As a homeschool mom with autism and social anxiety, some of my greatest parenting worries revolve around social skill development – making friends, navigating a variety of social situations, participating in classes and activities with other people, and so on. I worry that I’m avoiding things that are beneficial for the kids because of my own anxiety; I worry that they aren’t going to be able to make close friends and have the incredible blessing of loyal and persistent friendship; I worry that they’re doomed to be awkward and lonely because of me; I worry that I’m not doing enough to help them engage with other people and become familiar with social norms.
But now, in this season, all that weight is temporarily lifted: because everyone is supposed to be at home, and all the classes and activities are shut down anyways. It’s such a relief not to have those worries pressing down on me! And it is so beautiful, in a quiet and peaceful way, to be able to devote this time to cultivating our own family relationships and creating an atmosphere of love and contentment in our own home, without the constant nagging voice whispering that I should be doing something more, something else, something better.
I’m not sure how I’m going to phase back into social endeavors over the next few months. My default preference is to stay home with occasional trips to parks, pools, and libraries; my default inner response is that my default preference should generally be overruled as being most likely defective in some way. (Obviously this is a cause of some internal tension…). But I hope that as the social acceptability of outings and personal interaction increases, I am able to remember the goodness and value of time spent at home as a family and not automatically bow to the cultural pressure that says more (activities, acquaintances, experiences, etc.) is necessarily better. I hope that I will be able to find the path that is best for our family – with all of our neurological differences – instead of trying to fit someone else’s notion of what we should be doing or aiming for.
Aubade (who loves all things sparkly and frilly and fancy) discovered today the few formal dresses I have saved over the years, and convinced me to try one on. She was really rooting for the wedding dress, but putting that one on is not a one-person endeavor, so I ended up in a navy blue full-length gown from high school.
I am still surprised I managed to put it on; my ribs are definitely wider post-pregnancies. And it felt far more elegant than I remembered, which was nice. But the best part was when I walked out wearing it and Aubade was overwhelmed with delight that Mommy was wearing a pretty dress like she was and Limerick ran to me instantly to exclaim over the dress and claim a hug. I was reminded of the time my mom dressed up in the most gorgeous burgundy outfit with sheer sleeves for a fancy event with my dad – how I thought she was just the most glamorous and beautiful person I’d ever seen, and how it made me so happy to see her so beautiful, like my heart swelling inside me. And now somehow I found myself in her role in the cyclical drama of life, the mother instead of the child, the familial archetype for human beauty as well as human nurturing.
I’m still figuring out where it comes from, this child’s joy in seeing their mother beautiful. I remember feeling it quite strongly; I could tell my children felt it, as they demanded I not change back into normal clothes even when I had to do dishes and get ready for work; but I’m not quite sure of the source. My guess is that it has something to do with the overflowing love a child has for their mother, because when a person loves someone else they delight in that person’s beauty.
And knowing my children have this deep unconditional love for me, as children typically do for their parents, makes me want to be beautiful in character and not just in appearance, to be truly worthy, somehow, of this love pouring itself out for me for these short years of childhood. If it takes dressing up more frequently to remind myself of this, then (despite my love of the comfortable and casual) I am all for it.
I asked Limerick the other day what was, in his opinion, one of the neatest things he knew about math and numbers.
In response he told me he thought the neatest thing was that if you start with the powers of 2 (say, 128 for example) and kept dividing by 2 (32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, and so on, he said), you would go on forever and never actually reach 0.
Basically my five year old uncovered on his own the concept of an infinite series approaching a limit and (very naturally!) decided it was just about the coolest thing numbers do. I love how his brain processes numbers and analyzes the world in their light!
It’s never pleasant as a parent when your child comes down with something. You put plans on hold, you schedule plenty of rest, you try to keep everything as clean as possible so no one else gets sick. You grieve for your child when they have to miss out on something they love; you soothe their fevers and pull their hair back when they vomit and reassure them with your presence; you watch their symptoms accumulate and decide whether to wait it out at home or call the doctor. But it’s mostly routine by the time you have three kids and the oldest is six – you’ve seen a lot of winter colds and coughs and stomach bugs by then.
It’s a bit different when all around you society is panicking about a virus whose symptoms just so happen to match your child’s. When you know enough about virology and epidemiology to understand the public health risks that make complacency the greater danger to the wider community, and don’t want to become an epicenter for a new wave of outbreaks. When you’ve heard an experienced doctor comment on how suddenly COVID-19 patients can go from stable on oxygen to needing mechanical ventilation. When you’re considered essential personnel in a lab on a campus that has already had 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases – despite serious testing delays and shortages – and when your child’s grandmother spent time with them after visiting Seattle in the early stages of the outbreak when more people were still skeptical.
