Thursday, July 10, 2014

Like a cat stuck in a tree: Why play places are a bad idea

    As soon as I saw the commercial I cringed inwardly, Mario and his cohorts racing merrily, a McDonalds sign emblazoned in the background. My older boys have been on a big video game kick, their favorite being anything to do with that little Italian plummer. The minute the commercial aired they we're nagging, "Can we go to McDonald?! Can we get a happy meal?" We make the trip to McDonalds only a couple of times a year. Usually only when the toy being offered is so alluring that even I cannot deny a trip will be inevitable. Like the Halloween buckets or in the case of today a Mario riding a go cart combining two if their greatest joys video games and hot wheels.
    McDonalds is not a treat we have often in our house for the obvious junk food related reasons of course but also a few sub-reasons. Number one: For the price you pay for three happy meals and whatever I decide to order you can easily go to the store prepare your own hamburgers and take everyone to Dollar Tree and pick out a toy that will be enjoyed for the same amount of time. Number two: The play place has become a place of dread for me. Ever since Cody at three years old got stuck inside,was to scared to go down the slide and I had to recruit a set of responsible looking nine year olds to retrieve him I have not looked at it the same way. Then finally and most importantly Number three: You never know which Cullen you are going to get. He could be happy and sweet, play happily in the play place eat all his food and leave without a fuss. Or you could get the hostile Cullen. The one who refuses to eat a bite of food and throws his toy at you and then trees himself in the playhouse and refuses to come down as he did today.
   We started out good, he played nice but when it was time for him to come out and eat he was reluctant to leave. I finally lured him out and he ate all his food and then went back to the playhouse. The play place at the McDonalds in our town is fairly unique. It looks like a giant treehouse, with the ladder part being a tree trunk and a little sitband observation area being the top of the tree. Then there is a treehouse connected to it and a curvy slide to get down again. Cullen decided to camp out in the top of the tree and would not move. When it was time to go I called for him and he would not move, then I told his brothers to retrieve him and he kicked and screamed so violently they were forced to abandon their efforts. I tried to intervene and call out all manner if tempting things to him. "Cullen get ice cream!" "No! Ice cream-ah" he responded back. "Cullen mommy buy new bubbles!" "Bubbles! I not Bubbles! Play! Stay!" "Cullen we got to go! Please!" "Go! I no! Bubbles! Ice cream! No no!" We argued back and forth for a while. I was debating climbing inside to get him but the inside if the tree was narrow and twisting and obviously not meant for an adult. I could just see the headlines: "Local Chubby woman stuck inside McDonald s play place" how embarrassing would it be to have a bunch of firemen have to extract you from a plastic tree?
  My husband however being a man of action decided he would chance being stuck in a tree like Winnie the Pooh and climbed inside and extracted a very upset Cullen. He was screaming and kicking and the whole (yet thankfully small) population if the McDonalds play place were staring at us. A mixture of confusion and pity etched on their faces.
    So I have added McDonald to the list of places I am afraid to go to with him. On the list already is the laundromat, Chuck E Cheese and any and all shops that sell expensive glass doodads.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Boy from Mars

   This might be controversial to say but sometimes I feel like Cullen does not live on our planet. His body might be here in the room with us but his spirit is sowing high above us in planes of existence we can only imagine. Sometimes when he speaks a sentence to me that I cannot understand I imagine he is speaking martian or some other language he has learned in his travels.
  Then sometimes he is so present that it gives me glimmers of hope. Today was one of those days were he was very I tune to his surroundings. I was making chore charts for the boys and he came over to me and asked "paper?". This is very unusual for him most of the time he just grabs what he wants and does not think to ask first. I gave him some paper and some markers and he drew a large circle and then to smaller circles inside and said " eyes" then he drew a curvy line and said "mouth" and finely three lines on the top of the circle and said "hair". I could barely contain my excitement " Very pretty Cullen a face!" then he scribbled all over it with wide curving lines before I could get it from him.  We worked together for a while in silence then he began saying some of his ABC's. He says them funny he will say "An A no A, A B no B" he does this alot . Sometimes when I put him down for bed he will go through the whole alphabet this way then start on shapes. "A square no square". I noticed though he was saying the letters of his name " a c no a c a u no a u a l no a l" I looked at his paper and he and written his whole name all by himself. At school he has worked on thus but they draw the dotted lines for him and he fills them in. This was completely unguided and in prompted which is where he does his best work.
     I gave Cullen my old IPod touch recently and he absolutely loves it. He is very good at the game angry birds and scoops. I thought he was just mashing buttons at first but then I say he was actually playing and getting pretty good at it. He also likes to play the music on it and chase his brothers around playing Katy Perry's California Girls.
   When they read me his test results and told me his IQ was on the low range it was hard to hear. But they also said there was no proper means to test him. I know he knows so much more than he shows.
Cullen's shapes

