Rondel had been asking us for months when we would get an animal of our own (seemingly taking it for granted that someday we would), and slowly things fell into place for us to be able to buy a pair of green anole lizards. Rondel and I talked about different types of animals and researched how to take care of them; Paul took him to pet stores to see the animals in person; and so we settled on lizards as an acceptable option. Paul found a tank and lamp at Savers; Rondel made a hide from a wooden puzzle box; I watched YouTube videos with Rondel about setting up the tank so the lizards could be comfortable and safe.
And finally, after days of Rondel asking us when, when, when? – we finally brought them home.
Aubade and Rondel were immediately entranced with them, pulling up chairs by the bookshelf and watching them explore their new home (it looks a bit bare in these first few pictures, but we’ve since added more vines and climbing sticks).
After a few days of helping them to adjust, and the addition of twenty little crickets to the tank (buying those at the pet store was definitely a new experience for me… the employee just reached into this big bin of crickets and started shaking them into a bag and they were hopping everywhere!), Rondel was able to hold them, one at a time, to his great delight. While the lizards were not sure about being handled at first, they seem to have become a lot more comfortable with Rondel, and he is definitely comfortable with them. He asks if he can take them out at least 3-4 times every day, and plays with them longer and longer each time. At this point he is able to gently lift one from the tank (I remove and replace the cover), remain calm and gentle while letting it climb all over him (he’s getting good at directing where they climb, also, though they both still try to get to the center of his upper back when they can), retrieve it if it hops off of him onto the floor, and gently return it to the tank when he is done.
I am greatly impressed.
He also keeps an eye on the temperature and humidity gauges, and knows how to mist the tank through the cover if the humidity is below the recommended range.
In short, especially for a five year old, he is showing himself to be quite responsible and very natural with the lizards… and he has already started asking when we will get more animals! If things go his way we will end up living in a zoo – and he would be such a happy little person, so I suppose more animals will be inevitable at some point. But for now we will just enjoy these two green additions to our home.
Rondel is not exactly a stereotypical picky eater, but he is quite particular when it comes to food, for clear sensory-related reasons. Texture and temperature are probably the most important aspect of a food for him – his favorite foods tend to be either frozen or in the dry-to-crunchy range. So he can be quite happy eating some tortilla chips (sometimes he’ll tolerate them with melted cheese) alongside a bowl of frozen mixed veggies, he loves toast and frozen blueberries for breakfast, he prefers crackers to fig bars, he only enjoys chicken nuggets if the outer coating isn’t at all “mushy”, and he won’t eat any fresh fruit at all (except perhaps melon in the summer or pear in the fall) after having decided his primary previously acceptable fruit (apple) made his mouth feel funny. He will eat noodles and potatoes in moderation, but not consistently. Mexican refried beans and rice are acceptable, but runnier beans and rice dishes (I have a few really good ones) are not. I don’t think he has ever consented to eat soup or oatmeal, and the thought of sweet potato or avocado is enough to make him emotionally upset. Also, having a favorite food to accompany a merely tolerable one seems to help by resetting or calming the tactile receptors in his mouth.
I had never really given much thought to picky eating prior to having kids, because I tend to be a more adventurous eater, but I am realizing now that I have my own sensory quirks. I heavily prefer foods where each bite will have a variety of textures, or where the level of spiciness is enough to leave a burn, or where dedicated chewing may be required – so in a peanut butter sandwich I will use crunchy peanut butter and orange marmalade and toast the bread if at all possible; I attempt to make even normal bland foods more bold by adding extra seasonings (cayenne in the mac and cheese, double the recipe’s amount of every single spice for spice cookies); and I enjoy fairly tough meat but can only rarely handle creamy soup.
The appearance or smell of a food can also cause an overwhelming or challenging sensory reaction. Rondel reacts quite strongly to anything that looks mushy or gooey (like yogurt or banana); I recoil from unevenly bumpy foods (I avoided looking at peeled bananas for at least a year as a child). Rondel can be bothered by the smell of the food other people are eating or even by food that he enjoys eating (which I have only observed in myself during pregnancy – I notice smells quite well but am not usually bothered by them), but we’ve found that lighting a candle on the table makes things significantly better for him.
Interestingly enough, I have also recently noticed that eating painfully spicy food actually helps lower my anxiety levels, and temporarily decreases my reliance on other stims. I’m guessing it is similar for Rondel, and may be part of why he’s been a bit pickier and more wild lately as we are out of both tortilla chips and frozen blueberries. It makes me wish some of his earlier oral stims were still helpful for him – he had been able to translate overt licking of his hands and arms into chewing a wooden necklace, and it made a big difference for him in more stimulating environments especially – but he hasn’t shown much interest in them since this summer. I was beginning to think he would take after my grandmother, who still surreptitiously chews on her hands to stim! And who knows, maybe he will 🙂 in my experience, stims can ebb and flow over time, even if some are more enduring or central.
In the meantime, we’ll keep on freezing our yogurt into creamy cold dots, stocking our house with plenty of whole-grain bread for toast, lighting our candle at dinner, and continuing to try new foods in hope that some of them will cooperate with his unique blend of sensory cravings and aversions!
We have been learning about writing letters and sending them in the mail!
Rondel has been coloring pictures by the handful (although not finishing them all), and he wanted to send some of them to the people he loves that live far away. So he has been learning about how to write letters by dictating to me the things he wants to say, and we’ve been tucking a letter and a picture into an envelope and mailing it off. It turns out that writing is a lot different than talking; I’ve been writing for so long that I had kind of forgotten, but when you are communicating with someone who can’t see you or what you’re talking about, and who can’t ask clarifying questions in real time, you have to use words in a different way than when those perks of conversation are available. So Rondel has been figuring out how to word things for a letter vs. a conversation, which is pretty neat.
He’s also been learning about addresses and the mail system – how does the mail man know who Grandpa Bob is? How do they find his house to bring the letter there? What do all those numbers and letters mean on the outside of the envelope? And so on. Rondel’s first question was actually about why we needed an address on the envelope, so I had to explain to him that the mail man here in Arizona who will pick up the letter doesn’t know his Grandpa Bob and wouldn’t know what state to send it to 🙂 I think he is starting to understand it, and it is a good step towards learning his own address and understanding why that is important information to know.
So far he has only sent pictures to his aunt, his great-grandma, and his great-grandpa – but I think if he could think of more recipients he would send pictures to others as well, especially if there were a chance of getting a letter in reply. Mail is so exciting – you never know when something special may surprise you!
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?
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 🙂