Posted in family life

when a boy turns four

When a boy and his big brother have been singing happy birthday to all their toys for four months straight, and it is finally his birthday and he is going to be four now – 

 That is a big deal.

That is cause for delighted giggling, and for concentrated practice with the little sister so that she no longer calls him three. It is reason to curl up into a cozy ball and snuggle all squirmy with Mommy and Daddy.

Turning four means a cake shaped like a four, with four candles on top, and his whole face lighting up with excitement because the cake is a number, and it is his number now!

Turning four means opening the most wonderful new book, one he never even imagined, in which prime factors and counting and modern art meet, and it hardly even matters that there are other unwrapped presents on the bench beside him because this, this book, has to be the best thing ever.

Turning four means getting to spend the afternoon at Grandma’s house, and swim in the hot tub, and choose what food everyone will eat for dinner, and generally spend the whole day enjoying himself.

And it is such a happy thing to be able to give him, a day of joy for his birthday, a day all about him, when he is so often the one who thinks of others first. He is the one who, seeing his sister’s favorite toys lying around, will bring them to her; he is the one who notices what his siblings are building with the Legos and finds pieces that they could use; he is the one who is always willing to share his cup or his snack with someone else who is hungry or thirsty; he is the one who will voluntarily take apart his flake creations so that his brother can have the color flakes he wants.

At four (and really at three, since a day doesn’t make much of a difference), he is keenly intelligent, deeply enamored with the world of numbers (he has broken down in tears because we had to stop reading a math book at bedtime; he invents his own simple word problems to ask us; he can multiply any two single digit numbers together and loves to skip count with chalk on the driveway to see the patterns in the series of multiples), and beginning to read; but it is his attention to the small details of his siblings’ lives, and the sweet care he gives them as a result, that mean more to me. And so just as I nurture his academic strengths with number games and puzzles to solve and books to read, I try to nurture his budding compassion and sensitivity by pouring into him connection and love. I hold him and when he looks at me I look straight back into his eyes because I know that is significant for him. We play the silly and sweet games of early childhood, meaningless save for the connections formed.

Because ultimately? No matter how intelligent he is or what he does with that intelligence, he needs to be assured of his parents’ unconditional love for him more than anything else. Maybe because he has this talent he needs that assurance even more – he already shows me that he has perfectionist tendencies regarding himself. But that assurance has to happen on his level. And he is four. He has just turned four, after all!

So for now? We are – we strive to be – his safe haven, his rich soil, his clean air, so he can grow in wisdom and knowledge. Happy fourth birthday, my Limerick.

Posted in family life

the rainy remnants of rosa

The Phoenix area was hit by the remnants of Hurricane Rosa, a category 4 hurricane, this week. My dad, who is from Miami, was going around humorously asking everyone if they were ready for the hurricane, but of course by the time it got to us it was just a big rainstorm. Still! A big rainstorm in October isn’t common, and this storm actually gave us the rainiest October day in Arizona recorded history (which goes back, in terms of weather records, to 1895). Even crazier, of the top ten wettest days in Arizona, this was number eight and was the only one that my kids have been alive for (except for Rondel, who was just over one year old when we had the wettest recorded day in Arizona history).

 

So what do you do when there is more rain coming down than you have ever seen in one day in your entire life?

You drop everything else and immerse yourself in it, of course!

My two adventurers were out in their pajamas by 7am (I mean, why get dressed only to get immediately soaked and need to change?), and must have stayed out for at least an hour before they decided they needed to eat breakfast. And after breakfast they were right back out in it, with Limerick this time (but in their underwear, so no publicly shareable pictures unfortunately). Limerick found the big hole in the yard that was completely submerged and hidden, pulled the toy car out of it, and measured how deep it was on his legs (almost to his knees); Rondel pushed Aubade around the yard in the rescued car until it got stuck in the mud.

I learned that one of my children likes to get extremely muddy, one likes to get extremely wet and can handle the mud along with it, and the third somehow manages to stay almost clean even in a mud puddle and prefers to remain at least somewhat dry.

Aubade is, obviously, my mudlover… she is completely in her element when she is outside getting dirty, and I hope she never loses that. Limerick gets cold so easily that he preferred to sit just inside the house or under the patio overhang, learning how to multiply two-digit numbers with my mom while I hung out with the mud babies 😛 But we all loved it – and there is rain in the forecast again next week so maybe we will get a repeat!

