Thursday, March 24, 2022

Remembering Jiji


We were in New Orleans when we received word.

It was Kai's Spring Break and we were on our first spring trip since before the pandemic. We wanted to enjoy warmer weather, good food, and the unique qualities of New Orleans.

Earlier that evening, we had ventured out for dinner, timing our walk to the restaurant to avoid an approaching storm. From the weather radar, it looked like the worst of the storm would pass well north and west of us. We made it to the restaurant safely and just finished our meal when the rain really picked up and the power went out. The festive patrons in the restaurant cheered in the dark, and then several minutes later, gave a bigger cheer when power was restored. By the time we paid our bill, the storm had passed and we were able to walk back to our hotel.

We turned on the television and were shocked to learn that a devasting tornado had ripped through the city just five miles away. Kai got very upset at how close we were to the destruction.

We tried to calm him but thought the best idea would be to turn out the lights and try to sleep. A few minutes later, in the dark of our hotel room, Kai asked why Mom's phone kept lighting up. I figured it was more weather alerts and told Kai to go to sleep.

In the middle of the night, my wife woke me to say that she thought that something had happened to her dad. She had gotten up to use the bathroom and noticed that there had been repeated calls for her from several different people in Japan. At first her phone wouldn't make a call to Japan, but when she finally connected, she learned that her dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My wife wailed in grief, and Kai awoke and asked what was going on. I told him that Jiji had passed away.

Like many with autism, Kai does not do well with unexpected events and this was the worst kind of surprise. His grandfather in Japan was the closest person he ever lost.

When Kai was very young, before I had come into his and his mother's lives, Jiji visited often from Japan to help raise him. Jiji was always thinking of Kai, his only grandchild. He brought fun gifts and loved to spend time with Kai.

Through the years, though they did not speak each others languages, they shared a bond like none other. Kai was always talking to Jiji, who did not understand most of Kai's words, but understood that Kai was enjoying being with him.



When he got older, Jiji stopped coming to the U.S. but we were able to visit him in Japan. Jiji still had plenty of energy to go around the country with us, but his favorite moments were seeing Kai laugh and enjoy himself.

Jiji always saw the best in Kai. He was never disappointed in Kai. No one adored Kai more than Jiji did. I think that will be my most enduring memory of him.

Jiji enjoyed painting, and his favorite subject was Kai. We have a mini gallery of his paintings of Kai.



In our last video Skype with him, Jiji showed us the latest painting of Kai that he had just completed.


Of course, Jiji's passing is most difficult for my wife. They had the best father-daughter relationship. He was always supportive and the most dependable father a girl could want.



Kai has been upset since we got the news. I think part of it is his own grief, but he has also has been upset to see Mom cry and grieve. Too often he has gotten angry, and seemingly made the whole thing about him. Being empathetic does not come easily to Kai. Still, there have been times when he has shown that he understands the grief that Mom is feeling.

I know that Kai may also be worried about what happens next. Mom will travel to Japan for several weeks to settle matters and support her mother. We will have to make do without Mom while she is away.

In the coming weeks, when Kai lets his anxiety come out in negative ways, I will have to do my best to channel Jiji and see the best in Kai. Every good person deserves to have someone who loves them unconditionally. Kai just lost one of his best supporters. I will have to make sure he knows that Jiji wasn't the only one.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Summer Program for Kai in Minneapolis

As Kai is rapidly approaching adulthood - he will be starting his senior year of high school in the fall - we have been feeling more and more stress about what he will do after he completes high school. It is becoming increasingly likely that Kai will not attend college. He has gotten good grades in high school and did well enough on the SAT (average in verbal, above average in math), but through remote learning this past year I got to see firsthand how he can get derailed and the amount of support needed to get back on track. It's hard to see him navigating college with these challenges.

And so we have been exploring other post secondary options for Kai.

We found a number of programs that provide supports for young adults with disabilities and teaches them life skills and provides vocational and job preparation training. One of those programs is located in Minneapolis and that is where we found ourselves this week.

