no place like home

I had good intentions to blog daily during our trip back to the States, but quickly realized that between jet lag and emotional overload, weeding out the stories that were mine to tell would take me more time and effort than I was willing to invest.  Now I "owe" NaBloPoMo a few entries -- I can't remember if I stated it on here or if it was one of those passing FaceBook comments, but when I decided to throw my fingers in the "post every day for a month" ring, I also threw in a reality clause:  missing one day here and there could be overlooked; missing two or more posts in a row would need to be made up for.  I'm kinda excited to pay that debt. The beauty of paying it online is that you don't have to be as excited as I am and I'll never know!


The trip home was, on the balance, good.  I hadn't seen any of my siblings in person since we moved to Wales in August of 2011, and although many things have changed in all of our lives, it wasn't too long before we had found our familiar roles.  "Familiar", please note, does not necessarily equal "comfortable".  Sometimes a bit of discomfort is a good thing.  I can't remember the exact wording she used, but my grandmother once told me that she thought it was necessary sometimes for things (relationships) to break so that the pieces could be rearranged into a more comfortable fit.  Sometimes, she said, tears are the best glue -- lubricating shards and softening edges so that previously incompatible pieces could harmoniously exist side-by-side, oftentimes creating a more beautiful pattern than the original.  Or something like that.  My grandmother was a woman of few words and those that she did use were used pointedly and precisely, so I'm certain that she made her point much more concisely.  I've never been able to say three words if fifteen could convey the same message.  

So, home.  

Thanksgiving was as you might expect.  Lots of people, lots of food.  Lots of emotion, some good, some not-so-good.  How is it that all that emotion, good and bad, built up over days and years, can be distilled into into a single inconsequential moment?  And then that single inconsequential moment has the power to coalesce into The Memory, at least in your (my) mind so that in the future, when you (I) flip through your (my) mental Binder of Memories, that moment becomes the folder tab for the entire event?  It feels so big, so overriding, so dominant in your (my) mind that then you (I) are (am) surprised, shocked, when you (I) compare notes with the others that were there and discover that your (my) Memory is just a piece of a part of a memory for them.  A mere blip in their Memory of events.  Unworthy of even capitalization, much less an entire tab. 

I will think of this as The Spaghetti Thanksgiving.  Not because we had spaghetti for Thanksgiving, but because all of my emotion coalesced into a pot of spaghetti sauce and I did ugly things, fully aware that the things I was doing were driven by ugly emotions.  I saw my ugly thoughts and deeds reflected back to me and, realizing the pain I caused, I apologized, but the damage had been done.  The peace had been broken.  I wait now, hoping that tears will be enough to smooth the sharp edges, that time will push the pieces back together.  

The night before we left for the UK, my sister presented me with an unexpected apology for An Event that I didn't even realize had happened.  She saw confirmation in my behaviour that there was a disconnect between us and her peace was broken.  I can only hope that my assurances and her tears have eroded the sharp edges so that we can find a more comfortable fit once again.

The spaghetti sauce, in case you were wondering, was entirely edible.

The other news from home is happy and hopeful:  
-Daddy is doing well.  He is following doctors orders, cutting back on the coffee and, generally, paying better attention to what his body is telling him about how he's treating it.  
-Momma has reclaimed her spunk and drive, something I hadn't seen in a while.  Something I was happy to see again.
-They have found a place to make their next home in and, fingers crossed, will be ready to move in shortly after the new year.  
-One of my brothers-in-law underwent knee surgery the day we left to come back to the UK.  His response to the anesthesia or some part of the process was not as easy as had been hoped for so his stay was longer than expected.  He was released to go home yesterday, so is hopefully now comfortably beginning to recover at home. 
-My siblings and their families all seem to have found (made) their own happiness.  It was an absolute delight to meet the three youngest members of the family and to get reacquainted with the nephews and nieces that I had already met before moving to Wales.  I am absolutely partial, but also absolutely convinced that these kids are going to go on to make the world around them a better place.  If we lived in an ideal world, I'd be able to spend time with them all more frequently and individually, but there is a special kind of excitement that comes with getting to meet them for the first time over and over again as they morph into the amazing people they are becoming.
-In addition to getting to play the part of proud aunt, I got to meet my siblings again and couldn't be more thrilled to know that my roots come from the same place theirs do.  Four years is a long time to be "out of the loop" (largely by choice, though distance and time zones play their part in the disconnect), but the parts that fit still fit and the parts that don't aren't as divisive as they once were.  I suppose that means we've all grown and changed.  Their development, of course, is far more obvious to me than my own.  

That's all the online time I've given myself for today. The rest of the day is slated for catching up on laundry and sleep, for reconnecting and beginning to design our next new normal.  For figuring out what it means to be "home".


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22

"Two more sleeps!"  


Aaron's rather excited about our trip to the States.  I am too, though to be honest at this stage it shifts between being a welcome distraction from the unpleasantness of last week and feeling like I've just eaten a lead pancake as I mentally go through the trains to planes to automobile that we will need to get us there.  It's probably just as well that I haven't had to drive to and from school since Wednesday so I've had time to mentally begin driving on the wro-, er, other side of the road.  

As I'm packing and sorting and cleaning and preparing, it's hard not to play Then and Now.  It's been well over three years since I've seen my siblings.  Babies have been born, hairstyles (colors) have changed, weight has been gained and lost and, in my case, gained again.  And under the surface there have been subtle changes, those little daily ins and outs that just happen without ever really getting noticed.  My youngest sister has been busy putting menu plans together and sent me a worried message saying she hadn't planned anything for those few days that Aaron and I will still be there after the rest have gone home.  "You won't want to have to shop twice!" she fretted.  I had to laugh -- going to the grocery store only twice over the span of a week is a luxury I will truly enjoy, I told her.  

It got me thinking about other ways life has changed.  We still change out our warm weather gear --jackets, flip-flops, sun hats-- for big puffy coats, gloves and scarves, but our raincoats are permanent fixtures in the entry way.  Our fridge and freezer sit side by side, under the counter, and our now rare trips to Costco require the equivalent of a PhD in Tetris to get our spoils put away before they spoil.  The walls in between rooms are thick enough that if you move so that more than one is between you and the router, you'll never ever ever get a wi-fi signal.  We have one room dedicated to our clothes, but it's not connected to our bedroom.  We have one bathroom.  The toilet has its own space, outside the room in which we bathe.  The upsides are there, too -- I couldn't be happier on Thursdays to be able to clean the house, top to bottom, start to finish in two hours.  We have no grass, but if we did, there would be absolutely no need to water.  Food doesn't get lost in the back of the fridge.

