Christmas is over. I always feel a bit sad once the holiday is complete...no more running around like a chicken with my head chopped off trying to get everything done, just messes to clean up from all the goodness the holiday has left behind. And then, there is New Years to look forward to, which has become another quite exciting holiday since moving to Holland where the fireworks light up the night sky. But once New Years eve has passed and 2007 is upon us, there is the humdrum of winter days with nothing to look forward to, except spring which seems so far away. Still, it was another very ncie Christmas, with lots of little things that made it so. I love sharing the excitement of the season with my boys. And this year there were the concerts with the choir in which I was able to take part, as well as a delicious 5 course meal prepared by oma. There was the little Christmas party we hosted to share the day with friends, and planning to visit Santa Claus at the garden center where they produced snow to create that winter wonderland feeling. And of course, the boys got to choose their yearly ornament which always gives my heart a pitter-patter as I watch which they choose toa dorn our already overflowing tree. All the cards we receive which I can't wait to open and read the Christmas letters to see what has been happening with all my family and friends, and packages that arrive in the mail from family too far away. There are the phone calls between countries, discussing what we all want for Christmas as well as sharing all our holiday wishes. There is Christmas music playing on the stereo and Christmas movies watched on TV, family nights sitting around drinking hot cocoa, and eating decorated Christmas cookies which leave behind trails of dusty flour. There is the ever daily task of cleaning up pine needles that litter the floor and ending the night by turning off the glowing lights the decorate our home, knowing I'll be turning them on for the same effect the following morning. And then there is vacation from school...days I long to have fun with my boys as we have no schedules to meet, no mornign rush and no worries. Today, we have done nothing...we've played a few games, eaten a few meals, but linger yet in our pyjamas, teeth not brushed, faces not washed, as the dark night sky already descends upon us...I suppose I will put the kiddos to bed in teh same clothing they wore all day. I wanted to go out and have fun today, but with our colds and the boys completely happy staying in the comfy warm house, I decided we'd save adventures for another day...they have wanted to do nothing more than watch cartoons and eat popcorn...and so, that's what we've done...it's vacation after all...and so far, there have been only two minor arguments, which has made it a peaceful day to boot. Hopefully, that trend will continue throughout our vacation from school.

Anyway, it was a wonderful end to 2006...and now, onto the next phase of life, a new year and more experiences in which to partake.


Progression to Christmas

Our Countdown To Christmas! Just 2 days to go....Yippee!!!


A Sad Boy

I heard crying coming from his room. It was most unexpected, as he'd been dancing and singing all evening to songs on his CD player. I had just tucked him in, we'd laughed at a story, I sang a song and then he decided he wanted to listen to more music. When I gave him a kiss and told him to have sweet dreams, I had no idea of the sadness that was trapped inside his soul...and I didn't know it until I heard the sobbing coming from behind his closed door as I put away the laundry.

I quietly walked to his door and listened. I heard him talking to himself, crying about all the friends he was going to miss, about how nobody cares what he thinks. It broke my heart, that he couldn't talk to me sooner, that he thought that I didn't care...I do care, with every breath of my being, I care. So I entered his room and asked him why he was so sad.

Well, he has to move into a new classroom with the return to school after Christmas break. Every time we have discussed this, he's sounded excited about it and totally okay with the changes...changes for him are difficult, but he was taking it all in stride and seemed even gung ho about having a class with just three children. But not tonight. Tonight, my son, my Kaeden, hit a low, and could think of nothing but the friends he'd leave behind, the teacher that would no longer be his, the new situation a bit too demanding for a child of 11 with autism. He's been in the same calssroom with the same teacher for three years now, and it is a major deal. The class he is in is too trying for his teacher and they decided to split the kids up and make a few changes. Little did they know what pain would come to my lil guy's life. His sobbing just kept increasing as I talked to him about all the advantages to moving into the new class....but nothing mattered other than the fact that he would not see his friends or his teacher on the regular basis that he is so secure with now. Nothing could bring him to freedom, not even mama's kisses, mama's hair rubs, mama's words of wisdom.

As Kaeden asked me to leave him be alone, my own eyes filled with tears. For the first time in his life, he wanted me to leave him to his misery. "I just need to be by myself right now," are the exact words he used. And as I realized that there was no more I could do other than let him work through this pain alone, I kissed him goodnight and assured him I would be there if he needed me, all he needed to do was call. As I closed his door, he asked me to come back in a little while and check on him...my one consolation that he still needs me to help him heal this wound.

