Monday, December 31, 2012

Four Dogs and a Boy

We have four dogs with us at the moment. It is nice that they all get along with each other, more or less. Here you see the first three dogs enjoying a nice romp in our backyard.

After a half year of dog sitting, Kai still enjoys having dogs around. He likes to go for walks with them.

And he really had fun when we took two of the dogs to a small hill for our first sledding of the season. (One dog seemed to really enjoy riding with my wife on the sled, while the other preferred running down the hill and chasing after the sleds with me).

But the thing that Kai most enjoys is when a dog does something he or she shouldn’t do. This boy, who rarely comes when we call him, will run up from the basement every time the moment he hears Mom groaning. No matter if he is playing with his beloved Legos or doing something on the computer, Kai doesn’t want to miss out on the ‘fun’.

“What did Coco do, Mom?”

“Where did she pee? Can I see it? Can I see it?”

And as my wife cleans up the mess, Kai is laughing hysterically the whole time.

Usually the dogs bond quickly with my wife. Most of them seem to like Kai, too, even though he doesn’t pet them or play with them much. And they like me well enough, though I am never their favorite.

Until this last dog we got.

Perhaps because she was the last to arrive this week and my wife was already occupied with three dogs, a boy, and my dad, the fourth dog took to me right away from the moment she arrived.

The next day, when I left the house to take my dad home, she cried as we drove off. And when I returned in the evening, she showered me with affection, licking my face, wagging her tail, and asking for tummy rubs.

I had known her for only a day and she missed me much more than my son did. He was on the computer when I returned and was in no hurry to rush up and see me. I barely got a “hello” out of him.

This morning, Mint hung out with me from the time I woke up until the moment I had to leave for work. She again was whimpering as I left.

Oh well, I guess I will take my affection where I can get it.

Friday, December 28, 2012


My Christmas cheer is starting to return so I will post some happy Christmas photos. This is especially for Kai’s grandparents.

Kai was very excited when he woke up on Christmas morning. Of course he wanted to open his presents right away. I told him he had to wait for Mom to come downstairs, so he happily jumped for joy on the trampoline until Mom arrived.

We let him open a few stocking stuffers first.

Then he had to wait until everyone showered and we all had breakfast before we would open the rest of the presents. While my wife and I showered, he sat at the tree sorting through the presents and organizing them into piles for each person.

And then it was finally time to open the rest of the presents. He went through his presents pretty quickly, though I was glad that he remembered who gave him each gift.

Kai has already made great progress on building one of his new Lego sets. I can tell already that he will be finished with his new sets all too soon.

But we haven’t been doing just Legos, we have done science experiments, and played with other toys and games. Here’s a game called Suspend where you have to balance metal bars so they don’t fall down.

In a lull between all of our activities, Kai had the audacity to proclaim, “I’m bored.” How a child with so many fun, new things could be bored is beyond me.

When does he go back to school?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Losing My Christmas Cheer

I know that many of you are checking in to see what a glorious Christmas we had. You want to see Kai’s smiling face and the excitement as he opened his presents. We certainly had all that.

But I’m not in the mood to talk about that.

On Christmas afternoon, after we had opened all of our presents and played with some, we drove over to Kai’s aunt house. We usually see her at Hanukkah, but she did not make it this year, and invited us to her house on Christmas instead. She had recently gotten engaged, and this was to be her first Christmas hosting her fiancĂ©'s family.

We were the first guests to arrive, but it wasn’t long before the others came. This was our first time meeting most of them, including two kids who were near in age to Kai.

My wife and I were amazed at how much Kai wanted to interact with them. We don’t see him with other kids too often, but we remember back when he was in preschool that he was very uncomfortable around unfamiliar children and rarely interacted with them.

All was good as they chased each other around the house, especially enjoying going down to the “man cave” that Kai’s aunt’s fiancĂ© set up in the basement.

In the midst of all that playing, Kai noticed that the Christmas tree had presents beneath it, and he made sure to check each one to find the one with his name on it.

“Mine is a small one,” he noticed.

I reassured him that good things can come in small packages and forgot about his concern as dinner was served.

