Monday, April 28, 2014

Changes and Challenges

We arrived at Kai’s boxing class on Saturday afternoon and found some changes. They had set up for a birthday party for the son of the founder of the organization that puts on these classes.

Outdoors, next to the gym, were two large inflatables where kids could bounce and slide. Tables were set up for pizza and soft drinks. It looked like it would be a fun time.

Kai was not happy.

I had received an email the evening before letting us know that there would be a birthday party after the boxing class. I didn’t realize that it would, in reality, supplant the boxing class. I hadn’t told Kai about this change in routine and he was not happy.

He wanted to box.

For a little while, the instructor grabbed a pair of boxing gloves and had some kids work on their punches. But it was apparent that most kids just wanted to get on with the party.

I was chatting with another parent but made my way over to Kai when I saw that he maintained his angry face.

I told him he could have some pizza. He refused, saying that he wanted to destroy the party.

I tried to stay positive, talking about how the inflatables looked fun. Eventually, the lure of the pizza was too much and he said he would have a piece. One volunteer girl came over and gently teased Kai, “I thought you were going to poison all the pizza.” He said he did but then he un-poisoned it. He asked me to get him a second piece.

And then went on the inflatables. He spent most of his time on the one where you climbed up from one side, slide down the other, and then walk around to do it all over again. He was laughing and laughing, pausing occasionally only to ask the time. His soccer game was later in the afternoon and he did not want to miss it.

His boxing instructor came over when he saw Kai laughing. He asked Kai if he was having a good time, and when Kai said he was, the instructor laughed and said “I knew it!” as Kai is often prone to starting off grumpy before ending up enjoying himself there.

The birthday cake came out just when it was time to leave for the soccer game. I offered to let Kai stay and have cake, but told him that we would be late for soccer if we did. The cake looked scrumptious, but he opted to leave.

When we arrived at his special needs soccer game, we found the coach was not there. Usually this coach divides up the players with the special needs kids on one team, and some of the volunteer kids serving as the opposition team ala the Washington Generals (of Harlem Globetrotters fame). Kai likes this setup because his team scores almost all of the goals and wins every game.

This week, though, with the coach not there, another parent took charge. She divided the teams differently, with the special needs kids separated onto two teams, assisted by the volunteer kids. The special needs kids would thus play against each other.

This had been the setup in years past, but not since the current coach took over last fall. Having the special needs kids split up worked out okay before when the kids’ abilities spanned a broad spectrum. But since last fall, Kai’s abilities have stood out, as other kids of his ability dropped out, leaving only the kids requiring assistance from the volunteer kids.

How that played out this week was that Kai got upset as the other team scored goals. He particularly got angry when the parent serving as his team’s goalie made no effort to block shots from the opposing team. He came over to the sideline, dumped out his water bottle and refused to play any longer. He said he wished he stayed for the birthday cake and said he never wanted to play soccer again.

I went over to talk to him. And while I understood how he felt, I didn’t like how he handled his frustration. But then again, perhaps I didn’t handle my own frustration too well, either.

When encouraging him to go back in and play did not work, I got stern with him. I told him that he wouldn’t be able to use the iPad if he did not go back out on the field and make an effort. He finally went, but mainly to yell at the parent who was the goalie. When I yelled at him that we would go, he said that he would play nicely.

He ran after the ball, and took it away from an opposing special needs child who needs a lot of help to kick the ball. Kai dribbled all the way down the field and scored, then looked for my approval as he had played hard as I had demanded.

I was frustrated, with him, the situation, but mostly myself.

This group is really great for the other kids, but I don’t think it is right for Kai any longer. I can’t ask him to go out there and try hard, but then have the result be that he dominates the game and doesn’t give the other kids a chance to kick the ball and score. What do I tell him, play hard only if the ball happens to come your way?

Finding a special needs activity that is right for your child can be difficult. Just because an activity has a ‘special needs’ label doesn’t make it right for every child with that label.

And so I think we will stop going to this activity. I hate to end on such a sour note. But I think that will be best, both for Kai as well as the other kids.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Weekend Away From Mom and Dad

It was a memorable weekend. And not just because it was Easter and we had our first spring-like weather after a long, tough winter.

Our son spent his first night away from both Mom and Dad since he was three years old.

My sister and brother-in-law had begun the arduous task of sorting through my dad’s things and cleaning up his house, but I had not been up there myself since we moved my dad out. This three-day weekend presented me with the rare opportunity to go up there.

My wife offered to go with me to help out, but we knew that if we brought Kai up there with us, we would not be too productive.

So we appreciated it when Kai’s grandparents offered to watch Kai while my wife and I went to my dad’s house. Kai would spend a day and a half with his grandparents while we were away, the longest time he would be away from us since before he could remember.

It is a testament to Kai’s progress that my wife and I did not have to think too long before taking them up on the offer. A couple years ago, we would have thought differently, that Kai would be too challenging to leave with grandparents for that long.

When we told Kai about the plan a couple of weeks ago, he seemed a little nervous. But my wife told him that his slightly older cousins had stayed overnight with Bubbe and Papa a couple times so he was now ready to as well.