My son, I wish you peace in your new adventure. I promise you that everything will be okay...you have conquered so much already, you can conquer this too. Be strong, my boy...and I am here for you, whenever you decide you need me. And Kaeden, I love you more than all the stars in the sky...

Losing My Cool

Today started out in a bit of a fashion...a fashion that's gone out of style and I'm not really happy to be wearing. Kaeden was being his normal morning self (not exactly easy, happy, or cooperative), and Erwin got mad...and when I defended Kaeden (it really wasn't his fault, but mine) Erwin accused me of taking the blame for something he did again. Well, maybe I do that at times, but in this case, it was relevant. In any case, as I finished packing Erwin's lunch, I suddenly got the urge to put on those out of style jeans and smashed his sandwiches as I threw them against the wall. It had nothing to do with him, nothing to do with Kaed, but all to do with me and my lack of control. I get that way at times...and after looking back I understand the cause of my tantrum. I was stressed out! I was trying to get all the little gift bags packaged into Merry Christmas form before the bus came honking and Erwin took off for work, and this simple addition to the normal morning stress was too much to handle...I lost it, once again throwing my fury towards my husband...the one person I know can handle my irrational outbursts...he continues to stand by my side and give me his love and support, whatever I may throw his way...even if it is smashed sandwiches for the day.

Anyway, these little outbursts I have are enough to throw my entire day off balance, put me in a sullen mood, and cause me to have minor crying fits throughout the entire day, wondering why, when I have so much to be greatful for, one little something can throw me totally over the edge. I never feel good about that person I become, and guilt wreaks havok on my body and spirit. And I wonder if I am deserving of all the goodness that I have been blessed with in my life.

So, to try to create some order to my soul, I decided to take a minute to remember all that I am thankful for...here's just a sampling of a few of those "little things":

I am able to be a stay at home mom, nourishing my children with the security of having a parent always at their beckoning call. As much as I'd like to work parttime, I know that for my children, being home and taking care of them is the most important job I could be doing. They never have to worry about where they are supposed to be or who will be caring for them, because mama is always there to kiss a bruised knee, listen to a story, turn on a movie, prepare a meal, find a clean pair of undies, and just be present...and I am fulfilled by being a mom home with her children.

I have a husband that is not demanding of me. If things in the house are not done, if clothes are not ironed or dishes not washed, I don't have to worry about hearing him nag me. He accepts me for who I am, is always available to listen to my stories, helps me get the kids to bed at night, and does anything I ask of him within reason. He is a wonderful husband, a loving dad, and a partner in life I wouldn't want to be without. He also allows me to have time alone and is always aware of my activities and never gives me reason I can't do the things I want and enjoy. He is supportive of me.

I have a home which provides me with warm shelter, food is always abundant on the table, clothing which fits for all occasions...all those simple needs that one has in life. We live a comfortable life and afford many luxuries that offer us a well-balanced lifestyle. We don't want for much, our bills are always paid, and we don't have the nagging financial worries always hanging over our heads. That's not to say we are rich by any means, we live check to check like the majority of people, but we do so in a manner that fulfills us and provides plenty of little extras to give us a complete, well-rounded life.

The phone and internet keeps me in touch with family and friends. Without the luxury of good calling ratesI'd be so lost in life. I have a definite desire to speak to my mom and can afford to do so at least a couple times each week. I don't have to worry that we'll go broke if we want to share time laughing. And the internet allows me that same luxury with other family members, some of whom I am just learning to know again. It's wonderful knowing there are so many people out there that care, that wonder how I am, and keep in touch.

Friendship. I have friends, old and new. I have always been a bit hard to get to know as I shy away from getting too close to people, but I have made some very good friends in my life that provide me with everything I need. I hope that I do the same for them. Friends really add a lot to life, giving you support and love and the gift of understanding. They are fun to laugh with and carry on with, knowing they'll be there for you no matter what.

For the gift of my voice. I never knew that singing would bring me such a sense of release, but it does. When I sing I can throw out all the frustrations of life through song, give my lungs a good workout, and do it in the form of something beautiful. I am grateful that I have the choir to give me something of my own in which I can be among people all sharing a common interest.

