Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Botanic Garden Wonderland

The three of us took in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Winter Wonderland exhibit over the weekend.

Kai and I had gone last year and really enjoyed it so we looked forward to showing it to Mom this year.

The Wonderland is several rooms of famous Chicago-area buildings and landmarks all built from natural materials. And passing through it all are tracks with many different types of trains running on them.

Here you see the President’s Chicago home.

Kai enjoyed looking at all of the trains.

But he also wanted to see several other parts of the Botanic Garden as well.

As is now becoming our custom when we visit, we walked through each of the three greenhouses.

And then went outside and walked over to the Japanese Garden. One of Kai’s favorite parts is the zig-zag bridge that, according to legend, keeps evil spirits from getting on the island.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection. For us, it was a year of good progress for Kai, and many fun moments for all of us. And as we look ahead to the new year, we hope that next year will be just as joyful.

Happy new year, everyone! We wish the best for all of you.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Zumba Master

Who knew that my son was a Zumba master?

Kai received a new Wii game for Christmas. It is a Zumba game.

My wife used to be an aerobics instructor so she expected to do well. And so it frustrates her to no end that Kai has scored higher than her every time so far.

I’m not taking sides, but I’ve got to say that my son has great moves.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snapshots Of Our Christmas

We’re not sure if Kai still believes in Santa. At nine years of age, I think he’s past the point when most kids stop believing. And when my wife told him in the days before Christmas that he needed to be good or Santa would not come, he responded, “well, if you believe in Santa…”

Still, on Christmas Eve he wanted to track Santa on the Google Santa Tracker. And make Christmas cookies for Santa.

And when it was time for bed, it was his idea to put the milk and cookies out for Santa.

He also asked that we not turn on the security system overnight so that Santa would not have any problems getting into our house.

He had a hard time falling asleep that night; he was too excited. And then he woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me to sleep in his room. At 6AM he woke me up again saying that he had been awake for two hours and could not sleep.

When I finally told him that he could get out of bed, he was excited to check his stocking and to see if Santa brought him something.

After that, he was remarkably patient as we had breakfast before opening the presents under the tree.

That was a lot of fun, of course. The excitement of opening presents perhaps made more so with the flurry of activity from the dogs staying with us.

Though one of the dogs took cover under the tree when the frenzy got to be too much.

After the presents were opened, we took a break to walk the dogs.

And then it was time to play with his presents.

He did several experiments with the chemistry set he got.

We played almost every game he got.

And he polished off a Star Wars sticker book in the afternoon.

He did so many things that I wonder what is left for him to do the rest of winter break. I think I’ll go nuts if I hear him moan about being bored in a few days.

But for now, all is good. Hope you had a merry Christmas, too.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Conversing on the Phone

There was a time when Kai would not say anything on the telephone except for whatever short phrase we whispered in his ear. His grandparents would talk to him, and he would not be able to process what they were saying and formulate a response so we’d quietly tell him what he could say back to them. It wasn’t a real conversation with him, but I think they enjoyed hearing his voice.

These days he’s gotten much better at having two-way discussions, both in person and on the phone.

Kai’s swim instructor called us from the local Target the other day. He had apparently asked Kai what he would like for Christmas. Kai told him about Trashies, the little rubbery characters that he is collecting. But as there are hundreds of them, James wanted to know which ones Kai already had.

Well, my wife and I can’t keep up with the names of all the characters that he has. So my wife handed the phone to Kai.

I could hear him explaining which ones he had, and answering questions about whether or not he had a particular set.

What was most remarkable was that I continued to wash dishes and my wife busied herself with the dogs during the whole conversation. We did not feel the need to hover over the phone to help Kai answer the questions.

It certainly wasn’t all that long ago that we never would have believed that Kai would be able to carry on a conversation on the telephone by himself.

Kai’s progress with his speech is certainly a very treasured gift this Christmas.

I’ll leave you with a photo from this weekend where we hit the big hill to go sledding once again.