Kai sat nicely through dinner, though he ate quickly and asked when it would be time to open presents. But he was surprisingly patient and while everyone was finishing their meals, he went to the living room where I heard him chatting to the other kids, first about Jesus Christ, and then, something about the Maccabees.

When everyone had finished eating, his aunt gave the go-ahead to start unwrapping presents.

Kai’s present was a game called Spoons that you play with a deck of cards and bunch of spoons. It looked like a cute, fun game.

The other young boy unwrapped his present. He received an Angry Birds game.

Kai was jealous. He loves Angry Birds, and was disappointed that he did not get that present. As the other boy took out the contents of the game, Kai stomped on the box. I pulled him away and told him to stop that.

Before I go on, I must mention that Kai’s aunt had already very generously given Kai several gifts for Hanukkah including those “credit cards” that he is anxious to spend. The other kids at the party do not celebrate Hanukkah, so this was the only occasion for them to receive gifts from her.

Kai talked about his dissatisfaction with his present. My wife came over and we both tried to show him what a fun game Spoons is. I gave him the plastic spoons that came in the box, but he threw them on the floor.

We pulled him aside once more. We quietly explained how his aunt had already given him great presents for Hanukkah, and how he had received so many other presents just that morning.

But instead of understanding, he got angrier.

He started shouting.

“This is a stupid present!”

“I hate this party!”

“I’m never going to come here again!”

And with that, all of our good cheer on Christmas vanished.

We thought it was best to leave. Though we did give Kai one last chance at the door to say he would calm down and have dessert. But when he continued to complain, we said our goodbyes and made an abrupt departure.

In the car and even after we got home, Kai continued his rant. It frustrated us to no end that he just could not comprehend what awful things he said.

Kai’s disappointment with that Christmas present doesn’t begin to compare with our disappointment over his attitude.

How can you teach a child about gratitude when he does not seem to feel any in his own heart? Is any of this due to his autism, or have we just failed miserably as parents? Where do we go from here?

We told him that Mom would not be taking him to the Lego store today to spend his gift cards. That is a start at teaching him a lesson, but it feels like it will be a long time before he truly learns to appreciate the things he has.

Addendum: I wrote the above on my train ride home from work. When I got home, my wife informed me that Kai talked to his aunt on the phone and apologized. I asked him what he told her, and he said he was "sorry for ruining the party and destroying the boy’s present.” Okay, perhaps he learned a bit of a lesson. Still a long way to go, I’m sure. But perhaps my Christmas cheer is starting to creep back just a bit.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Festivities

I picked up my dad on Saturday, as he will be staying with us this week and celebrating Christmas with us.

For as long as he has been a grandfather, I have never known him to buy any presents for his grandkids. He is generous with cash gifts, but he has never gone to a store and picked out something for my nephews or my son. Heck, I don’t remember him buying things for my sister and I either except for an occasional toolbox or something like that. I think my mom and aunt did all of the Christmas shopping.

So I was more than a little surprised when he gave Kai a gift bag with several items inside. Kai’s favorite thing was the box of Hot Wheels cars.

Though my dad was more interested in trying to show Kai how to play the harmonica, which my dad is very talented at playing.

He also got Kai a game that we played that night, and a jigsaw puzzle that we haven’t opened yet. I found out later that my dad’s neighbor had taken him to the store and helped him pick out these items.

The next day, the three of us went to our local botanic garden to take in a special holiday exhibit of miniature trains winding their way through a village of small replicas of Chicago landmarks constructed out of all-natural materials collected in the wild: gourds, pine cones, bark and wooden logs, acorns, eucalyptus pods, grains and grasses, and more.

Kai enjoyed watching the trains, my dad loved the flowers, and I marveled at the buildings.

Here you see one portion with the Hancock Building on the left, Navy Pier in front of it, the old Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in the center, Union Station in the foreground, and Marina Towers toward the right. A train is passing in front of the Sears Tower.

My wife didn’t come with us, so I took a picture of her favorite building, the Crate & Barrel store. ;)

After we took in this exhibit, we went to the greenhouses.