His name written with no guide

A face scribbled over
  Somewhere somehow these nuggets of information had gotten through to him. It makes me wonder how much more his getting through how much more could he show us and tell us if we could get him on our planet more often.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Call of the Wild

 Summer is now upon us and after the lengthy and extra cold winter we are all happy about it. Cullen seems to be the happiest of all of us about the turn in the weather and the opportunities to play outside.
  Cullen loves to be in nature, nothing makes him happier than to be out in the sunshine. When I take him to the river by our house he will happily sit in the water splashing and throwing rocks for as long as he is allowed. When we went to the beach I have never seen him more content than when he laid down in the sand dug his hands in and chilled.
This summer he as been taking every chance he gets to go outside, lately when he is not supposed to. In some ways he is like a cat you want them to be inside and snuggle up on the couch with you but all they want to do is roam.
  In our house there is a sliding glass door that leads to the porch and freedom. Cullen learned how to open the door and get outside last year. The door also as a deadbolt and I have to keep it locked or he will sneak outside. It would not be so bad, we have a yard that is completely fenced in but sometimes he us not happy with the parameters of our yard and tries to hop the fence for further freedom. The last couple weeks he has learned a new trick to get outside.
  Our home came equipped with a doggie door carved into the front wall. Much to small for our doggie to squeeze through but just the right size for a Cullen. It has a latching mechanism with a flap but he has figured out the latch and removes the flap and scoots outside. The first time he did it I was in a cold panic I could not find him anywhere. I was doing housework and I had deadbolted the door because he likes to go outside. His brothers were playing Lego Batman and when they play the game together a marching band made up of clowns could go through the room and they would not notice. When I put on my headphones Cullen was in his room playing with his cars. When I took them off to check on them Cullen was no where to be found. The sliding door still deadbolted, the kitchen door had not been budged as I was in there the whole time. Then I noticed the doggie door that I never pay attention too and the plastic gaurd was off and laying at Colton feet. I faced to the yard and looked all over starting to panic again til I found him in the sandy part of the yard scooping dirt into his dump truck with his shovel still in his truck jammies covered in dirt.
   I worry about him wandering away constantly,  whenever he feels like doing something he does it.  If he were playing outside and saw a butterfly go down the street he would not hesitate to hop the fence and follow it. I wish I trusted enough to let him outside as he wanted. As nice and small as my town is all it takes is watching one investigation discovery that starts out with "It was a quiet southern town, hardly any crime, until...." To make you want to lock your children inside.
   So I question if I am being an overprotective mother by not letting him go outside with out me there to watch him. Should I let his wild side run free and let him play outside as long as he likes or am I doing the right thing?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Fun'n

