Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chew Stick Update

When I went to pick Kai up from school, his teachers told me that the stick worked like a charm. "He chewed on it a lot of the day and didn't put anything else in his mouth." His teacher glowed. Then, giving me the thumbs up sign she said, "Way to go on finding that little thing."

So, I felt better. Ironically, the very next day, yesterday, he wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, when I asked him if he wanted it he said, "No, we return it."

I am not returning it. It will be another tool to use if he needs it. It's funny, it has really gotten me thinking about how we all have out little regulating strategies. I'm the queen of self-regulation actually. I have to get up early for alone time in order to not want to snap people's heads off each morning. I need to eat frequent small meals or else again, snapping people's heads off. I often feel like I'll explode if I don't get outside or workout for an hour each day. Kai is much the same, as is Elizabeth, in different ways. As their mom, I just need to help them find the activity or timing that helps them to feel better. Like me, Kai's an eater. He needs plenty of good food a the right times to avoid meltdown.

In other "Kai" news, I've finally started writing his adoption story book. You'll remember this was one of my New Year's resolutions. I struggle with how to verbalize his story in an age appropriate manner. I plan to scan pictures into Snapfish and then make a real book for him to read. I have a rough draft of it as of this morning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Chew Stick

Peanut butter and jelly and a hot mug of peppermint tea should do the trick. That’s what I eat when my stomach is nervous and rejects the idea of any other source of nourishment. This morning it stubbornly refuses to settle down. I cannot decide if it is a result of nerves or a flu bug of some sort. Probably nerves.

Last Friday Kai’s teacher pulled me aside to talk to me about an “issue” in class. No parent wants the quiet confidential chat in the corner of the room. Sometimes it occurs just outside of the classroom door. It means your kid did something he was not supposed to do, signaling the “Uh-oh” response in every parent alive.
In this particular case, Kai apparently decided to lick the length of his neighbor’s arm at circle time last week, picture a deer at a salt lick. “Yuck!” I said. “What did the kid whose arm he was licking do?” I believe in natural consequences. I hoped she would tell me that the kid yelped, “Grooooooss! Kai is licking me!” and Kai would then stop. Either the kid didn’t mind the impromptu cat-like bath or his teacher didn’t want to get into it, because she gently waved the question away as if a sudden puff of smoke had blurred her vision.

“Kai seems to put a lot of items in his mouth,” she went on in a soothing soft tone. “I spoke to the assistant director about this and the licking. She wondered if maybe be might have a vitamin deficiency?”

“Yes, we’ve also noticed that Kai is very oral and puts everything in his mouth at home. For some reason we’ve also noticed an increase in the mouthing of different objects in the last week or so.”

His teacher listened intently and nodded her head in agreement. I love his teacher. She has smooth cream colored skin and bright hazel eyes. I imagine Kai pressing his cheek into hers enjoying the velvety sensation against his own rounded cheek. Her boys are grown. I can tell she sees the magic of childhood with experienced eyes. Openly embracing all of the children, she tries to frame even the most horrible behavior in a gentle manner.

I went on. “I don’t think it is a vitamin deficiency though because he had a ton of blood work done when we brought him home a year and half ago. Plus, he is a really healthy eater and takes a multi-vitamin already.” She didn’t quite look convinced, but at the same time I could see she wondered if she should press the issue.
“I’ll call his pediatrician and check up on it, see what she says. We have noticed this issue at home too but when we asked his doctor about it she felt that it was a result of being in the orphanage for the first two and half years of his life and that he is developmentally trying to catch up since he was never able to go through that phase of mouthing objects as a child.”

“Oh,” her eyes widened with patient understanding. I didn’t really want to be talking about it all here suddenly. I don’t like to think about Kai in the orphanage. I felt flooded with memories of visiting the orphanage days after getting Kai in China. How he screamed with grief when he mistakenly thought we were bringing him back. How we aren’t sure how he came out as adjusted as he is. How we were told he was taken home by a caretaker often. How he called her mom. We met the caretaker that day and we have a picture of her with Kai, her eyes looking straight at the camera, not smiling. Did she want to adopt him? Could she? How tough it was to see his steel barred crib, with just a wooden slab to sleep on and imagine him there all that time before we arrived. How most of the children in the orphanage had a range of special needs and this overwhelmed and scared me. How my reaction of fear flamed up, my face hot with shame.

Sensing my pause she said, “That sounds good. You let me know just what you hear from her.”