My boys. They give me just about everything one can imagine. It's not all good, but it does show that I have a wonderful range of emotion!!! Mostly though, when i look at my kids, I have a feeling of awe. I just can't believe that I helped in the creation of something so beautiful, that I was given such a gift to protect and guide, that I was entrusted to care for them and give them my love. They are such amazing little people with such differing personalities. They bring me that star at the end of the day and that sunshine every morning. They are my life and I never would ahve guessed what a great sense of accomplishment these little people create within me. My little bug and my Riley boy, they bring me hope, happiness, and love.

My fishies. It may sound crazy, but I love to watch them swim, feed them, clean their tank, to talk to them and watch as they come to the top knowing I am going to provide for them. I could watch them for hours, just wondering about their lives. I really get fulfillment from my fish, and though I'd like another pet, they do give me satisfaction.

There is so much more, but I am already feeling more free...and on top of that, my littlest love just came in from outside and asked that I play memory with him. And I want to go play, give him my complete attention, let him know he is worthy of my time. So, for now, I will go change out of those outdated pants and step into something more comfortable, something a bit more stylish, and feel good about me and my life.


Christmas Thoughts

Christmas...a time when magic fills the air, the twinkling lights and glow of the Christmas tree fills your heart with peace, Christmas songs lift your spirit, you feel alive!!! And why shouldn't we as we celebrate the birth of Christ? What He gave for us to be able to enjoy this holiday, this festival, to have this peace fill us? And with Christmas, comes the added bonus of Santa and his reindeer and sleigh filled with toys for good girls and boys. Commercial? Maybe, but it has it's own sense of magic, and with kids in the house, you can't help but get caught up in the adventure of Santa and all that he means.

I purchased The Polar Express as it's my favorite Christmas story, and the boys have enjoyed watching it with me numerous times since I pulled it fresh from the package last week. They don't quite get the message, but my heart burns and my eyes fill with tears each time I watch the movie, feeling the magic and hearing the jingle of the bell, the sign that I am a believer...and believer I am. I remember when I first started to question Santa Claus and whether he was real, my mom gave me some very steadfast words of wisdom: The magic of Santa will never leave you as long as you believe. And each year as I wrap packages and see the twinkle in my children's eyes as they await Santa's visit, I know that her words ring true; for me, Santa is magical!

But, there is another side to this story, one that fills me with a bit of sadness, a sense of loss, a wish for a bit more magic. Erwin did not grow up knowing Santa. He did not celebrate Christmas in the manner that I know Christmas...nor did my in-laws and many other people from this part of the world. In school, Christmas is only discussed as the birth of baby Jesus...there are no stories of Santa and what he will bring, no sitting on Santa's knee and telling him your dreams for the year. And because Erwin has never known the magic of Santa, he cannot share the excitement of the Christmas season with me. He sees only Sinterklaas as the magical holiday figure and makes jokes about Santa, the fat, drunk man trying to look like Sinterklaas. He doesn't feel the magic of this cheery fellow with a nose like a cherry that laughs like a bowl full of jelly. He doesn't grasp the feeling of nostalgia I have when trying to bring this magic alive for my children in a culture where he does not reign king. He can't understand the deep love of the Christmas holiday that I have, the magic that fills my soul, the spirit that comes in the form of Santa.

That's why, as I watch The Polar Express, I cry. I ache for my husband to feel the same magic that I do. To have just a glimmer of the passion that comes with my favorite holiday of the year. And he can't, becasue he has no history. My in-laws came and the boys tlaked them into watching The Polar Express. As I sat at the ending with tears streaming down my cheeks, they couldn't possibly understand what it meant to me. They haven't got that magic in their hearts...the magic that comes from childhood and brings you to this moment in your life. They have that magic only when Sinterklaas arrives, but with Santa, it's me alone that has to pass on this tradition, the magic, the spirit of this jolly fellow and hope that my children grow up believing as I do...believing in the magic of this red-suited man with a twinkle in his eye. Because if you believe, the magic of Santa will live on forever...wise words passed down through the generations!

I will leave you with a hearty HO HO HO!!!! MERRRRRYYYY CHRISTMAS! And wishes for the magic of this blessed season to fill your heart...



I took the huge bottle of mayonnaise out of the fridge today. Jari wanted hot dogs for lunch and as I put his suace on the plate, I realized how much mayonnaise we actually go through. My son will not eat without his precious mayonnaise in which to dip every item of food. The only time I don't bring out the mayo with a meal is when it's cereal for breakfast. It just hit me funny today, putting his glob of mayo on the plate and I laughed out loud. When I brought jari his cut up hotdog, before he even looked at the plate, he said "And the sauce (mayo) too?" When I handed him his plate with a huge laugh pointing to the mayo, his baby blues lit up and he was completely content.