It will be the coldest Christmas in years here. But it will be warm in our hearts.

Hope you have a merry Christmas, too.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gingerbread Class

Winter break started and it’s a bit of a challenge to keep Kai busy with productive activities for two weeks. This weekend, we got some assistance from his mentor at school.

One of the nice extra things about our son’s school is that they have a program where an adult mentor will spend time with your child, taking them out for various activities while giving the parents a little break. Kai’s current mentor is his former teacher from second and third grade whom he adored. So it is great that they can continue their relationship.

This weekend, she took him to our local botanic garden for a class in gingerbread cookies.

Now this being a botanic garden, the class was more than just a cooking class. They taught the kids about all of the plants that are used in making gingerbread cookies. Here you see Kai inspecting one of the ingredients.

Of course, they also did make some cookies, too. Here you see Kai decorating:

And then he got to taste ginger in three different forms: pickled ginger, fresh ginger, and ginger ale. He liked ginger ale the best.

From all indications, Kai enjoyed it. And his mentor reported that Kai participated very nicely. And it was nice that he fit in quite well with all the typical kids who were in the class.

And while Kai was the class, my wife went shopping and I wrapped presents.

We’re just about ready for Christmas. Hope you are, too.

Photos courtesy of Kai's mentor

Thursday, December 19, 2013


A professional theater company in our area was performing Mary Poppins.

We have taken Kai to live theater before, but only to performances specifically for children that were no longer than one hour long. This was a main stage production and would be two and a half hours including a 15-minute intermission. And at main stage prices, I did not want to leave halfway through.

But Kai has been doing very well at movie theaters and other live shows. (For instance, he loved the concert we saw as part of the covered wagon ride and chuckwagon dinner in Wyoming this summer.)

Besides that, we had already seen the Mary Poppins movie so he was familiar with the songs and story. So, this was a great opportunity to see if he could tolerate a long stage show.

We got to the theater early enough to settle in, but hopefully not too early that we would have a long wait before the show started. I started getting anxious when a family with younger kids sat directly behind us and the kids began to sing. Kai got agitated with their singing. My wife explained that the kids would be quiet once the show started, but Kai continued to be upset. Still, he didn’t get too loud. Rather, he put his hat on and tried to cover his ears. Though I breathed a sigh of relief when the lights were dimmed and the show started.

The story was not quite the same as in the movie; for instance, Mary Poppins leaves the Banks family for a while and a mean nanny comes and takes her place. But most of the songs were the same.

My wife had read the Mary Poppins book when she was a child and she enjoyed the show immensely. I thought that the actress who portrayed Mary had a wonderful voice. And there’s nothing like seeing a live performance.

I don’t know that this was Kai’s favorite show, but he behaved beautifully. He paid attention, stayed quiet, and applauded at all the right times. He had no problem with the length of the show other than needing to dash to the restroom after it was over.

We had a nice time, and did not even need a spoonful of sugar to help. And that is just super. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that is.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree

We went to get our Christmas tree this past weekend.

Before we went, Kai wanted to measure the distance from floor to ceiling in our family room. We had room for an 8-foot tree.

We had been buying trees from a local nursery for several years now. But this year, their selection was limited to Fraser Firs that started at $80, with most close to $100 or more. Ah, let’s go to Home Depot.

The prices there were much more reasonable. We found several Fraser Firs for under $40. Now that’s more like it.

The only problem was that most of the trees were bundled up with string so it was hard to tell what they would look like opened up. But I found one unbundled tree that looked great and suggested we take that one.

Kai asked how tall it was. I estimated that it was about 6 and a half feet tall.

He wanted a taller one.

He looked around and picked out the tallest one they had. It was nearly 8 feet I told him.

But it was bundled up so I wondered if it would look as nice as the other tree. And besides, it was coated with snow and ice.

But, Kai insisted on that one, and I wanted to make him happy, so that’s the one we bought.