My dad has always loved plants and flowers – he had one of the nicest gardens in our neighborhood when I was growing up – so it wasn't surprising that he enjoyed our visit. But I was surprised at how much interest Kai showed in seeing all of the plants.

As we went from the Semi-Tropical to the Tropical to the Arid greenhouses, we saw banana trees, orchids, cactus, among many others plants. Kai and Ojiichan both especially liked the many cactuses they had.

After that, we ventured out into the cold and walked over to the Japanese garden.

Kai wanted to see much more of the Botanic Garden; we had only seen a portion of it. But my dad was getting cold and it was time for lunch so we headed home. But, Kai’s interest spurred me to become a member so we can make many return trips there this year.

And at home, Mom’s Christmas Cookie Shop opened with Kai as Chief Decorator.

Hope you are enjoying the holidays, too.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Issue with “Credit Cards”

On past birthdays, my son has sometimes been given gift cards. The cards come enclosed with a birthday card, and Kai has not shown much interest in them. I wonder if he even knew what they were. He usually just tosses them aside and moves on to the next present.

My wife makes sure to grab the cards so that they don’t get lost in the frenzy of opening the presents or tossed out with the wrapping paper and boxes.

However, and here is where we have a confession to make, we don’t give the cards back to Kai afterward. Oh, it’s not like we use the cards for ourselves. We are not that bad.

But after getting so many presents like he usually does on his birthday, it seems excessive to take him to the store with his gift cards and get him more. Instead, we save the cards and use them later in the year when he wants something. And that has worked out fine.

Until now.

This past weekend, Kai received a couple gift cards for Hanukkah. My wife tucked them away as usual. But this time, Kai noticed.

The next day, he asked, “Mom, where are the credit cards I got?”

My wife explained that he did not receive credit cards, but he did get two gift cards. I don’t think he cared about the distinction.

What he did care was that he could use them to buy more Legos at the store. Like, immediately.

We are trying to get him to wait for a little while before he cashes in his cards. I, for one, would like to do a better job of teaching him about delayed gratification, the concept of saving his money, and the notion of being able to buy something better later by having saved some money now.

But this is a boy who sometimes can hardly wait a few minutes for something, let alone having to save up for weeks or months. Rationally explaining the value of waiting often seems to have no effect.

I know we need to start small, and perhaps for short periods of time that we gradually stretch out. But it is not easy.

For now, with his latest gift cards, he seems to have accepted our argument that he should at least wait until after Christmas so he doesn’t spend his cards on something that he may get on the 25th.

But come the 26th, I know that we will be hearing his persistent pleading/whining/yelling to go to the store.

Perhaps it is both unfair and unrealistic to try to use these gift cards to teach him about delayed gratification. Maybe we should let him use these now but come up with another plan to teach him this valuable lesson.

Kai has made progress in many ways. This will be one of our next challenges.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Tree Loses to Hanukkah Present

We were all still feeling the great about the Hanukkah party when we awoke on Sunday morning. My wife and I were still aglow about Kai’s interactions, while Kai was excited about his presents.

He wanted to get started on one of his new Lego sets right away.

Usually I want him to have breakfast before he starts in on a project, but on this morning, we let him play for a good long while before we had breakfast together.

But after that, it was time to turn our attention to Christmas.

When I was a kid, putting up the Christmas tree was a highly anticipated occasion. Not only did I enjoy decorating the tree, the occasion signified that Christmas would soon be here.

In recent years, Kai had the same excitement. He would play with the ornaments before helping to put them on the tree. It seemed like every year he got more and more excited. Last year he even climbed up the ladder to put the lights and ornaments high up on the tree.

But not this year.

He was mildly interested when I took out the boxes of decorations and started to string the lights. But soon he wanted to do something else.

“Mom, I’m going to work on my Legos.”

“Hey, what about the Christmas tree?” I asked.

“Dad, you can do that yourself.”

Sigh. Hanukkah 1. Christmas 0.

He worked on his new Lego diligently with only a short break for lunch.

He finished the first model early that afternoon.

That was quick. I was thinking that all of the new Lego sets he would get for Hanukkah and Christmas would keep him occupied for many months. But I can already see that he will be pleading for new sets much sooner than we thought.

