Kookaburra Cafe

A week into the 2014 school year finds me back on the ‘pay to play’ circuit.

Climbing structures.

Climbing structures.

It’s feels odd to be back. I have mixed emotions about it. Going to Kookaburra Play Cafe this morning meant doing something I had done a hundred times before, like starting a project again from the beginning with all the confidence experience brings but with none of the thrill that it had the first time around.

Infant area

Infant area

Still it was something I could never do with Ben. His sensory processing disorder would have made it impossible to watch all the kids without getting dirty looks from other moms. I was anonymous for the time in ages. And unlike when I used to frequent these places with Jack and Ben the first time around, nowadays I don’t feel the need to connect with the other moms. Being nobody never felt so good.

As far as ‘pay to play’ spaces go, I was pretty impressed with this one. They all charge pretty similar prices but some can be quite run down. Kookaburra was modern and clean.

It had enough space so that the twins barely entered two of the areas but the space was laid out well. At Little Beans Cafe, the open space is central with all the play areas on the periphery. The result is a lot of kids running into each other with little cars or body to body. Kookaburra’s open spaces meandered so you could still ride little cars around in a natural path.

Reading area

Reading area

They had lots of really cool things to ride too. You can see a motorcycle above but there were caterpillars, cars, Lightning McQueen and more.

There were also random things I didn’t capture like a structure with 3 hoops and a ton of balls, a bin of food to put in grocery carts, a small puppet theatre, a dress up corner and loads of huge stuffed animals. Aaron spent quite some time carrying a Scooby Doo around that was larger than he was singing, “Where are you?”.

Music Room

Music Room

We had a lot of fun in the music room. The keyboards played songs and the twins danced and shimmed around the room for a good 30 minutes. It was a magical moment.

Chalkboards and crayons also in the music room.

Chalkboards and crayons also in the music room.

Kitchen Area

Kitchen Area

Later we discovered the kitchen area. The twins loved feeding the dolls, something we have NONE of at home. I loved that the woman in charge let them clear this table and eat lunch on it later.

DSC_0527It was very enjoyable morning. If you’ve ever been to my house you know I probably have just as many toys as this place. But sometimes you just need to shell out the money and go somewhere else where there is no laundry, or computer, or dishes so that you can remember to spend some time enjoying your kids undistracted.

Pin It

A New IEP

We met with Ben’s school yesterday.

It was meant to be a meeting with Ben’s school councilor and the special education teacher.

When we entered, there were SEVEN people waiting to talk to us. All had observed him and had suggestions. One was the principal of the school!

I was amazed how many resources they threw at him. And a little scared that they were maybe proving their case to kick him out.

They started the meeting very gently, like they knew I wasn’t going to like what they had to say.

The principal said something like, this is going to be hard to hear but by the time we meet in December it will be a much better meeting.

All I heard was that we were going to meet again in December! They weren’t kicking him out!

In fact, after observation they realized the current IEP, was not helpful enough.

They want to apply for a FULL time aide for him. And they want to put him in the special education classroom for most of the learning portion of the day, about 2 hours and 20 minutes each day.

It means he is so far gone he can’t learn with the other kids. It’s sad, but everything they said in the meeting made sense. He really can’t learn in a big group setting. Not now. But maybe with this help one day he will.

When Adam and I first started this process we found it very difficult to hear that Ben was not normal. We blamed everyone else. Eventually we realized he was not responding to situations in a typical way. We finally admitted that he was different, but not in a good way. In a way that hinders him socially, and hinders his ability to learn.  Even with our new, more accurate viewpoint, it is still very difficult to hear anything negative about your kids.

Having said that, I would say they did an excellent job of seeing Ben’s limitations. Everything they said in the meeting was factual and insightful.

He is disruptive and unfocused enough that someone has to be with him full time. Sometimes I wonder how I did it all those years, with other kids, without any help. I certainly wasn’t trying to teach him anything, but we did keep some sort of a schedule. In hindsight I’m kind of amazed he didn’t get hurt, lost or drowned under my watch.

Afterwards the Kindergarden teacher asked me if she could have some extra one on one time with Ben after school sometimes. She definitely isn’t one of those teachers who punches the work clock. She really cares about the children. Every night she sends me an extremely detailed email explaining the day so I can come up with a visual schedule for him to follow. She sent it to me at 7:30pm tonight, which I quickly created and showed to him before bed.Slide3

He was very, very happy to see the schedule. His therapist said he DOES NOT like surprise so the more we can tell him, the easier it will be.