So, I decided to look up the origin of mayonnaise, and what it is that makes my son so satisfied at mealtime. Have a peek here ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayonnaise) to see what makes my son tick (and grow too!).

Happy eating...mayonnaise, no less.


Autism Counselor

Our autism counselor just left. She came today to discuss how Kaeden is doing...well, he's been okay, but things have been better. All the hoopla of the holiday season is difficult for him. He enjoys it so very much, while at the same time the stress is overwhelming for him. Think about how much the holidays throw you in a loop and multiply that by 100 times and you have an idea how it affects him. Every one of his senses works overtime every day of his life. Every sound, sight, smell, taste, and feeling is multiplied, and they all work simultaneously. He doesn't have the option of turning off his senses. For many people, walking in a kitchen with dinner cooking smells delicious. For Kaeden, all at once, he smells the dinner cooking, sees the mess on the countertop, his tastebuds work to bring the smell to fruition, he hears the sissing of the boiling water, he feels the heat in the air...and while we notice all of that, it comes in parts...for him it's like a sensory overload.

Our counselor reminded me that while "fun" activities such as amusement parks and carnivals and zoos are wonderful for the average person, autistic individuals go into sensory overload and it overtakes their entire system. She asked me not to forget a walk in the woods or a bike ride along quiet streets to help Kaeden relax during this busy period, to bring him peace and contentment in this world full of so many sights, sounds, and smells.

We discussed Jari, and how he will soon be bypassing Kaeden in many different ways as he grows and finds his way in this world. Kaeden will probably react to this negatively as he sees his brother succeed, while he realizes that Jari is more normal than he is. However, she also told me that in 99% of cases with an older autistic sibling, the younger child is more compassionate for his sibling, learns to help him through life, is there for him. The younger child cares about his sibling more than anyone, as he has always had this autistic child in his life. He hasn't known life any differently and needs the fulfillment of the autistic person in his life. Often, siblings of autistic children grow up to work in a profession working with people, because they ahve been trained from birth to recognize differences and emotions, to accept people for who they are. I know Jari is learning patience and acceptance even as he learns how easy it is for him to bring Kaeden to tears. I hope that in time he uses this ability for the good.

I was told that recent studies have proved that the father passes on the autistic gene to his child. In the case of an autistic father, their child will have autism with 54% if he is a boy and 34% if she is a girl. Our counselor told me that because of the high outcome of a child being born with autism, Kaeden should realistically not have children. It is passed on through the father. 90% of children that have autism have it from a gene passed from the father, 10% from some form of brain damage.

As for Kaeden's problem with cussing? We need to tell him what words he can use in place of the cuss words. He doesn't have the tools to figure out what he can say in place of the bad word, so he simply says the bad word. In the case when he is angry, he doesn't even recognize what he is saying or doing until after the fact. In these moments it in impossible to reach him. Even after, when he knows what he's done is wrong, he can't put two and two together to stop it the following time. With tools that we offer him to help, he may eventually be able to turn the behavior around, but it needs to be with assistance, as it is not something he can do on his own.

I don't know why I wanted to write about this today. I know only that it is always a relief to have the counselor come and talk with me about my son. She is someone who tells me each time Is ee her what a good job we are doing with our son. She says that Kaeden knows he is loved and feels secure enough with us to let his emotions and pain and fear show at home, even as he hides it when others are around. He needs to be accepted for who he is, and the older he gets, the more noticeable his handicap becomes, to us, to him, and to society. We need to be his lighthouse for this ship out at sea. We need to guide him, reach him, and give him strength and security. We need to love him.

Each time our counselor comes, I get teary-eyed as we discuss my child. I get teary-eyed as she tells me that the life I am leading is difficult, that having a child in a wheelchair with mental retardation is easier than dealing with the day in day out crisis of a child with autism. Because a child with autism is inconsistent, tiring, and stressful, and life never has teh easy feel of peace. As I tell her thank you as she walks out my door, I truly mean it. Thank you for helping me to understand, for coming to terms with this disability, for making me smile as I hear success stories and for making me cry as I share my pain and feeling of being an inadequate mother. Thank you for letting me be me, the mother of an autistic child.