I left the classroom holding Kai’s hand, lost in my own thoughts. I would call the doctor as soon as we got home. I would get this stored out. The thing was, Kai DOES put a lot into his mouth. I jokingly refer to him as our little goat when I talk about it to friends. I laugh about it, but at times it has been frightening. It isn’t just the small parts that you have to worry about. He once was playing in his room with Elizabeth and she came running to find me. Kai had bitten the night light bulb and broken it. Luckily no one was hurt. For Christmas I bought him a huge dry erase board to hang on his wall in his room and color on. We opened it up, and in about one nano-second he was putting a nickel sized magnet into his mouth. It came with the board and I didn’t notice it until that moment.

After I unpacked Kai’s bag and put the snack out, I dialed the pediatrician’s number. After explaining the situation to the nurse, she consulted with the doctor and agreed with my initial reaction. No, his blood work is fine and recent enough, but it is probably a delay as a result of the orphanage, talk to his speech therapist and she should be able to help you.

I did, I spoke to the speech therapist, my sister and my mom, well I left my mom a message. It turns out that my sister helped the most. She recommended something called a “Chew Stick” for Kai. Basically, it turns out that some kids need a lot of oral stimulation. They call it oral motor. These kids need to get a lot of exposure to chewing in order to feel regulated. Apparently, if I provide enough opportunities for Kai to get the chewing and exploratory mouthing in, then he should be able to “catch up” to where he should be in this regard developmentally. His speech therapist thought it was a good idea as well.

So, I ordered one for him as an experiment. It arrived last Thursday. I will admit, I felt a little skeptical about the whole deal. Despite all of my reading about the brain development and delays associated with being in an institution like an orphanage for any length of time, I just wasn’t sure I bought it. When I gave the chew stick to Kai and explained that it was meant for him to chew on or put in his mouth, and he could do so as much as he wanted to, he went right to it. I mean immediately, like a dog to a bone.

At first this validated me and I felt like a good mother. “Ok, well he obviously needs this, so good for me for finding it and getting him one.” But that thought quickly turned into, “Whoa. He obviously needs this. Is this a problem? Are there more delays the doctors missed? Does he have sensory issues? How long will he need this chew stick?” And those thoughts were quickly followed by, “He looks like he is autistic, like he has a disability or something, chewing that stick. People are going to wonder what his problem is. “ And that was followed by a rash of self-bashing for thinking such thoughts. My mom is a special education teacher. I have an endorsement in special education and have worked hard as a teacher and as a parent to not discriminate, to value how we are all different learners, value the diversity of the brain. Here I was getting paranoid about my son with a chew stick! Again, I felt fear balance by shame in regard to my first gut reactions.

Today is the first day he has the chew stick at school. Hopefully it helps and isn’t a distraction. I have been so humbled by this experience. It can be really tough to do the right thing with your children. Goodness knows I am trying my best, but some days the negative self-talk that can kill you. I understand in the grand scheme of things, this whole chew stick deal is small beans. Kai is a sweet, loving, healthy young boy. He’s been doing find in school and his vivacious personality is contagious. Everywhere we go, people remember Kai. He is such a huge blessing in my life and has already taught me so much.

We’ll see what happens. It may be that the extra mouthing exposure will help to catch him up in this instance, and then that will be it. We may find out that there are other adjustments in other areas that we need to make down the road. We’ll have to wait and see. I would be lying if I said that I am not really all that concerned. Still, for today, I’ll drink some peppermint tea, take a few deep breaths, write a little more and pray that the day went well. Then I’ll pick him up and I’ll hold his hand in the parking lot and come home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My bicycle maintenance class

I remember my Dad saying he quit playing golf because he wanted to play for fun and relaxation, but got so frustrated that he ended up leaving the course angry and wound up tighter than John McEnroe after a questionable call. I am finding myself feeling the same way about bicycle mechanics. The more I read about cycling and repair the more I want to learn how to do all of those things myself. Recently, I read an article about a sixty-one year old woman, who rode her bike to work every day in Boston! She got on that thing and rode through the snow and the rain and all the mushy, messy weather that is New England. The bike she rode on her daily excursions she made herself!!! That woman picked out every aspect of her bike down to the type of fenders hovering above her tires. With her own two hands she pieced that puppy together. Am I the only one who thinks that is incredibly and amazingly cool. I doubt it. After reading that article, I slapped the magazine across my legs with a firm determination and thought, “Well, darn it, if that woman can do it at sixty-one, then I should be able to do it too.” HA! So far, it turns out age has very little to do with mechanical ability. At thirty three, I was hoping for somewhat of an edge over this woman. Unfortunately, I am not proving to be much of a mechanic.

