Follow by Email

Friday, June 29, 2012

One Summer Week

This week has been quite an adventure. One day we made "cloud dough" with flour and baby oil. It was an interesting texture and the kids liked seeing what happened as we added more and more baby oil. That was the day we also painted faces and dyed hair. 

One day we went to Lamb's Farm, a small petting zoo that has other activities like a train ride, mini golf, a little bouncy house. It was a beautiful day, almost chilly! When we got to the Farm, we had a picnic on the grass before we hit the activities. The kids wanted to see some animals first, so we started with the donkeys and llamas. We saw a huge piggy, lots of ducks, and goats that you can pet. Ben and Jonah loved the different animals. Ella tolerated the animals as long as I held her, and as long as the smell wasn't too terrible. She is sensitive to icky smells. Aidan stayed as far away from the animals as possible, but still participated in our tour of farm life. 

When we took the little train ride, the kids were thrilled. We've been to Lamb's Farm many times over the years, and Ben and Jonah have great memories of different times we've visited. They were especially excited to show Ella and Aidan the excitement of the train. Jonah and Aidan sat in a tiny seat behind Ben, Ella and me. Ella was sandwiched in the middle of us, and held tightly onto our knees the whole way. Aidan sat close to Jonah, but as the ride went on and the noise of the "choo choo" continued, he slid closer and closer to Jonah as he plugged his ears, until Jonah finally put his arm around Aidan. On exciting things like train rides, I am usually pretty peppy. I get really excited about things like that. Especially when I know my kids will get a kick out of something. I usually point out landmarks or funny things on the way, look for things the kids will like, make "choo choo" sounds...but that day, I didn't really have to say anything! Ben and Jonah echoed me perfectly. Every time I was about to point something cool out to the kids, either Jonah or Ben would say "Ella! Look at that duck over there! She is going into the pond!" Or "Aidan! Look at the bear over there! It's just pretend. It's a statue. Isn't it cool?" They do this all the time, and I'm always momentarily surprised to hear their voices say things that sound exactly like what I would say. Then I remember they've been living with me for almost 10 years, hearing my voice and sharing my joy for life, and hopefully learning how to teach and love others. Probably all children sound like their parents. I love it when I witness my kids being so nurturing with each other. Then I know that whatever else happens in their lives, at least they will have these skills going for them. They are good people. 

Yesterday we spent a few hours at the park the kids love. We climbed, swung on the swings, played in the water and sand, and made new friends. We got home, hot, tired, and happy, just in time to down a dinner and rush Ben to piano lessons. Another time this week we got out a plastic tub and emptied a bunch of rice into it. We played with it with scoopers and princess toys and trucks. Ella and Ben really enjoyed this. Today I copied an idea I found on a different blog about activities for kids. I got the kids outside, pulled out a whole bunch of bubble wrap and spread it on the ground. We put shaving cream on the bubble wrap along with some food coloring. Then the kids popped the squishy, colorful bubbles with their feet. They thought it was the coolest thing! The shaving cream ended up all over their bodies- tummies, faces, was great. Total sensory activity. Smell, colors for sight, texture, awesome.

One thing this week that wasn't so great was when Aidan went to his Social Skills camp at our therapy clinic today, he had a total meltdown. He's been doing the camp for a couple weeks now, his Occupational Therapist that we've known for years runs the camp, Ella goes to camp with always surprises me when Aidan has a reaction to things like this. It happened during the school year too- what seemed to me like random days, Aidan would just have a complete breakdown about getting on the bus and going to school. I don't know why this happens, I don't know what sets him off, I don't understand why Aidan struggles with things that seem to me like they should be comfortable routines. Aidan's meltdowns seem to me to be random and unpredictable. But I say the meltdowns seem random to me, because I've learned over the years that the things that set off kids with Sensory Processing Disorder are not random to them. There are specific reasons they have meltdowns, and it's not because they're trying to be difficult or get their way. Something bothers them and they can't deal with it in a more age-appropriate way, so the only thing they can do to let me know they're struggling is melt down. 