Kai said, “I’ll make it my mission!”

We drove up to their house in Michigan and had lunch together before we departed. Kai was not happy to see us leave, but neither was he particularly distressed.

When we phoned that evening, his grandmother assured us that he was doing fine and had done all of his favorite things. But Kai himself was not too talkative. We thought he might be mad at us.

We thought that nighttime would be the hardest time for Kai, but they maintained our custom of reading with him at bedtime, and then Bubbe slept in the same room with him so he was fine.

The next day, they filled the day with fun activities.

Kai introduced them to coloring Easter eggs.

They went to see the snow and ice that are still on Lake Michigan.

And they went hiking at a nearby nature center.

When we got back late that afternoon, they were on their way out for another walk. Kai was happy to see us, but he still wanted to go walking with his grandparents. We could see that he was perfectly fine, and they confirmed that Kai behaved very well the whole time.

At one time we would have thought that this would be a Mission Impossible. But Kai completed it with flying colors.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Passover

Celebrating Passover is one of Kai’s favorite family traditions. I think it’s the result of the rituals that he has come to know and love, and because he gets to see his grandparents who shower him with love.

He was ready to begin the activities as soon as our guests arrived.

Here you see him setting up the Seder plate.

And when we sat down at the table, Kai eagerly followed along, or in some cases led us through the Haggadah. There was no skipping any steps with him.

He took center stage when it came time to read about the 10 plagues. Kai was ready with his paper-bag hand puppets that he had made a couple of years ago.

In the background of the following picture, you can see that it was a snowy evening more appropriate for Hanukkah than for Passover.

When it was time to eat, Kai sat at the table nicely, even without his iPad. And then he waited patiently while we adults finished eating before he went on to step 14, searching for the afikoman.

It is no longer a surprise for us when Kai behaves well and has great interactions with his relatives. We have come to expect it.

But it is still something we appreciate greatly.

Happy Pesach, everyone!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Real Play Date

Our son’s therapist at school told my wife about a boy in Kai’s class that he is friends with at school. She thought that this boy, E, was a good match for a play date for Kai.

It has been a long time since we’ve matched Kai up with another child on a play date.

There are challenges, not the least of which is that Kai’s school draws kids from more than a dozen different suburbs so most of his classmates do not live in our neighborhood. E lives two towns over, about a 45 minute round trip away. So it’s not like Kai can just walk home from school with him or stroll over to visit any time he wants.

But it is not just the distance that is a factor.

For what seemed the longest time, Kai did not really play with other kids. Most play dates we set up for Kai when he was younger involved him doing his thing while the other child did their thing. It was mostly parallel play, with a minimal amount of interaction.

More recently we learned from the staff at his school that Kai does interact with other children. And we did try to set up the occasional play date, to varying degrees of success. But it’s hard to find another child who shares the same interests as Kai. And Kai never expressed wanting to have another classmate over to the house.

His mom and I have been his only playmates outside of school. And while it is nice to have that bond with our son, we want Kai to have a friend besides us, or at the very least, the capability to have friends.

And so we decided to pursue a play date with E.

My wife invited the boy over, communicating through staff at school and E’s sister as E’s parents do not speak much English.

This past Friday was the big day. I think I was more excited, and anxious, about it than Kai was.

I repeatedly told him to be nice to E and to play with him.

“Yessssss” Kai groaned, tired of hearing me.

My wife told me that the E would come to our house with Kai after school, they would play for about three hours, have dinner with us, and then she would drive him home.

That seemed like a really long time. I was sure my wife would stress out trying to keep them occupied for that long.

So I was surprised when I called her after work and found out that they had been playing nicely.

My wife told me how they played “kendo” for a while in the backyard using fallen tree branches as the proxy for Japanese bamboo swords.

Then they came inside and raced some vehicles as they made a makeshift track out of books and other things.

Finally, they played Wii.

When I got home, they were having dinner. And then after dinner I joined them on the Wii for a game of Mario Kart. I got to see the boys really talking to each other and interacting. In most homes, that is nothing unusual, but it was a beautiful sight for us.

By the time we all dropped E home at his house, the boys had been together for nearly five hours. There were no incidents; it was all just fun.

Kai said he had a good time. So we will definitely want to do this again.

Two kids playing. Something most parents can take for granted.

But for us, it is another big sign of progress.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Striking Another Boy

So much for the hope that my son would have a better day at school.

When I called my wife after work yesterday, she told me that Kai had a major incident at school. He had struck another boy.

Every Wednesday, Kai’s school rewards students who have been safe for the past week with a video during lunchtime. Kai had had an incident earlier in the week so he did not qualify.

He’s known for a few days that he would not get to watch the movie, but he still has difficulty handling disappointment. And so it seems that he was upset when other kids were enjoying their movie while he was not.

What happened after that is open to question. After Kai’s teacher phoned my wife, my wife had the impression that Kai hit another boy for no reason other than that boy getting to watch the movie that Kai could not.