To my credit, here is a list of bicycle maintenance items I currently perform fairly well:
• Remove my front and back tire
• replace a flat tire
• Pump my tires
• Put on brand new tires
• Adjust my breaks (I just learned this in my class this weekend)
• raise and adjust my saddle and seat stem
• clean my chain
• lube my cables
• adjust the tension on my pedals
• install my own cleats

As I write all of that down, I’ll admit, I do feel a little bit better. It reminds me of all my years of teaching and how we were always told to approach our students with a “strengths based” attitude. In essence, start with what they know and can do well first, then more onto their “challenges”.

My challenge is that the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing. For example, before this weekend I thought my bike had Shimano components. Don’t ask me why I thought this. I just never thought to look at my components on my bike to double check. It says about 5 times on my bike, Campagnolo Veloce. Not Shimano, but Campy components. As it happens, these are pretty decent components.

Also, as long as I am coming clean, before this weekend I had NO IDEA that the cables on a bike not only work the breaks, but TA-DA, they also are what shift your gears up and down! And it works strictly by adding or releasing tension, which was really cool for me to learn actually. How did I miss all of this? Do you people know this? Not only have I missed this in the past, but I asked our poor instructor about 46 thousand follow up questions to really understand how it all works. Let me tell you, that was one patient man!

Maybe the secret in life is that I should feel like a dumb ass for at least part of the time, just to remind me that yes, there is a lot out there that has been right under my nose that I never took the time to learn about. Really, if I take the “I should know this…” factor out of it, it’s really like being eight years old again, playing in the garage and seeing just what will happen if you loosen that bolt and pry off that washer?

The thirteen year old boy in our bicycle class this weekend was by far the most confident and the most at ease with the new material. He patiently played with his bike as his Dad, my Dad and I all frowned at our mounted frames, silently mumbling to ourselves as we tried to perform the tasks we’d just been taught. I’m hoping that learning more about bikes and what makes them work doesn’t leave me like my Dad and golf, throwing tantrums and cursing into the wind.

Instead, I’ll try to remain “strengths based”, and look at my “I can do these things “list frequently. So even though I can’t seem to figure out how to raise my threaded stemmed handlebars, at least I can say that I know the difference between a threaded and a threadless stem, for the most part at least. From what I can tell so far, the one I don’t have would be easier to adjust!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Write about your reaction to a crisis you experienced: This was a writing prompt from “The One Minute Writer” blog.

Not many people can claim that two of their college roommates dropped out of school, but I can. Not that I really want that particular claim to fame, but it remains true all the same. My roommate sophomore year just couldn’t get to class. During my senior year, a different roommate experienced a mini-meltdown and moved home.
As a result of my disappearing roommates, I lived alone in an apartment on campus for part of my senior year. During this time, I would set my alarm for 5am and go out for a run before my classes each morning. One October morning, I put on my shoes, bending over to tie the laces as I have since mastering the task in kindergarten, two bunny eared loops, cross them in an X, then wrap one ear down and through. Pull both ears and you’ve got tied laces! Grabbing my walkman I quick footed it down the stairs out onto the quiet street.

I never quite caught on to the college habit of embracing the wee hours of the night. My habit to rise early in the morning as a college student wasn’t one I broadcasted to my peers. It seemed like doing so would be the equivalent as getting the following tattooed on my forehead. “I would rather greet the day cheerily than party with rigor through the night.” and in italics underneath it would say, “I swear I’m not a boring loser-really.” Being a morning person in college takes a lot of explaining. I often found myself backpedaling furiously when the topic arose, hoping to convey that I was not in fact antisocial or weird. Sometimes I just didn’t have the energy or desire to defend my preferences.

Heading out into the run for the day, my lungs gratefully sucked up the inky autumn morning. As I turned right onto the main drag in campus, congratulating myself on another morning out of bed and into the world before all others, I realized that I hadn’t yet turned my walkman on. The silence of the dark morning had felt so good, peaceful and whole. I relished those sensations as my legs warmed up.

