Saturday, August 25, 2018

First Week of High School

Kai finished up his first full week of high school, and I don't have too much to report.

And that is a good thing.

It has been nine years since Kai started kindergarten. Back then we were excited that he would be attending our neighborhood school, but also very anxious about how he would do there. It wasn't long before daily incident reports started to pile up, and he ended up transferring to a public therapeutic school a few months later where has been since.

Now he is back with typical kids, starting his freshman year at our community's high school.

I'm happy to say that it has been an uneventful week.

Every day we ask Kai how the day went, and he gives us a one word answer of "okay" or "good." When we probe, we are sometimes able to get him to talk about what he had for lunch (he likes buying school lunches) or a sentence or two on a couple of his classes.

But what we're most happy about is what he isn't saying.

He hasn't "fired" any of the staff yet. He isn't complaining about how annoying the other students are.

And for a kid who used to go to a middle school with far less than a hundred students and is now attending a high school with more than a couple thousand, that is something.

There's no question that as his first week wrapped up, he seemed much happier than he has been at school in the past few years.

Of course it is still early. He is in the honeymoon period of a new school. There has always been issues that come up, and we don't expect that to magically change now.

But it is nice that Kai got off to a good start.

It gives us hope regarding high school.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Cubs Game and Starting High School

We had one last summer outing this week as we went to our first Cubs game at Wrigley Field as a family.

It took a while to get over the jet lag after returning from Japan, but we were in good spirits on this afternoon. Kai's constant anxiety with getting sick has finally ended. He did get a very minor cold - certainly nothing worth all the stress he had - and it didn't stop him from enjoying the free time he had the past week and a half.

The first thing we did when we got home from Japan was to schedule appointments with a doctor and a therapist to discuss his anxiety. His medication was increased and there was a lot of discussion with him over all the stress he had (and caused). Not sure how much all of that had to do with his calming down versus just being home and back in his comfortable surroundings, but we're all feeling better now.

Kai and I went to a Cubs game last fall, but that was in Milwaukee when the Cubs played the Brewers. I wanted to take everyone to see a game at Wrigley, and had bought tickets way back in February.

In the days leading up to the ballgame, it looked like it might rain on game day, but we lucked out as there was no rain all day. It was actually a very nice day. At one point when the sun came out, Kai started to complain about it being too hot and said that it was like being back in Japan. We told him that this was nothing like Japan as the temperature was more than 20 degrees cooler.

The other thing that was very different than Japan is that the food selection at the ballpark was all non-healthy, traditional ballpark fare. We all had footlong Chicago hot dogs. I enjoyed it but my wife said later that she felt ill from eating it.

But the ball game was great. The Cubs scored a lot and won 8-4 over their rival Brewers. Kai was very happy!

He said it was the best baseball game he's ever been to. I don't know about that as we have been to several really entertaining games, but I was glad that he had fun, as did we all.

The other big event this week was that Kai started high school. He went for about on hour on Tuesday for Freshman Prep Day, getting his id photo taken, buying his gym shirt and shorts, and doing other administrative things. And then he had his first day of classes on Friday. Actually it was only a half day, and there wasn't much teaching or studying, but he was in the classroom.

So it was an easy day, and happily there were no incidences.

We have told Kai that this is a fresh start for him, and a great opportunity for him to make a good first impression so he should be friendly to other students and to staff. It frustrates me that he doesn't seem to understand.

But anyway, we're off! So far so good, but we'll keep our seatbelts fastened as turbulence can arise without notice. :)

Monday, August 6, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 16 - Finding Some Stress Relief on Our Last Day

On our last full day in Japan, we had a laid-back morning at my in-law's place.

And then it was time to say goodbye. It is always sad to see a vacation come to an end. I think that it will be hardest on my father-in-law who spent so much time with us.

We waited for the bus to take us to the airport.

Although we were in the shade and there was a nice little breeze, we were sweating just standing and waiting for the bus as the heat index was 111.

We stayed the night at the hotel at the airport so that we would have a more relaxed morning to catch our flight. The international terminal at Haneda Airport has a nice shopping section that is made to resemble old Tokyo, and we bought some last-minute souvenirs to take home.