Wow! I live in the happiest part of Europe! Makes me wonder why with all the rain we've been having pouring down and no sun whatsoever to be seen...Jari even asked me yesterday at lunch time if it was already bedtime since it was so dark outside. Anyway, I have a Dutch family and live in Belgium so I should be just about at the top in happiness factor...maybe I need a bit more practice!?! I truly wonder what creates happiness? The only thing I do know is that it has to come from within...or then again, maybe you've just got to be nuts! :-) Here's the article from Expatica news...

Belgians amongst 'happiest' Europeans
6 December 2006
BRUSSELS - The Dutch are the happiest Europeans followed by the Irish and the Belgians, reveals a new survey.
Belgians also rank amongst the biggest consumers of psychological self-help books, but scientists haven't researched into whether there is a link between this and the findings of the 'happiness' survey.
This survey initiated by the European Commission showed that the Dutch are the Happiest Europeans surveyed with as many as 83 percent of Dutch respondents answering positively.
The Irish join the ranks of happiest European with 82 percent giving positive answers, followed by the Belgians with 80 percent.Lithuania, Bulgaria and, surprisingly, Italy, are amongst the countries with the most unhappy residents. Only 42 percent of the participants questioned in these countries said they were happy.

But the results of this survey are not all positive for Belgians.
Relatively, Belgium hospitalises more people for mental health reasons then any other European country. Per capita, there are five times as many patients hospitalised for psychological illness in Belgium than the European average.
In short, Belgians may be crazy but they're happy.
[Copyright Expatica news 2006]



Jari stayed home with mama today. He's been getting to bed really late and when he was still sleeping this morning, I left him to doze under his covers. He woke about 9:30 in a pretty happy mood. I was glad I let him sleep. So, it was a big playdate today. One of those days I can say that I accomplished a whole bunch...entertaining my child and enjoying his company. We played Kid Monoploy time and time again...but...

During one game Jari really wanted to land on the free money space. Each time he missed the space he'd get frustrated and count the dice with how many throws he'd need to reach it again. I knew he was on a mission. And with good reason, there was about $11...quite a lot in Kid Monoploy! Anyway, I went to make a cup of coffee...it was his turn to go. He threw the dice and I saw it land on the table...a number 3...I continued making my coffee. Suddenly I hear him scream out "Mama, I got a SIX! Now I get ALL the money!" And I see his little hand reach over and grasp the dollars, his eyes twinkling with satisfaction.

So, knowing that he cheated, I asked "Jari, are you SURE you got a six? Cuz, I won't play a game with someone that cheats." He pipes up with "I didn't cheat!" But I saw the twinkle in his eyes dim as he stared back at me with his big blue eyes. So, we sat across from each other staring. I told him to go ahead and take the money if he didn't cheat. As his hand closed over the dollars, he reluctantly left them on the board. Then he looked and me and just shook his head yes. "You did cheat?" I asked him. When he turned his eyes away from mine, I knew he realized he had been caught. I told him it isn't fun to play if people cheat, and that God is also not proud of him when he does'something like that. And he explained that it was gonna be a six but then it rolled over to a three but he thought it was a six. I chuckled to myself, again reiterating that it's not okay to lie.

As we finished the game and Jari eventually did win the money honestly (in fact, he won the entire game), as we were cleaning up he asked, "Well, is grampa gonna be mad at me too if I lie?" I couldn't help but let a little laugh escape my lips...


Little Faces

Here is a story I wrote for an autism website. It is being considered for publication in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. Whether or not it is published, writing it gave me a sense of freedom, reminding me that dealing with autism has many trials, but we are making it even through all the heart-wrenching times. This story is being considered for the Changed Attitudes section of the book. Maybe reading it will also alter your views of handicapped people.

It was a September morning, the sun shining bright, the excitement of a new school year fueling our spirit. It was our first month living in Belgium, a new town, a new school, new friends and activities. I had breakfast on the table and clothes waiting on a chair for my 11 year old son, Kaeden. Of course, there were also all his picture cards lined up to help him organise his morning chores. As I climbed the stairs to wake him for this day, a slight panic started to form in the pit of my stomach. My son has autism, borderline asperger's/PDD-NOS, with a combination of ADHD. Today was his first day in this new school, where nobody knew about his diagnosis. Yet I was thrilled at the same time. This little boy was going to be placed in a special needs school had we continued living in Holland, but with our move to Belgium came the opportunity to once again make a go of it in the local, "normal" school.

