Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Kai’s New Bicycle

We had gotten new bicycles for my wife and son last weekend. My wife and I were very eager to get out and try them out. Kai? Not so much.

It was the day after our successful first canoe outing. We were looking forward to getting out on another beautiful fall day.

My wife suggested that we should start out at the parking lot of our neighborhood school. They have a nice wide-open area on weekends, and she thought it would be a good place for Kai to try out his new bike.

I scoffed off the suggestion. After all, it is just a new bicycle. It is not like he is a complete beginner. Why does he need a special place to practice?

And so I loaded all of our bikes on our carrier and we drove to our favorite forest preserve.

Kai nervously got on his new bike. It was a lot bigger than his old bike. But it was not so tall that he couldn’t still touch the ground as I had set his seat height as low as it could go.

He started peddling, wobbled around for a second or two, and then jumped off.


I told him that he needs to peddle, that the bike would not wobble so much if he moved faster.

He did not want to get back on, but I ordered him to do so.

Again, he barely moved, wobbled, and stopped.


I told him that the bike was not the problem. He was just scared but if he rode like he always did it would be fine.


What? That doesn’t even make sense.

My wife gave me the ‘I told you so’ look. Actually, it was more than a look.

But she also tried to instruct Kai to steer, and was as successful as I was.


After a few more attempts, I decided that this was not going to be productive.

I grimly loaded the bikes back onto our carrier and we drove away.

But I did not drive home. We drove over to our neighborhood school.

There was a lot of room in the empty parking lot. There were virtually no cars or bikes or other people to worry about.

Kai nervously got on the bike. But this time my wife and I held his seat so he wouldn’t wobble and ran behind him giving him a bit of a push until he got going on his own.

And once he got going, he was fine.

He peddled around the parking lot, counting laps, and was a happy kid.

Now why didn’t somebody suggest starting out here before? Oh, wait.

My wife and I got on our bikes and rode along with Kai in the parking lot. It wasn’t exactly the fall bike outing I had envisioned.

But, it turned out to be a good one, such as it was.

And next time we’ll be able to ride on a nice trail.

I hope.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A New Experience

At the forest preserve where we like to go biking, there is a place to rent canoes and kayaks. Though I did not expect that we would ever go canoeing there as a family.

I had canoed as a young adult and my experiences then led me to believe that all couples should go canoeing together as it is the ultimate test of compatibility and tolerance. Alas, my wife and I never went canoeing, and as we are already married, why risk such a test? ;)

I also did not think that my son would particularly want to go canoeing. After all, Kai is scared of many things that he has not tried before. And though the canoe appears benign enough, you can never tell with him.

So I was surprised last weekend when we were over there bicycling that he said he wanted to go canoeing. We did not have time then, but told him we would come back again.

And that’s what we did on Saturday.

The waters are that of the Skokie Lagoons, a place that is perfect for beginners, or for families who have boys who are anxious about everything. The waters are very calm, and it could not have been easier to navigate around. It was quite a contrast from the canoeing I had done on rivers.

Kai enjoyed it.

Though he kept asking me the time. The rental was for a one hour minimum, though you could stay as long as you want with every 15 minutes prorated. But Kai kept worrying that we would go longer than an hour, no matter how much we told him that it was okay if we did.

We made it back in about an hour. I could have stayed out there longer as it was such a beautiful fall day. But better to cut it short and still have smiles on our faces than to risk staying out too long.

As a family, we had passed the canoeing compatibility test.

Tommorrow: First time out on Kai's new bike

Friday, September 20, 2013


We got an email from school the other day. During a field trip, Kai became upset about some change made on his van and he broke his glasses.

Frankly, I am surprised that he hadn’t broken them until now.

Most often, when he is upset at school, he bites his shirt to shreds. I wondered why he never broke his glasses.

On this occasion, we did not learn too much from Kai about the circumstances surrounding this incident. He said that there were some kids on the van that he doesn’t like.

From past experience, we know that in many cases when he complains about another child, it is often because they got the benefit of something he wanted, not because of something they did wrong.

In this case, I am guessing that perhaps they got the first choice of a seat, or maybe the teacher asked them to switch seats.