  Well here we are again with another gap in my posting, but I have a good reason! Summer is upon us and between getting the boys out of school and trying to adjust Cullen's schedule that we worked so hard to cement for school to adjust for the summer months.
   Cullen graduated preschool and I could not have been more proud of him. At the ceremony he was so well behaved and sat on a teachers lap through the whole thing with no interruptions.
   I have been trying to keep his routine pretty normal getting him up at the same time each morning and making sure breakfast is on the table to minimize tantrum risk. I gave also been trying to fill our days with activities because an idle Cullen us not a good thing.
   Our first week out of school we were lucky enough to have Nina (grandma) and Aunt Stacy and the cousins come to our neck of the woods for a visit. A visit from them is always met with much excitement from everyone. The first day we walked around Asheville which was not really Cullen's cup of tea. He is a tactile child he wants to touch everything, in fact I would go as far as to say he has not fully processed what something is until he has touched it, This hands in approach was not looked upon kindly by the shopkeepers of the hippy shops and we were even told very unkindly to leave one shop before he had touched a thing. That led us to seek out some more kid friendly amusements an landed us at Fun Depot. Fun Depot is like a Chuck E Cheese but better because it offers laser tag ,mini golf and bumper cars. The kids had a blast thanks to their generous Auntie the big boys played laser tag and played games and Cullen gleefully ran from one end of Fun Depot to the other making a joyfully circuit several times with me exhaustedly tagging along.
 The next day we went to the worlds best toy store O.P. Taylors, my favorite thing about them is that kids are encouraged to touch everything, After a fun hour there the rain stymied our original plan of going to the fish hatchery so we were chased into a few of the other local shops. In one of the I found a toddler leash a rather handsome one with a stuffed lion on the back. After the exhausting three hours of chasing Cullen up and down Fun Depot and at leatpst one attempt from him to bolt down the streets if Brevard by himself I purchased the leash. It was very useful and he eventually learned to stop running away after several fruitless attempts. I am planning to write an entire list just about the leash so I will stop writing about it now. When the rain stopped we were able to go to the Fish Hatchery and it was a very fun and might I add FREE way to spend the afternoon. We were very sad when they had to go home and our ennui lasted for several days.
  It was a boring week at our house with video games being the cheif source of amusement for the older boys and escaping the house being the favorite of Cullen.  Today we were able to go to the Family Place Fun Day and it was wonderful.
  I love the Family Place when I did not have to work and the kids were younger I took them every day. It is free, safe family fun and I have made some great friends there. It was a reunion of sorts there today as all the kids who stopped going when they started Kindergarten where there and it was nice to see how much everyone has grown and matured over the years.
  I am now in search of more fun and hopefully free activities to do over the summer. It us only the middle of June and I feel like I have done every fun summer activity! I need help!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kindergarten here we come

 It has been a couple of weeks since my last post because we have been pretty busy. I also was wanted my next post to be about somec I wanted to be 100% positive about before I wrote about it.
    Cullen is getting ready to graduate from preschool on June 4th and it is really very bittersweet for me. Cullen is my baby and it makes me kind of sad that I will never have a pre-schooler again. I also have grown attached to his school and the wonderful woman who work there. I have been involved at the school since Cody was three they have been with me through so much and I cannot believe my time with them is over.
      I also had this mantra that I kept telling myself over the years whenever it got hard, that soon I would have a third grader, a second grader and a kindergartener and it would be so much easier. The thing is that it is not easier, it has gotten harder and I find myself making decisions that I never thought I would have to make.
     My hardest decision was to place Cullen in the exceptional children's program at BrevardElementry instead of traditional kindergarten at his home school of Rosman. I did not take the decision lightly I began muling it over in November and just made my final decision. There were three options I was debating.
1) Keep him out for a year and see if any developments are made between ages 5-6 before enrolling him. Cullen is a young kindergartener he will have just turned 5 three days before kindergarten begins. But there were a couple flaws with that plan, one being that at his school they would not let him stay an extra year which leads to the second that as much as I would love it I am not a stay at home mom and it would be to hard with my husbands schedule to have him stay up all night and then watch Cullen all day.
2)Enroll him at his home school of Rosman Elementary in a traditional kindergarten class and ride it out and hope for the best. There were several pros with that option, I live extremely close to the school and if he were to have a bad day it would be easy for my husband or me to go get him. I am familiar with the staff at Rosman and have been extremely pleased with the way they have treated my other two boys. But the con's outnumbered the pro's. Having gone through the kindergarten gauntlet fairly recently I was aware of just how much is expected of these little guys. Would Cullen be comfortable sitting at a desk all day? Would be able to follow directions and do everything that is expected if him, would it but a strain on the teachers and the class to have him causing frequent disruptions? In the end I decided that trying to enroll him at Rosman would be selfish on my part because while it would be easier on me it would be much harder on him. Which leaves the third option of.
3) Enroll him at Brevard Elementary which is the only school in the county that has a exceptional children's classroom. I had several reservations about doing it. Part was so many negative connotations about the concept. When I was in school it was called Cross Catagorial, and the room was just a hodgepodge of kids who did not fit in the normal classroom setting. Some had behavioral issues, some were deaf or blind, some had downs syndrome. It semed lime al the mids were just stuffed in one room to mill around aimlesly. I remember the room being small but appointed wirh the kind of toys you saw in a preschool room. Then I toured the class at Brevard and all my reservations were lifted.
    The class was very inclusive, they had the space of about three classrooms in one. There were only about seven kids and four adults so each child got plenty of one on one attention. There was a wonderful room called the sensory room that was equipped with a swing, a trampoline a little foam circle filled with blankets and a light up board on the wall that when the lights were turned of in the room the board twinkled like stars.
I took Cullen to visit the room and he loved it, and I knew that this was the best place for him. I want him to be were he is safe and comfortable. I do not think he would be comfortable in any other setting. In this room they will work with him to achieve his goals but also give him the space he needs.
   My decision being made and him being enrolled I am still grappling with it. Just the other day someone was asking me how old he was and when I said almost five they were shocked
 "You mean he is going to kindergarten this year?"
"Not normal kindergarten though right?"
"At Brevard in the EC room."
"Oh ok that makes sense."
 It tears me up that it is not viewed as normal kindergarten, that he still may face ridicule. But I am still happy with my decision, the most important thing is his happiness and I think this class will be a very positive experience for him.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Should the world adjust to Cullen or us to the world?: Dealing with Meanies