The well-lit street main drag of campus was lined with old houses on the right and the expansive Dunn Meadow on the left. I chose the open side. My skin pleasantly began to perspire under my IU rowing t-shirt. Without looking in the mirror, I knew my cheeks would have the bright red glow that earned me the nickname, “Tomato Face” in my high school gym class. It didn’t take much effort for my complexion to flush. PE teachers sometimes would furrow their brow during class and ask me if I felt ok.

My thoughts broke off as the scene before me shifted suddenly. A man in a grey sweatshirt popped up out of the bushes lining the small front lawns of the houses on the right side of the street. He must have been crouching behind them. “Hey there,” he whispered. My heart slammed against my chest. You have got to be kidding me I thought. Quickly, I scanned the street. No one in sight. No lights on inside any of the houses. There I was, on the main street of Indiana University’s campus, normally packed with people throwing Frisbees, sitting in the sun reading, smoking cigarettes and laughing with friends, and the road was barren and silent. It struck me as amazing that this man and I seemed to be the only ones awake, the only ones pulling the air through our noses into our bodies, the only ones in this sudden show-down.

Without moving my head, I looked out of the corner of my eye, he’d begun hop skipping sideways in an aerobic like manner, watching me, sensing my fear, smiling. I believed he thought my walkman was on, that I wasn’t quite aware of him. I knew I would have to cross the street and try to bang on one of the houses doors. But which one? Many were simply offices for various campus groups. No one would be there at this hour. At the end of the street Sigma Chi’s front light shone brightly. Although no lights glowed from the windows, I felt confident that if I pounded hard enough and screamed, they would come to the door. Just as I made this decision and picked up the pace of my running, the man made his own decision and darted towards me from across the street.

I remember thinking, “Oh my God, this is like a bad afterschool special. This cannot really be happening.” In that moment, a figure appeared to my left and as the man’s hand reached out for my arm, calmly said, “Scream, now.” And I did. I opened my mouth and the scream enveloped the spaces left open, spaces that would be filled in just a few hours with backpacks and bleary eyed students. I felt as an opera singer must feel on stage. The scream completely took over my body. Shocked and wide eyed, the man turned to flee in the opposite direction. Still screaming, I somehow found myself at Sigma Chi’s door, where I pounded on their door with my closed fist. After what felt like a decade, hand flew up the stairs from behind me and wrapped his arms around me, “Hey, it’s ok, you’re okay.” he said. I collapsed in his arms. The door opened and several Sigma Chi guys dressed only in their boxers stood looking down at the two of us with concerned expressions on their pillow creased faces.

The police were called. The president of the house led me to a ridiculously formal red velvet chair in the fraternity’s front room. The boys milled around, unsure of what to do. The man who found me was from the local ROTC. He told me that they were two streets over, doing their morning run, when they heard my screams. Half of them took off towards me and the other half spotted a man running away and pursued him.

The police officer arrived and I gave a description of the man and recounted what had happened. He shared that a man with a similar description was wanted for various sexual assault charges occurring over the last few months. The officer recommended not running the same route each day on my runs, that I should switch it up. He felt that the man had probably noticed I ran the same loop about 4 days a week and then just waited for me to show up. He questioned me and a few of the ROTC men, then drove me home to my apartment.

After walking into my apartment and securely locking the door, I picked up the phone to call my parents. Before I could finish the story, I started crying. I didn’t want to burden m y parents with worry, but I knew I needed to tell them. My mom said she could come out for a few days, but I flatly refused. Even though I was living by myself at the time, I felt that if I didn’t push myself to get through it, I wouldn’t ever feel safe by myself again.

Ironically, the next day at school, my mom’s assistant, Beth told my mom that her daughter, also a Kate, had called her concerned about an incident on campus. Kate also attended IU. Her boyfriend, a ROTC guy, called her the night before pretty upset. He explained they were out for their morning run, and a girl started screaming. “I’ve never heard screaming like that before,” he told her. He got to the girl in time, but that could have been Kate. Some of the other ROTC guys went after him, but guy got away. He wanted her to be careful. It shook them all up. Kate called her mom, feeling a bit freaked out. Of course the girl was me.