But our last activity was to spend our last evening at Oedo Onsen Monogatari.

We spent about an hour in the hot and cold baths. Kai was still relentlessly anxious about getting sick, but somewhat less so after soaking in the water. It was relaxing for me and my wife, too.

They provided yukatas to dress in afterward.

We had many places to choose from for dinner. We chose a place that had yaki soba, and Kai and I had ours with steak.

Kai wanted to try the ninja game after dinner, throwing shuriken (hand blade) at the targets.

Of course we had to have dessert. My wife and Kai this offshoot of shave ice.

I had crepes with matcha and red beans which is very popular in Harajuku.

This taiko (Japanese drums) game is very popular, found in most arcades in Japan.

Kai still made incessant comments about getting sick, but perhaps a little less than before. Or, maybe I was just able to tolerate it after a relaxing bath.

So, it was a nice way to wrap up the vacation. Nothing left now but to fly home.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 15 - An Up and Down Day in Kamakura and Enoshima

For our last excursion on this trip to Japan, we traveled south to the small coastal city of Kamakura. It is sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan as Kamakura offers numerous temples, shrines and other historical monuments.

It took about two hours to get there from my in-law's place, counting the time to walk to the train station and switch trains in Tokyo.

It was another hot and humid day. While the air temperature was only 90, the head index was over 100. And unlike other days, we would be outside much of the day.

Kai started complaining almost immediately as we walked to the Hachimangu Shrine.

Before entering the shrine, you are to cleanse your hands with the water available in the trough.

My wife scolded Kai when he poured the water on his head as it is considered extremely rude to do so.

He smiled for the following picture, but was not in a good mood.

At Japanese shrines, you can pay 100 yen for an omikuji, a fortune-telling paper strip. To get your fortune, you shake a box until a bamboo stick with a number comes out which you then exchange for your fortune. Kai got the luckiest fortune (Chu-kichi) and my wife got the next luckiest.

My fortune? Meh.

On our walk back from the shrine toward the street where we would have lunch, we stopped to get shave ice for Kai.

It didn't stop him from complaining, though.

"How long do we have to walk?"

"Oh my god, this is so boring!"

"This is the worst day so far!"

We reached Komachi Street which is a narrow strip of shops and eateries.

We all were relieved to find an air-conditioned place to sit, have lunch, and relax for a while.

Kai had a beef dish.

The rest of us had a Kamakura specialty, shirasu-don, white rice topped with sardines. It was very good!

But eventually we had to head back outside.

To get to the next site, Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Kamakura, we walked to the station to catch the electric railway, then after getting off at our stop, we had to walk another 15 minutes or so.

It seemed much longer.

"What are we going to see? Why did we have to come all this way to see a statue?"

"When are we going home?!?!"

We took the requisite photo with Daibutsu, but none of us were particularly happy to be there.

In Japanese, there is a phrase "shikataganai" that means "it cannot be helped" or "nothing can be done about it." It is a philosophical attitude to not overly worry about things that are out of your control.

Kai has not learned shikataganai as he worries about everything, and voices his concerns and complaints loudly.

Not only was he unhappy about the heat, but he continued to express his anxiety about getting sick, something that began two days earlier. Mom was feeling better, but he still worried that he would get sick next.

"Take my temperature."

"I want my throat spray!"

"I want to take my cold medicine."

All this despite having absolutely no symptoms of being sick at all.

We stopped for soft ice cream, but no one seemed that happy as it seemed obvious that Kai's complaints would resume as soon as we stepped outside again.

What did help his attitude was when we made an unplanned visit to the beach. We had to first find a place to buy Kai a swimsuit as we had not brought his along with us.

But he was very happy in the water and stayed in for a good hour.

Before leaving the beach, we enjoyed kakigori, Japanese shave ice topped with sweet red beans and condensed milk.

Our last destination for the day was Enoshima Island where we would go to the top of the Sea Candle for a great view of the surrounding area, and then have dinner on the island.

It was a bit of a walk to the island, and Kai resumed voicing his complaints. In the following photo, you can see the Sea Candle sticking up in the distance.

There were some stairs to climb once we reached the island.

