Monday, June 29, 2015

The Start of Middle School, and Strawberry Picking

Kai has been in middle school for two weeks now. Well, the summer school version of middle school anyway.

In the summer, they have light academics in the morning, followed by fun activities in the afternoon. These activities have included going to the pool twice, a cooking lesson, a visit to a video arcade, and trips to Little India, Little Village (Mexican), and today, to Little China.

So it's been fun for him. And so far he's torn up only one shirt, and has yet to say too many mean things about the staff. Considering he's had to transition to a new routine, building, staff, and mostly different students, we'll take it.

Though the bigger test will come in the fall when more demands are placed on him.

This weekend we made our annual visit to Thompson's Strawberry Farm just over the border in Wisconsin. Every year it seems harder for me and my wife as our backs ache more and more while bending over to pick the strawberries. We wonder how many more years we'll be able to do this.

But Kai seemed to enjoy it. While my wife and I went hunched over, up and down the long rows of strawberry plants, Kai mostly settled down in one spot.


This year, he actually picked some berries that didn't just go straight into his mouth and we ended up with three boxes altogether.



As long as Kai keep enjoying coming up here, we'll probably keep our tradition going.

We topped up our visit to the cheese state with another tradition -- lunch at The Brat Stop. We had brats with kraut and brown mustard, along with fried cheese curds. That tradition is a little easier on the back, and a treat for the taste buds. That may be incentive enough to come back up here next year.



Sunday, June 14, 2015

End of Elementary School

Kai finished up elementary school this past week and will start at the middle school for summer school tomorrow.

He was all smiles at his graduation ceremony, which was held three days before the actual end of school.


But on the last day of school, a day intended to be full of fun activities, Kai got upset. My understanding is that he got mad when his team lost in some sports competition.

As has happened so many times before, he took his anger out on the shirt he was wearing, ripping it completely in half.


That he did this during his last moments at the school seems fitting, as it was typical of the challenges we've endured the past 5 1/2 years.

In many ways, Kai has made a lot of progress and is a completely different child than when he first started at the school. But I think the end result of all of the ups and downs for me is that I am less optimistic now than ever before that Kai will be capable of leading any semblance of a "normal" life. The anger issues don't seem to go away. Academically, he seems to have made almost no progress in math in the past three years, going from a second grader who held his own in the 5th grade classroom for math to a 5th grader who struggles with math problems that are the least bit challenging.

The goal has always been that he go to college, get some type of job, and be able to live independently. I think I've started to lose hope of that over the past year especially.

So now he is on to middle school. His teacher and therapist there say that they've seen kids make remarkable progress when they go through middle school. I can only hope that Kai will be one of those kids.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Birthday Celebration at Tsukasa

It was my birthday yesterday. My wife and Kai took me out to a teppan-yaki restaurant that we had never been to before. Teppan-yaki is the Japanese cuisine where they use a hot iron griddle to prepare the food right at the table in front of you. Benihana is the most famous of these places and is a national chain; we went to a place called Tsukasa of Tokyo, which is local to our area.

Kai and I started out with shrimp tempura.


And then it was time for the chef to start cooking. They always start by setting off a huge flame. Kai always gets scared at the thought of it.


This time I saw a smile on his face so I think he enjoyed it, though he still wanted to cling to Mom.


One of the nice things about this type of restaurant is that it's easier to get Kai to stop using the iPad or phone while we are there as the chef is quite entertaining. Our chef seemed particularly adept. The chefs all wear different color chef hats. We saw chefs with green, red, brown, and black hats. Our chef had a black hat which meant that he was a master chef, the top level. He demonstrated his skill by flipping pieces of broccoli into the mouths of each patron at the table. Here is the broccoli headed toward my wife's mouth as Kai gapes in amazement.


We all had combo platters with steak; my wife and I had it with scallops, Kai had his with shrimp.


The food was very delicious. We all thought that this was the best teppan-yaki restaurant we had been to.


Even the pineapple dessert was both delicious and artistic.


Afterward, we sat out by the koi pond.


And then went back home to finish off the celebration with an ice cream cake.


It was definitely a very happy birthday!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Sweet Day

My sister and brother-in-law visited this weekend. Which came in handy as we needed the extra help with walking the dogs we had.


Later, we all went to the Long Grove Chocolate Festival where Kai enjoyed a few different types of chocolate. Here he's having chocolate-covered marshmallows.


When Kai was little, he loved bubbles. It's been a while since he played with them, but this bubble maker at the festival got his attention.


And he had fun chasing and popping some bubbles.


Later, back at the house, we all celebrated my dad's birthday. His actual birthday won't be until later this month, but since he's always saying how he's almost 100 years old and that milestone is still a decade away, I don't think he minded an early celebration of his 90th birthday.


And there's nothing like having some of the ice cream birthday cake that capped a sweet day for Kai.


Monday, May 4, 2015

At the Driving Range

Spring seemed particularly late in arriving but we are now finally taking advantage of nicer weather to do some more outdoor activities.

