Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015 Halloween

The boy who complained about all the walking we did in Boston on our summer vacation had no issues with taking a nice long walk around our neighborhood for trick-or-treating. Even a little light rain did not dampen Kai's Halloween spirit.

Kai was dressed as Kylo Ren, who apparently will be a Darth Vader-like villain in the upcoming new Star Wars movie. He received a number of positive comments about his costume as we went around and a number of folks showed off their own Star Wars apparel to him. I hadn't thought that he particularly cared about what others thought about his Halloween costume, but he remarked that "this is the first time everyone like my costume."

Here he is in front of the house at the end of our block that famously goes all out for Halloween, not only in their decorations but in giving out big ziplock bags of goodies, and serving hot chocolate for the trick-or-treaters and wine for their parents.

After trick-or-treating, we had our usual Saturday movie night, though with a Halloween flavor. My wife added "eyes" to our pizza.

And she made some finger cookies.

And then we settled in to watch Hotel Transylvania.

A good Halloween it was. Hope yours was, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

He Did It!

Kai returned from his very first overnight camp this afternoon.

My wife spoke with Kai's school therapist and she reported that Kai was "a good trooper" and that he tried all of the activities. Not everything went perfectly, but apparently things went well enough that he had a good time overall.

Kai hates to answer questions and to talk about school-related matters, so my wife waited until I got home from work before we peppered him with questions. That way he would have to talk about it only the one time.

I asked him if he was glad he went, and he said yes.

He described trying all of the activities. He said he was scared of the zip line (even though we had done it in New Hampshire over our summer vacation). He said it took him about 15 minutes before he could jump off and zip down.

He said the high ropes course was even scarier but he did it.

And he tried the climbing wall for the first time. He said he only got a third of the way up, but I was happy that he tried it.

He said the food was good though the spaghetti was not as good as Mom's.

He said he showered in the evening and my wife confirmed that his washcloth was actually wet.

He got one of the top bunks, and said he was able to sleep well.

Apparently he did not get especially homesick, and he seemed to be okay spending a day and night away from Mom.

So, we are both relieved and happy that he was able to do this. I'm sure he had a lot of support from the school staff, but it still was a nice little step toward independence.

Well done, Kai!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Preparing for Kai's First Overnight Camp

We learned that my son's middle school offers a special away-from-home experience for their students. The kids travel up to southern Wisconsin along with the school staff for a two-day, one-night adventure at a YMCA camp. Activities include ropes courses, climbing walls, and zip lining. It was described to us as a highlight of the school year, one that students remember and talk about for months.

Although it is not mandatory that all kids attend, it sounded to us like it would be a fantastic experience for Kai, and we wanted him to take part.

But we knew he would have a lot of anxiety about it.

For one thing, it would be Kai's first overnight away from family.

And so we tried to proactively take some steps to help that it goes as smoothly as possible.

First, we told him without hesitation that he was going to go the camp. We didn't want to waffle and have him think that he could lobby us to keep him home.

Second, we regularly talked to him about what a fun experience it would be. We reminded him that he had already tried zip lining this summer. We pointed out that he would get to stay up until 10PM at camp, an hour later than at home. And we mentioned that if he did not go, he would have to listen to other kids talk about the experience and would regret missing out.

Finally, we asked Kai's school social worker if she had suggestions on how we can reduce his anxiety. She said that she could arrange a tour of the camp so Kai could see it and visualize the experience before he had to go with the group from school.

And so, on Columbus Day, my wife drove Kai up to the camp and they were given a personal tour.

First stop was the dining hall where everyone would have their meals.

Next, they walked around the grounds. The hub of all outdoor activities would be at the "Mount MacLean Skyway."

Here there would be a series of ropes courses where the kids would have to maneuver around tires, ropes, and planks to get from one side to the other.

In addition, on one end of the structure is a climbing wall.

And on the other is the zip line.

Of course, the kids will be wearing safety harnesses and helmets so they will be safe, something that we constantly reminded Kai as he gets anxious about everything.

