Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Grandfather Painting Lasting Memories

My father-in-law has been with us for over a month now.

He has spent a lot of time with Kai, including on our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

And he has been a great help with looking after the dogs that have stayed with us the past few weeks.

He’s also had just a bit of his own time such as when Kai was in camp.

My father-in-law loves painting. Much of his free time back home is spent painting portraits of Kai from the pictures we send him. He usually brings one or two each time he visits so we now have a little Kai Gallery.

The other day, Kai saw him painting and took interest for a short while. Jiji encouraged Kai to take the brush and paint the legs of a table.

My father-in-law has also been working on another subject the past couple weeks – Grand Teton mountain.

And he recently finished.

Seeing these paintings every day might help Kai to remember his grandfather’s artistic talent. I hope he also remembers his grandfather’s quiet dignity.

But I know for sure that Kai will remember that Jiji always loved spending time with him, was willing to do anything for him, and never had a cross word.

And that will be quite a lasting memory.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Harmonica, a Trampoline and a Fun Evening

While our outing to the racetrack was disappointing, we did have some good times over the weekend as well.

The highlight was a visit from Kai’s uncle, aunt, and cousins. Kai always enjoys seeing them.

When we have company, he often likes to tell everyone what to do. For instance, this time he was somewhat controlling at dinnertime, telling everyone that the fruit salad was for dessert. I told him that they could have it with the dinner if they wanted to.

And after he had finished eating his skirt steak and corn, he told everyone that it was time for the fruit salad. I told him that maybe some people wanted to eat more skirt steak.

After dinner he started to play a toy harmonica that my dad had given him. That was very unusual, as he had not picked it up at all in the months that he’s had it.

But on this evening he played. Well, he kept blowing into it anyway, and noise came out. I don’t know if I’d quite call that “playing” as I would not describe the noise we heard as music.

While Kai blew into the harmonica, one of his cousins bounced around on our trampoline, showing some nifty dance moves while bouncing up and down. Apparently, the harmonica noise was a suitable substitute for techno-dance music.

Once, the noise stopped. I wasn’t sure if Kai had finished a song or if he was just pausing. He let us know.

“Okay, you can applaud now.”

Well, the harmonica playing didn’t exactly deserve applause but his forthright communication certainly did. So, we all applauded.

After that, Kai kept playing and his cousin kept bouncing.

Sometimes it’s not the quality of the playing that is important; it’s the enthusiasm of the participants. And that we had in abundance.

And that made for a very fun evening.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A (Very Short) Day at the Races

After two business trips and other challenges at work this past week, I was really looking forward to the weekend.

The last of several dogs we’ve had recently would be going home Sunday morning. That meant that Sunday afternoon would be our first weekend afternoon free of dogs all summer (other than when we went away). And while I love dogs, it would be nice to have more than an hour or two to get out of the house to do something all together as a family.

My dream is to one day take Kai to a baseball game. But I don’t think he is nearly ready for that. We rarely watch baseball games on television as he is just not interested.

But perhaps he would like something a little different. After much thought, I decided that we would try a day at the races, specifically horse racing. I thought it would be perfect; the races are very short, about two minutes each. Each race is numbered from one to nine. And the horses wear numbers while the jockeys all outfitted in different colors. After seeing how much Kai enjoyed the rodeo in Wyoming, I was very hopeful that he would love horse racing as well.

The Chicago area has a very nice racing facility at Arlington Park. It is clean, modern, comfortable, and has a nice atmosphere for young and old alike. We were all in good spirits and excited when we arrived.

There was a wide selection of food and we each got what we wanted and then made our way up to the seats.

I had put a lot of thought into the outing. I reserved seats online, carefully thinking through the best seats for us. I ended up picking seats that were in the shade, near the finish line, with a clear view of the video screen, and up high where we could see across to the other side of the track.

And when we got to our seats, I was pleased that the view was as good as I hoped it would be. Plus, being up high, we had a nice breeze that was welcome on this hot day.

We ate our lunch while we enjoyed the view and made our selections for the first race. I thought that a small wager would give Kai a rooting interest and help keep him interested. I let him pick one horse, while Mom chose the horse favored on the tip sheet.

When the horses came out, Kai peered at them through the binoculars. And he followed them as they entered the starting gate and were off.

The race was exciting, and it was fun when Mom’s horse won.