It’s an eagle eye on your child’s breathing, then: an ear to his chest for wheezing, a glance around his collarbone and ribs for retractions, a counting with a stopwatch while he sleeps and the breaths come fast even though he’s at rest. It’s pulling out the nebulizer and albuterol to see if it makes a difference, and planning to go to urgent care if it doesn’t. It’s taking your child’s temperature multiple times a day even though the quick kid-friendly one is dead and you have to sit holding the old thermometer in place for three minutes waiting for a result. It’s making sure he covers when he coughs and that his siblings are washing their hands before every meal and after every time using the shared bathroom.
It’s a long and almost teary conversation with the nurse on the other end of the insurance-provided triage line (I love those nurses – they have helped me through so much anxiety and given me so much solid guidance when I’m not sure what to do), then, going through symptoms and addressing concerns. It’s a drop of the stomach when the nurse practitioner at the ER tells you your child’s symptoms are concerning she’s going to call the COVID-19 hotline to get you the best plan of action. It’s a panic that won’t let you sleep when she tells you that if his symptoms get worse – if he stops responding to the albuterol before four hours have passed and he can have another dose (the thing that triggered the original urgent care visit, so a very possible event), to be precise – he should go to the ER immediately, with a mask on, and you should alert the ER staff of the possibility of the coronavirus.
With the morning will come more things you can do, again, practically and tangibly for your child: antibiotics for an ear infection, albuterol for a cough, tylenol for a fever, hugs and kisses and books and simple foods to soothe a sick but hungry stomach, appointments to make for lab work. You can be with him again, in the light of day, to watch his energy levels and breathing. But in the night, when you both need to sleep, there is nothing to do except pray. And the prayer that seems to me most fitting, when there is fear and a valid reason to fear and your child whom you love is sleeping fitfully across the hall, is the antiphon to the canticle of Simon sung in Evening Prayer:
Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace.
I tend to use field trips and excursions (and even errands!) quite liberally with the kids: as a way to break up a long day, cut through moodiness, provide structure, and create enjoyable and educational experiences. So being stuck at home all day, every day, has been a bit of a challenge – though I’m sure not nearly so much of a challenge as it is for parents accustomed to being away from the children most of the day. I’ve been aiming for one new or different activity each day to break up the routine, and we’ve been diving more deeply into some regular activities as well. For your inspiration, here are a few of the highlights!
The Dome Tent: we have a climbing dome out back, and the boys helped me move it into the lawn and cover it with sheets (using chip clips!) to make a tent! The kids hung out in it, hung upside down in it, and hung in a swing from the center of it (I put the swing up after I took pictures, but it was Aubade’s favorite part). It needed more openings so the breeze could keep it cool in the sun, though 🙂
Water (and mud): with a sprinkler and some pipes, the boys discovered how water pressure can force water up through a vertical pipe, how the water will seep out of any crack when two pipes are joined, and how to make the water spray everywhere by blocking part of the opening and thus increasing the pressure. They also filled their pipes with muds and pretended they were magic mud sticks.
Custom Pancakes: We eat pancakes a lot, but we’ve been eating them even more recently, because I started making them look like letters (for Rondel), numbers (for Limerick), and cute animals (for Aubade)! I love when the kids eat pancakes because my recipe is 100% whole grain with no added sugar and a secret addition of some type of vegetable. These days we’ve been using up the frozen pumpkin and butternut squash from last summer’s harvest, but carrot is also good, as is a half and half blend of spinach and banana (for quite vibrantly green pancakes that are amazing with chocolate chips and walnuts mixed in!)
Lots and lots of reading! All the kids are starting to get excited about reading, and it makes more reading possible when I’m not the only one who can do it (my throat does get tired, and also now we can rotate who is listening so everyone gets a chance to not be just listening). Aubade has memorized Old Hat, New Hat by the Berensteins and likes to read it multiple times a day; Rondel puts so much expression into the words that it’s like listening to a dramatic audiobook with all the added nuance and humor he conveys; and Limerick is beginning to devour everything he sees with the craving of insatiable curiosity and an intensity bordering on perfectionism. We’ve spent hours just reading out loud to each other (I read the entire The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just this week out loud to Rondel, just by way of example…)
Uno: the boys very recently discovered the card game Uno and have been wanting to play it all day every day. I’ve been using it as an incentive, or to give rhythm to the day: I’ll play three games of Uno now, but then I’d like you to exercise your body before the next set of three, or exercise your mind with reading or with math. We talk about the importance of using our minds and bodies and stretching them to do hard things, and then break up those more challenging things with some fun and relaxing Uno games, and it seems to be working well for now.