Of all the things that are different, though, the clothes dryer is the thing that continually reminds me that we are no longer in Kansas.  Ours is a combo washer-dryer because it is located (as are most in the area) in our kitchen.  The washer portion has recently begun to express its distaste at the amount of laundry that keeping up with a nine year-old and an Ironman requires.  It's probably long overdue to have someone come in and tighten up all the parts that have begun to shake loose, but our clothes come out fresh and as clean as a single wash could be expected to get the clothes of those who routinely run through puddles.  

The dryer, on the other hand, is the bane of my housewifely existence.

There are two dryer settings: 12 and 13.  We suspect that is on a scale of 1-10 because temperaturewise they are roughly equivalent to "hellfire" and "damnation".  If the article of clothing you are hoping to dry has even the most minimal of natural fibers running through it, you would be well advised to keep it well away from either of the dryer settings.  The locals seem to be instinctively attuned to the weather and do very well at hanging their clothes out to dry. Unfortunately, this is not a skill easily acquired and consequently our clothing goes from clean, spun and gently drying in the fresh breeze to drenched, dripping, and drooping to the ground under the weight of the rain that I somehow didn't realize was coming when I hung them out to dry 30 seconds ago.  So they go back into the washer to be rinsed and respun.  Which might begin to explain why everything has begun to shake loose and need tightening in the little-over-a-year that we've had it!

Once winter begins in earnest and it's more likely to rain than not, I don't even bother with the line outside.  I've purchased a couple of clothes hanging frames ("airers"), one that hangs off the side of the radiator and one that stands alone with hanging "branches" jutting out like something you might find in a bohemian thrift store.  I've also got one of those hanging hooks that you clip to the top of a door frame.  The laundry process is now a multi-day experience.  Washing goes in first thing in the morning so that by lunchtime it has been washed and respun (the noise the washing machine makes during the spin cycle is inversely proportional to the amount of water it actually extracts).  Whilst washing/spinning, yesterday's load is carefully rotated from door clip to clothes tree to radiator with special attention being paid to the level of dryness in each piece.  Items deemed "nearly dry" or "dry" are easily recognizable because they keep the shape they had been pressed into during their own rotation.  Those are deposited into the waiting basket to be treated to a softening blast from the furnaces of hell before being folded or hung to be put away when the current load being washed is done.  Any article of clothing that is needed to be worn again in the next three days is carefully subjected to a peer, pick, and sniff test to determine if it absolutely must be laundered before being worn again since there is no guarantee that it will be ready when needed.  

It would be lying if I didn't admit that I am nearly as excited about using the laundry room in the hotel during our stay as I am about seeing my family.  And it has crossed my mind that it just might be worth the extra baggage fee to bring a few extra things with us...


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20

I remember once reading something along the lines of "finding strength in vulnerability".  Until today I struggled to make sense of that idea.  I realize now that I was looking at it all wrong.  


Last night I lay my soul bare, I exposed my vulnerabilities.  I admitted defeat.

Today I have been lifted and loved and supported.  Today I found that my strength isn't something within myself.  My strength lies in numbers, in the global family that has adopted me and marked me as one of its own.  I am humbled. I am honored.  

Today I am strong.

Thank you.


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19

Turns out that the UK birthday was not to be the better of the two.  


Aaron's classroom teacher met me at drop off this morning and asked if I could meet with the head teacher at 2:45 this afternoon.  I guess I don't have to explain that my heart dropped directly to my toes and, other than the time I was distracted by conversation over coffee, it only rose high enough to set my stomach churning for the remainder of the day.  The rain started coming down at 2:35. By 2:48 I was thankful that I would have the rain to cover for the tears that I was struggling to hold back.  

The head teacher has asked me to withdraw Aaron from school prior to the winter term that starts in January.  She alluded to "increasingly aggressive incidents" that are now happening on a daily basis.  Parents have voiced their concerns, and rightfully so.  All children have a right to a safe education, and if it is mine that is threatening the safety of others, then they are right to ask him to go.  

I am heartbroken.  I feel defeated.  I wish I knew where to go from here.  I can honestly say I have poured every fiber of my being into understanding the big question of Who Aaron Is and trying to make myself and the less than comprehensible ways of Living With Others understood, but right now it seems that all my efforts have been for naught.

I will have a hot bath, a cup of tea and go to bed.  I will cry in my bath and in my cup of tea, but hopefully the melatonin will be enough to keep my tears at bay so that I can sleep.  Hopefully that sleep will help me see the way forward in the morning.  And if not, I will still get up, hug my little boy close, make us some breakfast and spend the day trudging around in circles until I find a new direction for us to go.  

Sometimes parenting sucks.


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18

Today was the official day.  Well, we decided at bedtime, the official day in the US.  Aaron doesn't technically turn 9 until just after 3:30 am UK time tonight (tomorrow?), so tomorrow he'll get to wake up to celebrate his UK birthday.  Which is good, since today didn't go quite the way he hoped.  In his mind, his birthday meant that he would get to rewrite (er, eradicate) the rules, so he was less than pleased to discover that school exams go on, birthday or not.  I feel a bit guilty that his planned birthday weekend has had to be put on hold for our upcoming trip, but also think it can't be all bad to get to gently introduce the idea that sometimes life gets in the way of our plans and we just have to roll with it.  So we used the ride home to talk about what he expected and how it had "gone wrong" and came to the conclusion that since he's not really 9 until tomorrow anyways, it was a positive thing to have been able to work out all the kinks today.  Tomorrow morning I will wake him by singing happy birthday again and hopefully he will enjoy his UK birthday now that he knows what's coming.


