas, and Other Weekend Activities

We went to the library on Saturday to get another science kit. Most of the kits were already checked out so we ended up selecting one that had a math game. Kai was looking forward to bringing it home until he saw another child holding a kit that contained a stomp rocket. Suddenly, the math game didn’t seem so attractive.

“That’s not fair!”

I explained that of course it was fair; the other child had gotten to the library before us and had selected this kit.

“They should be allowed to have the kit for only one week!”

Well, you got to keep yours for two weeks.

“I’m telling the librarian!”

And so he did.

To no avail. She explained to him as I did, that kids are given two weeks to do all the things in the kits.

He remained angry until, on the way home, I remembered that we actually had a stomp rocket at home. One that Kai never plays with. When I reminded him about it, his mood brightened and he couldn’t wait to find it.

And he had a great time playing with it.

The math game was also pretty good, by the way. It was a math version of Scrabble where you use tiles to make equations. Integers and simple operations like addition are worth fewer points; fractions and operations like division are worth more.

* * * * *

Kai’s boxing class resumed on Saturday after a summer respite. Even though it was just a three-month break, I noticed a difference in some of the other kids.

One boy in particular, a boy two years older than Kai, especially stuck out is a good way.

He looked taller. But it was more than his physical growth that caught my attention.

He came over to me, struck up a conversation, and even took out his hand to shake. Considering he had not spoken more than a few words to me before, I was really impressed with how social and mature he was. I can only hope that Kai is like that in two years.

Apparently Kai has changed in his own way, too. Another parent remarked to me how good he looked; that it appeared like he lost a lot of weight. You know, he does look better than he did last spring; it’s just harder to notice when you see him every day.

Kai’s boxing instructor also smiled at how Kai actively participated this week. He wasn’t shy with his sparring and he worked up a sweat, something he didn’t always do last year.

Maybe it’s not so unrealistic that he can mature into a nice twelve year old like that other boy.

* * * * *

We went out to play with the stomp rocket again on Sunday when Kai found a cicada.

He said it was a male cicada. I asked him how he could tell, and he said he looked at its private parts. Do cicadas have private parts?

He wanted to take it into the house to show Mom. I told him that Mom would not want it in the house, and besides, she’s not so crazy about bugs anyway.

As Kai was preoccupied with the cicada and no longer interested in the stomp rocket, I cleaned up a few things in the yard. When I saw him again he was coming back outside. I asked him what he did with the cicada. He said that he let it go.

When I came in the house, I noticed that he wasn’t hanging around in the kitchen as usual; he was in his bedroom. I went up to his room to investigate, and he showed me the cicada. He had brought it inside the house and was now among his Lego sets. He had also brought a leaf inside. It was lunch for the cicada.

I could have ordered him to take it outside, but I didn’t. I kind of liked that he took interest in it, and that he wanted to take care of the critter.

He told me that it would be a secret from Mom. He said he would keep the door to his room closed when he went out for his afternoon exercise group.

When he returned home, he rushed to his room. After a while he called for me.

“Dad, I can’t find the cicada.”

We looked around but could not find it. His room has a lot of stuff so it could be hidden among any number of items. I told him that it would probably turn up sooner or later (or be found dead by his mother, I thought).

He finally gave up trying to find it, and went downstairs to ask Mom if she saw it. My wife was shocked that he had brought it into the house, and not happy that it was on the loose.

Oh well, what can you do?

Though a nagging thought is bothering me. Kai said something about wanting to find a female cicada so that he could breed more of them.

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