In addition to the full-time program, MICC has a summer program where teens can get a small taste of what the full-time program would be like. Normally the summer program requires participants to live on campus (without parents) for two weeks but with the pandemic, this year they ran a one-week day program instead. So we rented a house in Minneapolis for the week and Kai attended the summer program during the day and came home in the late afternoon.

As with many things with Kai, he developed huge anxiety ahead of our trip. In the weeks prior, he started to dread coming up here and was convinced that it would be an awful experience.

On the first morning of the program, my wife and I stayed for a brief orientation. The staff seemed very friendly and energetic.

My wife and I got a private tour of their little campus including a look at a student apartment, classrooms, and community areas. We liked what we saw and thought this could be a good post high school option for Kai.

When Kai came home after the first day, he said that it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. The summer program is a mix of learning about different vocational careers, a small amount of training for getting a job such as resume preparation and mock interviews, a bit of life skills education, and afternoons of fun activities.

Kai seems to have enjoyed all of the fun stuff, from miniature golf and laser tag to swimming in the pool.

By the end of the week, he acknowledged that the week was mostly good. He liked all of the staff and said the other students were okay, too.

I'm not sure how he will feel if we want him to come here on his own for the 3-year full-time program, but this was a start.

While here, we also went out and saw some of Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was fun with many interesting sculptures.

And we made the obligatory visit to Mall of America. We rode a couple of roller coasters and played miniature golf.
It was really crowded so we had to wait to putt on every hole. It was a unique but difficult course with many uphill putts. Kai got frustrated at many holes and so I was surprised when, as we were leaving, he said "That was fun!"

The area where we stayed is near a couple of lakes and so we took in a beach on multiple days. Kai always loves getting in the water.
We were very pleasantly surprised to find that Minneapolis has a great diversity of restaurants and we tried several different ones over the course of the week. A few highlights included:

The 5-8 Club, home of the Juicy Lucy, a cheese-filled burger.
It was really good!
Vo's Vietnamese restaurant.
Revival, a Southern restaurant that serves yummy fried chicken.
And Kyatchi, our favorite Japanese restaurant.
On several days we had Japaneses-style crepes for dessert at Ichigo Tokyo Crepes.
On our last night, we went to a Venezuelan restaurant, Hola Arepa. We had a couple of small plates for appetizers: plantains tostones and shrimp aguachile.
And then arepas (cornmeal griddle cake sandwiches) for the main course.
The food there was good. This restaurant, like several others we went to this week, was walking distance from where we were staying. We really enjoyed staying in the city and having so many fun choices for dinner.

All in all, it was a successful week. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed Minneapolis. We also learned that Minnesota has good programs and supports for people with autism, much better than our home state of Illinois, so it might make sense to move here after Kai completes high school.

Now if only the winters weren't so bad...

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Pacific Northwest Vacation - Day 11: Portland

On out last 'real' day of vacation, we explored Portland.

We started out by getting breakfast from a Portland original, Voodoo Doughnuts.
There was a line but the wait wasn't too long - about 15 minutes. We got some of their unusual flavors including Voodoo Doll, Vicious Hibiscus, and Dirt.
And then we went to the Portland Japanese Garden.
It felt like being in Japan.
As it was a very hot day, we especially appreciated the many shady areas.
The following rock garden reminded us of a place we went to in Kyoto.
After going to the Japanese garden in Seattle a week ago, it is hard to say which one is better. They are both very good. It was probably more crowded here but otherwise would have been as serene as it was in Seattle.
One thing they have here in Portland are very colorful, and large, koi.
It was one of our favorite spots in the garden, or would have been if it wasn't so hot in the sun!
I also liked the following... not sure what it is called but the bamboo pipe fills with water then tips, and the bamboo makes a nice soothing sound as it bangs against the rock.
Right next to the Japanese Garden is the International Rose Test Garden.
My wife was tired and feeling overwhelmed by the heat so she sat on a bench in the shade while Kai and I looked at the roses.
Kai loved that there were so many different colors of roses.
My favorite was this pink climbing rose.
We weren't sure they were roses as the flowers are so small, but the thorns confirmed that they were.
Kai took pictures of each different color of rose. I like that he takes interest in what we are seeing and that he wants pictures of everything.
We then checked out the Portland Saturday market which is a weekly art and craft fair. It wasn't much different than our local fairs back home though I did enjoy seeing the photos of professional photographers who captured many of the places we went to on this vacation.