One thing I've also been thinking about in regards to my sweet Aidan is his sensitivity to noise. After talking with some other healthcare professionals this week, I think I need to investigate getting Aidan some ear plugs for noisy, anxiety-producing situations. (Places like public bathrooms that always have the loudest flushing toilets in the universe, zoos with surprising noises you can't prepare for, train rides with loud "choo choo's", the cafeteria at school, movie theaters...) I'm not sure if ear plugs will work for him sensory-wise, as far as the feeling of the plugs in his ears. Maybe after he realizes the plugs will make the world softer, he'll be willing to try them. We may try noise-reducing headphones also, we'll see how it goes. I have Jonah and Ben's 'issues' pretty figured out, but Aidan is still an enigma. I have work to do to understand what is going on with him. 

When we picked Aidan and Ella up from camp, Aidan's OT took a moment to talk to me about how Aidan had done. She said it takes some time but he does slowly calm down. He participated in some Therapeutic Listening, which we have done before at different times with various boys, and the OT said that really helped Aidan get regulated again. I was just looking into this program online again yesterday, as it's been a while since we did Therapeutic Listening and I'm looking for ways to help Aidan. The program involves special earphones that don't block outside noise. The "music" the kids listen to works to regulate the brain, focusing on getting the two hemispheres to work in unison to be more efficient. The music is distorted at times, and some CD's have different sounds like white noise or nature sounds. The child listens to the music for a certain time each day. Aidan hasn't been compliant in the past when we've tried the program, but today it seemed to work well for him. The tricky thing about sensory issues is that some days a certain thing works great for helping to minimize sensory problems, and other days the same thing doesn't work at all and in fact makes the sensory problems worse. It's super frustrating.

We finished our day off with a few hours at the pool. I think my boys are half fish. Ella felt cold despite the 93 degree weather, so wasn't too happy about swimming. We had a little dinner at the pool since Daddy was coming home late and Mommy was too tired to think about what to fix a bunch of hungry, crabby kids. It turned out to be a lovely little day   . The kids were happy eating and watching the little sparrows that come running when they see food dropping to the floor from little fingers. Aidan had gotten kicked in the mouth by someone in the pool so hard it had drawn blood, so after that "extreme trauma" he was happy to have some down time and eat cold ice cream. We ran into friends all afternoon, which made us all happy. 

Another summer day is done. I wonder what adventures we'll embark on tomorrow. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Today was my most favorite day of our summer so far. The kids had a fantastic day. We putzed around this morning, Ella slept until 9am (!!) and the boys played video games together. We stopped by a garage sale to look for clothes for Ella, and then went to the gym. The kids were all getting along so well, I hardly recognized my family. We got home and made lunch, yummy things that everyone likes. Then the boys had an idea. They wanted to play Superheroes. 
See those muscles??
This was the best idea since sliced bread. They started by having me spray their hair with colors leftover from Halloween last year. Ella needed to get in on the action, so we sprayed the ends of her piggy tails. After that, the boys changed into the appropriately-colored clothing for their chosen superhero. Aidan was Batman, Jonah was Robin, and Ben was Flash. Ella was "Pixie", and then changed her name to "Flower" half-way through the afternoon. Ella's costume included wings, and at one point, hot pink high heels. She calls the wings "the fairies," so all afternoon Mama was called upon to "put the fairies on Ella." Ben, of course, had to wear his black suit for today's production. His suit comes out for all kinds of occasions. He especially likes to wear it when he goes out roller blading to impress all his neighborhood buds. 
Jonah asked if I could help him create a Robin logo. Luckily, my high school art classes are paying off. We worked on a logo together, then he made business cards for himself and his posse of heroes. Then he informed me he needed a mask. Again, luckily, I have mastered the art of making eye holes in many a mask. 

I also made logos for Pixie, Batman, and Flash. I was quite impressed with myself. We found ways to stick the logos on the heroes' shirts, and then we needed to find capes of various colors to complete the outfits. We took Daddy's t-shirts, turned them inside out, tucked the sleeves in, and safety pinned them around the boys' necks. Ta da! The Justice League is born again! The kids cooperated and played and imagined and colored and cut and had a blast for hours. They kept Ella involved, and made sure Aidan was part of the group too. I love days like this when they all get along and their sweet little spirits come shining through. I enjoy watching my kids so much when they have days like this. I love their laughter that crinkles through the house, their mad dashes down flights of stairs to "get the villains" and save the heroes. 