Leaf Rubbing: To get some outdoor time and for a unique art project, we took a walk around the block collecting interesting-looking leaves as we went. Our neighborhood is rather weedy, so we were able to get a wide variety of leaves while only pilfering a very few more cultivated plants reaching out over sidewalks 🙂 And of course we had some good leaves to use from our own plants also! Once we got back, we laid them out on the counter, covered them with plain printer paper, and rubbed crayons over the paper to generate the impression of the leaves below. Juniper wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, though it was still good, but the Hong Kong orchid and mallow leaves were stunning. And Rondel used black crayon over a longwise half of a wild arugula leaf to make something that resembled a jagged blade.
Costumes: one day, we pulled down the box of old Halloween costumes and had fun dressing up and playing pretend as the various animals and conglomerate creations to be had there. Rondel loves his alligator outfit the most, while Aubade prefers to rotate through all the options (and her princess dresses) rather rapidly…
Between all these things and more (and I have more ideas stockpiled for the next idle moment!), we’ve managed to keep TV time to a minimum without getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the same place for so long. I’ll definitely be glad when the libraries and museums and zoos are open again, but I’m not going to jeopardize the health of my community over boredom or frustration. Instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to creatively connect with my family even more than normal.
I’m linking up with Kelly atThis Ain’t the Lyceum today if you want to join the linkup! She’s posted a few times in the past week or so with helpful and humorous thoughts about isolation and quarantine (with two medically fragile kids, she’s been less complacent about it than a lot of people).
How have you been handling isolation or social distancing? Especially those of you without backyards or easy ways to get time outside, how have you managed to create a sustainable new rhythm of life?
It’s somewhat confusing referring to the current season here in Phoenix. By our position relative to the equator and the sun, it is winter. The deciduous trees, having finally turned color and shed their leaves in early January, also proclaim that it is winter. On the other hand, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom around the valley, heralding the spring. And here in my garden, the harvest is overflowing – dill and cilantro reach higher than my head, the broccoli plants that have put me off grocery store broccoli for life are sprouting countless side heads for the secondary harvest, and the peas are persevering through the late frost to round out the last few weeks of their pod production. I suppose that would be late spring/early summer in most of the country?
But here it’s just the brief unnamed transition between the cool season and the warm season: the final ripening of all the plants that thrive in the chilly winter weather, and the first stirrings of the short-lived beauty that is the spring wildflowers, and the preparations for the summer planting in just over a month.
Now is when some days are cloudy and windy and we have to bundle up well against the cold, layering jackets upon jackets – but now is also when we can spend all day outside, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, climbing and running and imagining and snacking on the bounty of the garden.
In between shelling peas, the kids pretended they were giant spiders and the climbing dome was their web: the teal bars were the sticky threads to catch prey and the grey bars were the non-sticky threads that the spiders could safely travel across. Aubade kept getting her skirt hooked on the handholds but was quite adept at getting herself unstuck by the end of the afternoon 🙂
So whatever this season may be, we are definitely enjoying it!
A few weeks ago my parents and I took the kids down to Tucson to visit the Sonoran Desert Museum. Despite its name, it is not very much like a traditional museum (although it does have an art gallery) – it is part botanical garden, part naturalistic zoo, and part museum. And all of it is exceptional. We were there for over six hours, impressive enough with three littles even before factoring in the 2 hour drive to get there, and we still didn’t get to see or do everything. But here’s a taste of what we did experience!
So many native plants! – The museum irrigates their grounds, so that while the desert there isn’t representative of any exact part of the Sonoran Desert, all the plants that are native to the region can thrive in a smaller, more accessible space. I could have spent the whole day just looking at the plants and reading all the information about them.
The Hummingbird Aviary – While we didn’t visit at the optimal time of year for birds, bees, and butterflies, there were still a lot of hummingbirds zipping around the aviary. All the kids loved looking up into the branches to see if they could spot a bird, and Aubade got especially excited when one flew just over her head and landed near her. The aviary has a large informational sign as well for help in identifying the different species of hummingbird, which I appreciated!