As far as the trip goes, I'm about 90% (physically) ready.  The sense of being prepared mentally comes and goes, but if past experience is anything to go by, that won't change until we are buckled into our seats on the plane next Tuesday.  I've gone over the plans half a dozen times, checked the tickets and times, packed and repacked the bags to make sure I've got everything and everything I haven't got is written down.  Tomorrow I'll meet a friend for coffee, then take care of the ever growing list.  Lists, I find, are at once friend and foe -- providing the comfort of a plan, but a plan that always has the potential to grow and change.  

I'm tired tonight.  My good intentions for a early night faded away long ago, but there is still a glimmer of hope to be in bed before Aaron truly turns 9.  One last chance for a picture of 8.  How did we get here so fast?



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16

Today we celebrated 9.

Aaron's actual birthday isn't for a few more days and we had originally planned to run away next weekend and spend some time spoiling him rotten(er).  But then I went and planned a trip to the States which meant the spoilage had to be put on hold.  Indefinitely.  Aaron and I will return from the States in time for him to be back at school for five days before his winter break begins.  Another five days later will find all three of us headed back to Heathrow to catch a flight to Egypt.  We'll spend two days in Cairo, fly to Aswan and cruise up the Nile to Luxor, visit the Valley of the Kings, then be driven to Hurghada to spend almost a week soaking up the sun along the coast of the Red Sea.  Not a bad interruption to have if your birthday celebrations must be interrupted, but an interruption nonetheless.  So, since we can't be sure that we'll get to replan before MY birthday, we decided today was as good a day as any.  

The refinery is in the final stages of turn-around, so Josh had to be in for part of the morning, but when he got home he told Aaron to get his shoes and coat, they were going shopping.  If you've spent any more than five minutes with Aaron, you'll have a pretty good idea how he felt about that.  You'll also have predicted that immediately following the disgusted, do-I-have-to-face, he began with the "why"s and the negotiations.  Josh let it go for a few minutes, then sternly said "Aaron, go get your shoes and coat on so that we can go pick out your new DS.  No more arguments."

I wish I had thought to get it on video.  I'm almost positive that was the first time Aaron's been rendered speechless since the age of two!  The look on his face was absolutely priceless -- disbelief mixed with amazement and just a hint of his brain exploding behind his wider than normal blue eyes.  

While they were gone, I ran out to the grocery store to pick up a few things for lunch and then rushed back to put up our birthday banner, pull out the gifts that I've been stashing as they've come in the mail from family and friends, and blow up a bunch of balloons.  A stack of jelly doughnuts pierced with candles finished off my quick attempt to make the window seat as birthday-y as possible and the. The door was opening, the boys were home, and it was time to celebrate.


I think he enjoyed it. 


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15

Yesterday's post was supposed to carry on in the same vein as Thursday's -- I had parent-teacher conference with Aaron's teacher Thursday after school.  We had a fantastic 10 minute conversation about his academics-- he is still reading beyond grade level and his comprehension, grammar, and spelling are ahead of the curve as well (100% on his spelling tests year to date!).  Math and science continue to be his strengths, and she was delighted with his ability to retain knowledge and make unexpected connections, especially in history/geography.  He continues to struggle with handwriting and has a tendency to respond to questions with one word answers both written and verbal.  Unless, of course,  the subject is something he has a personal connection to in which case the struggle is to get him to just. stop. talking!!!  She provided me with a copy of the handwriting scheme the school uses and a copy book, so we will add a bit of handwriting practice to his nightly reading and piano homework.  All in all, a very positive experience. 


We agreed that 10 minutes is not nearly enough time to begin a meaningful discussion regarding his social skills.  Instead we will schedule another meeting and bring in the special educational needs coordinator so that we are all starting from the same blank page and building a plan together.  We will leave that until after the winter term begins in January, though, since Aaron and I are homeward bound for the Thanksgiving holiday and his Christmas break begins a little over a week after we get back from that.  

The Thanksgiving trip is one of those "holy crap, this is spontaneous and starting to feel a bit rushed, but still very exciting" things.  It sprouted out of a simple, shared desire between me and my youngest sister to surprise my parents -- she was planning to make the trip at Christmastime, but was willing to change her plans if I could make it work on my end.  But when family consists of as many people and plans and priorities as mine does, nothing stays simple or secret for long, so now it is to be a family reunion of sorts.  Momma and Daddy seem to be delighted, if a tad overwhelmed, at the impending influx of (uninvited) visitors.

Altogether there will be five of their adult children, four of the adult children's spouses, three of their children still at home, and nine grandchildren (no word on whether the partridge and pear tree will make it) filtering in and out of their home for the week.  We will celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday rather than Thursday and, in true Semadeni fashion, will further break from tradition by making Navajo Tacos instead of turkey.  Also in true Semadeni fashion, anything in this paragraph is subject to change and probably change again.  When family consists of as many people and plans and priorities as mine does, you learn not to get too attached to any single version of events until after its already happened!


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13

Since Aaron tends to be my subject of choice to write about on here, I thought I should try to balance the picture out a little bit.  You see, my boy is a handful.  In fact he is at times more than my two hands and his fathers hands put together can contain and those are the times when you realize how wonderfully painful parenting can be.  But it's not all about the meltdowns and the idiosyncrasies and the butting of heads together because we are both too stubborn for our own good.  Without any further ado, here is my top ten list of reasons I am damned lucky to have that boy around:


10.  Tech issues.  Really.  Twice this week I've had an issue with my phone and wound up handing it to him to fix.  I'm not altogether convinced that he wasn't responsible for the changes in the first place, but I'd still be communication-less if he hadn't known just what to do (in under a minute!).

9.  He makes connections that aren't always the most obvious and keeps me from getting stuck in one perspective.  When I was trying to explain the CT scan that my dad underwent during his recent hospital stint, I was at a loss for how to describe it.  "It's kinda like a bunch of X-rays that are taken in layers so when you put them together, you get the full picture," I told him.  "Oh," he responded, " like a 3D printer for the inside of things? I get it."  And he did.

8.  His relentless drive to make things work better.  It might take us twice as long to get anything accomplished the first time through, but when I remember to stop and listen to his ideas, I wind up shaving time and effort off every single time thereafter.

7.  His ability to embrace the world around him.  There is nothing too small to catch his attention, no one insignificant enough to not deserve a wave, a hello, or, if there's time, a full description of whatever his brain is working on at that very minute.

