Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Monday, March 28, 2011


Many years ago, an Objectivist friend told me that the one thing he would have wanted that he didn't have while growing up was a trusted mentor.  Naturally, since I'm passionate about parenting, that set me pondering how I could establish that kind of safe relationship for my son.  My goal would certainly be a positive mentor as the position can be one of significant influence.

I began researching.  My first focus was Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I liked the idea of a dependable adult guide and he loved grown ups.  After learning about the training for mentors and confirming that parents had full veto power, I filled out the extensive applications.  He's been on the waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) for two and half years so far.

It was clear from the beginning that BBBS had a long waiting list, so I didn't stop my research there.  I kept looking and I found Athletes for Kids.  This is what I read on their website:

Our mentoring program serves children with special needs by improving their social and emotional development through a personal relationship with an older student-athlete. It is designed to dramatically improve confidence, self-esteem, and ability to relate to peers before entering the difficult teen years.Our mentors are high school athletes who understand teamwork, commitment and success. They are held to a high standard socially and academically and are often seen as stars in their communities.

I knew that my kiddo adored older kids.  I also knew that he loved to run and would be hugely impressed with a high school athlete that had mastered one of his major challenges "moving with control". (The energy just overwhelms him sometimes and respecting other people's space  is easily forgotten in the exuberance of the moment.)  I knew getting him into this program would be a challenge because of location, but I was willing to do the driving.  I filled out the forms.  I them be came a very friendly nudge as the wonderful staff looked for a match and bent the rules a wee bit since I was officially out of the area.  And... we found a match!  

Over the last year and half, my kiddo has enjoyed "play dates" with his athlete mentor once or twice every month.  I have been amazed how the relationship has grown.  While still quite socially immature, my son has made huge strides in these visits.  They're buddies now.  He cares about his buddy and just glows when we're going there for a visit.  I've also noticed the interaction has become much less like a grown-up kid relationship and much more like a friendship for his mentor too.  There's no doubt that my kiddo trusts and idolizes his mentor, so I'd place stage one at a full success.  It will be fascinating to see if they keep in touch once college comes along.

As I've considered further, I think my next step will be to ask an adult friend to fill that role.  If I can find someone who loves kids and would be interested in monthly dates, I think I could help coordinate a positive experience and not wait for BBBS.  For now, he loves his high school buddy and their time together is as joyous and positive as I could dream.  Once we are done moving, I might set up a similar program to Athletes for Kids in our new location too.  I think he could certainly handle both an adult and a high school mentor and he can gain different support experiences from each... I certainly wouldn't expect a grown up to do this with him!

(His mentor earned the title of human roller coaster during out last visit... the giggles are contagious!)
(The video may take a minute to load, but it's only 40 seconds long.)

Here's to nurturing relationships that help us grow!  Of course, eventually, my son will be choosing his own mentors and making his own choices about whom to trust.  At least, I'll have set him up with experiences of several positive examples.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheery, Spring Flowers

It's been a lovely week with lots of basking in the sunshine, stuffing my nose in my hyacinths, and seeing the cheery yellow of my first daffodils.

Other things to share:
Cute antics:
• giving me examples of mistakes that grown ups make, he said "They wait too long for the bank so they get executed from their house." (I'm thinking the discussion of why we pay the mortgage made an impression, but the word "evicted" didn't stick.)
• making his voice all squeaky, he asked "Did I sound like Glados?"  (He had a huge grin and Andrew told me that Glados is an evil computer in one of the games.  Yep, I missed that reference.)
• the self talk from Halo, "I don't know why I perished.  He hit me with a pistol.  I hit him with a rocket launcher.  (Forgive me for snorting!  I've never been a shoot-em-up game lover, but I'm getting the impression I'm going to overhear a lot post-game processing.  I'm trying to get him into the habit of at least saying he beat competitors instead of killed them!)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Experimenting. Parenting. Part Four. Finale

I want to start this post by answering a question my friend Jenn posted after the second installment and then bridge into discussing the idea of self-motivated effort as a conclusion to this "Experimenting. Parenting" series.

Jenn's question:
I love it when a kid takes responsibility for himself, thereby freeing the parents for more important things! It's good to see that he's making so much progress, too. Would you care to share your insights about why and how that happens? (Not knowing much about autism I am very curious.) 

In my kiddo's case, he needed more limits and limits longer to provide a sense of security.  Without a severely stable routine, he felt threatened.  As I noted in my original post on my autism experience:
He saw routines as the essence of his world.  For example, I needed to park my car outside the garage.  For one week, I dealt with a solid thirty minutes of ballistic crying every time I came home because the car belonged in the garage.  It was in the nature of his universe.  It was as frightening and upsetting to him as it would be for us to wake up to a purple and green polka-dot sky.  Cars in the garage were part of the metaphysically given and that's one example of hundreds.