After that, they walked over to the cabins, set in the picturesque woods, which will be their sleeping quarters.

Kai liked the bunkbeds inside and declared that he wanted one of the top bunks.

The visit to the camp seemed to help lessen Kai's anxiety. But we still worry about how it will go.

Tomorrow is the big day. Kai will go to school in the morning, and then they will all depart for camp. I'm not expecting that all will go perfectly smoothly, but here's hoping that Kai will take part in most activities and come back happy that he went.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Old and New Traditions

We repeated a couple of Kai's favorite fall activities and added a new one this weekend.

Our public library always invites in guys from a local model railroad club to set up the Halloween Railroad. This is always one of the library's most popular events, and Kai still looks forward to seeing it. And I do, too.

* * * * *

This weekend we attended our first Chicago Blackhawks game. For those of you who are not hockey fans, the Blackhawks have become somewhat of a dynasty as they have won three out of the last six Stanley Cup championships. During their last championship run last spring, my wife became a big Blackhawk fan and watched every game with me, and even watched a couple by herself when I had to work late. So, when I suggested that maybe we could all go see a hockey game sometime, she enthusiastically replied, "Blackhawks! Yes!"

This would be Kai's first professional sports event that he would see in Chicago following three baseball games he has gone to (the one in Hiroshima, Japan last year, one in Milwaukee with his elementary school, and the one we went to at Fenway Park in Boston two months ago).

Here we are shortly after we had settled into our seats. (You can see my hand holding half of a giant Italian Sandwich).

The experience of a live sporting event is far different than watching a typical game on tv. At a Blackhawks game, the excitement builds even before the game begins. The playing of the national anthem has become a famous, boisterous tradition as fans cheer throughout and the noise level in the arena keeps rising until the anthem has ended.

Kai, however, stayed quiet during this portion and just kept his hand over his heart and took it all in.

The game itself was good. The Blackhawks mostly dominated the action but just could not score as the game remained scoreless throughout regulation. I was wondering if Kai would get bored, but he seemed to stay engaged the entire time. He always joined in when fans chanted, "Let's go Hawks!"

During breaks in the action, very loud music is blared. It was a bit too loud for my taste as it made it difficult to converse, but it didn't bother Kai and he enjoyed bopping to the music.

It was great to see him enjoy the whole experience.

The game went into overtime, and this was the first time I had seen the new three-on-three overtime rule in action. The Blackhawks scored very quickly, only 17 seconds into the extra period, to win the game.

Afterward, it took nearly an hour to get out of the parking lot so we didn't get home until nearly midnight. Between that and the cost of the tickets, I don't think this will be something we do very often. But as Kai enjoyed it so much, perhaps this is the start of a new tradition to take in a live sporting event in town every now and then.

* * * * *

This was the last full weekend that canoe rentals would be offered at Skokie Lagoons and Kai wanted to go one last time this year. It was a perfect fall day and we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon outdoors. My wife's back was aching so we put Kai up front and he and I did all of the paddling this time.

So, all in all, it was a very nice weekend. Hope yours was nice as well.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Continuing Our Fall Pumpkin Tradition

Yesterday we made our annual fall visit to our local pumpkin farm.

Most of the other visitors were families with much younger children; we had wondered if Kai would want to go again, but he tends to like to repeat fun experiences from the past.

Kai wanted to do all of our usual activities, starting with the giant slide.

His big smile indicates that he still enjoys going down the slide, even if it does not seem so "giant" as he has gotten bigger.

Next was the hay ride...

and then the corn maze...

Of course, we had to take our annual photo by the measuring stick..

We picked out a couple of pumpkins and washed them.

Kai wanted to carve them when we got home. We got him a book of stencils and he picked out a couple for our pumpkins.

He carved one pumpkin while I worked on the other.

I was amazed at how patient he was. He meticulously carved away. It was a rare sight to see him this focused on anything non-electronic.