6.  His ability to live in each minute.  I get frustrated when he's reluctant to move on to the next thing, but in those few times that I've remembered to slow myself down and try to see what he sees, I've had the rare opportunity to understand why.  Each and every moment, each and every thing is filled with infinite possibilities.  How can you tear yourself away from all of that?

5.  No grudges.  He will hate you with every fiber of his being one minute, but when that moment has passed, it is truly a thing of the past.  

4.  Persistence.  If he is motivated, there is no such thing as not enough time.  He will take pieces of his latest project with him wherever he goes in the house and it'd be unsusal to NOT find bits and pieces of this and that in the washer as I change out the laundry.  His brain is always working, whether his fingers are moving in congruence with his thoughts or not.

3.  Sense of humour.  Sure, it's still developing (so we get a lot of fart jokes.  A LOT of fart jokes!).  He likes to see other people laugh and there are times, more and more frequently, when his comedic timing is so precise you'd think he'd been rehearsing!

2.  Effortless forgiveness.  I suppose this is related to #5, but there is more to it.  Being able to accept an apology is, perhaps, as valuable a skill as being able to give one.  If you've messed up and want to say "I'm sorry"?  He listens.  He accepts.  He truly means it when he says "That's okay, I know you will try to,do better."  And then he moves on.

1.  No mind games.  There is no subtext, no hidden agenda.  What you see is what you get, he feels how he feels and wants what he wants, no dressing it up or down for the present audience.  He treats everyone the same, regardless of age, title, or status.  


I would do well to come back and revisit this list (and add on to it) every time I feel like I'm at the edge of my sanity. 


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12

Today was not a great day for Aaron.  Nothing major, but enough little things that his teacher wanted to speak to me after school and has suggested a school-to-home behaviour log (which, hooray!  I fought to get one of those in place last year, so am actually delighted that someone else sees the value and is initiating it!). We spent the ride home discussing "why the whole world wants [him] to just always be miserable and never have enough playtime before school and then miss out on all [his] electronics time for the rest of [his] liiiiiiiiiiffffffffffeeeeeee!"  Once we got the sobs back down to less than 5 per second, we started talking about things HE can do to make his life run a tad smoother.  Here's what we came up with (my comments that "lead" to his action plan in parentheses):

Things I can do to advacate for myself
-get ready today efishently  ("there is playtime built into our morning routine if you'll get up and get ready on time")
-chose if all my masteiks are the end of the world ("maybe it would help if we treated wrong answers like chances to do research?")
-chose to properly fuel my body ("hmmm, so your morning was okay, but your afternoon got rough.  I'm looking at a half eaten sandwich, all of your cucumbers and humus, and several bite of oranges left in your lunch box.  Do you think that might have impacted your afternoon?")
-chose what my faceil expresion. ("I think it might be a very good idea to try not to smirk, even when you couldn't possibly have done anything wrong.  Smirking seems to make people very suspicious.")
-chose to handle my stress ("so when you are on your way to,the other classroom to finish your work, you might want to think about how to take control of your emotions before you get there.  Maybe some deep breaths to slow down the adrenaline as you are walking along?")
-chose to get my work done quickly and efishently ("if I were sent to an unfamiliar environment with a specific task,  and I was afraid the other people there were going to stare at me, I think I might want to get the task accomplished as quickly as possible")



Sigh.   

He's definitely doing better than he was this time last year.  I know my recent stress and the resulting disorganization haven't been helpful.  Still?

Sigh. 


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11

Aaron had a field trip to the Egyptian Centre in Swansea today.  He was super excited on the way to school today; I had told him last night at bedtime that his challenge would be to learn enough that he can be our tour guide when we visit the real thing over the Christmas break.  I didn't tell him that I was counting on some good story to fill in as today's blog post.  But I sorta was.  I didn't worry too much about crafting something witty as I folded laundry and vacuumed.  It didn't even occur to me that I might want to stub my toe or something, just in case.  Nope, I placed my faith entirely in his enthusiasm and figured that literary license would help me fill in the gaps.  

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-He had a good day.
-He didn't like his lunch.  Not because his lunch wasn't tasty, but because someone else started talking about ooey gooey doughnuts and so his tastebuds were rather disappointed with his lunch.
-He wants me to log into the App Store to find the game that they played about finding something in  Tutankhamens tomb. 
-He liked riding the bus.
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I've decided not to fill in all the remaining gaps with stories of laundry and vacuuming.  Im trying to decide how many more of this not-quite-posting I can continue to subject you to!


***
Daddy's now home!!!  He's got plenty of recovering left to do, but he sounds good and Momma says he's acting good.  It feels amazing to be able to breathe normally again!


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10

Just a super quick post before I head to bed (missing one day is excusable, two days in a row becomes a habit):  Daddy's news has hit FaceBook from a source other than my blog, so I think that means the social media ban has been lifted. Which is good for me because it's all I can freaking think about and I don't do well when I don't have an outlet for the thoughts in my head.  They tend to spiral into each other and get bigger and bigger until they are totally out of proportion.  What's that word again?   Anyways, the latest news is that I've never in my life been happier to hear that someone has "ugly ulcers", but if they can be treated with medication, diet, and TLC, then I will happily embrace those ulcers, ugly or no.  My biggest fear while waiting to hear the results of the endoscopy today was that there would be no obvious culprit and that we'd all have to that little niggle of what-if to deal with every time Daddy so much as wrinkled his nose.  It sounds like the plan is to keep him in the hospital for one more night, then home he goes.  Whew.  Fingers crossed this roller coaster ride is truly slowing down so we can get off and let the next group of thrill seekers on.  I hate those rides that toy with you, stopping and then starting up again. Is there anyone who really finds that fun?  



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8

The Big Event went off without any (noticible) hitches.  It will be neat in the future to be able to say that I was once "this close" to actual royalty, but the truly remarkable part of the day was watching the care and genuine interest with which Will and Kate met the crowds that had turned out to meet them.  It wasn't just about shaking hands and kissing babies for the cameras; the Duke and Duchess seem to be that rarest of breed of people who are truly interested in the thoughts, passions, and views of everyone around them.  It was quite moving to see the response of the people to their Royals -- there is a fierce pride and fondness that I can only equate to that bond that siblings so often have, that feeling of "we may get irritated with this and that and, at times, wonder at the existence of each other, but if anyone else should dare to say boo, well, they will find the,sleeves having to deal with the whole lot of us."  My rebellious brain struggles to wrap itself around this concept of birthright, but it was heartwarming to see so much joy brought to so many people with no hint of intolerance.  