We were off to a good start.

But for some reason, Kai’s mood changed.

“I want to go home!”

Oh boy, this was not good. I told him that there were nine races.

“Nine!?! I’ll watch one more!”

I did not care if we saw all nine races, but I surely did not want to leave after seeing just one or two.

I asked him if he wanted to walk with me to the betting window. Mom asked if he wanted to go get ice cream. But all he wanted to do was go home.

I placed a small wager for the second race. And my horse won.

But Kai wasn’t excited at all. He still wanted to go home.

I debated staying and seeing if his mood would change.

But it seemed unlikely, and I really wasn’t in the mood to cajole him to have fun.

And so we left the park after seeing only two races.

My own good spirit was tattered, a victim of my own high hopes and expectations.

It is experiences like this that make me question whether to bother going out and trying new things. It is so frustrating when things don’t work out the way you plan, and you don’t exactly understand why.

Disappointments are all a part of parenting, a part of life, I suppose.

I’ll get over this one. Just give me a bit of time. Two races worth anyway.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Tale of Two Emails

My son started school on Thursday.

I always dreaded returning to school each fall, but Kai had no such issue. He was happy Wednesday night, and went off to school on Thursday morning in good spirits.

He was still happy when I came back from a business trip that evening, and he told me that he had had a great first day of school.

An email we received the next morning from his therapist at school confirmed this. “Kai is off to a greatl start this week!!”

However, later in the day, we received another email from her. That one was not so uplifting.

Ms. K explained that Kai got upset at the end of the day when students were given a chance to pick prizes out of their classroom’s prize box. Sometimes he gets to pick first, but on this occasion other students got to make their selections first. Kai was worried that someone else would pick the prize he wanted, a particular Pokemon card.

Some kids voice their concerns.

Kai did not make such a choice.

He attempted to punch his teacher.

And so, on day two, he already had his first major incident of the school year.

It’s going to be a long year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Last Days of Summer Break

My son is enjoying his last few days off before he starts school on Thursday.

Kai has continued to spend a lot of time with his grandfather. We play Wii most evenings, and Jiji has become a very good Wii bowler. Though his wakeboarding skills still need work.

We also revisited a couple of our favorite miniature golf courses as Kai wanted to show them to Jiji.

First we went to the golf course that takes you around the world. One hole has cities landscapes including both the Sears Tower (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower) and Statue of Liberty.

Another has Greek and Roman ruins.

While another has the Sphinx.

And then this past weekend, we went to another course that is also very creative.

As before, Kai wanted his picture taken on every hole. I’ve selected just a couple to show you.

This course ends with a roulette wheel. I got lucky and won a free game when my ball dropped in the 0 hole.

Kai still wants to sleep with his grandfather every night. The other day, his grandfather had a cough and thought that Kai should sleep in his own bed. It was very predictable that Kai woke me up in the middle of the night saying he could not sleep. The next night, back with his grandfather, he slept soundly.

So what are we going to do when Jiji goes home? Too bad he can’t just stay here.

Kai – and I – would love it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Camp

My son has been going to day camp this week.

Earlier in the summer, Kai had been in summer school. But the school program lasts for only five weeks, and then we went on vacation. Rather than have Kai be home this week, my wife found a one-week park district camp program.

Years ago, before his kindergarten year, I believe, we had enrolled Kai in a summer day camp. It wasn’t the most horrible experience, but from what we could tell, he struggled at times and did not seem to fit in particularly well with the typical kids. But his communication skills were far less developed then, so we didn’t hear too much about it from him firsthand.

Since then, he started attending a public therapeutic school, and they offer a summer program that is a mix of academics and camp-like recreational activities. And since it is all supervised by the school staff that is familiar with the kids, it has been really wonderful.

But with this one full week free before school starts up again, we thought it would be a good opportunity to see how Kai would do in a regular camp now. Besides, Mom is really busy this week with many dogs staying with us right now, so Kai would have to fight them for attention if he were home all day, and probably would be complaining about being bored.

It was a relief when I came home from work on Monday and Kai told me that he had fun at camp that day. I don’t think he really played with any of the other kids – he didn’t know any of the kids before camp – but all of the special needs kids are assigned companions and his kept him company all day.

The camp has a lot of activities every day with trips to places like water parks, an inflatable jump-and-slide place, and the beach. So Kai has been happy.