You see, as his mother, the idea of him being handicapped and being unable to live a so-called normal life squeezed the breath from my lungs and caused a cloud of darkness to envelop my spirit in sadness. I had already been dealt the blow of his first diagnosis of ADHD a few years prior, but the newer autism diagnosis was one which just tore my heart to shreds. It wasn't that I didn't realize my son was a bit different than other children, a bit behind the mental age of his peers, a bit more unruly and wiggly, a bit more aggressive, a bit too friendly with strangers. Of course I knew all those things, but in my heart, I could not see him as being anything other than my child, the tiny baby that I carried in my womb and held close to me after giving birth, the child I nurtured with the milk from my own body, the child I watched grow and take form and become the Kaeden that he is today. Today, yes, a chance to once again hide his disability and hide my own inability to accept him for exactly who he is.

As my son woke and quickly jumped up with the excitemet of school on the horizon, I was filled with relief. Mornings for Kaeden are extremely difficult, and getting him ready on time is always a chore. Today he jumped right up, proving to me that this new start was a good choice for him, and in my mind I conjured up images of him bringing real friends home from shool to play, taking part in school activities, catching up in reading and writing and graduating at the top of his class. As we prepared for our first day of school, I was filled with peace.

The peace was short lived. After his first day in his new school, beaming with pride as I went to pick him up, a smile on my face ready to see him and hear all about his day, I was confronted by the director of the school. She informed me that Kaeden seemed ill-prepared for his age group and they had placed him in a class one level down. She also wanted him to be tested and see what options were available for Kaeden. My heart sunk, my breath became labored, tears started to form in my eyes. Was I the only one who could see this child's potential? Was I the only one who cared about giving him the very best? Why couldn't he make it through one day without giving me these new problems? I felt totally defeated.

As the testing was completed over the course of a couple weeks, my son continued to attend the local school. He seemed happy enough there, but was not making any real progress, hadn't formed any real clicks with any of the kids. With all the results compiled, we went to the dreaded appointment for the results. I heard them tell me all the scores, explain all the reasons he could not be successful in their school, and then heard a scream tear through my body as they told me they had made an appointment for me to visit the special needs school just a short bus ride from our home. I had failed. I had failed at hiding his disability and I was being punished by reality. My son was not equipped to deal with life at a normal school.

We headed to the special needs school and were greeted with kindness. Yes, they had the training to help children like Kaeden, yes, he could learn all the same material, just at an individual level suited to him. As they explained the concept of their school, my sadness began to turn around once again. This school was close to home, he would have the service of a bus to take him there and home again, he would have a class with a minimal number of students, the teachers were specially trained to deal with learning disabilities, and there were a number of children from our neighborhood who also attended the school. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad afterall, I thought, as we met with the teacher that would be his. I looked at the classroom walls with children's pictures and posters hanging and watched as she ruffled my son's hair. He had a big smile on his face as she showed him where he could hang his coat, where he would sit next to his classmates. And thus began his life at yet another new school.

As I returned home and waited for his bus in the afternoon, I felt sadness again as I watched all the mama's picking their children up across the street from my house at the local school, all smiling and laughing, happily engaged in conversation. I wanted to be one of them. That feeling faded as I saw my son's bus arrive and he stepped off running to me with a smile plastered across his face. All thoughts of the "normal" moms left my mind as I headed to our home hearing my son talk about his new school and the kids he had played with during recess.

This happiness was also short-lived as week after week I received calls from the school to discuss Kaeden's behavior. It was always with dread that I answered my phone, waiting to hear what he'd done now to be put in detention. I was angered that this school that had given me promises of being equipped to deal with children like my son, seemed unable to do anything to help him. It was an emotional visit when I met with the director and was given the name of yet another school that might be more suitable for my son.