It took about an hour, but we finished our jack o lanterns.

It was nice to share the carving experience with him instead of having to do it all myself.

Nice job, Kai.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall Camping Trip – Kettle Moraine

We went on our fall camping trip this weekend. This year, our destination was Kettle Moraine State Forest in southern Wisconsin, which is less than two hours from home.

After coming home from our New England vacation, I was thinking of skipping our camping trip this year. I was tired of all the travel, and tired of Kai complaining about everything. The last thing I wanted was to spend a weekend arguing over how much iPad time he could have in the tent.

But my wife mentioned that Kai had asked when we would go camping, so I decided we would give it a go.

I told Kai before we went that we would not be bringing the iPad along and he could not use any electronics while we were camping.

We arrived at campsite late Friday afternoon. We got the tent up quickly but it was dark by the time I got the campfire going and cooked dinner.

We had hot dogs, edamame, and some Sun Chips. And then roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Kai nearly ate his all up before I thought to take a picture.

We slept well in the tent… it was by far the best night’s sleep I had gotten all week as I had had a stressful week at work.

We got up and I got the campfire going. Kai enjoyed “helping” to keep the fire going.

Then we went on a hike on one of the many trails in the State Forest. I chose the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail because the length seemed right for Kai (only a mile and a half), plus this particular trail had 13 numbered points of interest along with an accompanying leaflet that I had printed out at home that explained each of the 13 spots.

Here we are at point #2, standing on the remains of an old railroad bed that used to run here.

At a couple places along the trail, we walked near the Scuppernong River.

The weather was perfect for a hike, with temperatures in the low 70s.

Here we stopped to rest and look at the view.

At the far end of the trail, we found a spring that is the source of the Scuppernong River. The water was cool, delicious, and a perfect thirst quencher.

Here’s a photo of one spot where the water is bubbling up to the surface.

We continued on the hike as the trail looped back around to take us back to our parking spot. Kai remained in good spirits the whole time, never complaining about being tired or unable to walk.

It was a far cry from all the complaining he did in New England. Perhaps that numbered-trail had something to do with it.

When we got back to our campsite, Kai went in the tent and fell asleep for about an hour and a half until we woke him up for lunch. The hike may have worn him out a little bit, but a change in medication this week has also made him more tired during the day. (He fell asleep at school for a couple hours earlier in the week).

In the afternoon, we went for a bike ride.

Kettle Moraine is famous for its mountain biking trails, but we knew Kai wasn’t ready for that. Instead, I found a straight, flat trail.

After traveling less than two miles, Kai started to complain that he was too tired. We hadn’t been biking much this year, so he was probably out of biking shape. It was discouraging, though, that biking remains something that we kind of have to force him to do rather than being something he enjoys. We turned around and headed back.

What he did enjoy, though, was riding back and heading over to a nearby ice cream shop.

After we got back to our campground, we changed into our swimsuits and went over to nearby Ottawa Lake. We had saved Kai’s favorite activity for the end of the day.

The water was cold but that didn’t deter Kai from wading in.

I eventually joined him but didn’t go out too far.

Kai got used to the water and joyfully immersed himself in the water and swam.

Back at our campsite, his second favorite activity was going into the tent, wrapping himself up with his sleeping bag, and playing games with Mom and Dad.

Dinner was roast chicken, and then more roasting marshmallows to make s’mores.

Here’s a photo from this morning shortly before we took down our tent.

We went on one more short hike and found another spring.

Kai enjoyed drinking the cool, refreshing water right from the source.

And that capped off this year’s camping trip.

It was surprisingly enjoyable.

The campground was the best we’ve ever experienced with wooded campsites spaced relatively far apart. Our loop was a 24-hour quiet zone – no music or pets are allowed, so it was peaceful. And the showers were clean and roomy.

Moreover, Kai showed that he could go a couple days without electronics and actually enjoy himself.

Let’s hope that his relaxed mood can carry over now that we’re back in the real world.

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