What was most unusual about this situation was the duration of that need for routine and limits.  It is normal for two year olds to thrive on routine and to balk at trying new things that aren't part of their norm.  Again, as I reviewed in that post, what helped my kiddo gain perspective and catch up with the years of lost social experiences was his precocious reading ability. As I noted: He took the experiences from the books, the hundreds of books, and made them his own.  He learned about people, feelings, imagination, language.  

So, the extensive "experiences" that my kiddo has lived vicariously through books have made him much more typical in his responses.  He is still emotionally young, but through this round about process, he tends to interact socially now (age seven) more like a typical five year old.  Back to Jenn's question, I don't think autism is key to this recent process I've been experiencing with my son, I think he's just interacting with me at a socially younger age.  So... why and how does a kid take responsibility for themselves?

As this series has addressed, experimenting to find what works with your child is an incredibly powerful tool.  I think my son has been so willing to take control of these aspects that I have released to his control because I have been extremely focused on motivation.  He has taken the responsibility because he sees it as good for him.  The motivation is that taking control is exciting to the child now, not as a means to being an independent adult in the future.  Making that link takes parenting work because it's often not a direct connection.  Listening to this lecture by Ray Girn has helped me concretize why certain actions I have taken have been so effective.  One of the key take away points from that lecture is that education must be a delight in the process to keep children motivated because they cannot be expected to have the adult context that any given knowledge will help them in the future.  

Thus, to answer the "why" question, my son is taking on the responsibility because he is motivated by the process.  It's fun for him now.  That doesn't mean it's not scary and I do get some push back, but with my support it is overweighed by the positive.  Two blog friend have addressed concerns with this issue with their kids in recent posts (Amy and Jenn).  So, what about the "how" aspect?  How can a parent encourage self-motivated effort?  

First, reality is a good teacher.  If a parent is preventing a real need from being recognized by being the cozy crutch, a child loses a key motivator for action.

Second, look at the process.  Is the process boring?  Can you provide a bridge that makes it fun now?  This is where knowing your kid's motivators is essential.  I know that discussing things with my kiddo in terms of helping him "make his own choices" will immediately capture his interest.  I could explain nicely, "I'm not making your lunch anymore because you know how and that's part of being an independent adult."  I might get a sullen nod, a grumble, or a full blown tantrum with that approach... one learns from experience!  I get an entirely different response by explaining the same conclusion with, "I know how much you love to make your own choices.  What are you going to put in your lunch this week?"  This approach it much more effective with him because it keys into his immediate values and motivates him now.

Third, help them see the growth.  This has been an amazingly powerful tool for my son.   Like most of us, it's hard for him to see his own learning.  My most effective method has been the Success Boards (original idea, board 1, board 2).  These are so rewarding for both of us and I am again and again amazed by how well he can see a principle.  He can say, "I'm a person who tries hard." because he has seen that portrayed in the pictures that capture multiple, progressive moments of his life.  He is not taking my word for it, he is looking at the facts and coming to his own conclusions.  He gains genuine esteem from these boards and becomes motivated to put out more effort because he is aware of the results.  We refer to these boards too in casual conversations.  (Yesterday, I ordered a new binder to contain the photos because there are now close to 300 pictures under the categories: Hiking, Reading, Moving with Control, Figuring Things Out, Eating, Birthday, and Strength.  Categories are naturally individualized to the child's interests to show their progress in areas important to them... chess, gymnastics, legos?)

To sum up, my son has taken on these challenges because we've been able to address the motivation issue.  Motivating kids to put out the effort requires understanding their context.  They have both a natural comfort in the routine and a desire to grow.  Parents can help them grow by bringing focus to their success, making the process more positive, and allowing reality to highlight a need. 

That's my take, but I'm definitely interested in other perspectives as well!  Every kid has their challenging times.  What has worked for you when your kids don't want to do for themselves?

I didn't know more about chess and wasn't interested in learning.  I got him a book so he could learn more on his own.  This is the latest picture (last week) that I added to his "reading" pictures in the autobiographical memory success board.  He'll be able to bridge from the differences between this picture and those of him as an infant listening / toddler pointing to reading to reinforce his self conclusions.  His conclusions under the reading category:  "I am a person who: has a jiffy brain, can read hard books even to late-in-the-year 4th graders [library level], works hard, wants to learn new things all the time, is able to do things by myself."  Powerful messages!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snuggly den times

Reading Harry Potter and tackling iPad games
Other things to share:

Cute antics:

• delighting in watching cat-chasing-laser videos!  I told him about it and he hooked me into at least 20 minutes of clips where he laughed hysterically.  (We watched them muted.)
• referring to the 'two of clubs" as the "two of clovers"  (excellent timing for St. Patrick's day)
• singing "Don't go for the one" to himself with gusto!  (It's one of Andrew's plucky, Irish songs about a guy who goes for "just one" drink and... it ends with a good laugh, but not for him: .)
• after listening to me ask Andrew where our son was and, when neither of us were certain, responding to my questioning call of "Cameron?" with an almost teenage drawl "Mudder?" (The kid mispronunciation with the exasperated tone was such a clash that it took Andrew and I five minutes to stop laughing.)
• asking "Are you executing the changing room?" (This was his response to the name change.  I explained that we call it the laundry room now, since he doesn't need diaper changes anymore.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Experimenting. Parenting. Part Three.

