Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm

Today I left the twins with a sitter so I could go on a field trip with Ben. Originally I booked it because I wasn’t sure if he’d have an aide and there was no way another chaperone could handle him. But his new aide started yesterday (more on her later) so it ended up Ben had 2 people covering him full time.

It was my first time interacting with Ben’s class and it was very different from Jack’s. When I attended Jack’s field trips it was with complete joy and enthusiasm. This time around there was still joy and enthusiasm, but it was mixed with trepidation. You just can not go 6 hours with Ben without having an episode, even when you are doing something great like a trip to a pumpkin farm.

We did lots of fun things like a hay ride and a corn maze.

Hay ride on actual real hay stacks!

Hay ride on real hay stacks!

I thought it was funny how a bunch of city kids reacted to the farm. They were all deathly afraid of the bees and they thought sitting on the dirty hay bales was gross.

There were a couple of more provincial things that were enjoyable because we were on a pumpkin farm but would be absolutely intolerable in the city, like the dragon and giant show. It was a spin off of Jack and the Beanstalk. The lesson was that the giant was lazy and needed to work harder if he wanted to eat well.

Animatronic show

Animatronic show

Later one of the owners and farmer gave a lecture about the farm, pollination and basically told us that the health of his crop was due to God. The last time Ben was introduced to God was when my father asked him if he knew who God was and Ben answered, “You mean Godzilla?”

Luckily this did not turn into another esoteric Ben conversation (I’m finding it hard enough to answer the questions he has about infinity and death!). At that moment Ben was busy playing with his group sticker that was suppose to be on his back instead of listening.

DSC_0732As for breakdowns Ben only had a few. One in particular was when it was time to ride the train. For some reason he got scared. He wanted to watch first then ride. That was the same language he used at Great America and never rode a ride the entire trip. It was a train very similiar to the one he rode this past weekend at the zoo.

I used the opportunity to point out to his new aide that he was suffering from anxiety. I then tried to show her how to handle him. I asked what he was afraid of. He said the water (there was a small man made pond in track). I asked him to come over to the rail so we could look at it together. I pointed out that the water did not touch the train. I also told him that he could watch, but there may only be one train ride and if so he would miss his opportunity. The aide watched patiently. Finally she turned to Ben and said, “Do you want me to ride with you?”

His eyes lit up and he said, “Yes!”

He grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the train.DSC_0706

Sadly I realized as I was trying to teach the aide a lesson, she had just taught me a more valuable one.

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Goat Feeding

Sometimes when you are in a relationship with someone you get to a point where there is a lot of ‘water under the bridge’. It’s hard to give of yourself completely, so willingly, so fully when you feel they have taken so much already. Ben’s new aide has no such resentments yet. I hope it stays that way. Because Ben is just a kid, and he’s growing. And one day this is all going to be a distant memory. A shadow of who he sees himself as in the future. And I need to keep that in mind and live through these days with as much patience and grace as she showed me today.

She also managed to get him back to the group after he ran away. I’m not sure how she did that either. Usually when I try to get Ben to do something he doesn’t want it ends in my carrying him away while he claws and scratches at my face.

I’m very happy today, because I now have a lot of hope that things are going to be even better for him at school. Because of his new aide he will start going to the regular classroom a lot more and hopefully he will get more of the social interaction he desperately needs to learn.

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Aha parenting moment

A few weeks ago I picked Ben up from group therapy. He was in a state. Kicking and screaming and refusing to leave. The therapist normally can calm him down and get him in a good place before he leaves but sometimes it doesn’t work in the time frame allotted. In this case another kid was waiting for his session. Our therapist asked me to finish for her and gave me a piece of parenting advice that was so valuable I just HAD to share it.

It was so simple and I’d seen it so many time in therapy that I was kicking myself I never put the steps together. Three simple steps that can be used over and over again in almost any situation!