I love listening to how they come up with ways to make sure all four of them have important roles. I love hearing them rehearse for when Daddy comes home, so they can present the Justice League to him from "the balcony", as they call our second floor, when he enters the house at the end of his workday. This is the kind of summer day I live for.

We've had about three weeks of summer vacation, and we've already done so many 'sensory activities' I can hardly remember them all. We've done pearler beads- the boys have used tweezers to painstakingly make about a million little critters that I've ironed and peeled wax paper off of. The tiny beads are embedded into all the carpet in every room of the house. But it's great for fine motor practice. 

We took glowy sticks, cracked them until they glowed bright, and put them in the bathtub along with a bunch of water and a bunch of kids. We turned off the lights and had a glow-in-the-dark bath! That was very cool. Even Aidan wanted in on the action during that bath, and he is not a bath-lover. He did insist on wearing his swimming suit if he was going to agree to a bath, but whatever works.

I bought water beads at a flower shop, we put them in a small plastic tub of water and watched them expand. They're a crazy fun texture, sort of soft and a little slimy, but not really squish-able. The kids LOVE them. I made the mistake of thinking that if I left the four kids and the tub of beads alone for a minute while I did a load of laundry that they couldn't possibly get into too much trouble. Wrong. I should have known better. When I got back, there were water beads everywhere. Everywhere. There was water all over the floor. We're talking like flood waters, here. The boys said Ella had wanted to stick her feet in the tub. So the tub got moved outside. You would think I would have learned my lesson, but I left them alone again with the tub to make lunch. They had all kinds of kitchen tools- measuring cups and spoons, wooden spoons, ladles, etc. I figured they had enough to keep them busy for a few minutes without getting in trouble. When I came back to check on them, the boys all had wet hair from sticking their entire heads into the tub. They had water beads in their ears, hair, and stuck on their necks. I checked nostrils to make sure there weren't any hiding in there too. The moral of the story is, sensory tubs are great, but no matter how old your child is, they can still find ways to wreak havoc on the tub.

We've threaded pipe cleaners through pretty star beads to make bracelets and necklaces. (Pipe cleaners are easier for little fingers because they're not as floppy as yarn). We've also stuck pipe cleaners through a kitchen strainer. Pipe cleaners are so great for all kinds of fine motor skills! We've done play dough, of course, and painting. We've baked: measured, counted, stirred, concocted strange combinations of our own to smell and taste. We have rolled meatballs and cookie dough. We've been to the park and the pool to work on sensory issues and gross motor skills. We've played in the sandbox, again for sensory exploration. We've cut and colored superhero masks and logos. We've melted crayons to make color combinations in little muffin tins. We've painted with shaving cream tinted with food coloring in the bath tub. We've played with shaving cream on the kitchen table. We've explored with spaghetti noodles, and eaten some. 
And this is only week three. Thank goodness for Pinterest, or Mommy would be totally out of sensory ideas! I love the fact that the kids think we're just playing when we do all these things, and I think ha ha! I just got you to work on your fine motor skills! Or sensory issues! Or gross motor skills! Or communication skills! I feel so stealthy and sneaky. In a good way. I often feel like I don't do enough as a mom, especially considering the special needs my kids have. But if I sit down and think about all the things I do with the kids every day, I realize that we are actually doing a lot to address their areas of need. I think it's easy as parents to forget all that we do every single day to make sure our kids are growing up healthy, happy, secure, and independent. On days like today, when the kids use so many of their wonderful skills to just be kids all day long, I am proud of what we have accomplished so far as a family. All the therapies, doctor's appointments, struggles, worries, and work we've done has been worth it. I think back to how each of the kids used to be, months or years ago, and see how very far they have each come. So far, that today they can play like kids should; creating, imagining, laughing, cooperating, helping, caring, running, jumping, planning, having fun. That has always been one of my goals for each of my kids- that they just be able to have fun like kids should. 