The Desert Bird Aviary – Yes, there are two aviaries at the museum! In this aviary, there is a wide range of different birds – we saw doves, ducks, cardinals, orioles, and quail, and my mom commented that she’d seen even more types on a previous visit at a different time of year. There were places to sit and be still and watch the birds, with water features trickling through the center of the aviary, creating an overall very calm and peaceful atmosphere. We had to be sneaky and peek under bushes to find most of the birds though 🙂
The Animal Shows – Every day, the museum hosts at least one live animal show where a docent will bring in a variety of native Sonoran species and talk about them with an audience. Unfortunately, I had to miss most of the show on the day we went because it was lunch time and Aubade was having a hard time – but Rondel and my dad absolutely loved it. The docent asked for questions and actually meant it, engaged with the audience, and explained things well. Rondel even asked several questions himself, loud and clear! And at the end, a few of the animals stayed up at the front for people to look at more closely and even pet. This was Rondel’s favorite part of the entire day, and I wish I hadn’t missed out on so much of it.
The Animal Exhibits– The exhibits here recreate the natural desert environment, and can often be viewed from multiple levels. All the riparian animals have underwater viewing areas, for example, and cliff-dwelling animals like the ocelot can be seen from two different vantage points. We saw a beaver curled up in his den, and a playful river otter swam around by the window for a long time with Aubade and Limerick. He would swim right up to the glass and around in circles and back again; Aubade kept jumping back giggling saying that he almost touched her and Limerick kept trying to explain to her that the otter couldn’t actually touch her because there was a glass wall in the way 😛
The Raptors – My mom and the kids also saw an ocelot, a fox, and a mountain lion, but I have no pictures of these because I was too distracted by the Harris hawk family winging over the desert. It was such a beautiful and wild thing to see, the hawks on the wing, or perched on top of the saguaros like sentries overlooking the land, glorious and fierce.
The Packrat Playhouse – If you have little kids, this is a great place to stop in and play! The museum limits the number of people allowed in at a time, and restricts the time spent to a half hour, so you’ll probably need to reserve your time in advance and come back later. But after several hours of walking in the sun looking at plants and animals, a little time out of the sun climbing and sliding and tunneling was perfect for the kids.
Honestly, I could keep going. The views are spectacular. The offshoots from the trail with nests for solitary bees or gardens for butterflies are fascinating and beautiful. The day we were there, the museum had a rocks and minerals event going on and we got to learn about a lot of the different rocks that are part of the Sonoran desert – and even take samples home! The reptile and amphibian houses captured Rondel and Limerick’s attention for ages, with so many unique types of snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and more, and a wonderful display describing the life cycle of an amphibian.
In short, if you are anywhere near Tucson and in any way interested in the Sonoran Desert (or birds, or animals, or plants in general), I highly recommend the Sonoran Desert Museum. It can be a bit pricey, but there is a lot to see and do and it is very much worth the cost – just plan on spending the whole day there!
January is really an exceptionally good time to hike the low desert – the sky is clear and brilliant blue, the little cool-weather ground plants are green, the breeze and the shadowed rocks are crisply cool, and the sun is cheery and invigorating. So I took advantage of some extra adult helping hands and decided to attempt a trip to Fat Man’s Pass and the Hidden Valley Tunnel on South Mountain. (Actually, I had intended to go alone with the kids, but my parents wanted to come too and I’m very glad they did!)
There are multiple ways to get to Fat Man’s Pass, but because Limerick is an avid climber I thought we’d try starting at Mormon Trailhead, where the trail climbs steeply upward for 1.3 miles before leveling off and descending to Hidden Valley. I may have underestimated just how steep it was… but the kids did really well! Aubade trekked up almost the entire first leg of the hike on her own two feet, and Limerick charged ahead and even took detours to boulder off on the side.
One of the benefits to hiking so steeply up the side of the mountain was the view gained by such a rapid increase in elevation. We could see out to downtown Phoenix and over to the ASU Tempe campus, even while looking up towards the mountain let us see beautiful desert slopes.
It was definitely helpful to have an adult paired with each child for this trail, however. It was also helpful to carry a lot of water, despite the cool weather, and plenty of snacks for well-timed breaks. Jackets, on the other hand, while comfortable at the trailhead, quickly became just extra weight to carry – hiking in the open sun gets your body warmed up fast!
Towards the top of the mountain, Mormon Trail comes to an end at a junction with National Trail, and there is a turnoff to the left for Hidden Valley Tunnel. While you could turn in here and go through Hidden Valley beginning with the tunnel and ending with Fat Man’s Pass (giving yourself a longer descent back to the trailhead afterwards), we followed National Trail about a quarter of a mile longer to the turnoff for Fat Man’s Pass. After the sun and heat of the trail, the pass feels almost frigid, the eerily smooth rocks around the narrow path very cold to the touch; it is quite refreshing, and the pass itself is really fun to play in. The kids ran back and forth through it for a long time, and we ate a picnic lunch in the shadow of the overhanging rocks behind it.