1. Acknowledge. When Ben tells me he wished I would go to sleep and never wake up, I should not take that personally. I should not wish he would fall asleep and never wake up back, or tell him how difficult his life would be without me, or guilt him into feeling that one day he’ll regret those words. Even though truthfully, those hurtful words make me think all these things in my head. Instead, I should put aside the hurt. I should not take it personally. I should look at him and say, “Sounds like you are really mad at me, Ben.” “Wow, those are strong words.” or “You must really feel hurt.” Keep ACKNOWLEDGING the feelings until he feels calm and heard. Pretty soon he will start saying things like, “Yeah, you made me angry!” “I’m so mad!”

2. Ask Questions. Next, I should ASK him, “What made you so angry?”. Perhaps it’s something I or someone else did wrong, or something he perceived someone did wrong to him. Or maybe it’s just a completely outrageous reason like Aaron is wearing his shoes and he doesn’t want to share, even though he is standing in Jack’s shoes at that very moment ignoring Jack as Jack is standing there, equally upset that Ben is in his shoes.

3. Find a Solution. Whatever the reason, do not get angry. Do not roll your eyes. Do not dismiss his feelings even if you think that are absolutely ridiculous. Do not yell. Do not name call. Do not punish. Just say, “Okay, how can we FIX THIS PROBLEM for next time?” Find a solution that works for both of you. Offer suggestions. Work together. Occasionally you may have to put down a rule and say, “I know you are upset by this, but it’s dangerous for your body to do that so I can’t let you.” You can offer a suggestion of what he can do next.

By the way, this piece of advice is good for all your kids. And your spouse. And your parents. And your co-workers. And anyone you come across at all in life. It’s just such a good little nugget. Try it out today on someone. You’ll be amazed by the results!

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Lionel Train Adventure

Yesterday We decided to take the boys down to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the new Lionel Train attraction.

Convoy of Blue Heading to the Zoo

Convoy of Blue Heading to the Zoo

It was a gorgeous fall day and we practically had the place to ourselves.DSC_0604

We have learned from the past few months that Ben does not like crowded places, so we were very pleased to see everything so wide open. And if you remember, last time I had to climb up this structure and pull Ben out after he refused to move. Later we ascertained he didn’t like getting crowded out by the other kids, that he felt rushed and as a result he would either push back or freeze in his spot.

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Yesterday he was all smiles. He climbed through easily and when we explained he could not go through the exit he didn’t throw a fit, but instead nicely climbed down and started at the entrance. Later, when a few other kids joined he was able to keep his cool and share the structure.

We also saw a black bear in this same area, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, for the first time ever.DSC_0609

In fact, perhaps because of the cooler weather, we got to see lots of animals!

Tiger exhibit

Tiger exhibit

Seal Exhibit

Seal Exhibit

At the gorilla exhibit, we even had an ape climb over to a tree right in front of us and pee. Jack and Ben laughed about that for ages.

Finally we made it to the new train exhibit…

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It’s much better than the last train. They built a track for it to run on, unlike the old one which just went in a circle in a roped off corner of the zoo. And it’s the same price as the old one, $3 a ride.

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A Grand Pa

My father was in town all week.

We put him to work so much I’m scared he won’t ever come back.

He watched the twins all day last weekend so Adam and I could take the older boys to Great America. Then he helped our sitter, Angelica, watch them all night while Adam and I attended a wedding. Then the next day he helped me (Along with Bubbie and Grandpa Bill) cover all the kids so we could see Adam run the marathon and so Adam could conk out cold all afternoon after said marathon.

And more, so much more. I left him with the twins often to run. Adam and I went to lunch, dinner, and drinks numerous nights.

I picked the older boys up all week without having to wake the twins from their naps and cart them to two pick up spots.

Lego Building contest.

Lego Building contest.

He cleaned dishes, washed and folded clothes.

On the El to see Adam run the Marathon.

On the El to see Adam run the Marathon.

And still he somehow managed to do it all with humor and fun.

Aaron loved getting read to.

Aaron loved getting read to.

We still go around the table at dinner time and say what we are most grateful for that day. Jack’s gratefulness was often pointed toward Grandpa Devensky. He liked the ‘bomb’ ball game they played downstairs.