When I got home from work, my wife and I tried to talk to Kai about how inappropriate this was, and what he could have done instead. He could roll his hands into a ball, he could grit his teeth.

But he should not rip his clothes and he should definitely not break his glasses.

We told him there would be consequences. Mom and I would discuss while he took his bath.

When he came back to the kitchen after his bath, I asked him what he thought an appropriate consequence would be. At first, he kept saying he didn’t know. But when I pressed him on it, he said that maybe he couldn’t use the iPad for one day.

I told him that wasn’t enough.

We gave him a choice. He could lose his iPad privilege for four days, or lose 3,000 points from his Point Store account.

He was very close to earning a new app with his Points, and the app was due to be released the next day. So, he chose to give up his iPad.

But when I explained just how long four days was – no iPad until Monday – he changed his mind. He gave up his Points instead.

And then he got angry.

“Dad is so mean!”

My wife explained that he has to learn not to break things when he is upset. And that it wasn’t my fault – he needed to learn to accept responsibility for his own actions.

Kai spent most of the rest of the evening crying and being mad. We did not have our usual short game-time before bedtime.

At bedtime, he read the book he always reads after he has gotten upset – Angry Octopus – which is the story of an octopus who learns to control his anger through relaxation exercises.

Kai loves that book, but I don’t know that he thinks of its message in the heat of anger.

And just the very next day, yesterday, he ripped up his shirt, the souvenir we got at Mount Rushmore no less, when he was told he had to help clean up the toys he played with at his therapist’s office.

When I got home yesterday evening, the torn shirt was at my place on kitchen table. Kai was on his iPad.

I took away the iPad. But I was able to contain my frustration, (somewhat) calmly telling him that it was just the day before that we had discussed how he should not break things when he is upset.

In a low-key voice, I told him that he would not be able to use the iPad until the weekend.

He wasn’t happy, but he did not say much.

But my wife told me that after he went to bed and I shut off the light and left the room, he told her, “Dad is so strict. He should be a congressman.”

Ha, I don’t know where that came from. A congressman?

I don’t know if harsher punishments will make a difference. When he is angry, he doesn’t think rationally. He doesn’t seem to remember all that we told him.

But we have to try.

This can’t go on.

Let’s see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Embarrassment, A (Kind of) Funny Picture, and Bike Riding

Autumn is our favorite season for bike riding, and this weekend we took advantage of a beautiful Saturday morning and went riding on our favorite trail.

But first, we made our weekly stop at the library.

Kai was dressed in bicycle shorts that my wife had given him. Here is a photo of he and my wife taken from our ride the week before. I think he looks rather snazzy.

But Kai was embarrassed to wear his bike shorts to the library.

What is remarkable about this is that Kai never seems to be embarrassed about anything. He is constantly putting his clothes on backward or inside out. When we point it out and tell him that other kids may make fun of him, he usually just laughs it off and doesn’t want to go through the trouble of putting his clothes on again, the correct way.

I’m not sure why bicycle shorts, of all things, finally caused him to become embarrassed, but I think it’s a good thing. He needs to be a little more self-conscious.

After the library, we went on our ride. It was a perfect day and we enjoyed it very much.

As we were riding, I noticed that Kai was getting a little too big for his bike. He had more trouble than he should have riding up small hills, and I wondered if it were time to get him a bigger bike.

The following photo, again from last week, shows how he can’t straighten his legs while riding his small bike.

And so the next day, a rainy Sunday, we went to Walmart and got new bikes for Kai and for my wife (who had been riding my old mountain bike while I rode my old touring bike).

No pictures of the new bikes today… hopefully we will ride again next weekend and I’ll have photos to you.

But here is a picture from the owner’s manual of the new bikes. Kai just thought that this was the funniest thing as he laughed and laughed. Does this look that funny to you?

I’m not complaining, though. While Kai entertained himself reading the owner’s manual, I was able to watch a very exciting Chicago Bears football game. For many families, a fall Sunday in front of the tv watching an NFL game is a given. But I took great pleasure in getting to enjoy this ‘ordinary’ event.

Thank you to whoever designed the owner’s manual.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crisis! Lost Trashie!

When I came home from work the other day my wife told me that Kai was upset.

“He lost a Trashie and he’s been crying.”