Though yesterday he hit his first bump. Or, perhaps I should say it hit him.

He came home without his own shirt, having chewed it up at camp. Of course, chewing up shirts is something we are very familiar with, as he did it almost daily at school for a long time before recent months when things have gone much better.

I asked Kai about his day at camp yesterday. He said he had fun in the morning. But what happened in the afternoon, I asked.

He said it was campers’ choice and everyone picked “stupid stuff.” Apparently the girls chose art and the boys chose dodge ball. It is hard to tell from Kai whether he liked the choice or had to go along because the majority of boys did.

What was clear was that he was struck by a ball – it is the whole point of the game, after all – and that angered him. And without his trained school staff there to help calm him, his anger escalated and there went the shirt.

And so we see where he stands now. He has made progress; he can enjoy himself at an unfamiliar camp intended for typical kids. But he still cannot manage to go a whole week without an incident.

He has two more days of camp. Hopefully he will have more fun, and no more anger.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Grandfather and Grandson

They hadn’t seen each other in person in nearly two years, and they barely speak any of each other’s language, but that hasn't stopped Kai from continuing the very tight bond with his grandfather who is visiting from Japan.

On our recent road trip to Yellowstone, each night we all shared a motel room, and Kai and his grandfather had to share a bed. Kai did not mind, though. At home, he prefers to have someone sleep with him in his room and it has been tough at times to get him to sleep alone. So, getting to sleep in the same room with all the adults was a treat, and he seemed to like having his grandfather right next to him. One morning, I awoke and found Kai sleeping all the way over on his grandfather’s pillow, both sound asleep.

On our first night home, back in his own bed, Kai said he had couldn’t fall asleep and wanted to sleep in his grandfather’s room with him. I had gone to bed early that evening, but Jiji said he didn't mind and so my wife agreed to let Kai sleep with him. And so it has been every night since.

But it’s not just at night that Kai seeks out his grandfather. Kai is always asking Jiji to play with him. In the photo below, they are playing with Kai’s Trashies collection. And though Jiji is often confused about what Kai is asking him to do, Kai doesn’t seem to mind. (My wife and I do try to translate whenever we can).

They also had great fun teasing each other during a game of Uno.

I was very worried that as Kai gets older he would grow a bit distant from his grandfather, but that has not been the case at all thus far. If anything, the bond just keeps getting stronger.

And that goes to show that speaking the same language is not a requirement when there is real, authentic love.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Yellowstone Vacation – The Last Stretch

We made the long drive from Cody to home over four days. It’s never as much fun coming home from a vacation as it is going out, but I think all of us were glad to get home and sleep in our own beds.

We had a number of highlights along the way.

We visited Devil’s Tower.

And then we went to Mount Rushmore, which was my father-in-law’s highlight of the entire trip. It is one of the two places in the United States that he really wanted to see. (His other top spot is the White House, which I took him to see a few years ago).

One really nice small moment occurred at Mount Rushmore, and it nothing to do with the sculpted figures. We waited to enter the theater that played a short film about the making of the memorial, and as the doors opened and the patrons who viewed the earlier showing spilled out, Kai started to cut in front of the folks ahead of us in line. My wife had to pull him back.

He said, “Oh, sorry. I get out of control sometimes.”

It was a cute thing to say, and it also was great that to know that he has such self-awareness.

From Mount Rushmore, we went to Custer State Park and drove the Needles Highway, taking the twisting road through some rock tunnels that were barely wider than our car.

Of course, a trip through South Dakota is not complete without a stop at kitschy Wall Drug.

We drove through our last national park of the trip, The Badlands.

And stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. The murals, which are changed every year, are all made completely of corn. They grow several different colors of corn specifically for use here, and you can see in the bottom photo how the various ears are used.

On our last night of the trip, Kai got upset when we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant instead of Applebee’s. We have often gone to Applebee’s when traveling in the past (in areas that only have chains), so Kai has come to associate the place with vacations. On this trip, we tried to avoid chains, not to mention that there weren’t any in the national parks. So, he was very disappointed when we didn’t go there, despite the fact that the Chinese restaurant in Albert Lea, MN turned out to be as good as any in the Chicago area.

So to make up for that, at our last lunch the next day, in Wisconsin Dells, we decided to go to Applebee’s as our last hurrah of the trip.

The service was atrocious, but our boy was happier.