But escalators and an elevator took us most of the way to the top of the Sea Candle observation deck.

It was a nice view of the city and beaches below. On a clear day, you're supposed to be able to see Mount Fuji, but it was hazy in the distance for us.

We had dinner at a restaurant on the top of the island with great views of the ocean.

We had spaghetti with clams and two kinds of pizza: one with Japanese mushrooms and one with uni (sea urchins). Everything was delicious and the ambiance was great.

We had nice desserts as well.

From our seats in the restaurant, we got to see the sunset next to the Candle tower.

All was going well.

But as we were leaving the restaurant, Kai's anxiety about getting sick picked up again.

He got demanding about getting his cold medicine immediately when I wanted to take another photo of the sunset. Waiting a few minutes for medicine shouldn't make a difference, especially when he's not really sick!

But this caused a conflict and made for an unpleasant walk to the train station.

On the train, he looked up anxiety disorder on his smartphone and told me that is what he has and that he can't help it.

It made me think about whether Kai always been this difficult to travel with or is he actually getting worse instead of better? Or, have memories of the difficult times on past vacations just faded as I tend to remember the good times more? After years of therapy and therapeutic school, shouldn't he be getting a bit better and not worse? Is there more that we can do to help him?

At times like these, I wonder why we go on these trips with Kai. He doesn't seem to enjoy them and he takes the fun out of it for the rest of us. Part of me is thinking I don't want to do this anymore.

But with Kai, as always, we have to take the bad with the good.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 14 - More Anxiety, and a Day in Shibuya and Harajuku

Back in Tokyo, we had planned to spend a relatively low-key day in Shibuya and Harajuku. Kai and I had gone there with Kai's grandfather last week, but my wife had spent that day with girlfriends and hadn't gotten to go to those prime shopping districts. And as we wanted to get some omiyage (souvenirs) for some folks back home, we decided to head back there.

We had a relaxed time at home but as the time to head out for the day drew near, Kai's anxiety kicked up again.

He was still worried that he would catch Mom's cold, even has my wife was feeling better herself. Kai claimed that his body ached and his nose was starting to run even though I saw no evidence of that. He asked to have his temperature taken even though his forehead did not feel hot at all. The thermometer confirmed that he did not have a fever.

As he continued to express his anxiety over getting sick, my wife told him that he could stay home all day with his grandparents while she and I went out. She didn't want to hear his complaints all day. Kai said he would stay home.

I was pretty sure that he wasn't really sick and that whatever ill feelings he had were all in his mind so I encouraged him to go out with us. I told him that he would feel better if he went out and did something instead of staying home and just being on his iPad all day. I told my wife that if he did not feel good, I would bring him home.

And so he went out with us.

We started out in Shibuya and he asked that we stop at a drugstore to get him a throat spray.

He didn't particularly like it, but it made him feel better that he was taking some medication to ward off a cold.

We went to the mall behind Kai and my wife in the following photo, and found a few things for folks back home.

It was another hot day, though in the shade and when there was a breeze, it didn't feel too bad. Maybe we are getting used to the heat.

In Japan, you often see people walking with umbrellas on hot, sunny days. Not only does the shade from the sun help them feel cooler, but the Japanese tend to value light-colored skin for themselves as opposed to the tanned look that many Americans prefer.

We met a friend of my wife for lunch at Maisen, a restaurant in Harakuku that specializes in tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet). The pork was really good!

After lunch we all went to Anywhere Door, a place that serves cone shots.

The cones are coated in chocolate (or white chocolate), and you can choose to have it filled with coffee or, in Kai's case, a melon ice.

Kai liked it very much, but my wife described this as an Instagram place, meaning that the food looks better than it tastes.

We spent a little more of the afternoon walking around Harajuku and then Ikebukuro before heading home. Kai didn't get sick and admitted that he had a better time than he would have if he sat home all day. He seemed more relaxed and wasn't obsessing about getting sick.

For dinner, we went to a kaitenzushi restaurant.

The sushi was great, but Kai's anxiety returned.

All throughout dinner, during the walk home, and after we got home, he constantly expressed worry that he was getting sick.

"I feel warm, Dad." His head did not feel warm at all and when we got home the thermometer confirmed that he did not have a fever.