Josh was honored to meet and speak with both Will and Kate and was equally struck with how very interested they seemed to be in everything going on around them.  We gave Aaron the option to be a part of today's proceedings, explaining that while he would not be able to be with Josh or me for any of the event, we would be happy to find someone to take him to the refinery so that he could stand and wave as he had done when the Queen came to Pembroke Dock earlier this year.  He thought about it for a minute, then said "no, princes and princesses aren't really my thing" and chose to spend the day playing xbox instead. The guy with whom Josh spent the better part of last year training for Ironman Wales was happy to secure his superhero status by giving Aaron full access to his variety of gaming systems and letting him eat Haribos in the living room.  A well balanced lunch and a trip to "the only fish shop we should ever go to" helped fill the hours; it came as no surprise to any of us when Aaron announced he'd be perfectly happy if we were to just leave him with Pete long term!

***

Daddy's situation seems to be progressing in a positive direction.  One of my sisters has been taking the time to forward me the texts and latest news.  Unfortunately i didn't see that the decision had been made to keep the news offline until her update at 3:30 this morning (GMT), so I had already posted yesterday's post and gone to bed before I could honor those wishes.  I won't post any more on the situation here until I've received permission -- although it is my story in as much as it deeply affects me,  it is not my story alone to tell.


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7

I've just received the following email:


Hey sister,
Thought I’d let you know that Daddy’s on his way to the hospital for the 2nd time in 24 hours.  

 

He’s been fighting a bad cold and ear infection for a couple weeks.  They put him on antibiotics (of course) which messes/messed with his stomach so he’s been losing fluids faster than he can take them in.  Last evening he passed out and they called the ambulance to take him to the ER.  They ran all sorts of tests and finally determined that he’s just horribly dehydrated, gave him fluids and sent him home. 

 

Today, he felt no better and just couldn’t get out of bed.  I went to see him at lunch and he finally said he really wanted to brush his teeth, so after I left, Mom said she got him up and let him sit in a rolling chair to brush his teeth but he passed out again.  Soooo she called the ambulance again and they’re on their way back to the ER as I type...


It's hard for me to think of my father on the receiving end of medical treatment.  He was a voluntary EMT for many years in the small town I spent most of my childhood in, so when I think of him and doctors, I always picture them on the same side of the table.  The fixers, not the fixees.  Thís sudden juxtaposition is messing with my head.  If you've got kind thoughts or prayers or vibes or wishes to spare for his quick recovery, it would bring peace to my heart to know that he's got your backing.




***


Wrapping up the rest of the week:


-The car is now proudly sporting two new tires, clean oil, and has been washed and vacuumed twice this week by the dealership.  All the fillable fluids have been topped off, the wearable parts inspected for safe levels of wear, and the fuses all pushed firmly into proper position.  I think we can confidently tick the "fully winterized" box.


-Aaron returned to school today in high spirits and came home with a good report of his day.  His teacher reassured me this morning that he wasn't sent home as a punitive measure and that she was very happy to see him back at school.  He reassured me this afternoon that he was very good all day and that he should probably receive extra DS time as a reward for all that good behaviour.


-The latest script for tomorrow's Event has me (and the other spousal units) moved to stand with the representatives of the various local charities that the refinery sponsors throughout the year. The Royal Visit will conclude in the refinery firehall where these charities will be showcased, so there is now a heightened chance that I will actually be in spitting distance of Will and Kate.  And, yes, before you ask, I know better than to spit in their presence.  More on that story tomorrow...



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6

I had just sat down to lunch.  A spoonful of leftovers on the way to my mouth, I had just punched in my   passcode to unlock the iPad and see what the rest of the world was up to when I heard my cell phone ringing.  By the time I found my bag and then found it in my bag, the dot was lit up to let me know i had a new voicemail message.  One missed call.  

The school.  

I didn't freak out until I saw that there was also a call logged with the school's number at 8:50 this morning.  Had I missed that one too? In the two seconds it took for me to realize that one was outgoing and the other incoming, my heart skipped a beat and a ball of panic rose in my throat.  But then I remembered that I had made that call, to the school as I was heading home (Aaron's misplaced his PE hoodie, could they keep an eye out, could I order a new one, etc).  Exhale, call the school back.  The receptionist was just suggesting that it might have been the uniform shop calling back to confirm the details on the hoodie order (I hadn't yet checked the voicemail) when the house phone rang.  We trilled out goodbyes and I answered the other phone.  

"Mrs. Tulino?  It's Mrs. D (the headistress).  I was wondering if you might be in town today?  Aaron's been in a physical altercation and we think it might be best if he were to be picked up early today."

My heart sank.  I choked out an "Okay, sure.  What's happened?" as I grabbed shoes and began scanning frantically for my keys.  

"The children were sent to wash for lunch, there was an issue at the bathroom door and Aaron lashed out and struck two children.  Everyone is okay, but Aaron is struggling to calm down.  We've got him in a quiet space with lego right now, so don't rush, but I think it would be best if you picked him up early today."  

We talked through some more details, mostly because I was frantically trying to work out if something had happened this morning or in the past few days that might have sparked him off, but neither of us could quite put our finger on a cause.  The morning teacher would be gone by the time I would arrive to pick him up, but Mrs. D offered to ask her to call me during the afternoon if there was anything she might be able to add some clarity.

When I got to the school, Aaron had returned to his classroom and the class was just preparing to go out to PE.  The headmistress was in the adjoining room.  The afternoon teacher let Aaron know I was there so he could gather his things, then showed me into the room with Mrs. D.  A few more points had come up as they had further investigated the incident -- a thrown book during lesson time, an initial refusal to redo some work, a third child struck during the lunch break.  But, she was quick to add, Aaron had calmed himself down and been able and willing to discuss the issues respectfully.  He had even taken responsibility for hitting the child during playtime -- "I got caught up in the game and really didn't want to be it anymore so I tagged her too hard."  The problem with Aaron staying for the afternoon, she explained, was equal parts worry for the safety of the other children and concern that he might be at the end of his tether.  We agreed that there was no point in setting him up for failure, I would take him home.  I would use the extra time together to see if I could ferret out what had brought on the initial outburst; the morning teacher would talk to me in the morning and add her perspective to whatever conclusions I might have drawn by then. No further action was requested by the school and there was no reason for Aaron to miss school tomorrow.  