And then we got lunch in an air conditioned restaurant. Besides the relief from the heat, it was our last chance to eat oysters. My wife said that eating oysters gave her the most pleasure on this vacation.
In the afternoon we went to the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium, an odd little museum that had a number of freaky, peculiar, creepy exhibits.
Here Kai took photos of everything.
Big Foot was present.
But Big Foot was relatively normal compared to other oddities like this burning chair.
I can't even begin to describe the following.
Or this one:
Afterward we went to Salt and Straw, another Portland original, to have ice cream and meet up with a friend of mine who happened to also be traveling through Portland.

By then the temperature had gone over 100.
And we had enough of being out and about. We returned to our hotel so my wife could relax and recover while Kai and I went to the swimming pool.

For dinner we went to a Thai restaurant. Kai loved his coconut water.
And his green curry.
It was a very good last dinner.

Tomorrow we only have time to head to the airport and fly home. Kai is happy now and I think he enjoyed the vast majority of the vacation. So hopefully he will have pleasant memories.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Pacific Northwest Vacation - Day 10: Columbia River Gorge

This morning we drove east out of Portland and set out to explore the Columbia River Gorge. We stopped at Vista House to take in the great view.
There are many waterfalls along the gorge and we made a quick stop to see Latourell Falls.
But the falls we really wanted to see was Multnomah Falls. It is considered a 'must see' when visiting Portland.

We arrived at the falls to find that the small parking lot was full. Traffic coming from our side was not allowed to wait for cars to leave the lot. Instead we were told to try a supplemental lot, and if that lot was also full, then to take a shuttle from a farther lot. To get to the supplemental lot, we had to get back on the interstate several miles down the road. But traffic coming from our side was not allowed to enter the supplemental lot either. We headed on to the area to catch the shuttle but we had to go an extra exit down and circle back. By the time we got on the shuttle and got to the falls, an hour had passed since we first arrived at the falls.

There were a lot of people at the falls. And the sun was right behind the falls making it impossible to get a good photo.
We walked up to the famed Benson Bridge, the footbridge that traverses Multnomah Creek between the two cascades of Multnomah Falls. From there I had planned to take the hike up to the top of the falls. Kai said he had enough and didn't want to walk further. My wife and I told him that we would go up ourselves and that he could wait for us there at the bridge.

That was a big mistake.

The walk up to the top of the falls was very steep and arduous. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath and rest. It took us about 45 minutes to get to the top. If Kai had walked with us, he would have given up before we even got halfway.

At the top, we got to see the stream that fed the waterfall.
We refilled our water bottles with the cold water from the creek.
The following is a photo of the top of the falls looking down.
It was around this time that I saw that Kai had tried calling me. I tried to call him back but the cellular service was bad and the call would not go through. I texted Kai to let him know that we had just made it to the top and it would be a half hour before we got back down. We later found out that he did not receive the text.

We tried to walk quickly down and made it down in about 15 minutes. But we did not see Kai at the bridge. We walked further down and came across him coming back up the path.

He was furious.

And scared.

It was a huge mistake to leave him for that long.

We got him to go to lunch. A little calamari and a burger helped to calm him. He talked about how scared he was and that he realized that he is not ready to be alone. He said that after we get home, he would need to rest for two weeks.

After we left Multnomah, we drove further down the gorge. It wasn't as impressive as I had hoped and we drove back to our new hotel late in the afternoon.

It was nice to have a room with air conditioning!

This hotel also has a swimming pool so Kai got to go in the water which always helps calm him.

We had a late dinner at an Italian restaurant.
We let Kai have an Italian soda and have a canoli for dessert.
Our vacation is down to its last full day. While we enjoyed most of it, I think all of us are looking forward to having it come to an end.
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