By the time we reached home, I had caught my son’s little cold, and I had a bit more sympathy for him proclaiming that he was too tired to walk to the sights we saw. (Though he never was too tired to go to the swimming pool).

I am dead tired, but as I recover, I am sure that what will stay with me will be wonderful memories of the trip.

My favorites are all of the natural wonders we saw. My son’s favorites are the covered wagon ride, the rodeo, all the swimming pools, and getting to watch endless videos in the car.

But that’s okay. It’s good that we did things for everyone. And having seen Kai’s reaction to the wagon ride and rodeo, I’ll probably try to plan for more such fun events on future trips.

If I had made this trip alone, I probably would have hiked around a little more, and maybe stopped to see a few more things. But it wouldn’t have been the same if my family wasn’t there. The truly best part of the trip was getting to share in the experience with everyone. And I don’t feel like we missed anything important; we had seen everything I really wanted to see.

Would I do anything differently? Well, it got to be really tiring having to pack up our things every morning as we stayed at a different motel each night. But it was a lot more efficient way to see everything at Yellowstone than if we had stayed in one location the whole time.

I would try to build in more down time. A break in the middle of the day would have been ideal, though difficult the way we traveled. Perhaps I could have scheduled a two or three-day break in the middle of the trip, such as at Jackson, where we could do little except go to the pool.

But overall, I have no regrets. It was an ambitious trip and we did very well overall. And I think my son feels the same.

Now, is it too early to think where we go next year?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yellowstone Vacation – From Yellowstone to Cody

On our last morning at Yellowstone, we went to see the last major sights that we hadn’t yet seen. First stop was the Mud Volcano area. We saw an array of mud pots, cauldrons, fumaroles, and, of course, the mud volcano:

My personal favorite was Dragon’s Mouth Spring, which emitted a rumbling sound as if the dragon was getting set to lash out.

Kai complained about having to climb steps to get to the area, and it was a stark contrast to the boy who eagerly climbed the stairs and walked the boardwalk at Mammoth Hot Springs five days earlier.

He had been coughing for a couple days now, so a slight cold may have contributed to his lack of energy, in addition to the general vacation fatigue. Sometimes it is hard to tell with him when he is actually sick and when it is more of an attitudinal issue. He seemingly cries wolf often, but perhaps we just don’t understand how he really feels inside.

Anyway, he was happier when we stopped at the Fishing Bridge and he got to feel the Yellowstone River.

And that wrapped up the Yellowstone portion of our vacation.

But we still had a lot to see.

We drove east two about two hours and went to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

During World War II, the U.S. government had ordered the evacuation of about 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, the majority of whom were American citizens. The evacuees had to leave their homes and most possessions behind, in many cases losing all, bringing to internment camps only what they could carry.

My mother and her family were among the nearly 11,000 sent to the camp at Heart Mountain.

And so this visit held a very personal meaning for me. I wanted to see as an adult the place that had such importance in my mother’s life. And I wanted to share this experience with my wife, son, and father-in-law.

I really did not want to hear Kai whine while we were there.

As we drove there, I explained to Kai the history of what had taken place, and why this visit was so important to me. He seemed to understand.

We entered the museum at the Relocation Center and viewed the video and walked through the exhibits that gave the history and explained life behind barbed wire.

We saw photos of Japanese-American storefronts in California shortly before they were removed.

We saw a recreation of the barracks where the internees lived, sharing quarters and having no privacy.

I was very familiar with the story, but it was still moving.

And I was very pleased that Kai did not fuss at all, and took it all in very seriously.

Afterward, we looked outside the museum, and saw the barren desert area where they evacuees lived. A recreation of one of the guard towers is in the first picture below:

I don’t know how much of this Kai will remember, but he got one lesson in my family’s history, and in racial prejudice.

From there, we checked in at our motel in Cody, WY and went swimming in the pool.

We then went to dinner. My wife and father-in-law, especially, were getting tired of all the western food we were having on the trip, so we were happy to find a Japanese restaurant in town.

We were more pleasantly surprised when we found out that it was owned and operated by Japanese from the same prefecture in Japan as my father-in-law. My wife and father-in-law had a nice conversation with the owners.

We all enjoyed the food. We had clams as an appetizer and it was a race for us adults to have one or two before Kai ate them all. And then he had a huge plate of tempura. He ate all the shrimp. The rest of us shared in the vegetables but could not finish it, let alone finish the huge plates of sushi we were served.