What pissed me off the most was not the actual experience of fear, because I had been really lucky. I felt incredibly grateful for the ability to scream and the ROTC’s presence just a few blocks away. What pissed me off was the fear that lingered for years afterwards. Anytime I found myself outside after dark, my heart pounded. Later, when I lived in an apartment with street parking, I found the need to work up my courage to walk down the dark staircase and unlock my car. I will never forget the joy I felt when Josh and I moved into our first townhouse. We had a garage! I no longer had to scope out an area before heading to my car early in the morning or at night. I can still identify a blind spot a mile away. I am constantly aware of my surroundings as I walk or bike anywhere. Because, ultimately, I think that awareness also helped me. Had my walkman been on, he may have been able to surprise me, but that day for whatever reason, it wasn’t.
I did get a new and wonderful roommate, Heidi. Was the figure that showed up next to me a figment of my imagination? A guardian angel? I don’t know. But I found myself asking for its protection and help the next week when I forced myself to get up at 5 am and take a run. I did not bring a walkman. I took a different route. I ran for about 15 minutes. The whole time I chanted the following phrase over and over in my head, “I am not scared of you. You did not win. I am not scared of you. You did not win.” And when I walked back into my apartment around 5:17, I knew I wouldn’t be lacing up my shoes early in the morning again anytime soon, but it felt good to make the point. You did not win.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A new bike or an engagment ring?

Lately, with all of the triathlon training I’ve been doing, I’ve gotten reacquainted with my road bike. No longer is “Goldie” just coming out for the annual Hilly Hundred ride with my Dad and sister. I’m getting both of us ready for some serious riding in these upcoming months. Brushing up on my cycling skills has allowed some old feelings to resurface. Once again, I am 23 years old and longing for a carbon fiber frame atop of two wheels, instead of 2 carats on a platinum band, all the while trying to assert myself as a competent adult.

When Josh and I had been dating for awhile, and it was clear that he wanted to get married, we talked about two things. #1-I loved him, but was more than a little leery about all things marriage related. #2-If we were to get married, I had no interest in a ring. But I did mention a new road bike would be a nice way to start things off.

To be fair, what I ideally imagined included purchasing something that we would share in our life together. I read about people buying a dog as an engagement gift. Josh already owned a dog and two dogs seemed like a ridiculous idea for a couple planning to live in an apartment. At the time, I believed that engagement rings laden with a massive diamond implied a pending ownership of the woman. I wanted nothing to do with that idea. Why did just women receive engagement rings? Why not men? What showed the world that a man was preparing to get married? Why did his hand remain naked while mine was required to wear a rock? It just bothered me. In all fairness, I understand that most people do not view engagement rings in such a manner. I myself no longer hold such a view of them, but it meant a lot to me at the time.

Plus, I wanted a new road bike so badly; why not use a new bike as a symbol of the upcoming nuptials? For years, I used my mom’s old ten speed for the rides my Dad and I did together. I felt ready to move past the standard ten speed and elevate my riding to a more sophisticated level. Josh loved the idea and figured shopping for a bike would be a lot easier and more fun than shopping for a ring.

Unfortunately for Josh and his shopping plans, my parents bought me a new road bike for my college graduation gift. I was thrilled to have my new bike. New road bike or engagement ring aside, I knew Josh was the one for me. I also knew I needed to live on my own and keep our status at the “serious, but not engaged” level, at least for awhile.

Before meeting Josh I vowed not to even think about marriage or a serious relationship until my mid-thirties. I had things to accomplish. At least that’s what I told myself before Josh. Now, out on my own, I still wanted to pay my own bills, buy the food, and decorate the apartment however I pleased. I felt the need to be a responsible adult before I became a spouse. In typical Josh style, he remained confident in my love and commitment to him. If I didn’t want a ring or a big wedding or an engagement right away, he was cool with that and could hang out as long as I needed. That is exactly what he did.

So I found an apartment and for six months I wrote the checks, went to work, ran the errands and cooked the food. Josh pretty much lived with me, but my name was on the lease. By December, I’d had enough. Whatever I needed to prove to myself I had proven.

On December 24th, 1999, Josh proposed and I happily accepted. (How he proposed is a story for another day, but let’s just say, the night ended with a massive migraine on my part!) My engagement ring could not be more perfect in my eyes. It is the ring his Papa bought for his Nana when they got engaged, a family piece his Nana gave to Josh, to someday give to me, when we were both ready.

Next year, Josh and I will mark our 10 year anniversary. While we didn’t purchase his and her bikes for our engagement, it might be a good way to mark a decade of marriage. Josh could have other ideas though, like a nice vacation or a romantic getaway. I guess it would be my turn to let him have his way and return the favor he granted me many years ago.