"Me luf you"

Last night about midnight, Ella woke up crying. Alex went in to help her, but she ended up needing Mommy. I asked her if she needed to go potty. No. Did she want to sit and rock for a little bit? "No. Me need a drink." Ok, I said and picked her up. She wrapped her chubby, warm little arms around my neck in the dark and said softly "Me luf you Mama." It was the sweetest moment. She tells me she loves me frequently every day. And it made me think last night about how all my kids say "I love you" so often. They all tell me, Daddy, and each other that they love us every day. For a second I wondered why they do that. What makes them the kind of kids to say "I love you" whenever they feel their love swell in their hearts? But then I realized that they have parents who tell them they love them all the time. We have told them that from the minute they each were born. Even before they were born, I would silently chant "I LOVE YOU" to my growing belly, to the babies who danced there, waiting to enter the world. I love you, I love you, I love you. As many times as we can, every day. We want to make sure they know that they are loved. No matter what happened that day, no matter what struggles we faced, no matter how many times they were in time out or lost privileges, no matter how many rages they had, "I love you" is the most important message in our home. It surprised me to realize the kids are all picking up on that. When I thought about that last night, I was struck with gratitude for the fact that our kids 'get it', that they know how important it is to share love with each other. And that they feel loved enough to open their hearts to others. I think it's incredible that even our toddler understands this powerful message! I am happy and proud that my kids can easily express themselves in a loving way. With Ella's sweet arms wrapped around me last night, I felt complete contentedness. I wished I could stay in the moment forever. But we got her a drink, two actually, and went back to her room to rock in the dark with all her blankies and her special music. I never want to forget the feeling of her two-year-old arms clinging to me. I never want to forget the sound of her sweet little voice whispering that she "lufs" me in the darkness. Heaven.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Week of Changes

This week was one of changes. One of the kids' therapists recently recommended that we try doing a casein-free diet for the boys, to see if it changes their behavior at all. We tried a gluten-free diet several years ago, but it was so much work and we had so much going on with the boys' tantrums at the time that I just couldn't do it. It's interesting to hear from our therapist that the boys might benefit from a dairy-free diet, because there have been others who have told me this too. Our chiropractor has done nutritional testing on all of us, and said that all three boys are sensitive to dairy. When they're allergy tested, dairy doesn't come up as an allergy, but apparently they are sensitive to it. The chiropractor told me that you crave what you're allergic or sensitive to, and that makes sense for the kids (and my hubby) because they all crave dairy. 
I've done a lot of research about casein-free gluten-free diets. I really believe that it's all tied together- that everything in our bodies works together in unison. If you have some problems digesting certain nutrients because your body can't handle them, this could cause problems in other areas, like behavior, concentration, sleep, asthma, sinus infections. All of which we struggle with. I am open to trying anything that might help the kids in any way. Health-wise or behavior-wise. I freshened up on my research about a casein-free diet over the past few days. Yesterday Ella and I went to the grocery store and I delved into reading ingredients on every package I picked up. I decided we'll do dairy-free for a month and see how things go. Maybe after that we'll try gluten-free, but it seems too overwhelming to do it all at once. 

We packed our grocery cart with fruits, veggies, and dairy-free milks. We took our loot home and carted everything into the kitchen. I dug through the fridge, taking out everything that has dairy in it. I was amazed because most everything we had in there had dairy! I didn't realize how much food we have that may be harmful for our digestive systems. I restocked the fridge with our new healthy items. At our dairy-free dinner I told the kids about how we're going to be eating a little differently now, and the reasons why. No more cheese sticks for now, instead they can have a piece of turkey for a snack. We found ice cream that doesn't have dairy in it. They can still have certain Pop Tarts. But biggest change of all- our milk will taste a little different. The boys were all on board with our food experiment. Especially since we're all doing the change (except for Ella who doesn't seem dairy-intolerant), and Daddy seems to have the same issues as the boys in terms of food sensitivities. Getting him on board with the change could be harder than the kids! But I have told everyone we'll just try it for a month. Then we'll see how all the boys feel and decide what to do next. It's a tricky change because it affects eating out, fast food (which we didn't do much of anyway, but the kids get McDonald's after all their therapies on Wednesdays, so I'll have to figure out a different easy, fun dinner those days), eating at other people's homes, the ice cream truck that always shows up in our neighborhood 7 minutes before dinner...a dairy-free life changes a lot. But it's not impossible. I think we can handle it.
A wise speech therapist told me once that you can only do what you feel you're ready to handle. So when I was focusing on Ben and Jonah's challenges and didn't have the reserves of energy or heart to figure out what was going on with Aidan and his challenges, she said that was ok. I had to wait until I could tackle Aidan's issues, until I was ready to deal with all that he had going on and add more therapies to our already complicated schedule. The therapist said I shouldn't feel guilty for waiting a little while to deal with Aidan's issues when we had so much going on with Ben and Jonah. When I was ready to take on more, I would do it. And I did get to the point where I felt like I could handle more, handle having Aidan evaluated and treated for his special needs. It wasn't too late, he wasn't too old, and we still had time to make positive changes for him. I feel the same way with this new eating plan. I haven't been ready to tackle something so daunting until now. I'm ready for the challenge and we'll make the necessary changes, and hope that it makes a positive difference in our lives. 