It’s a ton of work for the school. I’m still amazed at how much effort they are willing to put into his education and feel lucky that we are at this school. And that we live in a time period where kids like him do not get shoved into the back of the classroom and ignored, but instead get MORE attention, with early intervention to help them with the hopes of integrating them back into mass society.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed it doesn’t go pear shaped and I’m picking him up again next week…

Pin It

Mom leaves

Mom left yesterday after the older boys went for their first day of school.

As if my kids going back to school wasn’t emotional enough!

She was an incredible help. So selfless. I hope I can remember to be as giving, understanding and caring when I’m a grandparent.

She loves all the kids, and gets on particularly well with the twins.

One afternoon Adam had the older boys at the cubs game and Mom and I were resting in the kitchen. The twins were in the back room.

“You know they are up to no good when they are this quiet, right?” I said.

DSC_0493

They were covered in toothpaste. In their hair, on their shirts, in their mouths, and all over the wall, the map, and the rug.

I think at one point Sam said, “Aaron did it!”, though his hands were obviously covered in blue as well.

Mom just laughed and made a comment about the whole house being a playroom, then helped clean Sam off while I got the walls.

She watched the twins so we could take the older boys to their first day of school. She watched the twins while we spent an entire day at Great America. And she watched all three kids when I took Ben to therapy one day. I haven’t seen the inside of my laundry room in two weeks.

I hardly got any pictures of her because she was always in the background, helping out!

On the last day I suggested we take the twins to a park then go for a nice lunch. Even after 2 weeks of doing nothing but laundry and kiddie duty, she suggested I go for a run and shop at the grocery store so she could launder more things and change more stinky diapers.

I’m going to miss her terribly. Thanks for everything Mom!

Pin It

First Day of School 2014

Today was the first day of 2nd grade for Jack and the first day of Kindergarten for Ben.

Sam and Aaron (in their diapers) and Japo are ALL photo bombing.

Sam and Aaron (in their diapers) and Japo are ALL photo bombing.

Ben woke up at 4am, no doubt from the anxiety he has been feeling about starting school. He finally fell back asleep at 5:30am, just in time for the twins to wake up at 5:40am. Normally this would make me very angry but today is the first day in 852 DAYS I will be able to take a nap without having someone else watch kids for me. Not that I’ve been thinking much about it or anything.

We purposely got to school early so the kids could run around the playground and not feel too rushed. Ben seemed very happy running with Jack and his buddies Timmy and Luke.IMG_7521

He even seemed okay walking into school.

DSC_0504

He started to freak out a bit near the door to the room but when he turned to run I said, “I’m right here Ben!” and it seemed to work. He walked in and sat at his desk.

The teacher had playdoh and an owl out. She is amazing. I was so nervous that I sent her the visual schedule I prepared to Ben and she wrote back a long, detailed message about the schedule for the day. Which we then used to prep Ben as best we could. We read it to him a few times, then told him how lucky he was to get to play with Playdoh and legos and have TWO recesses. Then we asked if we could switch with him. It put a little smile on his lips at the thought of us going to Kindergarten.DSC_0507

He saw that stuffed owl at the meet and greet and was asking about it later.  After his teacher heard this she deliberately put it next to his seat for comfort.

I thought I would only cry the first time around, when Jack went to school, but because it was Ben going to Kindergarten, it was all I could do to keep from welling up. Partly because I couldn’t believe it was real. I was sure they were going to call me to collect him like every other institute we’ve tried to send him to. And partly because I know what a big step this is for him. Bigger than all the rest of the kids who were in that room.

But seemed okay. He let us leave, with no crying. The school already had the special ed teacher standing at his side, talking to him. Great school. If anyone can handle him, it’s them. Not that I’m not obsessively checking my phone today. I’m just saying IF anyone can do it…

Jack, two doors down, was an old hand. He got a great seat next to a couple other buddies and was happy as a clam.DSC_0511

We’ll see how the day goes at pick up time. But for now, my readers, it’s time for this momma to nap!

Pin It

Six Flags Great America

After realizing that it was probably Jack’s last visit to Santa’s Village, Adam decided to up the ante and bring the older boys to Six Flags Great America.

My mom is still in town so we left the twins with her for the day. Adam, the older boys, and I headed up to Gurnee in time for the opening of the park.