Is rain a normal occurrence or a special event where you live? Do you love it or tolerate it?

 

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: horton creek

When I worked full-time, I would seasonally find myself walking back to my car at dusk past a row of orange trees in bloom. If you have never had the privilege of smelling orange blossoms, I feel sorry for you; sweet and sensual with a sharp almost spicy bite underneath, their perfume would flood the evening air, overshadowing the smells of asphalt and car fumes and cooking dinners in the nearby apartments. There aren’t many other plants whose scent is quite so powerful and intense (I believe lilacs are, though I haven’t lived in a place where they grow since I was very young).

Here in Arizona, one of the only other such plants that I can think of is the ponderosa pine. While there are many different species of pine, including several native to northern Arizona, the ponderosa has a very distinct scent: like honey and vanilla, with a whiff of hazelnut, sweet and heavy and warm, with only that faint nuttiness in the background in place of any other bitterness or spice. When the trees are healthy and hydrated, the sun’s warmth seems to pull the odors out into the air (or maybe keep them from blowing away), giving the whole forest a unique character. If orange blossoms make me think of a tower room with sunset-colored hangings, blowing in the breeze of an open window, where a couple is about to share in each other’s mysteries, then the smell of the ponderosa bark lingering in the air reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s description of Perelandra, where the outside air among the trees has a warmth and golden richness that our crisp cool world is lacking.

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image is of a ponderosa pine, looking up the trunk toward the sun-illuminated branches. They are very tall trees.

If my feeble attempts at describing their aroma have managed to convince you that you need to immerse yourself in the ponderosas at least once in your life, then Horton Creek Trailhead should be on your shortlist. Ponderosas are scattered all over northern Arizona, but they must be particularly concentrated here because their scent nearly overpowered me when I stepped out of the car, in contrast to Ellison Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (which have more of the typical clear, clean feeling in the air).

Parking for the trail is a short walk away from the actual trailhead, and two small creeks actually run near each other (and eventually join up, I believe) near the parking area, which led to some confusion on our part. So at first, instead of heading down the actual Horton Creek trailhead, we wandered up Tonto Creek along an elk trail and through the water. The grass was consistently up to Aubade’s chest and in some places was higher than Limerick; the creek meandered through level ground in places instead of the typical steep canyon; and blackberry bushes threatened to overtake the entire western side of the creek.

All that to say, it was wild and overgrown and absolutely beautiful.

A short ways up the creek (short by the road; long by way of elk trails with an 18 month old who won’t walk because the grass is too tall) there is a short waterfall with a small pool at the bottom; just to the west of the falls is a path up to the road, and at the base of the falls below that trail is one of the largest blackberry thickets I have ever seen. We were a bit late for blackberries – I found about 10 ripe ones within reach – but I’m thinking that sometime in early September the bushes should just be covered with berries.

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Being just a bit too late for the blackberries also meant that we were just a bit too early for the fall colors; only the sumac and a few other isolated leaves were beginning to deepen into red. Coming from the low desert, we still got quite excited about it, and we’ll probably be going up north more often over the next month or so to catch more of the changing autumn colors.

After we reached the waterfall, my mom hiked a bit further with the boys while Aubade nursed (teething plus the long grass had made her miserable – I was so glad to have another adult with me!), and we found an open area near the creek to play for a while.

After that, we went downstream to the waterfall again and up to the road and back to the parking area for lunch. At that point, my mom wanted to find out where an actual trail was; she had hiked here before and was confused as to why the creek seemed so different than she remembered. So she explored a bit further down the road and discovered that we had actually been on Tonto Creek and never made it to the Horton Creek trailhead – where there was a very well-kept and walkable trail.

Since the boys still had enough energy, we decided to check out the real trail as well! It turned out to be wide and sandy, leading up the high ground between Tonto Creek and Horton Creek. Horton Creek was mostly dry at the beginning of the hike, unlike Tonto, although other hikers told us there was running water a mile or so down the trail; it was still incredibly green and lush, however. Aubade had a much better time on this trail since she didn’t have to push her way through the grass 🙂

If we go back to Horton Creek, I would try to do the designated trail first, while everyone has energy and the temperature is lower, and then play in Tonto Creek after lunch. And I do think this is a spot worth going back to – there is a lot left unexplored, and I have the feeling that things change a lot here seasonally, with berries, changing leaves, and fluctuating water levels. Without another adult I would be loathe to attempt more than the well-marked Horton Creek trail, however! It was a challenge getting everyone through the undergrowth around Tonto, though worth it for the hidden beauty.