Trashies are small, colorful, rubbery, gross figures with names such as Putrid Pizza, Spew-Ghetti, and Trashantula. As you can imagine, the target for these toys are boys about my son’s age. The phoro below from six months ago shows Kai holding a few of them.

There must be well over a hundred different Trashies now, and Kai is attempting to collect them all. We use them as motivators – he can earn one for every two times he does one of the exercise programs we’ve set up for him – and he now has dozens of them.

The other day, he had just earned a new one. Apparently, he was playing with it in the kitchen when he dropped it, and it disappeared.

Now these figures are small – they are about an inch tall – but they are not so small that we would lose them in our kitchen. My wife said she looked all over but could not find it. When I got home, I started looking immediately while my wife prepared dinner.

I checked all around – our kitchen is not that big so it did not take long – and, sure enough, the Trashie was nowhere to be found.

Kai came down to the kitchen. He had been in the bathroom, supposedly taking his bath, but we found out that he had yet to go in the tub and was still crying.

“Did you find it?”

No, I can’t find it.

I asked him to describe it.


Yes, yes, I will keep looking for it. But, can you tell me what it looks like? What color is it?

He continued to be very upset. He was yelling and crying constantly.

We tried to redirect him. “Can you draw a picture of it?”

But when Kai is upset like this, it is hard to redirect him or to get him to calm down. If anything, he got more angry.


I explained that it wasn’t Mom’s fault. She didn’t drop it, and she was helping to look for it. In fact, she had already given him a different Trashie before I got home to replace the one he had dropped.

After awhile, dinner was ready and I was hungry. “Let’s eat dinner and we’ll look for it again afterward.”


I told Kai that if he got this upset about losing a Trashie, maybe he should not collect them anymore.

My wife and I started to eat dinner. My son was still upset. But about the time that we were finished eating, he finally started to eat his dinner.

I put my plates away and looked for the lost Trashie once more. I checked outside the kitchen, looking down the stairs in the off chance that it bounced further than we thought was possible.

But we could not find it.

I deduced that the only place it could possibly be was under the built-in bench in our kitchen. There is a small opening just off the floor where a small rubbery figure could potentially bounce. You could not get it in there if you tried, but this little guy must have beat the odds and found it’s way in there.

The problem is, if that is indeed where it is, there is no getting it out. The opening is too small to stick a hand into.

Of course, when Kai found that out, he wanted to rip the bench apart. Well, we weren’t doing that.

You would think that at some point, he would get over his disappointment and anger. After all, he still had dozens of other Trashies, and would continue to earn more. What difference does one little rubber character make in the big scheme of things?

But then, that’s not really being empathetic of our son. For him, this was the most important thing in the world, at least at that moment.

We tried to be patient and understanding, but when Kai continued to yell my wife had had enough. She shouted at Kai to stop. There was nothing we could do to find the lost Trashie. He had to get over it. She did not want to hear another word. She took away the basket that held the rest of his Trash Pack collection.

I thought that might have been a bit harsh.

But, Kai finally quieted and calmed down.

He made a comment about the Trashie-eating bench, but it was said somewhat jokingly rather than in complete anger.

And while his disappointment remained, the crisis was over.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t lose another one any time soon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Saying Goodbye, for Now

My father-in-law’s month and a half visit came to an end as he returned to Japan over the weekend.

Some of my co-workers who knew about his visit had asked if I were going to celebrate this weekend. It sounded like they thought that having an in-law stay for that long would be their worst nightmare. And maybe it would be for them.

But it wasn’t that way at all for us.

It was truly a pleasure having my father-in-law here.

For one thing, he is very low maintenance. We never feel put out to have to do anything special for him.

Another thing is that he loves to fix things around our house. On this visit, he put up hooks to hang Kai’s backpack and coats, built and hung a decorative shade to block out the excessive sun in our sunroom, and sanded and refinished our coffee table, among many other things.

When we know that he is coming to visit, we know he will want to be kept busy so we look for things to have him fix. It’s become a great excuse reason for me not to fix things around the house.

Toward the end of this visit, my wife half-jokingly suggested that we break something so that her father would have something to do. He was getting bored as he had already fixed everything there was to fix.

Despite all of the benefits of having a handyman come live with you, that is not the primary reason why I enjoy my father-in-law’s visits.