We weren’t even sure it would work. It was the last day left of summer break that we were free and able to go, but the weather channel was predicting an 80% chance of rain.

Adam finally figured out that for an extra $40 dollars, instead of buying day passes and parking we could get a season pass, so the prospect of showing up and getting rained on didn’t seem so discouraging.

Still, we packed our rain gear and, at the last minute, threw in some sunscreen just in case.

Turns out bad reporting from the weather channel was a boon for us. Not only did the weather forecast scare away the crowds, but the rain gear came in quite handy on all those water rides. The water rides were the only things that soaked us today! Otherwise it was sunny and 78°.

Drenched after the Logger's Run ride.

Drenched after the Logger’s Run ride.

Jack was a complete daredevil, riding the scariest roller coasters without a hint of fear. Unfortunately Ben was the opposite. He spent a lot of time on the sidelines, his fear paralyzing him. Sometimes we would cajole, beg and plead him into a line, only to have to walk right through to the exit.

Adam and Jack on Spacely's Sprocket Rockets.

Adam and Jack on Spacely’s Sprocket Rockets.

It was very sad to watch. Adam spent a lot of time trying to convince him to do more. When it was my turn I took more of a laid back approach, not pushing him to do anything he found scary (which was everything, even the carousel was a source on anxiety.)

There were only a few times when sitting out worked, like with this ride, where you can soak the riders from the path…IMG_7504Can you see Adam and Jack on the boat?

At some point during the day Adam asked Ben if he was having a good time and he said yes. I was glad to hear it, but heartbroken at the same time. One day perhaps just sitting around spectating won’t make him happy anymore. And then what? Will he then conquer his fears? Or be depressed by his limitations?

Still, even without the rides Adam made sure he did other things he enjoyed. He seemed to show some interest in the characters, perhaps because they were so furry, who could help themselves from wanted to touch them?

IMG_7472And he was pretty happy to fill his own bag of candy at the end of the night…

Drenched after the Logger's Run ride.

I think the biggest lesson I took away from today’s adventure is that we have to accept Ben for who he is, not who we want him to be. Maybe someday he’ll like amusement parks. But maybe not. We just have to keep searching to find the things that make him light up with joy, not fear. It may not be the thing most boys his age like. He beats to a different drum. And that’s okay.

Pin It

A Mitzvah

My friend Carrie, another Mom from Jack’s (and now Ben’s!) school, sent out information for donating lunches on her facebook page. She is a teacher in a school with over 50% lower income children. She has an acute awareness of how necessary free school lunches are for the kids. And how over the summer, kids without free school lunches suffer.

This summer I also had an acute awareness of my own. And it was that my kids have NO IDEA how good they have it.

Naturally, I saw a match here.

So this morning Jack, Ben, Sam and Aaron helped me pack up 12 healthy bag lunches and we delivered them to St Luke’s Lutheran Church.DSC_0439

Ben never made it into the church. He refused to get in the car, then refused to get out of the car, then refused to wear his shoe, then, then, well you get the point. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wonder just how the hell kindergarten will work out for him.

I’m not sure what effect it had on the rest of them. I actually think you have to do these things over and over again for them to get any traction.

Still, after this experience I’m even more determined than ever to teach our kids a sense of benevolence and compassion.

Pin It

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated Mom’s birthday dinner a little early this year at the restaurant of her choice, Lao Sze Chuan. I guess the lychee doesn’t fall far from the tree because when I first moved here I asked Adam to take me to this same restaurant for my birthday!

Sze Chuan is one of my favorite cuisines and I’d all but forgotten about this little gem of a restaurant.DSC_0432

We ordered all my favorite dishes as well! Yu Shang Qi Zi (Fragrant Fish Eggplant), Ma Pa To Fu (Spicy Tofu), Black Bean Clams and a Tea Smoked Duck.DSC_0428

It was soooo good. And soooo spicy. We were ALL snotting in our napkins within 10 minutes. If you can handle it, you should definitely check it out!

Afterwards Lara and Mom had a big fight about the bill which ended in Lara grabbing Mom’s credit card away from the giggling waitress and telling them it was her birthday and pushing her own card on them. That waitress said in a very thick accent, “So sorry.” Then grinned wide at Mom and said, “Happy Birthday!”

Later they dimmed the entire restaurant to bring us this typical Asian dessert with a candle in it…DSC_0429

They sang in English and Chinese then Mom pushed her luck by asking one of the waitresses how old she thought Mom was. The woman said without blinking, “Eighty.”