During the drive up I turned over every possibility that came into my head.  Potential causes, temporary solutions while we looked for the root cause(s).  It didn't take much effort to guess that many small people in a small space, all hurrying to get to lunch and then out to play were not such a great combination for a kid whose hypersensitivites have him on constant high alert for threat (perceived or not).  Simple solution:  don't put him in that environment.  I asked Mrs. D if I could provide Aaron with a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use at lunchtime rather than having him join the bathroom queue.  She agreed to talk it over with the morning teacher, but barring any concerns from her, thought it would be worth a try.

Weeks back, knowing that this time of year is traditionally the hardest for us, behaviour wise, I had asked Mrs. D to consider the option of "flexi-schooling" through the remainder of the term (until the Christmas break).  Aaron would continue to attend school normally most days, but I could easily shift my schedule to pick him up early (or even skip) one day each week if the school thought that the break might be useful for him.  We don't worry (too much) about Aaron academically and, in any event, I can work with him to complete any school work that he might miss.  I have the training, I have the materials, I have every confidence that I can teach him.  

What I lack (and the reason we put him back into a school setting in the first place) are other children.  Social skills are very difficult to teach to an only child in a foreign setting.  There are no natural playmates, no sibling, no cousins, and the neighborhood children are busy at the neighborhood school.  While I can teach him the concepts, he misses out on critical opportunities to practice.  School provides those opportunities in one stop.  However, if Aaron has tapped out of his quota of tolerance for the day, then the environment quickly shifts from beneficial to overwhelming.  Too much of a good thing.  

Right now, Aaron sees school as a place where he is safe (physically and emotionally) and successful.  I will do everything in my power to guard against him going back to the place where the thought of going to school was enough to curl him into a moaning, rocking shadow on the entryway floor.  So I suggested that we consider alternative approaches if and when it started to look like Aaron might need help with coping.  It was in that spirit, I believe, that Mrs. D called me today.  Recognizing that Aaron could spread his wings no further today, it was time to return him to the safety of the nest so that he could rest, recover, and try again tomorrow.  I believe that was her intention because at the end of our discussion she asked if I would be willing to come in to Aaron's class and share with his teachers and classmates what (little) I know about what makes him tick.  Could I help the students understand how to help create a safe environment for all of them to enjoy?  

We (strongly) suspect that Aaron is autistic.  Where he falls along that vast spectrum I don't know.  Certainly on the "more verbal" end of the scale, but as understanding of ASD changes, the terminology shifts, so I am reluctant to label him "high functioning" or "Aspergers" at least until we have the official diagnosis paperwork in our hands.  Our current position on the testing waiting list has us looking for the next step sometime between January and April 2015.  I am hopeful that I will get the opportunity to talk with his class long before then.  So for now my struggle is this:  how can I present a picture of neurodiversity to a group of eight and nine year-olds without stamping labels on foreheads and further alienating my sweet, amazing, funny, passionate, headstrong little weirdo?


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5

Today was not my friend.  Woke up late, scrambled to get out of the house on time.  I was supposed to go to the gym this morning, but had such a raging headache by the time I dropped Aaron off at school that I decided to come home instead.  A nap followed by a large coffee swept some of the cobwebs away so I thought I'd make a a valiant effort to reclaim the day, but my enthusiasm waned by the bottom of the stairs.  Made a list.  Rewrote the list in order of priority, then reorganized it again by amount of time I expected each task to take in hopes that I could tick off some of the small jobs and build on from there.  Made some calls to get the new tires sorted out.  Wandered from one project to the next in between calls, but didn't get anything done enough to cross it off the list, so rewrote the list again, this time breaking it down into steps.  Little bitty baby steps because I was bound and determined to have more crossed off the list than left on!  Of course, by the time I was finished making the list, it was time to go pick up the boy so all that effort got shoved back in the pile I had planned to clean off my desk (item number 1 by priority, number 4 by time needed, numbers 15- 23 in mini steps).  Got home, supervised homework and piano practice, made dinner, did dishes, hung laundry to dry, packed lunch and realized that I hadn't given any thought as to what to post today (priority 3, time 7, mini-steps 45-48).  Thinking it might be a good time to call it a day and pick up the pieces tomorrow.



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4

Three things :


1.  The car is back in proper running order.  Clean oil, blowing blower, heating heater, defrosting defroster.   The dealership washed the outside and vacuumed the inside before calling me to say I could have it back but should probably start seriously considering new tires. It's possible that my diagnosis of it being fuse related was correct, but it turns out that the fuse the boys pulled, pronounced in working order, and then lost was, indeed the fuse for that part of the system.  Whether or not it had just wiggled loose and needed pushed back in or was actually blown, replacing it with a fresh new 30 amp did the trick.  Still not sure why the rear defroster went out the way it did.  I did give it a try on the way to school this morning, so I am confident that it really wasn't working.  My take away lesson(s) of the day:  I may have more sense than I give myself credit for,  it's probably not a good idea to let a nine year old pull fuses out of your car, and chamois covered demister sponges are quite possibly the stupidest car care item ever invented.

2.  The official announcement of a Royal Visit to the refinery that Josh works at came out in the local press today.  On Saturday, in honor of the refinery's 50th Anniversary, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are scheduled to tour the refinery and sign the guestbook.  Josh will be part of the group introducing the engineering students to the entourage, so he may actually get to meet (see) one or both of them.  I will get to play the part of the gathered crowd as they pass through the refinery so I may or may not get a glimpse of one or both of them.  So I guess you know what Saturday's post will be about...