This past week, Aidan and Ella started a summer camp two mornings a week at our therapy clinic, The Therapy Tree. They are so lucky to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. The camp focuses on every aspect of a kid, basically. Social skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory issues, independence...they've got it all. I was worried how Ella would react, since she has never been in a class without me before. We talked about what it would be like and I tried to prepare her. When I dropped the kids off at camp, Ella was amazing! She followed directions and plopped right down on the blue mat to read books with new friends while they waited for camp to start. Aidan, on the other hand, had quite a difficult first day. He had to be pried, screaming, off me. He was so upset. That's just how "first" things go for him. I knew he'd be fine once I was gone and he had time to adjust. And sure enough, when I picked the kids up at lunchtime, Aidan reported he had had a great time! The second day of camp, Aidan leaned into me, conspiratorially, and said quietly "Mom. The first day of camp, I was sad because I had never been to camp before! And because Ella wasn't in my little group and I thought she would be. But now I know what camp is like, and so I won't cry today!" Well. Isn't that something? Sometimes I don't know what's going on in my kids' heads. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in their little brains and just figure them all out. But Aidan was able to tell me exactly why he was upset the first day, and his reasons made total sense! And he was able to figure out, and communicate, why he wasn't going to be upset the second day. Sometimes my kids just awe me. They're growing up.

Aidan currently has approximately 73 bandaids covering his body. Every time he gets any sort of wound- real or imagined- it requires a bandaid. It's pretty comical. I used to investigate the area that Aidan said was hurt, and argue that he didn't need a bandaid for that teeny little scratch. Sometimes we put a wet, folded, paper towel on owwies, and that helps too. But the past few months, I've realized that to Aidan his hurts are enormous, whether I see blood or not. And if a bandaid makes him able to continue with life, who am I to argue with that? Who's to say that I'm right and he's wrong? Maybe he's got the secret to soothing every hang nail and paper cut- a bandaid. The other day, you would have thought one of Aidan's limbs had been severed, the way he was screaming with pain. I rushed to look at the finger he was holding up, the obvious wound. I honestly could not see anything wrong with his finger at all. This is what he said to me through his tears: It feels like I'm being split open. I was stopped in my tracks. Sometimes I catch glimpses into what it's like to live in my children's bodies, and at that moment I realized the real pain that Aidan feels when he gets even a bump or scratch. His little nervous system is so sensitive that he just cannot brush these things off, these things that seem so minuscule to me. Because he feels like he's being split open. Poor little guy. I just want to hug him into a big bubble to protect him forever from any blemish or boo-boo. So if he needs 73 bandaids in order to feel like he's holding it all together, I'm fine with that.

On a crazy, funny (looking back it's funny) note, here are a couple things that happened when I looked away from my children for a split second. I found Ella playing with the water inside the toilet, filling it with toilet paper squares and splashing it all over the bathroom. She's never done this before, and I was hoping that now that she's almost 3, we wouldn't have any Exploring The Toilet Phases left. Apparently I was wrong. Luckily the toilet had been flushed prior to Ella's experiment. So we just had to mop up the floor and unclog the toilet. 