I enjoy the effect he has on our household.

My wife is always very happy throughout his visits. And I’ve learned, perhaps a little slowly, that a happy wife = a happy life.

But most of all, his visit had a profoundly wonderful impact on our son.

For a boy who almost never has friends over to the house (because he doesn’t really have true friends), having his doting grandfather stay for six weeks was the most awesome thing. It was like having a grandparent, a playmate, and a best friend all rolled into one loving package.

I think Kai will forever have very fond memories of these past few weeks.

We dropped Jiji off at the airport on Saturday morning. Kai gave him one last hug.

The rest of the day, it seemed a bit quieter at our house. My father-in-law was not one to speak much, so the quiet was not due to his voice being absent. I think it was because Kai was just a little bit less enthusiastic, perhaps even a touch subdued, without his grandfather around.

And so we miss him already.

And we will look forward to his next visit. Come back, soon, Jiji!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More Grandparents! More Fun!

Kai has really enjoyed having his grandfather from Japan with us these past few weeks. This weekend, we all drove up to visit his grandparents in Michigan. And if he was happy with just one grandparent around, he was in heaven getting showered with love from three grandparents.

We arrived on Saturday at lunchtime, and after lunch we got started on all the activities that he wanted to do.

First, we went to a pick-your-own orchard. A man there was slicing up samples of different varieties of peaches that were ready for picking. Kai went right up front for his slice. But the man gave it to Mom instead.

“Ladies first.”

Kai took it right in stride. “Oh yeah. I forgot.” And then he got his sample.

After tasting the samples, we knew which peaches we wanted to pick. The peaches here were all giant-sized, and Kai found a lot of good ones.

After the peach picking, we did one of Kai’s favorite summer activities, going to the beach.

After dinner, we walked down the block to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. Sometimes it is difficult to get Kai to go for a walk, but this time he went eagerly. His grandfather had one of those devices that counts steps, so Kai was motivated to help Papa reach his goal of 10,000 steps for the day.

And we were rewarded when the sun peeked out below the clouds just as it was setting.

The next morning, we went to the local Rotary Club’s pancake breakfast. Kai was in a bad mood when he realized that we left the iPad back at the house and I refused to turn around to get it. But when he had his pancakes, his forgot about the iPad, and he cleaned his plate before I thought of taking a picture.

Next we drove down to the town of St. Joseph. They have a large old carousel, and Kai said he wanted to ride. He never wants to ride on the horses that move up and down while they go round and round. Instead, he always picks a seat on the bench. I don’t really see the point of sitting on a bench when you’re riding a merry go round. And at nine years old, perhaps he should get over his fear of riding the moving horses. But, I didn’t see that as a battle worth fighting, and he enjoyed his ride.

We then walked over to the fountain park where you can run and splash to your delight. He and I enjoyed it for a good long time.

After all the splashing, we went to lunch. The pizza was good but Kai’s favorite part was showing Bubbe how to play a game she had allowed him to download on her iPhone.

You would think that the morning at the fountains would have satiated Kai’s desire to splash, but in the afternoon we went to the beach again.

And after dinner we walked down to see the sunset again, though this time the sun stayed behind the clouds.

The next morning, we drove up to the town of Holland to see the unusual lighthouse.

And then capped off our activities with a round of miniature golf.

All of these photos do an adequate job of showing you the activities we did. But they don’t really convey the essence of the weekend.

When Kai was much younger, I wondered if his grandparents would ever truly enjoy spending time with him. Oh sure, they loved him. And so they spent time with him as good grandparents would. But, I’m not talking about that.

I mean really enjoy spending time with him just because it was fun.

The way it was with their other grandchildren.

The ones who are into sports or art or other activities the way most kids are.

When Kai was hardly speaking, and not interested in any of the things the rest of us are, I think perhaps only a generous grandparent would say they had a lot of fun when they spent time with him.

Nowadays, well, he’s still not really interested in most things the rest of us are, but with his chatty, outgoing personality, with his exuberance for life, with his (usually) very sweet disposition, he really is a lot of fun to be with. And I saw that in his grandparents.

They laughed and talked with him and had a great time.

And, of course, he so did he.

And that made for a truly wonderful weekend for all of us.

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