"My throat feels funny, Dad." Hard to know what to believe when he is this anxious.

"I need some Vicks, Dad." I explained that there are medicines to help prevent you from getting sick (like Airborne) and medicines you take after you get sick to relieve the symptoms. Vicks is more of a treatment, not prevention, and you shouldn't take it if you're not really sick. Kai didn't care, he still wanted it.

"I'm feeling stress about getting sick, Dad." He's feeling stress? What about me?

We have our last big day tomorrow. Hopefully he won't be like this all day.

Friday, August 3, 2018

2018 Japan Vacation, Day 13 - Dealing with Anxiety / Back to Tokyo

We left our condo in Chatan at 8:30 this morning. Our flight wasn't until noon but with the horrendous traffic and our poor experience with the rental company when we arrived in Okinawa, we wanted to allow plenty of time to get to the airport to make sure we didn't miss our flight. As it turned out, we needed the extra time as we had a very stressful time at the airport.

No, there was no problem with the rental company or with the or airline or with getting through security.

My wife is coming down with a cold.

And that made Kai stress out.

As you may recall, my wife got sick over our Spring Break vacation and then Kai got sick. With my wife starting to feel sick now, Kai was certain that he would be next.

At the airport, Kai went on and on about how bad things happen in Okinawa. And how he is so stressed out. And how he has so much anxiety in Japan because he cannot understand the language. And how he feels like he wants to see doctor because he can’t handle all the stress.

I tried to talk to him calmly to have him calm down. I told him that Mom and I were there for him so he didn’t need to worry about not understanding Japanese. That he was fine and that he might not get sick. That the stress was self-created and it would only increase his chance of getting sick so he just needed to take deep breaths and calm down.

Of course, none of that made a difference.

Kai continued to be be upset, at one point laying down on the floor in the airport.

Kai obviously has a severe issue with anxiety. It is part of his disability. I want to help him, and it is so frustrating when nothing I say or do helps him, and sometimes just elevates his emotions more.

I tend to be a very logical person, and like to deal with others in a rational manner. But there seems to be no talking sense to someone in this state of anxiety.

At some point in all of this, it dawned on me that in our haste to pack up and get to the airport this morning, we again forgot to give Kai his medication. The most important of these is supposed to address his anxiety.

We had put Kai’s medicines in our luggage that was already checked in. My wife went to speak with the ANA airline personnel to see if they could still retrieve our bags for us. It took awhile, but they were able to retrieve our luggage and we gave Kai his medication.

We also gave him some over-the-counter medicines my wife bought the day before for her cold. More than anything, the psychological effect of taking a cold medicine seemed to make the biggest difference in getting Kai to calm down.

As time passed and Kai calmed down, he talked about how he gets very upset when he is anxious. He said that he likes going on vacation with us but he gets very upset when he is worried about the bad things that might happen.

So, we have some things to work on until our next vacation.

* * * * *

We got bento for lunch. My wife and I got maki rolls made with spam and eggs.

I also got some rice crackers made with squid and taco seasoning as well as mango juice.

Everything was good!

The flight itself was smooth. Kai, calmed down now, enjoyed his iPad.

When we landed in Tokyo it was hot - 98 degrees with a "feels like" temp of 114!

I'd say the heat calls for ice cream! We had one last Blue Seal that is very popular in Okinawa. My wife and Kai got tapioca drinks while I had a frozen mango drink.

We caught the bus from the airport and it was 5:45 by the time we got to my in-law's place. It had taken all day to travel back home.

We stayed in for dinner, ordering pizza from Domino's. We got one made with yakiniku beef as well as a more traditional meat lovers with pepperoni.

We capped off the evening watching the Aomori Matsuri (summer festival) on television.

This festival features vey colorful floats constructed of painted washi paper over a wire frame and take an entire year to design and construct.

The floats often depict gods, historical or mythical figures from both Japanese and Chinese culture, kabuki actors, and characters from popular TV dramas.

The floats are pushed along the street by human power, weaving back and forth, and spinning around for the crowd.

We probably will not make it out to a matsuri on this trip, so we got a taste of one this way.
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