After dinner, we went to a rodeo. It was the first rodeo for all of us. Cody bills itself as the Rodeo Capital of the World so what better place to see one.

The rodeo was full of action, with one event after another. We saw bronco, steer, and bull riding, roping, and barrel racing. We were surprised that women performed in some events, while kids under 12 had their own events, too.

Recorded music was playing almost constantly, and the announcers were chattering regularly, so there was nary a dull moment.

Kai really enjoyed it, and we kept track of each performer’s score in our scorecard.

Though I think he most enjoyed when someone got thrown off an animal instead of when a performer did well.

It was nice to see him have such a good time. We are often reluctant to take him to public events because we are afraid of how he may react. Along with the covered wagon ride, this was our second very positive experience on this trip, and encourages us to take him out more often.

Next: Yellowstone Vacation – The Last Stretch

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Yellowstone Vacation – Vacation Fatigue, a Bison, and Grizzlies

As our vacation passed the halfway mark, we left the Tetons and traveled back up to Yellowstone. There was still a big section of the park on the eastern half that we had not seen yet.

We first headed over to the West Thumb portion of Yellowstone Lake where there is another area of geysers, pools, and mud pots.

Legend has it that fishermen used to hold their catch over the fishing cone (shown below) and be able to cook their fish right on their line.

Vacation fatigue seemed to be setting in. The sights were still amazing, but the enthusiasm for getting out of the car and seeing everything was a bit diminished, and not only from Kai, but with all of us.

One thing that did amuse us was seeing a bison that was moseying down the other side of the road.

He appeared to be in no rush, and did not seem to care at all that he stopped up all traffic going the other way, with a line of cars about two dozen long behind this guy. I’m sure the cars at the back of the line could not see this guy and were wondering what the holdup was.

After lunch, we drove up to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and we saw more beautiful sights, including the Lower Falls.

Kai wasn’t all that interested in the scenery, mostly protesting whenever I wanted to stop and look around. He did cooperate on a few photos including this one:

After that, we drove all the way back over to the western side of the park, returning to the Old Faithful area. We had found out that a different geyser was due to erupt that evening. I had seen Castle geyser erupt on my visit here as a child, and recalled that it was more spectacular than Old Faithful. I wanted my family to see it, too.

As we got to the area, Old Faithful was getting ready to erupt again. That was one thing that Kai never tired of seeing, and we rushed over to see her once again.

Then we had an early dinner and began our walk over to Castle.

We saw some interesting sights along the way.

And even saw Old Faithful go off once again from afar.

But as the walk went on, Kai got more irritated. Frankly, the walk was longer than I had thought it would be. And it did not help that I didn’t want to stop to rest for long as I was afraid that the geyser might erupt at any moment.

Old Faithful’s eruptions can be predicted within + or – 10 minutes, but the predictions on Castle are less precise. It would go off between 6:30 and 8:30 PM, meaning that we would only see it from afar if it started early, or we would have a long wait if it didn’t erupt until the tail end of the prediction window.

Once we finally made it over to the geyser and sat down, Kai was much happier. He pulled out his iPad and was content. But he didn’t have much time to use it; Castle started to erupt.

It was spectacular! Old Faithful may be reliable, but Castle erupts with greater force and lasts much longer – 20 to 30 minutes versus 3-5 minutes.

And as Castle kept going, a rainbow formed.

Kai enjoyed it very much.

Though after about 15 minutes he had seen enough and wanted to leave. We had a long drive back to our lodge on the other side of the park, so we left before Castle had finished.

On our drive back, a surprise awaited us.

We came upon a mama grizzly bear and her cub.

When I came to Yellowstone years ago, it was common to see black bears as tourists fed them. Now, that practice is no longer in place, and it is rare to see bears, particularly grizzlies.

My wife and I enjoyed this treat, but Kai grumbled that he wanted to get going. I told him that this was a rare sight, and we wanted to watch them for a few minutes. We watched for several minutes until other cars got in our way.

We got back to our lodge late.

We were tired.

And though his enthusiasm may have started to wane a bit, I think he is still enjoying the vacation and getting a lot out of his new experiences.

The only question is if I can last for five more days.

Next: Yellowstone Vacation – From Yellowstone to Cody

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