To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.

When to go: For maximum water flow, go in spring after the snow melt or during the monsoons. For blackberries, go anytime from late August through mid-September. For fall colors, go in October. And I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m guessing that April or May would be best for wildflowers 🙂

 

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – solo parenting, friends, and broken AC in the summer

It’s been a different sort of week over here! For the Seven Quick Takes link-up with Kelly, here are some of the highlights:

  1. Limerick has been so tired, every day. We went to the zoo on Monday at his request, and he was so tired that he asked to go home every 30 minutes. He napped on Sunday and Monday (which he never does), and has been so tired in the evenings that he struggles to get through swim lessons despite loving and enjoying them. I don’t know if he just isn’t sleeping well at night, or if he has some sort of vitamin/mineral deficiency (thinking about iron specifically). He also hasn’t been eating much, but that isn’t a new thing; compared to the other two he has never been a big eater. His four-year well check is in just two months so for now my plan is to try to get him in bed earlier and facilitate naps when possible.
  2. Paul went up to Prescott for his first business-related trip this week! He even got to deliver a short presentation at the conference! Aubade is definitely missing him though, and while it sometimes seems like the boys don’t care whether he is here or not, Rondel has told me several times that he wishes Daddy were back. There’s something special about getting to share everything with him at the end of the day when he comes from work.
  3. Corollary to take 3, I’ve been doing bedtime for all three kids instead of splitting the responsibility with Paul; the first night Aubade got to fall asleep on her own while I put the boys down, and the second night the boys got to fall asleep on their own while I put Aubade down. I can’t recall any previous night where I have left their bedroom and they have fallen asleep without tears or trying to follow me out, but this time they were out in less than fifteen minutes without any complaints. It was amazing (and so needed, as Aubade was having a really hard time).
  4. We had a playdate with a new family I met online through an unschooling group! It was really neat to watch Rondel running around with a kid around his same age, both of them being monsters and hand-flapping and trying to climb crazy rope ladders and getting scared and not really talking to each other but definitely playing together. A couple weeks ago a younger girl we know from church made a comment about Rondel chewing on his shirt (it’s one of his stims, and a pretty innocuous one honestly) and that being kind of weird or gross; this new friend didn’t see a problem with it at all (and in fact I noticed her experiment with chewing on the collar of her shirt as well). So that was also really encouraging to me, as I’m trying to find friends among whom Rondel can fit in while being himself.
  5. Random thought of the week – why do so many people make such a big deal out of autistic kids lining up their toys? I mean, is it really so strange? I think some behaviorists see it as “abnormal” play, or play reflecting a lack of imagination, but I don’t know how accurate that is. I know when Rondel lines up his toys, it is usually because they are on some sort of migration. I also know that my mom used to line up toy cars and drive them on parade as a child, and that my daughter likes to line her toys to display them – and they are both neurotypical. There is just something so nice about a line, especially as opposed to a pile…

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    image is of a blond toddler sitting on a curb against a wall, head turned towards a line of toy Triceratops also on the curb. She was very particular about only selecting the Triceratops from the dinosaur box…

     

  6. Both boys mastered the “l” sound and the “tw” sound this week! When they are counting, eleven and twelve come out far clearer than before. I am so proud of the effort they’ve put into it, and they are so pleased with their newfound ability 🙂 Rondel still has moments where he doesn’t want to try to say sounds the correct way, because it’s hard and he thinks he can’t do it, but he tries often enough that he’s improving. Limerick tries no matter what, and he’s improving in leaps and bounds. Hopefully soon they’ll have their pronouns completely straightened out as well – it really confuses strangers and other children when they use “you” to refer to themselves.
  7. We had one random day of rainy cool weather this week – the high was in the mid-80s instead of around 100 where it has been hovering – and very conveniently our AC decided to break that evening after everything was cooled down already. It was rather dramatic: I was out back playing with the boys after sunset, when we heard a loud pop and saw sparks on the roof. I tried to turn on the AC to test it (and to bring the temperature down from 83 to 80 for bed), and nothing happened. It turns out a poor-quality wire had been rubbing on a piece of metal long enough that the insulation wore away and the humidity in the air enabled an arc to form between the two, shorting the wire and blowing a fuse. Fortunately, since the highs are going back up to 100, it was a quick and easy fix and we had AC by the time the external temperatures reached 90. But, as the AC repairman warned us, it is an old unit that has had some shoddy repair work done in the past, so we’ll most likely need to replace it in the next 2-3 years. Ah home ownership 🙂