I am just so darned impressed with my kiddo and I've told him so!  Isn't that smug look that a kid gets when they're proud of themselves for an accomplishment so cool!  Continuing my efforts to remove as many limits as possible, we embarked on experiment number three about three weeks ago.  From my prior post, here is the system we had in place for assuring basic variety and nutrition requirements:

"The current deal is: he picks a protein and a veggie and then a sugar. Sometimes I help or he'll do it on his own. He does request a lot more assistance with meals. He has a massive sweet tooth, but there are lots of good options available to him..."

He never had to eat at a certain time i.e. he was used to paying attention to his hunger signals.  He was welcome to eat as much or little as he liked.  The limit placed was that some kind of protein and veggie came before dessert.  I am pleased to report another complete success.  I gave this experiment the same kind of set up.  I pointed out how he had been able to listen to his body and handle both bed time and screen time without my help.  We talked about how he knew what kind of things were important for his body. That was it for discussion prep and I continued to make good choices available to him.  

How many kids go to the freezer to scoop up some frozen peas to enjoy with their breakfast?!?!?  He did that today!  He does find them a very tasty veggie to munch on.  He often forgets to eat dessert which was rare before, when it was something that required a protein and veggie first.  I haven't seen him have a single dessert-only meal or snack, not that I'd stop him if he did.  At the beginning of this trial, he'd often ask me if he could have some sweet and I'd always say it's up to him.  While he'll occasionally still ask, he expects to make the choice himself.  I am floored by how little sugar he's having!  This morning, he had a lollipop in his pocket... he knew he could have it whenever he wanted, he never got around to eating it.  He did eat: cubed ham, bacon, frozen peas, homemade vegetable soup, over a pound of lamb ribs, and tons of water.

This is really a delightful process to see as he grows in independence!  He is growing in self-esteem and confidence and he's still crazy quirky, but he'll figure that out too :)

Next limit to remove... school?  I haven't decided yet, but I'm so darn frustrated, that we may be either Montessori or homeschooling within the next week.  Not only does his current school have a vast number of artificial limits, I have had enough of the promises to challenge him academically that have not come through.  They were a perfect match when he had so many special needs that they specifically targeted with custom interventions.  The last eight weeks have been so useless, I'm teetering on the edge. We'll look at options and decide.

Making his own school lunches.  If he doesn't, he knows he won't have anything to eat.  Somehow, he's never made that choice, but he does choose to ignore my knife advice sometimes...
...and he's both old enough and controlled enough to cope with the minor consequences of that choice.  I still give reminders though... can't help myself.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Unusual sleep positions...

... there must be some required characteristics for an acceptable sleep position / location.  However, I've yet to find many for my kiddo!

Other things to share:
Cool technique using milk to fix ceramics.
Geography quiz that was a challenge for both of the grown ups in my house.
Lyrics of a delightful song that I heard over and over during the recent vacation, my husband loves spunky Irish!
This week's Objectivist Round Up.

Sicilian comfort food that I adored in Orcas Island: Involtini di Melanzane

Cute antic:
Looking at me with a calm but critical eye as I lay curled up under a fleece after having just thrown up, he wondered "Are you going to die?"  (After reassuring my child, that was unlikely to be imminent, I even managed to read to him for a bit before bed.  It's one of the most glorious things about parenting an older child that they can really handle the basics when you're blue!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Warm, zesty, yum!

That about sums up homemade crystalized ginger.  I combined two recipes and am delighted with this spunky treat that can garnish everything from soup and eggs to cookies and ice cream!

To prepare the slices of ginger, I followed this recipe (we used toothpicks to punch the holes).
After the ginger slices were prepared, I followed this recipe.

1. Pick good ginger and only use the smooth, straight sections.
2. Slice in into 1/8in pieces.
3. Tenderize with lots of pokes of a toothpick or corn cob skewer.
4. Place in 5 cups of water, cover, cook for 35 minutes on medium-high heat.
5. Drain (save 1/4 cup of the liquid) and then weigh the ginger.
6. Return ginger and the same weight of sugar to the pan with the 1/4 cup of liquid.
7. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and watch like a hawk.  Lots of stirring.
8. About 20 minutes later, the water will have dried up and you'll have the dry, crystalized ginger with lots of sugar around it.  You want to pull it off before it starts getting caramelized and having a burnt flavor.
9. Spread the pieces out on the cooling rack.
10. Some recipes say it lasts months in an airtight container, but we'll see.  Save both the ginger and the sugar that falls through for fun treats :)

Two containers of goodness!