My wife used to be an avid golfer though she doesn't play too often anymore. But she had been telling Kai that she would like to show him how to golf some day. This weekend, Kai asked to go to the driving range.

My wife tried to show him the basics.


As when I try to tutor him in math on weekends, I got frustrated when he didn't listen to what my wife and I were trying to tell him.

I kept repeating, "Keep your hands together."

And he kept doing this...


The more I said it, the more it angered Kai. So after a while, I stopped saying anything.

My wife was a bit more patient and encouraging than I was. When I stopped badgering him, he seemed to actually have fun.

And, at times, he swung better.


We went through a bucket of balls and he wanted to do more, so I got another big bucket.

I don't know that we'll ever play a round together, but for one afternoon, he got to take the first steps in following Mom's footsteps.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Anniversary Dinner

It is our anniversary today - 8 years now that we are a family.

With the anniversary falling on a Monday, we went out for a special dinner yesterday to celebrate. The three of us went to Katsu, a sushi restaurant that has a reputation for serving authentic, Tokyo-style sushi (at Tokyo prices).

I had told Kai ahead of time that we would not permit him to use the iPad or our phones at this restaurant. He had been using electronics at every restaurant all throughout our vacation, but I wanted one special meal without him playing games.

He was actually surprisingly okay with it. In fact, during the meal he engaged in much conversation, and not all of it was about Pokemon or his monster apps. He spoke quite a bit about school, even more than he does when we try to query him about on school days.

We started out with three appetizers, primarily to make sure we had some things that we knew Kai would eat. He loves edamame, for instance. And we also ordered this dish of fried oysters.


And a plate of tempura to share. I figured that Kai would want to eat only the shrimp, leaving the rest of the items for my wife and I to split. So I was a bit surprised when he wanted to try each item. My wife and I had to tell him that he wouldn't like a couple of the items just so we would have something to eat.


Of course, the main meal was sushi. For Kai, we ordered several pieces of his favorites including shrimp, squid, and octopus. But my wife and I chose the omakase, or chef's choice, where we left it up to the chef to choose for us. Here's my plate:


As you can see, the sushi was quite exquisite, looking like works of art, almost too good to eat. But eat it we did, and it tasted as good as it looked.

It was a rare occasion for my wife and I to go to an upper-scale restaurant, and the fact that we could go with Kai was special. All was going really well.

Well, until about the time that Kai's second order of nigiri sushi arrived at the table.

He started to complain of a stomach ache. I accompanied him to the men's room. Once there, he wailed in pain but he wasn't throwing up or having diarrhea. I thought it was probably just gas pain. He screamed at me to call a doctor, then got mad when I didn't. It's hard to tell with him when he is seriously ill and when he is just upset.

We were in the bathroom for about 10-15 minutes when I thought maybe we should just go home. He agreed to that but then got more angry when I asked him to wash his hands, then again when I took the time to wash mine.

I was worried that he would continue yelling out in the restaurant, so I told him that he would not be able to use the iPad at home if he was loud in the restaurant. He seemed to calm down when he was back at the table with Mom, and we stayed and ate a little while longer. Kai's anger shifted from me to talking about how the staff at school are all bossy.

Ultimately whatever discomfort he was feeling passed, and we made it out of the restaurant and back home with no incident.

So the evening was a mixed success. That we were able to go to this place at all and enjoy most of the meal was wonderful. That we still had to endure some anxious moments was not surprising.

So I guess in a way that evening was somewhat metaphoric of the 8 years we have been together.

It's hard to believe how far we've come in 8 years. And hard to believe that in another 8 years Kai will have finished high school. It won't always be easy, but I'm sure there will be many beautiful moments to keep us going.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Passover and Easter

We had to get up at 4AM to catch our flight out of Florida on Saturday morning. It wasn't ideal to fly that early, but as we used frequent flyer miles to book our travel, we didn't have any choice. Along with having to fly to Newark to catch a connecting flight back home, it made for a long day and we were very tired when we got home.

My wife and I were thinking we could take it easy the rest of the day, but Kai said he wanted to celebrate Passover. We were planning on just skipping it this year, but as Kai really wanted to celebrate the holiday, my wife went to the store and got a few things for a mini Seder.

She prepared brisket and fried up some potato pancakes.


Then, Kai led us through the steps for the Seder.


It wasn't really the same without our Jewish relatives here to celebrate with us this year, but I'm glad we kept the tradition going.

Today, of course, was Easter, and we celebrated that as well.

I think Kai was a bit disappointed that the Easter bunny did not leave him candy or toys. But as he does not eat Easter candy anyway, and he is getting too old to really believe in the Easter bunny, we skipped that part of the tradition.

We did, however, color eggs.




Hope your Passover or Easter was nice as well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Florida Vacation - Snorkeling!

We had our most adventurous day on our last full day in Florida.

We started out by touring around the oceanfront areas of Fort Lauderdale. It was another beautiful day - sunny and warm, but not overly hot and humid.