I hope you all had a great week, whether it fell into the swing of your normal routines or stretched them a bit out of shape! And I hope that you are finding friends – or keeping friends – who love you and accept you just the way you are. Those types of friends can be hard to find, and they really are as precious as silver and gold.

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 7

This week the boys have been practicing writing numbers and letters on their own!

Rondel has always struggled a bit with fine motor skills, but recently he has been developing a lot more control and finesse, so he’s been starting to show more interest in actually writing things himself; he has a tendency to flip letters and numbers around when writing and reading, and left-to-right directionality doesn’t come naturally, but his writing is getting noticeably better the more he does it.

Limerick, on the other hand, was obsessed with letters at 18 months and could write rough approximations of all of them in sidewalk chalk at that age. His handwriting now is quite clear with chalk, and a bit more wobbly but still legible with pen or pencil (I think the thicker chalk is easier for him to control than the narrower options). The only number he consistently reverses is the 6, and he only occasionally needs to verify which side the “1” should be on when writing the number “10.” He can also write much more quickly than Rondel.

Despite these differences of background and innate ability, I’ve never heard the boys compare themselves or their writing (and I try not to either, when they are around to hear it!). They are both just doing their best, continually learning and improving, excited about each other’s accomplishments and encouraging each other to try new things.

Anyway, we got together and over a couple days drew a human-sized numbered game board on the driveway, taking turns writing the numbers until Limerick completely took over around 78 and continued all the way to 196. (Since then we’ve washed the driveway off and completely covered it with different variations on number lines and letters multiple times… it’s all he wants to do whenever the ground is cool enough to tolerate).

We also discovered a free app this week called ABC Kids that offers alphabet tracing games; I didn’t think the kids would be interested, but Rondel has spent hours carefully tracing the letters, both upper and lower case, in the correct directions and with the recommended motions, which I can only imagine is good for his fine motor development as well as his familiarity with the letters and handwriting skills. (The app supposedly offers phonics as well, but since we can’t get the sound to work it doesn’t, functionally at least. But it is great for tracing, for matching lower and upper case letters, and for identifying words beginning with each letter.)

So that has been our focus this week! Writing, writing, and more writing, in all different media! Maybe we’ll try finger-painting some letters and numbers next 🙂

Posted in family life

settling in

Sometimes your neighbors courteously allow you to feel like you might be out of the city and away from the desert, at least when you look just at their house:

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picture is of a pop up camper in an overgrown yard behind a chain link fence, with a large tree off to the side and the sun setting behind the camper

Sometimes it is just too hot for sidewalk chalk even through the sun is already setting behind the aforementioned camper, and the hose needs to make an appearance instead:

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picture is of a blond baby in a diaper smiling at the camera, next to a blond boy in a dark T-shirt drinking out of the hose

Sometimes the best way to play with a hose is to try to blow or spit the water as far as you can (and maybe drink some along the way since it’s just so hot and dry):

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picture is of a blond baby holding the hose up to her mouth and blowing the water out in front of her; following picture is of a toddler in a dark shirt spitting water from the hose far into the air (three images in sequence)

Sometimes when you notice Mom is taking pictures, the best response is to be goofy for the camera:

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the picture is of a toddler boy playing with the hose; behind him and slightly to one side a blond baby is sticking her tongue out sideways and lifting one foot high into the air to stomp back down

Sometimes, once you’ve cooled off, a wandering urge takes over and you just have to walk, and walk, and walk, all around the block, despite your bare feet and lack of clothing, and examine all the weeds growing in the sidewalk (we can call that “urban nature study”, I think 🙂 ) :

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picture is of a blond baby in a diaper sitting on the sidewalk examining a large weed

Sometimes, it is just good to be outside, together, finally starting to feel at home in a place again.

Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – finding community and playing board games

I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum again today for seven quick takes! I’ve had a bit of writer’s block this week and having a format laid out for me helps get the words flowing again 🙂

  1. I’ve been feeling a lot more isolated lately. Rondel (and even Limerick) are older than the kids who show up to the weekly church playgroup, all of their friends from church are in school or therapy most of the time, and I’m having trouble finding a homeschool group that is relaxed enough to accommodate our family’s needs. I mean, field trips and classes aren’t going to help the boys make friends, and park days where the kids are expected to play away from the adults is going to be hard with the little kids (and Rondel’s tendency to zone out and lose track of where he is and how to find his way back to me). And honestly, I don’t need a whole group, just one or two families who can walk through life with us right now.
  2. Sometimes I think our family falls into so many different/radical/tiny niche categories that I will never find anyone who really gets it on all levels. There’s the large “autism family” blanket – but oh wait, they don’t know how to handle an autistic parent, and they tend to support ABA therapies that are described as abusive by a lot of autistic adults who have experienced them (perks of an adult diagnosis here…). There’s the homeschool blanket – but we are using ESA funds from the state to help pay for speech therapy and curriculum, which puts us in a special legal category, and is apparently reason enough for several of the larger state groups to exclude us. And we’re Christian of course, but I’m uncomfortable in a lot of the Christian homeschooling circles (they can swing fundamentalist and Calvinist), and I want my kids to be exposed to the diversity of ideas and backgrounds that a secular group might offer – but I still want them to know (and hopefully believe) what I believe to be true about God. I could try to get all the pieces in different places but that is so much socializing and I don’t think I can handle that many people/groups/acquaintances!
  3. Mostly I just want Rondel to find a best friend. He told me he would like to play more with other kids but he ends up just watching them and doing his own thing a lot of the time because he isn’t sure how to join in. And I don’t know how to help him 😦 I just sort of clung to my best friend through most of childhood and depended on her to navigate social events. So I keep hoping he will meet someone to be that kind of friend… if you are ever wanting to pray for our family, that would be at the top of my list right now.
  4. In other news, we have been making more and more board games until they seem to be everywhere. We have number boards up to 100, 195, 223, and 550 (Limerick keeps requesting more and more numbers with smaller and smaller squares, but I think 550 is the limit even using our smallest game pieces). We have a traditional path-format board game with colored squares, a spiral snake with colored squares, a loop board game with the letters of the alphabet, and most recently a sting ray-shaped board with a colored path twisting along his body. My favorite game is called “LEGO Monsters” and we play it on path or spiral snake boards: each square gets one or two LEGO pieces of the same color as the square, and if a player’s piece lands on a square they get to collect the pieces and use them to build a monster. We all start with a head and eyes to make sure we aren’t missing those crucial elements, and we end up with some crazy creations! This game also has the advantage of removing the winning/losing element 🙂
  5. While I may get tired of playing the board games all day long, I have to admit they were the cause of the least stressful visit we have ever had to the pediatrician. Usually the boys have a lot of trouble keeping their hands off of things, leaving the light on, staying quiet when the doctor is talking, and so on – but this time they each brought a board game and were able to play contentedly even though we had to wait quite a while (not due to any fault of the doctor; Aubade has a UTI and we had to wait for her to pee so they could test it). Even the doctor complimented them on how well they behaved, which is definitely a first at this office!
  6. Another side effect of the board games is that Limerick is beginning to internalize a lot of the numbers and their relationships. He can do quite a bit of addition now without having to count to make sure, especially with numbers 1-6 (thank you dice) but also with larger numbers because of his number boards. It’s neat to see his understanding of the numbers deepen – when I watch him think about the sum of his three dice, for instance, or about what number he’ll be moving to after adding his roll to his current position, I can almost see him manipulating the numbers in his head, breaking them up and recombining them, becoming friends with them.
  7. And finally, we have been counting. Counting and counting and counting. We drove to church and Rondel counted the whole time drive and all the way to Sunday School (he made it to 1025). We drove to speech therapy and Rondel almost cried when we asked him to take a break from counting for his appointment and pick up again afterwards (poor guy – it is hard to stop when you’re in the middle of something and going strong!). I’m not sure what he likes about it, since he isn’t nearly as in love with numbers as Limerick, but hey, he’s never going to forget those numbers now!

How has your week been? Do you have tips for making connections and building community? How about any favorite board games (non-competitive games in particular)?