The other day we melted crayons in muffin tins to make pretty, colorful shapes that you can color with. I kept telling the kids when the tins were hot, don't touch them. I put the tins in the fridge to cool off more quickly. I kept saying do not touch! When I looked away, Jonah climbed into the fridge, reached up to the top shelf and took down his floppy, rubber muffin tin. Melted blue crayon spilled and splattered EVERYWHERE and EVERYONE in the kitchen. Jonah stood there, dumbfounded and helpless, and said "Mommy??" Hm. See now why Mommy said do not touch? I'm still scraping blue crayon off the fridge and floor. I can't get it to all come off, despite Jonah's best efforts to help clean it up. 

We had pasta with casein-free hot dogs cut up in it for lunch yesterday. (I know, yum) Ella was happily eating it from her little blue bowl and drinking her beverage of choice for the day- raspberry Kefir (yogurt drink). I looked away, and looked back to see Ella dumping the last drops of her Kefir into her bowl of pasta. As if that wasn't gross enough, then she proceeded to EAT most of it! Yuck!! That kid makes the weirdest combinations of food. She loves cantelope dipped in ketchup. Ew. She's got some crazy taste buds.

That about sums up our life this week. Changes and messes. And four tired kids who all fell asleep before 7pm tonight. That's what happens when you insist on getting up at 5am! Silly kids. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


 We spent the past few days on vacation with my extended family. We drove five hours to get to our serene vacation spot- Door County, WI. It should have taken about 4 hours each way, but when you have four kids, trips take longer. It was a great time of family, laughter, bonding, and special memories. My extended family has such a good time being together, and I cherish those moments because they don't happen as frequently as I'd like. My kids loved bonding with cousins, aunt and uncle, and Nana and Papu. 

On the drive home today we asked the kids what their favorite parts of the vacation were, and they all said being with family. Even Ella said her favorite part was "I like my cousins. A LOT." It's pretty awesome to have a family like ours.
While we had great times and made great memories this past week, it was often hard to deal with our kids' different "issues." On the drive up to WI, we stopped at a gas station for the traditional candy and pee run. Everyone went potty and then went to get their one piece of candy, except Aidan. He has some OCD about potty stuff. He has to sit on the toilet until he feels like he definitely is empty of pee. This can take one minute, or 45. I never know when he's going to have a tough time with the potty routine, it's random. If Aidan is tired or stressed, the potty issue is more frequent. So I had the other kids pick out their candy while Alex worked with Aidan to finish up. Finally we switched, Alex paid for the goodies and took the kids to the car and I was on Aidan Potty Duty. 

He was all panicky. He was afraid that he might not totally finish going to the bathroom, and then in the car would wet his pants. He was in full freak-out mode. I've tried many different approaches to this problem over the past few months. I've tried rushing Aidan. I've tried bribing or convincing him that he's done. I've tried being tough and making him get off the toilet when I know he's really done. I've tried being understanding. I've tried being compassionate. Sometimes it's so hard to be patient with him and this issue. I am often trying to get four distracted kids out the door for something, and then Aidan puts the brakes on and won't finish going to the bathroom, and I get stressed out. I know this stresses him out more, which makes him more anxious, which makes the whole process take longer. So at this gas station, I did my very very best to be calm and patient with him. I gently reminded Aidan that our whole family was in the van waiting for him. He could have his candy when he finished. There was only one stall in the bathroom and someone else really might need to pee. But overall I just bit my tongue and let Aidan take as long as he needed in order to calm himself down and feel ok about being done with the bathroom. I never know how long this approach will take, whether Aidan will be able to calm himself down fast or if it will take forever. But I know that if I get stressed and frustrated, he does too. So after a total of about a half hour in the bathroom, we were able to get back on the road. It's hard to remember that even something as simple as a potty break at a gas station can turn into quite the patience-evaporating experience.

Papu and Jonah, watching the waves
Nana, helping Ella down to the beach
We got to the hotel and met up with the rest of my family. A joyful reunion. I feel all lit up inside when I'm with my whole family. I miss them when we're apart- they're such an integral part of why I am the way I am. It's great being together. We walked on the beach and caught up. We took the kids to the pool and played. We had dinners together and visited a petting zoo together. Great memories.

The first night, no one slept well. Our kids were all up multiple times. At one point Aidan came to find me, saying he was scared of the dark. I took him back to bed and comforted him, and only once he was all tucked in again did I realize he had been coughing so hard from his asthma that he had thrown up all over his pj's. He hadn't told me that! So I got him all changed and cleaned up, and snuggled into bed next to me. A little while later, Jonah came to find me saying he'd had nightmares. Back to Jonah's room we went. We played Musical Beds all night the first two nights. Not so much fun for Mama. Alex slept with Ella, who didn't sleep well at all the whole vacation. Not so much fun for Daddy either. 