3.  Mexican food is hard to come by here in West Wales.  We get by with begging for care packages filled with canned green chiles and taco seasoning packets  and I've experimented with enought flour tortilla recipes to have come up with a passable flatbread concoction that we are happy to fill with burritoesque and taco-like fillings.  Recently the Old El Paso brand has found its way onto the local grocery store shelves and although those distinctive yellow and red packages aren't (in my humble opinion, of course) authentic Mexican, I've struggled to walk down that aisle without something OEP finding its way into my basket.  There are some odd flavours available -- smokey BBQ fajitas, paprika and herb casserole -- but the enchilada and quesadilla kits are quick, easy dinner winners.  
And if you mix in plenty of cheese, the refried beans are decent.  The little flour tortilla boats, however? Taste like they should float but don't hold their shape in water.  Rather disappointing for both dinner and entertainment.


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3

The school run takes a minimum of two hours each day.  One hour each way.  Sometimes I stay in the nearby town, sometimes I come back home.  It sounds a lot worse than it actually is.  

For starters, it's pretty much continual driving.  Get on the road, lock in the cruise control and go.  Except for the occasional need to move the sun visor or change lanes, there's not much going on that requires more than ankle or wrist movements.  We take breakfast with us and have a book series downloaded from iTunes that we listen to.  In many ways it's proving to be a great way to wake up and transition into the school day.  As soon as we get out of the house we have an hour of low demand, high reward time occasionally interspersed with actual conversation.  We've had nice (relatively) dry weather since school started and only the occasional slowdown due to road construction.  So, all in all, not anything to complain about. It does mean that I'm putting on the mileage a lot faster than we anticipated, but so far that just equates to more frequent fill ups. 

 A week and a half ago the service light came on to get the oil changed.  Aaron had a minor freak out, insisting that we turn around and go immediately to the nearest garage to get the oil changed so we didn't destroy the engine and wind up having to walk home or blow up. Sometimes he catastrophises.

We calmed him down and I suggested that we take the car in to the dealership together the following week since he would be off school for the half-term break.  Before I had finished, he had begun planning his list of questions for the mechanic. 

Time slipped away from us during his week off, though, so by the time I made the call, the first available appointment was for tomorrow morning. Aaron went back to school today. Aaron was really unhappy with me. All that time spent on coming up with questions!  And what if I forgot to tell the mechanic something important and it didn't get fixed and then we had to make another appointment! All that time wasted!  All the potential damage to the car!  Did I mention the catastrophising? 

Last Thursday the blower for the fan (heater, front defrost, AC) stopped blowing.  No biggie.  It hasn't been that cold yet (and it never gets that hot!), so I called the dealership and the receptionist logged it to be looked at when the oil was changed.  Only a problem if the weather were to suddenly change.  So it shouldn't surprise anyone to discover that this weekend the rains came and the temperature dropped.  This morning was a one hour drive in fifteen minute segments - 10 minutes clear vision with the windows up, followed by three minutes of increasing haze and then two minutes of 70 mph down the road with the windows down in 40*F weather with bursts of rain.  Fun!  Invigorating!  As if Monday mornings don't already suck.  The good news was that the rear defroster was working fine, so I could get away with just the front windows down in short bursts. The better news? It warmed up a few degrees throughout the day, so the ride home was (slightly) less exciting. 

At dinner time I mentioned that I thought the issue might be with the fuse to the blower. If you've ever met me, even once, then you already know that I am the least mechanical minded person you will ever meet. Despite this, somehow the two very mechanically minded males who live with me decided that I might be right and scurried out to check the fuses. 

At 7:15 pm, I went to the door to call Aaron in to begin getting ready for bed. At 7:17 pm Aaron informed me that he was very sorry, but he didn't think it was the blower fuse but he wasn't sure what fuse it was and anyway it didn't matter now because he had pulled that fuse out and it didn't look blown but then he had dropped it inside the fuse box and couldn't find it and now it would have to be replaced anyways. 

I might have freaked out a bit. I might have even had a vision or seven of dying in a variety of increasingly more dramatic car crashes because of the significance of that lost 30amp fuse.  Sometimes I catastrophise. 

 7:45 pm is bedtime for Aaron.  At 7:53 pm, I put on my boots and coat, grabbed my keys and headed out to view the carnage for myself.  I looked at the fuse diagram (pictures instead of words, not that I'd actually understand it if I could read it!).  I tried the lights, checked the reverse sensors, the hazards, and the turn signals.  All good.  For kicks I tried the fan.  Still nothing.  But, seemingly, still as drivable as it was this morning. 

And then I tried the rear defroster. 

Click!

It didn't seem to be working. 

I waited.  I touched the glass to see if I could feel any warmth.  Nada. 

At 8:45pm, Josh took his car to the nearest shop that might possibly carry 30 amp car fuses and still be open past 9pm.  He returned with a chamois covered demister sponge instead. 

I am less than thrilled.



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2


Spoiler alert:  This is gonna be one of those "let's talk about the weather and what I had for lunch" posts.  I had forgotten how different it is to view your life through the lens of potential blog fodder.  It might take a while for things to get interesting around here again!

The morning started out with a rare glimpse of the sun.  I don't think I've ever been as clued into the comings and going of the sun as I have become since moving here.  We used to talk about the "shortening days of winter" but it took actually experiencing days that never quite passed the faded light of daybreak before the twilight was taking over to truly appreciate that big ball of fire and gas in the sky.  Anyways.  Sunrise was scheduled for 7:13 this morning; by 7:52 enough of those rising rays managed to penetrate the grey skies and my bedroom curtains and I knew it was time to get up.  Well, that and the fact that Aaron was screeching in disbelief that his father expected him to take a shower.  (On a Sunday!  Has any child in the history of humanity ever been so mistreated by his cold-hearted parents?  What calamity might befall him next?  Will he also be tortured into wearing socks?  Tune in next week as the drama continues to unfold...)

Josh made breakfast (another rare treat!) so I made coffee (necessity, but always a treat. Possibly an addiction as well.).  The diva Aaron showered and made himself a smoothie.  We ate banana and Nutella crepes in the living room.  Josh watched (American) football.  Aaron played on his DS.  I poked around Pinterest and sipped my (homemade) pumpkin-spice latte.  Josh took Aaron to his golf lesson;  I did housewifely things like laundry and dishes.

We had tomato-rice soup for lunch.  Football, DS, Facebook.