   Today at the park something happen that happens a lot to us and I am never sure of how to deal with. We were playing when another family arrived not anyone we had seen before or who knew us. My two older boys started playing with the two new boys who had just arrived and Cullen continued to play by himself. Eventually Cullen got curious and made his way over to the new comers. To the outside viewer he would seem like any other shy child unable to make the first move for play. He played beside them quietly on the and tried to climb the ladder like the older boys, that's is when the new mom offered her assistance to him. Their exchange reminded me of Briar rabbit and the tarbaby.
Mom: Would you like help?
Mom: I could lift you up there
Cullen: .....
Mom:So you want to slide too?
    A note of frustration was starting to enter her voice, as he was trying to help him why would he not answer her.  I was making my way over to help but what do I say to he other mom? "Oh don't bother he does not talk?" "Oh sorry he is autistic and is unlikely to answer you?"
    This is a common conundrum I have, how do you explain to others why he is acting the way he is? The lady at the park was not being mean but she was clearly frustated that he was not acting they way she thought he should be. If he were an only child it is sad to say but I probably would not rake him to the sort of places and events that trigger this. I find them uncomfortable he finds them unbearable we could stay at home and play. But I have two other boys at home who greatly enjoy this sort of social events.
   Two of the hardest experiences in my book were the Twilight festival carriage ride and The complimentary breakfast fiasco.
   Here is a little background to the Twiligh festival (no it is not a festval for sparkly vampires but given that I live in Transyvania county it would not suprise me).I live in a small town that hosts four anual festivals on the towns main street. The White Squirrel festival in May, the fourth of July festival, the Halloween festival, and The Twilight Tour.
     My favorite being the Christmas Twilight festival, it is held at night and there is a bunch of Christmas themed activities. Carolers, Santa Claus, ice skating, (to hot in the south for ice so it is really a snap together roller skate rink) it is like something out of a movie it is wonderful. By far the biggest draw are the horse drawn carriage rides, to the lovely and historic Silvermont mansion .With the street lit by paper luminaries you feel like you are living in a Christmas card. The boys were so excited to ride in the carriage , but the lines were ridiculously long. Like a almost hour wait for a four minute carriage ride. I suggested we just go on home but was met with tears from the older boys they had their little hearts set on riding in a one horse open sleigh. So I relented and agreed to wait . Luckily we had spotted the event quickly and were near the beginning of an extremely long and cruvy line. The people in front of us were together and from out of town they were talking about the long drive from where the lived just to attend the festival. They were the sort of upper class yuppie moms you see power walking together Starbucks cups in hand. As we reached the front of the line there was a table laden with mini candy canes. I do not know if I have mentioned this before but Cullen turns into the Tasmanian devil around candy. He started grabbing handfuls and squealing gleefully the prim lady manning the table informed me tartly that there was only one candy cane per child. I wrestled the candy out of his hands and picked him up to prevent him from getting more. That is when he started laughing and squealing loudly. The moms in front of us and between them six of the most well behaved little girls I ever seen. They stood stock still as they waited patiently for there turn. Cullen had now begun to climb me like a tower and then dangle over my shoulder when he reached the top and kick. The thing was he was not being bad, he was happy, happy to be out at night, happy, to have seen Santa, happy to be we with his brothers waiting for the horse. So to the outsider it may seem like he was being unruly and I should take him home I did not because he was having a good time. If he could talk he would have been saying "Mommy when is the horsey coming back" " Mommy can I have another candy cane?" But instead he was squealing happily. As it neared the thirty minute mark of waiting behind the yuppie mommies they were starting to get annoyed. The one mom rubbed her eyes impatiently "I am so glad we drove  Tennessee so I could get a migraine." and then she threw a look at me that clearly said me and my child were the reason for her headache. I was mortified I felt my cheeks flaming but what could I do? What could I say to explain the situation I wanted to make her feel bad as she made me feel.
    The other instance of discrimination is the great hotel breakfast debacle. I live about three hours away from my best friends and biggest supporter s my mom and sister. Sometimes they come visit me and stay in the Hampton hotel in town. In the morning I go visit them at the hotel and we have breakfast there. It is a favorite time for all of us and the boys look forward to it so much. The last time they stayed and we met them there was the last time they ever stayed at that hotel again. We had eaten our breakfast and my sister went to get ready my mom had to use the restroom and I stayed at our table with the boys and their cousins.
      We were all having a great time they all get along so well they were laughing and talking. Cullen again was squealing I imagine that he was trying to say "I like eating breakfast here!" "I am so happy my cousins are here" " What else are we going to do today?" Again he was not being bad if his was causing a scene or throwing a tantrum I would have taken him outside. He was just laughing and having a fun time with his cousins. One of the breakfast attendants came over to our table. " I am sorry but he is being to loud you he is disturbing the other guests." I was stunned "He is autistic, he does not talk this is his way being happy." "I am sorry but maybe you could take him outside?" Again embarrassed I trucked all five kids outside in the freezing as sleet so we would not be a bother.
     So my question is how do I explain my beautiful little boy to the outside world? Should I have to? I do not know what people expect from a special needs child. That they should have to look different to be treated with respect?