In fact, he was already thinking ahead.

When we had our usual Skype call with his grandparents in Japan that evening, he told them which Lego sets he received for Hanukkah. He was very concerned that Jiji and Baba were going to get the same ones for him for Christmas. “You have to get a different one,” he told them.

My wife translated Kai’s concerns, though we already know that he will be receiving different sets.

But such are the worries of an eight year old.

My worries are about what will happen when he finishes all of his Lego sets.

Ah, but those thoughts can wait, I suppose. Only one week until Christmas. Time to enjoy the moment.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Hanukkah

Saturday was the eighth and final day of Hanukkah, but we started the afternoon off by going to buy our Christmas tree. The rest of our afternoon was busy preparing for the Hanukkah celebration we were hosting that evening. Such is the life of a family that celebrates both holidays.

Kai had been looking forward to Hanukkah for the past few weeks. Sometimes it seemed it was just for all the presents he would receive, but I think he really enjoys seeing his grandparents, cousins, uncle and aunt. He asked if his cousins Lucy and Peter were coming, and when I told him that they were, he was very happy.

My wife recruited Kai to help with some of the preparations. He and I hung the ‘Happy Hanukkah’ banner. Well, at least he watched me put it up. But he did join me in peeling carrots. He reminded us that he had done this before when his grandmother in Ohio had him help her in the kitchen last summer. He also told us that Uncle Frankie would be proud of him as he told Kai to help out Mom in the kitchen.

All was going well until Kai hurt his thumb while trying to peel a potato. My wife put a bandaid on it but Kai complained that it still hurt. I explained that a bandaid only stops bleeding, and his thumb was not bleeding, but it does not make the pain go away. He did not like that explanation and insisted that Mom put on another bandaid. She ended up putting three on that non-bleeding thumb. But that did not soothe Kai and he said that he wanted to cancel the party. Eventually, my wife couldn’t take any more of his loud complaints and sent him to his room.

I felt sorry for Kai; I’m sure he was in pain. But we had potatoes to peel and latkes to make and we were already running late. Neither my wife nor I had time to give Kai any more attention.

After awhile, he returned to the kitchen, and asked if someone would come up to his room with him. He really just wanted some attention. When I finally finished peeling the potatoes, I went up to his room while my wife completed the rest of the prep by herself.

By the time our first guest arrived, Kai was calm, the painful thumb was forgotten, and he was excited about the party. My wife and I still had to change clothes, but that was a small price for a happy child.

After that bit of a rocky afternoon, I was kind of worried about how Kai would do during the party. So I was relieved – no, correct that – I was amazed at how things went that night.

Kai negotiated the schedule with his grandfather, and then announced it to everyone. First, we would light the menorah. Then, have dinner. After dinner he and his cousins would give a concert. And then they would open presents.

Kai sang along softly as his aunt lit the candles on the menorah.

He ate his dinner nicely.

And then it was time to perform. All week, when my wife was trying to get Kai to practice his piece on the piano, he goofed off and frustrated her to no end. But on this night, he played as well as I’ve ever heard him play.

He also watched attentively while his cousins play percussion and flute.

Of course he was most excited it was time to open presents. He seemed to know that he would be getting Legos, and was happy to see the great sets he got.

When someone suggested that it was time for dessert, Kai declared that they would play with their presents for ten more minutes first. And when someone jokingly tried to change the schedule, Kai said “No, no, no. It’s my party” and let them know that he was in charge. Well, why not? He pretty much was.

After dessert, he wanted to play the dreidel game. And kept pestering people until Bubbe and I and one of his cousins agreed to play with him.

As the party seemed to lull, he asked his cousins to play with his new Weird and Wacky Contraption with him. And that got everyone involved and the fun picked up again.

As everyone was getting ready to leave, his uncle complimented him for “running a tight ship.”

I feel like I’m too tired and not explaining this well. But, just know that on that evening, if you did not know that Kai had autism, you would not have been able to tell.

He spoke a lot, and most appropriately. His language was wonderful.

Hanukkah is really for children. But seeing and hearing Kai’s interaction that night was truly a gift for me and my wife.