One day Jack tried to sell Grandpa a book of cars that he printed and colored in to him for $16 (He reasoned $2 a car was a good deal.) Everyone got in on the bargaining. Grandpa offered $3 for a limited time. Ben piped in with $1. Then Adam offered more money, but with the condition of cleaning the basement. In the end Jack chose Grandpa’s $3. Smart boy.

Did I mention he fractured his pelvis a few months ago then threw out his back a week before coming? He never complained about it.

He even wrote in Jack’s Wow Journal this week…

Guess the Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Guess the Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

We miss you already Grandpa!

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Another Hero Moment

This morning Adam attempted the Chicago Marathon.

It is his 7th marathon.

Team Calisoff heading to our first viewing spot.

Team Calisoff heading to our first viewing spot.

Bubbie, Grandpa Bill and Grandpa Devensky were all in town. We actually had so much support that we had an adult for each kid. Even with the crowds I was feeling confident we wouldn’t lose a child.

At Armitage and Sedwick

At Armitage and Sedwick.

Mile 9 and 1/2.

Mile 9 and 1/2.

It’s never a sure thing that someone will finish a race this long and this season he’s been plagued with injuries, especially in his calf.

40,000 participants, and 1.7 million supporters.

40,000 participants, and 1.7 million supporters. On the Red line with the other supporters.

He missed a few other races this season, including the Soldier Field 10, because of calf injuries. And mile 9 and 1/2 it too early to tell if he will make it the whole way. I still wasn’t sure he would finish.

We made it to Chinatown, ate some dim sum then saw Adam again.

Chinatown, 21 and 1/2 miles into the race.

Chinatown, 21 and 1/2 miles into the race.

He was looking pretty haggard at this point. But with so few miles left, I was confident he would finish.

We were able to track his progress with a running tracker system the marathon provides. They text you when your runner passes 10K, the halfway point, 30K and the finish.

The race started at 8am. He passed the 10K at 8:57 with a 9:06 min/mile pace. He passed the halfway point at 10:07 with a pace of 9:39 min/mile. The 30K was at 11:12, 10:15 min/mile. In the end Adam finished in just over 5 hours – 5:04, the average pace was 11:37 min/mile. So you can see the struggle near the end.

It was an incredible feat for any person to complete. But for someone with so many injuries and so little training it was a miracle.

Congrats Adam! Good Job!

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The Hero’s Journey

Elizabeth Gilbert, famous author of Eat, Pray, Love was talking on TV the other day about The Hero’s Journey.

Basically, author Joseph Campbell studied all mythology and religion and realized that no matter what civilization, religion, or background every single culture tells the same exact story. It’s called “The Hero’s Journey.”

He broke it into 12 stages, but the short story is an ordinary person is called to adventure, refuses, meets a mentor, goes through setbacks, hurdles and obstacles, achieves reward, goes back to the ordinary world and uses what he’s learned.

Buddha, Moses, Christ, Star Wars, even freakin Nemo, people! Think about how many times you’ve read or seen the same story written differently and enjoyed it immensely each time.

Elizabeth Gilbert seemed to think that everyone alive has their own hero’s journey. That at some point in your life there is always a call and you can either answer it or not. But if you don’t, bad things will happen. Really, there is only one way the story can end happily and that is if you answer the call and go on the long, hard journey.

It seems easy for someone who is already famous for transformation to look back at it all and realize the importance of the journey they walked. And to think that just like them, everyone must have a journey. A purpose in life.

But what if you just happen to be born happy and lucky? I find it hard to believe we are all walking around with a secret purpose that will explode on us one day whether we want it to or not, changing our lives completely.

Having lived a completely charmed and struggle free life up until this point, I figured Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea that every single person had a calling was a bit egotistical. But I am absolutely sure when I listen to her speak that her own journey was pivotal and critical to her life’s happiness.

Perhaps not everyone will learn or see their life’s purpose. Perhaps not everyone has one. But some days, when I look at Ben I think we just might have our own hero emerging. Right here in this household. Surely anyone who looks at the struggles Ben is going through must realize he is in an all consuming constant fight against all social norms.

If it’s true, right now he’s in the early stages – refusal. And like anyone knows who has been in AA, you have to complete the 12 steps for it to be considered a successful story.