But when we questioned Kai at home later, he said that he approached the boy to ask him what movie they had seen. When the boy ignored his question, Kai got mad and hit him.

Whether or not that was the case, it still did not excuse him from hitting the boy. (And, fortunately, the boy was not hurt).

My wife and I discussed Kai’s punishment over the phone, and she talked to him sternly about it before I came home. He would not be able to use the iPad until the weekend, and if he did not finish the school week off strong, he would not be able to use it over the weekend either.

When I came home, Kai was not joking around about magically losing his Point Sheet. He knew that we would not be in any mood for silliness.

I reinforced to him that hitting a boy was not an appropriate or acceptable response. I asked him if he apologized to the boy, and he said he did.

His teacher had let my wife know that Kai had bumped his head after the incident. I asked Kai how that happened. He indicated that he deliberately hit his head on the floor in anger, something we have not seen at home in a very long time. I rebuked him and warned him that he could get brain damage if he did that.

The only positive, such as it is, is that I did not hear Kai blame anyone else for what happened which is what he usually does. He seems to understand that he was the one who did something wrong. He seems motivated to have better days today and tomorrow.

Hopefully he will be able to do it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Magically Bad Day

I usually get a pretty good gauge of my son’s day at school within seconds of stepping into the house after I return home from work in the evening.

If Kai runs over to greet me and eagerly encourages me to look at his Point Sheet, then I know that he must have had a very good day.

If he is engrossed in his iPad and greets me in a friendly, but distracted way, then I know that he had a good, but not especially great, day.

And if he comes over and says, “Dad, whatever you do, do NOT look at my Point Sheet!” well, I know that he did not have a good day.

And that is how it was when I came home last night.

I heard my wife telling him to go get his Point Sheet. He had apparently hidden it somewhere and she could not find it.

He told her, “Mom, don’t let Dad see my Point Sheet.” Apparently Mom is allowed to see it but Dad is not.

I don’t yell at him if he’s had a bad day, but I do like to hear what happened. Oftentimes I will then talk with him about how he could have handled a situation differently. I don’t think I am being unreasonably harsh, but my wife says that Kai is scared to show me his Point Sheet on these days.

After much urging, he finally brought it over. But then he folded it up and hid it. “See? I did magic! It’s gone!”

Eventually he made it reappear and I got to take a look at it. 71%. Not as bad as I was anticipating after all that drama, but bad enough that he had lost his iPad privileges at home for the day.

Kai never likes to talk about what happened that caused his score to be so low. And it wasn’t so bad so we did not get an email from his teacher to explain anything. So we are left a bit in the dark on this one.

I just hope that when I get home from work tonight, there will be no need for any magic tricks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Who is the Picky Eater Now?

We went out to a Japanese restaurant last night to celebrate our anniversary.

My wife ordered amaebi (sweet shrimp sushi), which Kai and I had never had before. The body of the shrimp is served as onigiri, wrapped with a ball of rice. Our server, the Japanese owner of the restaurant, asked my wife if she would like the heads of the shrimp as well, which she did. The entire head of the shrimp is deep fried in a light batter.

Kai did not like the sushi as we forgot to order it without wasabi, the Japanese horseradish that Kai does not like.

However, he was eager to try the shrimp head. He asked what the two small black things were and we told him they were the eyes. I was not sure I wanted to eat the shrimp head myself, but Kai happily gobbled his down and said it was good.

So, I tried it, too, and was surprised how tasty it was. The whole thing was very crispy and easy to eat.

My wife and I ordered a large platter of sushi for ourselves, only some of which is pictured here.

For Kai, we always get regular shrimp sushi and he ate them after my wife scrapped off the wasabi.

This time, though, he also wanted to try octopus. My wife and I do not like to eat octopus, being too chewy for our tastes. We warned Kai that he might not like it, but he still wanted to try it.

We were very surprised when he said he liked it. In fact, he liked it so much that he wanted us to order a couple more pieces for him.

So, the little boy who once was such a picky eater is growing up to have an adventurous palate, surpassing even his parents in some respects.

Good for him.

And it will be good for us, too, as we expect to be spending quite a bit of time in Japanese restaurants later this year.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Then and Now: Wedding Day

Today’s Then and Now features a picture of my parents on their wedding day.

The thing that stands out in that picture is the big smile on my dad’s face. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him smile like that.

The “Now” photo is actually from seven years ago today, when the three of us officially became a family.

Happy anniversary to my wife and son!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Then and Now: The Grand Canyon

My sister and I found a bunch of my parents’ old photos and we have been going through them. It is an eye-opener to see them so young.

Of course, we know that they must have been young at one time, but it is hard to picture them that way. I think we all tend to remember old people as they become after they are old, rather than what they were like in other periods of their lives, particularly before we knew them.

One of my projects will be to scan these old photos.

It has been fun to see that before they had kids, they traveled to some of the same places that I have taken my wife and Kai to recently. From time to time I may post some of the pictures they took during their travels.

This first one is from the trip they made to the Grand Canyon back in 1954, 60 years ago.

And this is a photo of me and Kai there last week.

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