When we got it home and unwrapped it, I discovered that there was a big bare spot near the top. And with so much ice on it, it would take hours before we could begin to decorate it.

Well, perfect. That meant that Kai could work on his special homework project.

The project was to create a poster that showed pictures of plants and animals found in the ocean, and to list some interesting facts about that habitat.

This probably isn’t a terribly difficult project for most fourth graders. But Kai has difficulty with multi-step processes so we gave him direction on how he could do the project.

First he did his research, mostly online, but also using a couple books.

Then he selected pictures to print out.

He wrote out his text on separate sheets of paper rather than directly on the poster in case he made mistakes.

Then Mom helped him organize everything, after which he then pasted it all on the posters.

It was the first project of that kind that he had to do. I’m sure there will be many more like this, of increasing difficulty, so it was good to get this one done. I thought he did fine for a first effort.

We went to check on our tree. There was a large pool of water on our family room floor from all the ice that melted off the tree. But the tree itself appeared dry so we decided to go ahead and decorate it.

Kai’s enthusiasm for decorating the tree seems to have diminished over the past couple years. This year I got frustrated when he kept playing on the iPad as I started to put the lights up.

But eventually he helped.

And once the lights and ornaments were on, you could hardly see the bare area anymore.

Hope you all are enjoying the holiday season!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Progress Seen Through an Elvis Song

Every December, our son’s school has a holiday concert where parents are invited to hear their children sing.

Two years ago, we sat through all the songs but Kai never came out to sing. He had had a meltdown and we found him after the concert with his school therapist, still visibly upset as he sat without a shirt, having tattered the one he had worn to school.

This year, Kai sang several songs along with all the other students at his school. I couldn’t attend, but my wife recorded all the songs with her iPhone. I could see that Kai sang nice and loud.

The school's music teacher is from Chicago’s venerable Old Town School of Folk Music, and Kai has spoken many times about how much he enjoys his music class. Watching the concert, you could see that he was not the only child to feel that way.

The highlight of the concert came when any student who wanted to sing solo was given the opportunity to sing the chorus of Teddy Bear, the song made famous by Elvis Presley. Kai was among the many who raised their hands.

I’m pretty sure that several kids who volunteered to sing solo, including Kai, were receiving speech therapy. So it was quite heartwarming to see them so confidant and wanting to sing in front of an audience.

For us, the contrast from two years ago was stark.

Who knew that Teddy Bear could be so meaningful to us?

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Belated Hanukkah Celebration, and Other Good Things

Our weekend started off with some good news when Kai came home from school Friday afternoon with two certificates from his school. He had been awarded Student of the Week, and received his Safe Month Award for going the entire month of November without a major incident.

The safe months have been few and far between so that was particularly nice. Let’s see if he can put together two in a row for the first time.

We were out of town for Thanksgiving when Hanukkah arrived this year so we had a belated family celebration this weekend.

My wife was busy much of Saturday preparing the brisket, kugel, latkes, and other goodies. Kai and I helped. I fried up some of the latkes and tried to keep up with washing the bowls, pots and pans. Kai helped slice up the mushrooms that were to be sautéed.

Kai was excited, as he usually is when we have family gatherings. But it was nice that he was not overly rambunctious this time.

It was very important to him, thought, that he told everyone the schedule for the evening as soon as they arrived.

He kicked off the evening playing a few songs on the piano. He wanted to get that over with as he was nervous about forgetting his songs if he had to wait until after dinner. He then invited his cousins to play (keyboard and flute).

Next, he helped Mom light the menorah. Yes, we know in reality Hanukkah was over, but we thought it was okay as he really wanted to do it.

Then we had dinner. In the past, Kai would eat quickly and then pester everyone that it was time to open presents. But this year he was surprisingly patient. He still was the first one to finish eating, but he waited nicely while the rest of us continued eating and talking. When all of us had finished our meals, he came over an asked if it was time to open presents. He did not make a fuss when we told him that we wanted to chat a few minutes more.