Even though our kids were thrilled to be seeing their extended family and be in a new area with new activities, our challenges followed us on vacation, like they always do. The kids had tantrums and meltdowns. Ben and Jonah had a frantic undertone to the whole vacation..."When are we going to the beach?" "When are we having lunch?" "What is for lunch?" "What are we doing after lunch?" "What time will that be?" "When will we be going to the pool?" "Who will be there?" "When will we have to leave?" On and on. All day. Every day of vacation. It was draining. Changes are hard for my kids. Being away from home is different, and different is not good for them usually. We still do occasional vacations so that the kids get to experience new places and sights, but when we go we know that Alex and I will come home much more exhausted than when we left. Managing all our special needs at home is difficult, but away from home it's even more of a challenge. It's worth it, it's worth the great times with family, and that's the important thing. That's the thing I want my kids to take away from vacations.

It was interesting to see the kids' reactions to different things while we were in Door County. Last year when we went, they were all a year younger, so this year was very different. Walking on the beach, Ella plugged her ears to shelter herself from the noise of the waves. I hadn't even thought about how loud they must seem to her, or that she would not want to hear them. I love the water, I love the sound of waves. I would live on the beach all the time if I could. So it surprised me to see my little girl's reaction to something I think of as peaceful and meditative. I didn't think much about how to change Ella's actions of plugging her ears, I just thought about how it's one more instance where her sensory issues are impacting her life. My dad said to me that he saw that Ella was scared of the waves. I said yeah, they're too loud for her I guess. Sweet, wise Papu bent down to Ella's level. He took her hand gently away from her ear and said "Ella. See how the water comes up to the beach and splashes? That's what makes the sound that you hear. It's just the water splashing on the sand! Watch now. Here one comes. Here it goes--splash! Ok, watch again. Here comes another one--splash! It's nothing to be scared of, that noise is just the water splashing!" So you know what my little girl did? She listened to her Papu. Then she took her hands away from her ears and spent the rest of the evening running the beach with her cousin. Happy as a little clam. She didn't plug her ears again on the beach, and was just happy and carefree the whole time. I couldn't believe it! Why hadn't I thought of that? Just explaining the sound that Ella heard made her realize it wasn't scary, and she could handle it because she knew what the sound came from. Sometimes my parents are so smart. I was so grateful to Dad for helping Ella so she could enjoy playing on the beach. 

Another thing we did was to take all the kids to a petting zoo where you can feed baby goats, pet kittens, milk a goat, and see all kinds of other farm animals. I was excited to show the kids this farm, because I love zoos and animals. The minute we stepped into the farm, Aidan started shutting down. He thought he saw a bee, which terrified him. He saw the baby goats running around and started to cry. I couldn't figure out what was wrong until he said he was afraid they would bite him like the other goat did. I remembered several years ago at a petting zoo Aidan had stuck his baby fingers into a goat's pen, and the goat had bit him. That goat just clomped onto Aidan's little chubby hand and wouldn't let go no matter what I did! So then it made sense to me, why Aidan was afraid of these goats that seemed so cute and innocent to me. I put Aidan and Ella into a wagon and pulled them around the little farm zoo. That helped, having the wagon as a security object for them. But poor Ella. Every time we went to a new area, an animal would make a loud sound and startle her. She and Aidan spent the whole time at the zoo with their hands over their ears. They were scared of the goats. Scared of the turkeys, who were VERY loud. Scared of imaginary bees they thought they saw. Scared of the donkeys. Scared of everything. Ella and Aidan did attempt to feed a baby goat with a milk bottle, which impressed me. Sometimes they are very brave. Aidan enjoyed looking at the kittens, but Ella was afraid. She shut down in that little barn, finally turned to me and tearfully mouthed "Go. Out. Now." So Nana's arms wrapped around Ella, creating a circle of security and love to protect her from the donkeys, the calf, and the kittens that were running around that barn. Mom took Ella to the doorway of the barn and they watched while Aidan and I looked at the kittens. Nana would ask Ella if she wanted to go back in, but Ella would say no. Slowly, Nana inched her way into the doorway of the barn, and as long as Ella felt her Nana's embrace, she was ok with being that close to the noisy, smelly animals. I thanked God for Nana. Mom is so good at being a solid, loving, peaceful presence when you need it most. And Ella felt that and was ok. 