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cocoa Pebbles and candy for Cullen: Handling a picky eater

  When I was little one of my favorite books was Bread and Jam for Frances. It was about a little badger named Frances who was such a picky eater all she ate was bread and jam. My favorite part of the book was the vivid descriptions of food. I would stare at the page with Frances carefully laid lunch in the end and wonder how tasty a lobster salad sandwich would be. I also just could not understand Frances with all the tasty things around her why would she choose to just eat bread and jam?
     Now I am dealing with a picky eater of my own, Cullen is loathe to try new things, certain textures really bother him and there is a very short lust of things he likes. The other day I made homemade macaroni and cheese. It was delicious if I do say so myself but Cullen would not touch it. He stared at his plate with a glum expression. This was our argument word for word.
Me: It is yummy!
Him: No yummy
Me: just take a bite
Him: *hummming*
Me: You are hungry, please eat
Him: cocoa pebbles?
Me: here just take a bite * shoves macaroni in his mouth*
Him: *gags violently and spits macaroni out*
  The thing is that he is always hungry he sneaks into the kitchen constantly and sneaks snacks out. Our sits at the table and waits to be fed or brings me a bowl so I will but a snack in it. But all he wants to eat is cereal or snacks. The last couple meals I have made go untouched by him.
    He does like chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and pizza but a healthy diet does not consist of those foods. There are very few veggies that he will even consider. Even then I have to gussy them up pretty heavily with cheese or sauce to make them paltable. He likes fruit, apples the most and strawberries. Even then his fruit consumption is patchy, sometimes discovering a full bowl of fruit in the kitchen he will take a bite out of each apple and then carefully place them each back in the bowl. Last summer we had a vegetable garden but many did not make it past the early fruit stage because young veggies look like apples at first and he would sneak bites of the veggies on the vine hoping for apple and being greatly dissapointed with squash and pumpkin.
    When we discover a new food he likes I try to provide it for him as much as possible. It scares me sometimes how little he eats. Tonight he acted like he was starved and I sat him down to a plate of spaghetti and garlic bread a sometimes favorite but tonight he ate maybe three bites of bread and then wandered around the kitchen aimlessly opening cabinets and whining. The photo was is of a rare night where I gave him something new to eat and he ate it and liked it (you can also see all the open cabinets, we call him the cullygeist)