We aren’t giving up. Today we are trying to introduce new mentors, (another therapist, a different therapist) to see if it will help. We are also still waiting on for his one-on-one aide to be hired.

It still it feels like we are daily trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I wish we could find the square hole but there doesn’t seem to be one that exists in the world as we know it.

Most of the time Ben feels like a giant snow ball flying down a mountainside gathering more naughty snow. We are trying to push it up hill with our bare hands, along with a team of experts who can sometimes push it up a little before it drops down again. We don’t want the ball to hit the bottom because that would be a disaster, but we can’t see the bottom, and so far all our efforts have made little difference to the trajectory.

I just hope and pray he’ll make it all the way through. That one day this little hero’s journey will have a happy ending. That snowball will make it to the bottom and keep rolling, using all the speed it gathered to climb up to the top of the next hill. And Stop! Just enough speed to make it to the top, not to go down again!

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I’ve Been Cheating

Recently I’ve been cheating a bit on my blog.

Yes, blog, I have another lover.

I’m sorry. It’s divided my time at night, and at least once a week I devote myself to it instead of this blog.

It’s Jack’s WOW journal. He writes us notes every week and brings them home on Friday. I then write a note back and send it to him for school on Monday. Wow what a week 1 Wow what a week 2

I’m enjoying it entirely too much. Much, much more than he is.wow spiral

He struggles and fights to write three or four sentences. I stay awake at night trying to top myself with new ways to delight him.Wow Grateful 1 Wow Grateful 2

As Jack gets older and the other kids get more demanding, it’s nice to have this one thing with him. Just for him. A connect that we can share each week.

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Fresh Picks (Sept 24)

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Acorn Squash, Radishes, Potato, Beets, Onions, Kale, Parsley, Romanesco Broccoli.

I was able to use up quite a bit of this delivery in a vegetable soup. Squash, Potatoes, Onions, Kale, and the Broccoli all made it in there. I also added tinned tomatoes, carrots and celery. Simmered it for about an hour and topped with parmesan.

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The parsley was shared at a pot luck dinner at my friend Myla’s house. I brought a ratatouille.

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Beets, as always were baked soft in the oven for well over an hour. Cooled and drizzled with a reduced balsamic vinegar and some goat’s cheese.

The radishes are looking quite sad in my fridge, but as of this moment I have NO idea what to do with them. Any suggestions would be helpful…

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Simultaneous Sickness

I think I finally managed to pass the stomach bug onto some of the kids.

Sickness sharing is a weird thing in our house. Each person who is exposed reacts so differently and each time I wonder if we didn’t just all pick something completely different up randomly, by coincidence.

I am the iron stomach. I haven’t thrown up since I was sixteen years old (who decided that beer bongs were a good idea, anyway?). But sometimes I wish I could. Not in a bulimia kind of way. I just think that expunging sickness so quickly and violently must make it pass quicker, right? Surely I wouldn’t be so tired and queasy for so long if the sickness had a second outlet as well?

Ben, my dear Ben, all those years of sticking every single thing – I mean EVERY SINGLE THING in your mouth (food from the floor, sticks, dirt, beach sand, more beach sand, then even more beach sand, small choking hazards, licking poles and trees) must have paid off for you. Because on Friday night Ben ate a hearty dinner, followed by a hearty dessert, then walked into my bedroom where I was preparing my bed so I could dry and dress the bathing twins on, and silently threw up.

Then he casually turned to me and told me that he threw up on my bed. No heaving, no crying, and in fact he even tried to go back and finish his lollypop. He was fine by the next day.

Jack. Woes Jack. My goodness you’d think their was an inner demon ripping out his insides when he gets sick. And perhaps because he was always a bit cleaner about things (doesn’t like sharing drinks, freaks out if anyone touches his food, will study his food for any dots or abnormalities and refuse to eat it, never ate copious amounts of sand, wasn’t a big fan of mouthing toys, is my only kid who consistently uses utensils, is my only kid who will wash his hands for a full 20 seconds after any bathroom break) he always gets hit the worst.