So Aidan and Ella saw the farm zoo, but kept those little hands firmly clamped over their ears, and their tushies in that wagon,  most of the time we were there. Other kids ran around full of zest for the animals and the freedom of a farm. Other kids milked the goat. Other kids made silly noises back to the loud animals. Other kids splashed water from the windmill onto each other and giggled. 

I was happy that my kids tolerated the experience from their perch in the wagon, and hopefully learned again about noises and smells and sights that are different from our usual life. And that "different" is ok. We survived "different." "Different" didn't hurt us. "Different" is especially tolerable if you are being hugged by your Nana.

Aidan and Ella woke me up this morning at 5:30. They were holding hands as they came to my side of the bed. They ceremoniously presented me with one almond from the kitchen that they had found. I thanked them for the almond, and told them that perhaps it was a teensy bit too early to be waking Mommy up. (They were so insanely adorable and serious, holding hands and whispering about their surprise for me, that I couldn't be very angry that they had woken me before any human should have to open her eyes.) Every morning of our vacation, we were all up by 5 or 5:30am. Gone gone gone are the days of sleeping in for this Mama. The phenomena of "sleeping in" hasn't been around in this house for the past 10 years. How I miss it so. I've found that if I'm well-rested, I can handle the kids' crises much better than if I'm exhausted and sleep-deprived. Unfortunately, I'm pretty much always sleep-deprived. This vacation was no exception. Very little sleep, between all the kids' issues all night long. So that made it more difficult for Alex and I to be patient with them during the day when they had issues. At home, there are times when the kids will go outside and play with friends in the backyard, or ride their bikes, or play basketball. They're outside, and I monitor them, but we're not on top of each other all the time. During vacations, the kids are always with us. They don't do any activities by themselves because they're too young and it's a new place, etc. So we had a lot of issues. And with the sleep-deprivation, the issues seemed more complicated and frustrating than I'm sure they were. 

Today we had a fantastic breakfast with the whole family and then hit the road for home. The kids had had a very difficult morning prior to leaving the hotel, but I was hopeful that if we could just get on the road and head home, things would be ok. Wrong. We pulled into a gas station for snacks and a potty break. This time, luckily, Aidan did not have any OCD potty issues. Back on the road. Until a short while later when Ben had to go to the bathroom again. Hit another gas station. Back on the road. Then Ben had a complete meltdown about something only Ben would find frustrating, and the meltdown was so crazy that we had to exit the highway and sit in the parking lot of a grocery store until Ben had time to rest in the grass and calm down. Back on the road. Then everyone got hungry. I think we stopped every other exit, all the way home. I drove most of the way because Alex was so tired from his nights up with Ella. At some point, after breaking up fights in the back seat, handing fries and nuggets down our assembly line of kids, and putting in about 300 DVD's, Alex and Ella both napped, and the boys settled down a little bit. 

We finally made it home. I wasn't sure it would happen, but we did make it. Vacations are always such a wonder. New sights, smells, sounds, seeing new people...but there is nothing as great as coming home. To our messy, lived-in, loved-in house. Comfort. A sigh of relief that we made it. I'm grateful for the times we can go on vacation and show our kids a different piece of the world. And I'm grateful when we make it home at the end of the vacation, to the known routine of our life. I'm grateful for all the hugs our whole family shared this past week, all the giggles, all the walks on the beach looking for sea shells. I'm grateful for the times in the pool watching my kids and their amazing cousins swim and play and have fun. I'm grateful for Papu's wisdom that helped Ella learn to listen to the waves, and Nana's secure embrace that helped her participate in our farm day. I'm thankful that as I put Jonah to bed tonight, he said he wishes Papu was here. I love that Aidan's favorite part of his vacation was playing with his cousins. I'm glad that Ben wants to do this all over again, "as soon as possible." It was a great vacation.