Of course, he was happy when we finally gave the go-ahead to open presents. But I was pleased that he seemed a bit less frantic and greedy as he did so, and took the time to look at the presents he opened instead of rushing on to rip open the next one.

After that, Kai was on his iPad most of the time playing an app that went with a new game he had gotten. That gave us adults a chance to relax and engage in conversation. For my wife and I, it felt strangely normal, something we were not used to at all.

The next day, we got our first measureable snow of the season. Kai and I took advantage by going sledding.

We have a nice sledding hill nearby, but it has been a few years since we’ve sledded there. The last time we tried, Kai was very scared to go down and it was a traumatic time – for me, at least. Ever since, Kai has always insisted on going to the far smaller hill down the street instead.

But last winter we had told him that it would be the last time we would sled down the baby hill. He was too big for that. So he’s had about nine months to mentally prepare himself to go down the big hill again. But I was still surprised yesterday when he readily agreed without a protest.

It turned out to be perfect conditions for sledding. And I’m not talking about the snow. There was no one else on the hill so we could sled down without worry about running into anyone else.

We went down quite fast, certainly faster than on that old baby hill. It was bumpy but Kai loved it!

We went down several more times, pausing only to catch snowflakes in our mouths.

So, this weekend, we had a boy who wasn’t anxious in a situation that normally makes him so. One who was properly excited but unusually patient in another occasion. And who celebrated a good week and month of school.

All that, and good times with family, too.

Yes, it was a very nice weekend.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

“Dad, Am I Doing Good?”

We traveled out east for our annual Thanksgiving visit with my sister and her family.

Kai always enjoys the trip and looks forward to repeating the same activities that he did in the past. I thought that re-doing the same things he did before might be a symptom of his autism, but my now grown-up nephews reminded me that they, too, had their favorite activities that they had to do each time they visited me when they were kids.

One of Kai’s favorite activities is having his uncle chase him around and then tickle him. Uncle Frankie playfully warns Kai, “You’re dead meat!” before going after him. This year, Kai requested the attack, calling out, “Dead meat me, Uncle Frankie!”

Another favorite activity is playing with my nephews’ Nerf guns. After all, nothing says Thanksgiving like Nerf guns.

On this Thanksgiving morning, he kept asking his nephews what time they would break out the Nerf toys. As they would be busy helping with the dinner preparations, they did not respond with a specific time. And that led to Kai repeatedly asking his question. I finally suggested that they tell him when they would play or he would drive us all crazy with his questions.

And when the Nerfs came out, Kai enjoyed them like he always does.

This is one of the extremely rare years where Hanukkah overlaps with Thanksgiving. Kai wanted to celebrate Hanukkah so we introduced the menorah lighting ceremony to my sister’s family.

And afterward, Kai wanted to play the dreidel game with his cousins. In fact, we did that every evening that we were there.

On our road trip last summer, we had an incentive plan where Kai could earn new videos to watch in the car if we behaved well that day. He asked that we repeat that incentive.

At Thanksgiving dinner, he would have to sit at the table without his iPad, and try the different dishes without complaint. He did very well, and enjoyed the feast.

However, he did drive us a bit crazy when he kept asking, “Dad, am I doing good?”

Yes, Kai, you’re doing well, I reassured him.

Though when he kept asking that question over and over, or when he repeatedly asked about the Nerf guns, I told him that he was getting a bit annoying and that he shouldn’t keep asking the same question again and again.

Overall, though, Kai did very well.

We noticed that Kai’s language continues to improve and he generated a few chuckles with his comments.

For instance, when finding some startling information on the iPad, he declared, “OMG!”

And he was remarkably patient at restaurants we stopped at on the way to and from my sister’s house. My dad is a very slow eater, which meant that Kai had to wait long for him to finish eating. In the past, my wife and I had to chow down quickly as Kai insisted on leaving the restaurant as soon as he was done eating. So it was amazing that he could be so tolerant about waiting now.

Nerf guns, good food, a great time with family, and a boy who continues to improve.

Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.

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