Jack was puking for 2 days straight. He ran a fever. He was up all night for two nights. He was coughing and puking up any morsel that touched his lips. He was laying on the ground groaning and moaning. He even TOOK A NAP!

So all of our fun weekend plans were put aside. We had a big day of apple picking on Sunday which we postponed.

And instead of doing things like a family we divided and conquered.

In the morning while Adam took the older sickies to the suburbs to buy a used stroller I was planning on picking up on our way out to the apple orchards, I took the twins to Bauler Park.

Old School Equipment

Old School Equipment

It’s funny how you can dislike a park with some kids and love it with others. I used to really dislike this park when I just had Jack and Ben. I preferred the newer structures that were completely manufactured. The prefab soft services, devoid of any natural materials. I also liked smaller spaces so I could follow my kids around like a hawk, being overly helpful and unnecessarily liberal with my reprimands regarding manners to other kids.

A big, open slab of concrete in the background and many green areas.

A big, open slab of concrete in the background and many green areas.

Now with the twins I love a park where I can sit back and let them play as if I’m not even there. From Ben’s therapist I’ve learned that I’m too helpful when it comes to such things. Let the kids struggle to climb things, that is how they learn and build their muscles.

I also really like how natural the park is. Huge spaces to run and do one of Aaron’s favorite activities – collect sticks and poke them in the dirt. And since Jack and Ben’s time, people have dropped off old toys which adds another dimension.

And even though there are three entrances, all are gates and easy to see from any viewpoint.

After lunch I was able to take Ben for his swimming reward. We were the only ones at the outdoor pool at our club. It was 65° out and it rained half the time but the pool was nice and warm and we loved that we were able to enjoy it all to ourselves. Ben is so close to swimming I can taste it. I’m hoping we can keep swimming despite winter coming until he gets from one end of the pool to the other unassisted.
While we did that, the twins napped at home. Adam and Jack stayed at home and also got some one-on-one time together.
They also were very productive…IMG_7582
It may just look like four bags of legos to you. But that is hours of work, sifting through our zillions of lego pieces. They managed to put together all the little men that were torn apart and collect all the stray wheels. Anyone who was ever a lego fan must be smiling right now at the sight of this and singing in their head, “Everything is awesome”.
And they would be right.
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A Nine Day Update

Sorry my loyal readers for the nine day silence. It’s been a long nine days and I haven’t had any time or energy to blog.

The day of my last blog, I came down with some stomach bug that has plagued me until now. I’m still a bit queasy but feeling better.

It drained me of all my energy. Every day I did the bare minimum.

For nine days I have had absolutely no energy to cook anything creative or healthy. Gorgeous, locally sourced, organic veggies delivered from Irv & Shelley’s Fresh Picks have wilted in the crisper while I’ve fed my kids a bunch of pre-packaged white carbs, cheese and processed meats. It was not a high point for me as a mother and not something I am proud to blog about.

For nine days we also had a very difficult week with Ben as school. It is another thing I don’t feel good blogging about and I’m pretty sure when Ben gets older he WILL not like it to be public knowledge so let me just give you a little metaphor for the past week.

I feel like in Kindergarten they basically throw 30 kids in a big pool and see who can swim. Some have had expensive lessons and get right in there. Others cry when they are dropped in by eventually start swimming or realize they can touch their feet to the ground. Ben didn’t do any of these things. Ben sank. But he went down kicking and screaming. And no matter what they did, throwing out buoys, try to give some instruction, nothing worked.

In the end it got so bad we picked him up from school last Thursday.

It has gotten better since then. Wednesday we sent him in 1/2 day, just in the special ed room, and with his own personal therapist. Then we repeated this half day schedule, without his therapist, for the next two days.

We realized Ben needs to just get out of the pool altogether and start at the first step of the stairs and work his way down slowly.

We also got really good news from the principal today. Ben’s one-on-one aide was approved today so we can start the hiring process. When he/she is hired we have a chance at getting him back to school full time.

But for now we’ll keep the 1/2 days up. They seem to be working. All days he got a good report from the teacher and as a result he gets to cash in the prize we dangled in front of him when we told him he was going back.

Ironically the prize is for him to go swimming this weekend.

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