We hit a few shops.


And walked along the ocean.


We had lunch outdoors again at a spot where we could see the beach and ocean. Kai had beef tacos, I had fish tacos, and my wife had fajitas. All very good.


And then it was time to go snorkeling.

None of us had ever snorkeled before, but it seemed like a good time and place to give it a try. We found an outfit that takes you on a two-hour glassbottom boat expedition. The first 15 minutes or so is a tour of Millionaires Row along the Intracoastal Waterway where we saw many many extraordinary houses and boats. Here are just a couple to give you an idea.



It is hard for us regular folks to fathom that there are people with that much money.

Kai didn't particularly pay much attention to these houses, but he seemed to enjoy the ride.

At least, he did until we hit the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

We had been warned that it was a windy day so the waves would be quite choppy. Once we were on the open waters, we found out just how choppy it was. Each time the boat went over a wave, it rocked from side to side like a real-life thrill ride. I had to admit that it made me uncomfortable. And it made Kai quite scared. He kept yelling to turn the boat around and go back. But of course there was no going back.

Fortunately, that part didn't last too long. After about 10-15 minutes, we had reached the point where we would snorkel.

But Kai was not happy at all.


But as the boat settled down, so did he. I think he was looking forward to going into the water where he is most comfortable.


Kai normally is like a fish in the water, but he never really got the hang of breathing through the tube. He kept his face above the water mostly, sticking it into the water only for brief moments at a time.


Here he is with me when he actually was in the proper position:


The dive master from the boat came over to try to instruct him on breathing, but like he is with me so often when I try to tutor him on various topics, Kai didn't seem to listen. The instructor even dove down to blow bubbles from below to try to get Kai's attention and get him to look down in the water, but it mostly went for naught.

Still, I think Kai did enjoy being in the water. We saw many fish and it was a very cool experience that I would like to try again.

As you can see, when he came back onto the boat, he was happy about the experience.


But then it took time to get the boat going as the anchor was stuck. The dive master had to go back into the water to get it unstuck, and in the meantime the other boat had already left. Kai doesn't like being left behind in the last boat (or car or taxi or whatever). And then when the boat finally did get going, we had to endure the choppy ride back again. He was back to being unhappy, angry Kai.

As the boat went along, the dive master came over to give Kai a high five, Kai snubbed him as he took out his anger on the man who had spent time trying to teach him. It was quite frustrating for my wife and I. We told Kai that he was being very rude, and explained to him that the man was trying to be nice and friendly with him and that he should be friendly back to him. I don't think Kai really understood what we told him. It is just like when he takes his anger out on the staff at school who are trying to teach him. He just doesn't get it.

I was feeling embarrassed and wanted to explain to the dive master that Kai has autism. But I didn't. After awhile you accept that you can't explain your child's behavior to every single person he comes in contact with.

Back on dry land, Kai was happy again.

We went to the beach for one last swim.


He was a happy kid again.

Though the snorkeling adventure wasn't a complete success, I was happy that we had tried it. Next time we'll have Kai practice in a pool or even a bathtub before we go again. And maybe we'll pick a calmer day.

That evening, we had our last vacation dinner, this one at a Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant.


After dinner, we walked along the oceanfront one last time. We saw the full moon over the beach.


Now we're back home. We woke up at 4AM so it's been a long day of traveling and connecting flights.

I asked Kai the question that everyone will probably ask him: What did you like the best on the vacation?

He said everything.

Except snorkeling.

Ha.

I would say everything.

Period.

We had a lot of good times. And in time, I think the memories will pretty much all be good ones. Except for Kai. I notice that he seems to remember mostly just the bad times.

Oh well, what can you do?

And now, back to reality.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Florida Vacation - From the Keys to Fort Lauderdale

We at all of our meals outdoors today beginning with this breakfast next to the beach in Key West. Kai had chocolate chip pancakes while my wife and I had two different types of eggs benedict (shrimp and asparagus for my wife, Cuban-style for me). Very delicious, irrespective of the fact that the ambiance would have made anything taste great!


We then had our picture taken at the spot where everyone goes to - the southernmost


After that, we headed out of Key West to drive back toward the mainland. Key West was wonderful, but the drive to and from is pretty painful. There's nothing more frustrating than being stuck behind someone going 35 in a 55 zone for miles and miles with no room to pass. The scenery helped to keep me calm.

Before we left the Keys, we stopped at Theater of the Sea where they have a variety of shows including a nice dolphin show.



Though I thought that Wilbur the sea lion had the most personality. (Hard to capture in a photograph).


Kai said he enjoyed all of it.


Though I think his favorite part was misting himself to get some relief from the heat.


From there, we went on with our drive. After enduring Miami rush hour traffic, we made it to Fort Lauderdale.

After our usual break at the pool, we had dinner outdoors overlooking to intercoatal waterway.


My wife had fish tacos, Kai had skirt steak, and I had swordfish, all very delicious.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Florida. Can't believe our vacation is almost over.


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