From Fat Man’s Pass, the trail meanders down through flat sandy washes towards a tumble of rocks through which hikers must clamber or slide. When you approach them, it appears that the trail has reached a dead end, but don’t give up! Going to the left and through an opening in the rocks leads to a series of short slides; going to the right involves a short climb and a trail down to the bottom. I convinced the kids to come with me on the right to show my dad that it was an actual safe trail, but then they saw my mom sliding down the left side and climbed back up so they could go the “fun” way 🙂
The rock barrier between the upper and lower sections of Hidden Valley are really a fun place to climb around – I came with some friends back in college (we must have taken some other trail to get there since I don’t recall either Fat Man’s Pass or Hidden Valley Tunnel) and we spent a lot of time clambering up and down the boulders and joking about it being a great place to pose for an album cover photo. Aubade kept marching up to every tall rock she saw and doing her best to get to the top of it, giving my poor dad much anxiety while being exceedingly cute, oblivious, and self-confident.
When we reached the lower end of Hidden Valley not long after, we found the tunnel filled with other hikers so we didn’t stay long, unfortunately, and I didn’t get any good pictures. It is a really neat place, though – the rocks have made a literal tunnel leading out of the valley, long and thin (though not nearly as narrow as Fat Man’s Pass!) and cool, the rocks again polished slippery smooth.
Then it was back up to National Trail and a short ways to the junction with Mormon Trail, and the long (for tired little kids) descent down the mountain. Every few tenths of a mile there was a trail post with a picture showing how far you were from the bottom or the top of the trail, and Limerick and Rondel took great encouragement from these as their energy wore out – it was a great way to visually confirm that the end was getting closer! Aubade did have to be carried down as she was completely exhausted, and ended up napping on my mom’s back (we had been alternating the carrier – I had it most of the way up without Aubade, and my mom got stuck with it going down. She does have better knees though…).
According to the South Mountain Trail map, the total distance of the loop was about 3.4 miles; according to my mom’s Apple watch tracker, it was 5.5 miles. My guess about the discrepancy is that the trail map measures the flat distance traveled, while the Apple watch measures the actual distance traveled, including the vertical aspect – which was not insignificant on this trail! The hypotenuse of this particular triangle was quite a bit longer than the base 🙂 Either way, it was the longest trail the kids have every hiked, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it with more than one little without help (I could have hiked with Rondel and either one of the others, for instance, most likely, but definitely not all three). However, if you can do it I would encourage you to go for it! Hidden Valley is worth the trek to get there, and the Sonoran desert is beautiful this time of year.
How to get there: from the I-10, exit on Baseline Rd and drive west till 24th Street. Turn left and continue south till the road turns left and becomes Valley View Dr. The trailhead is to the right very shortly after. It does fill up quickly on weekends, but there is roadside parking available on 24th Street. There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead,so come prepared! Mormon Trail is the only trailhead, and the path is well-marked the entire way except through Hidden Valley itself.
Today we celebrated Aubade’s birthday! She’s only just 3, and yet her birth already seems so far away; the time before her, scarcely imaginable.
She is entering into a very sparkly and colorful phase these days – her favorite clothes are fancy dresses with lots of pouf and sparkle, she loves fairy dolls and rainbow unicorns, and her favorite movie is Cinderella – but she is no less fierce for all that. She will run around the house with her brothers playing games where at least one of them is an evil villain or a ferocious monster or a brave warrior; her little dolls (with names like Vanilla Ice Cream and Sparkle Cake) will fight away giant poisonous snakes with stingers on their tails (courtesy of Limerick’s imagination); and she tries her hardest to climb, run, or jump high and fast enough to keep up with the boys.
She is definite about what she wants: she is confident in her own opinions and makes sure everyone who might need to knows what she thinks! When I asked her about her birthday cake, for instance, she told me she wanted it to be pink and purple and red and blue, and to be little enough for her to eat it all by herself (Limerick, on the other hand, was so overwhelmed by the decision process that he told me he didn’t want any cake, or any party for that matter – it is crazy how different two siblings can be).
She brings a unique vibrance and energy to our home, dancing and singing and sometimes screaming her way through life, full of ideas and the motivation to get things done: to play pretend with her toys and her brothers, to listen to her favorite books (Henry and Mudge), to climb up Daddy and get flipped upside down, to comb Grandma’s hair with her fingers, to pull out all the craft supplies and make a picture, and more. I am so grateful to get to watch her grow, and to have the opportunity to love and guide her along the way.