Mom is seventy-six. But at least she still has a good sense of humor about these things.

Pin It

Block Party 2014

It’s hard to believe it’s time again for our annual block party. But right after our relaxing staycation we came back to a huge party right on our front stoop. Actually it almost didn’t happen. It poured buckets and the kids spent many hours standing in the front windows hoping it would clear up.

And finally, slowly it did.

The kids wasted no time running outside and enjoying the set up.

And with my two experienced helpers, Adam and I were not a screaming, yelling mess trying to keep all of our kids within eye sight.DSC_0364

This year we had two new participants. Summer House Santa Monica and Walgreens.

Walgreens isn’t even open on our street yet but they provided a pharmacist, watermelon and a face painting booth.

DSC_0330

Summer House made a huge, huge amazing effort with a make your own taco bar, blueberry vodka, and chip and salsa station. But it didn’t end there. They passed out pizzas liberally from their sister restaurant Stella Barra. Afterwards they came back with giant chocolate chip cookies. Then later, rice krispy treats. They were amazingly generous and I will definitely work a lot harder to patronize them as a result. DSC_0320

Block party staples were there in full force as well.

The Great Scott passed out tons of twisted balloons. As with Jack’s 7th Birthday Party, when he was so sweet with Ben, he patiently made about eight sword balloons for Ben when he squeezed his until they popped over and over again.DSC_0361

The swords were a big hit with everyone.DSC_0301

Except for Adam maybe.DSC_0307

Vinci brought delicious short ribs, potatoes and vegetables.DSC_0323

There were four kegs along with wine and other fun drinks like Sofia Coppola’s Blanc de Blanc sparkling wines.

DSC_0317

And the hot dog, brat and burger station…DSC_0329

There was cotton candy. SOOOOO much cotton candy. I think Ben went back for 4ths. Jack had at least 3rds.DSC_0327

Emma Jane’s craft corner…

DSC_0331

The band…

DSC_0346The ice cream truck, generously donated by The Cavanagh Law Group

DSC_0383

Neena’s company A and N Mortgage donated these really cool glow sticks that changed colors when you pressed the buttons…DSC_0389

Yeah, that is the Hulk and Lightning McQueen. At some point the kids ran out of the house with costumes on. All the kids.DSC_0376

It was another great year. Susie Linker, you did it AGAIN!

DSC_0353

Pin It

Staycation

The day after Mom and Lara arrived Adam and I had our first staycation ever.

We used hotel points to check into the Drake Hotel.IMG_7391

Not a bad view from our hotel room, eh?

From our hotel it was a few seconds to the running path. We used it twice. Last night we had loads of free time to wander the magnificent mile. We also went for drinks. And dinner. And we still have time for lots of sleeping. Normally to have a night out with a sitter means you get no sleep and pay for it the next day. For once I actually got 8 FULL hours of sleep. And no one woke me up in the middle of the night to go potty.

Us Having Fun in front of Buckingham Fountain.

Us Having Fun in front of Buckingham Fountain.

Lara and Sam Having Fun?

Lara and Sam Having Fun?

While we had drinks at the Ritz Carlton’s new roof deck bar and dinner at Spiaggia, meanwhile Lara text us that they had “decontaminated the kids and had no major catastrophies except Sam urinating in a bath jet and Ben peeing on her shoes.”

Ritz Carlton

Ritz Carlton

Dessert Sampler at Spiaggia.

Dessert Sampler at Spiaggia.

I felt awful leaving Lara and Mom to do all the dirty work. But when I came home it sounded like that had a good time. And turned into the old married couple that Adam and I had become. When one kid got to be too much for one person, they traded.

I asked one of the two of them to sleep in our bed in case the older kids woke up and got scared that no one was there. Mom and Lara fought over who would have to do it. Mom didn’t want to because she was scared that bed might get her pregnant.

Mom and Lara on an adventure the next morning.

Mom and Lara on an adventure the next morning.

Pin It

Lara and Mom Arrive

Lara and Mom arrived Thursday afternoon to help out with the kids.

The twins followed Mom around like lemmings while Ben refused to let anyone help him with anything unless their name was ‘Aunt Lara’. Jack took the opportunity to enjoy the iPad undisturbed for hours.

It was amazing what a few extra people who actually want to spend time with the kids does to elevate the mood in the house.

At Frank N Dawgs

At Frank N Dawgs

Pin It