We send our belated Hanukkah greetings to Kai’s longtime speech therapist Alyson, without whom all this would not have been possible. And congrats on your recent marriage, too, Alyson!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quick Recap of the Weekend

Hanukkah started this weekend and Christmas will soon be here. My wife and I both feel like we have way too much to do and not enough time to do it. How I wish I had followed my blog friend Betsy’s lead in starting planning for Christmas back in October. Anyway, this will be just a short post on our weekend.

We won’t have our family Hanukkah gathering until next weekend, but we did light the candles on our menorah the first two nights. Kai is looking forward to the presents, and seeing everyone, too!

We are also counting down to Christmas. Well, Kai is counting down with his Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. Every morning, the first thing he wants to do after he gets up is to see what the model-of-the-day is, and to build it right away. This morning’s figure was an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back.

We were all in a grocery store yesterday when Kai saw coconuts for sale. He always takes an interest in fruits and vegetables that we have never had before. So, this time he wanted to bring him a coconut.

As a kid, I remember seeing my dad climb a tree in Hawaii and knock down some coconuts for us to eat. But I don’t remember cutting one open myself.

It was a once in a lifetime experience. Which means, it was such a pain to take out the juice, open the coconut, and cut out the edible parts that I never want to do it again.

But Kai really enjoyed the whole process, and he liked drinking the juice and eating the fruit as well.

Morn than a year ago, Kai’s grandfather in Japan brought over a Japanese marble race toy for Kai. Kai had seen Japanese videos of elaborate setups where one marble would run into something that would set off another chain of events. The toy he got was a bit difficult, even for adults, and Kai did not show a whole lot of interest in playing with it after Jiji returned to Japan.

But this weekend, he pulled it off the shelf and started building with it. He wanted me to join him, but he was the one who came up with the ideas of what to make. It was nice to see, as with Legos he usually just sticks to following instructions instead of coming up with his own creations.

And while we did not build anything too elaborate, it was great that Kai showed interest. Yes, at times like these, I can see that he is maturing.

Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Present, Just Because

Last Friday evening, my wife told me that Kai really wanted to get a Lego advent calendar. Saturday was the first day of December, so if we were going to get it for him, we needed to decide right then.

We sometimes use things that Kai really wants like this as a reward that he can earn for good behavior. Or, we will give him with an unexpected prize when he has done something special that we want to recognize.

But there was nothing in particular to recognize at this time. In fact, Kai had a poor month at school throughout November. Our one-time hopes that he might attain the next level at school have all but vanished for now. He is back to having several major incidents per week.

So, there was no good excuse to get him the Lego set. It would have been easy for me to just decide that he did not deserve the present right now.

But something about that gnawed at me.

Between my wife and me, I am more likely to be the one to say that we should not get Kai a present. I am the one to argue that we are spoiling him if we give him things too easily.

But when I woke up Saturday morning, knowing it was December 1, I wanted to get that Lego set for him.

I didn’t want Mom to get it for him. I wanted him to know that I wanted to get it for him. And for him to know that it would not come with any conditions, but I wanted to give it to him just because it would bring him joy.

And so, after he woke up, I told him that we would go to the Lego store and get that advent calendar.

I think he could hardly believe it.

First, we had our weekly trip to the library. And then I took him to a birthday party. But after that we drove straight to the mall. He picked out the Star Wars calendar. And he was very happy.

When we got home, he made his first model from the set, a Gungan sub. Kai has not shown a great deal of interest in Star Wars until now, but somehow he knew what it was.

Two years ago, my wife gave him a different Lego advent calendar. At that time, he built all 24 models in one day. This time, he showed some restraint as he decided that he would build only one each day as intended.

The next day, as he was making the second model, he told me, “When I go to college, you can keep the set here.”

And then he added, “And when I get married, I’ll send you an email and you can bring this to my house.” That brought a smile to my face.

And I really smile as I see Kai smile that big smile of his every time he works on the Lego figure of the day. It makes me think that I made the right decision.

A dad should try to encourage his son to do his best, and reward him when he does.

But he should also let his son know that he loves him regardless.

Hopefully it didn’t take a Lego set to accomplish that. But I think it was a nice reminder.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...