Josh started rice pudding to follow the lentil dish he had planned for dinner.   Aaron took his helicopter remote apart and gave us a detailed lecture of  how the thrust of his helicopter could be measured using Scotch-tape, 15 AAA batteries and the kitchen scale.  I hung up towels to dry and ironed school uniforms.

Josh went to the grocery store.  I remembered that I hadn't remembered to ask him to get a cucumber as he walked back in the door.  I went to the grocery store.  I remembered that I hadn't remembered to get eggs as I put the cucumber into the fridge.  It was discussed and decided that Aaron is still too young to go to the grocery store on his own and that the eggs could wait.  The grocery store closes at 4pm on Sundays and anyways, he had a helicopter remote to put back together.

By 4:30 the light was fading.  Garbage out, school bags packed, dinner ready.  Sunset was officially 4:51 pm.  We ate lentils and chicken and steamed carrots and rice pudding in the living room.  Josh watched (American) football.  Aaron played on his DS.  I got a papercut trying to make paper pinecones like the ones I had found on Pinterest.  

We'll call it a good day.



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1

I knew it had been awhile, but was startled to realize that it's been over two years since I last posted.  A very busy two years, sure, but two years!  If I am remembering my Astonishing (astonishing!) Biology (biology!) Facts (facts!) correctly, in that same amount of time I've changed all of my red blood cells eight times, my entire epidermis at least two dozen times, and my current fingernails (if you'd call them that) are fourth generation.  So really it's like I'm a completely different person.  Allow me to introduce myself.


Hi, I'm Susan, mother of a nearly 9 year-old, American expat elementary school teach turned homemaker living in rural Wales.  I like predictable dramas, equally predictable action movies, chai tea lattes, and everything that smells like pumpkin spice as soon as the leaves start to change colour. 

I used to live in a City where every possibility was less than a fifteen minute walk in any direction.  In that City of Possibility I fell in love with the notion of freedom.  I could walk out my front door and choose who I was and how I would see the world that day, ambling back home to share my witticisms and insights with the Whole Wide World.  A days worth of groceries, library books, diapers, and unmatched baby socks loaded into the bottom of a stroller, the world was my oyster unless I decided I'd prefer a pretzel.  With mustard.  A Little Guy to count porch lights with as we bumped our way across the cobblestones and roots in the sidewalks.  A Big Guy to compare the Little Guy's more, erm, Interesting Behaviours to.  Mommy Friends with equally addled Mommy Brains to share tales of Strolling and Breastfeeding and, soon enough, Toddling and Babyfooding with. Freedom to be and freedom to write it all down.

And then came The Big Move.  Suburbia with its glorious green lawns and larger than life lighting fixtures over expansive wooden floors.  An New house on a New street in the New development of a New(ish) town.  Still only fifteen minutes from the library and groceries.  By car. Thirty minutes away from everything else.  Five hours, by plane, from pretzels with mustard.  Three big play parks within spitting distance should you ever tire of your own backyard.  Great Friends with Great Kids, the kind you invite over for spaghetti once a week to run across your expansive wooden floors, roll across your glorious green lawn, and make your larger than life lighting fixtures shake with their squeals and screams and stomping feet up and down the stairs.  The downside to all this upsizing was that now I could no longer choose who I was and how to see my world when I walked out my front door. Instead my view was of my street in the rear view mirror as I backed out of the garage, driving along counting stop signs and streetlights with a Little Guy who was quickly morphing into an Aaron whose Interesting Behaviours were quickly beginning to cross that imaginary boundary between Herediatry Quirk and Cause For Alarm.  Insights and witticisms gave way to insecurities and worries, no longer safe to be shared with the Whole Wide World for fear of insulting the mother of the neighbour's sister's cousin's husband's best friend's wife if she should somehow find and read and recognize herself in the writing.  Thoughts turned inward and words that used to spin together to laugh at the foibles of the world and the worldly instead spun on their own heads finding flaws instead of humour.  A battle with the Darkness of Self Discovery, Disappointment and Doubt raged and roared, frequently taking prisoners from the fringes when there were none to be found closer at hand.

The Next Big Move (and a tastefully discreet prescription bottle) brought with it blissful reprieve from the Darkness.  Exploration and delight at all! things! new! temporarily pushed back concerns over the Interesting Behaviours, freshly stamped with "slightly atypical" and "slightly disconnected" and "will benefit from small settings with minimal sensory stimuli".  A new school with an old take on boys will be boys shoved the report into a bottom drawer and, collectively, all of our heads in the sand.  "Is settling in nicely" became "Needs some time to adjust".   "Confident and articulate" morphed into "not convincing" and "frequently confrontational" as logged (mis)behavioural reports became a more frequent occurrence.  On the flight home from a visit to our first City, my little boy tore out my heart when he asked if he could "please see a doctor like you used to see Dr. R?  Someone who can help me reprogram my brain so I can always be good?" 

My last post here was exactly one week, three days before that flight.

We came home and asked the question:  where is help, how do we know if we need it, and if we need it, how do we get it?  We moved up the street.  We made some new friends and kept the old.  Lost a (new)old friend and unblurred the lines between "friends" and friends.  We fought the good fight.  We toiled at tilling the soil.  We poured in bribes and treats and IEP meetings as if they were fertilizers, took away privileges and shook our heads and fingers as if they were weeds for another 15 months before I accepted the bitter truth that there was nothing left to pour in, take out or shake at.  We took a trip to the desert as the winter of 2014 withered away.  We came home but didn't go back.  For the following five months we taught each other -- slowly, gently, meticulously repairing each and every severed root.  Together we stretched out and found a new rhythm.  Together we sought out and explored new options.  Found a new school.

So now we have begun The Current Next New Thing.  So far it is working.  The good days far outnumber the bad.  There are bumps.  There have been tears.  There will be more tears and, no doubt, wailing and gnashing of teeth.   His and mine. We are juuuuust about over the honeymoon hump and beginning the mad plunge into the realm of Sensory Stimuli Overload that is the holiday season.  Two years is an awfully long time to take that plunge in silence.  Please check to see that all of your loose items have been properly stowed and that your seatbelt has been fastened low and tight across your hips.  Keep your hands and feet within the carriage at all times.  NaBloPoMo has started and I intended to take you along for the ride.


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