I put off contacting the school until I could no longer accept the position my son was in day after day at his current school. I finally made an appointment to meet with the school. As I walked through the doors of St. Elisabeth school, I looked around me and recognized this was not at all a typical school. For one thing, it was huge, the playground outside was filled with therapeutic types of equipment rather than the typical swings and slide, and there were many differnt children walking through the hallways. By this, I mean children in wheelchairs, children with down's syndrome, children with other noticeable handicaps. As I gave my name at the reception, she asked me if I needed someone from the school or from the boarding home. I searched through my purse for the name of the lady I was supposed to meet, praying it was someone from the school. It was. As she greeted me and we toured the school, I was totally overwhelmed. She showed me the swimming pool in the school, the trampoline room used for therapy, the different areas of the school all containing classrooms for specific handicaps. And then we reached the autism department. I entered with skepticism, feeling extremely uneasy. The classroom had 6 desks, each their own cubicle. There were very few pictures on the walls, to help the children concentrate she explained. There were special boards with each child's name and their own set of tasks for each 20 minute period of the day. It was a totally structured and strict environment. It didn't look like a fun place to be, rather a place to work. I was hardened by this point in my search for a perfect school, and made statements that told her I was not happy with all the problems we had encountered and wanted proof that he would be able to be successful here. What proof could she give me? She explained that some children need the extra structure of a day completely lined out for them, that they need separation from other children in order to stay on task. She told me that the classrooms had no more than six children to give them the individual attention they need, and that they still had recess and special classes. She offered the benefit of children being able to stay until they reach the age of 22, the advantage of the school also having a home, and a daycare. I wasn't convinced, my son was a happy, healthy little boy, he didn't look the part of the hadicapped kids I had seen in the hallway, how would he ever be normalized in society if he had to be in such an environment? I disn't want to face the truth of my son's handicap.

As we returned to her office where she gave me some brochures, she informed me that there was a waiting list for the autism classes, but that they were planning to create another classroom at the start of the next school year if I wanted to register Kaeden. I told her I would consider it, and made another appointment in which I could bring Kaeden with me. We went to the appointment and Kaeden was so thrilled with the trampolines and swimming pool in the school, he was convinced this was the place for him to be. As he walked down the halls, he wasn't aware or bothered by the faces he encounterd, a fact that didn't go unnoticed. As I signed my name next to the little X, I felt betrayed by God, the system, my son. I just wanted my pitiful self to be swallowed up, I didn't want to deal with all this any more. I was trying to do what was best for my child, but I just didn't know what that was anymore. I didn't know how to help him be successful.

After the summer vacation, another September was upon us. The air was fresh and crisp with the promise of another school year in the air. As I prepared Kaeden for his new school, he was happy and excited, couldn't wait to go in and meet his new friends. When we heard the bus pull up outside, I gave him a kiss and opened the door. As I looked into the windows of the school bus, lots of little faces were staring back at me. Children with handicaps, noticeable handicaps. One little boy had his face plastered against the window. I couldn't peel my eyes from his face, his face showing the physical signs of down's syndrome. He gave me a huge smile, and a little wave as the bus carried my son away from me once again. I closed the door and went into my home and cried. Cried tears for the child I could not have. Cried tears for the mother I could not be. Cried tears for the anger and sadness that filled my soul.

Each day as I put Kaeden on the bus, those faces stared down at me from the window. I came to recognize some of the faces, especially the little boy that waved to me each morning. I came to recognize them not as handicpped people, but for the smiles and rumpled hair, the people behind the faces. Finally one morning as I saw Kaeden take his seat, I realized that my heart was free. I didn't feel the pain that I did every other morning. I felt peaceful and secure. As I looked up at the windows filled with children headed to their special school, I waved back at the little boy staring down at me. With extra entusiasm, he waved at me and the biggest smile I've ever seen lighted up his entire face. And as I returned his smile, I sent God a thankful prayer for giving me the opportunity to accept these people, these disabled people, my son! My son had courage and I was finally accwepting him for who he is.

Each morning, I await the little faces staring at me from the windows of the bus. I can't wait to wave to my little friend and capture the feeling of sunshine he always brings me. And as the bus pulls away heading for St. Elisabeth school, I am happy that my son is sitting there next to all those people, people that know compassion and love, people that are accepting and non-judgemental. People that smile from the windows of a bus.



The holidays are upon us. We celebrated Sinterklaas a couple days early on Sunday. We had such a great weekend. First it was soccer and Scouts, then Erwin adn I attended the yearly "dobbelsteen avond" with all of his old friends. It's greta to catch up with everyone. I was amazed at howe much people's lives have changed in the past year...one couple bought a new home, another two are moving in together, another is adding on to their home...and I saw an almost two-year-old I haven't seen since she was a baby and pictures of another friends baby. It was fun...Erwin and i took the bikes so we could drink and got there pretty soaked...but it was dry on the way home as we rode back to oma and opa's to spend the night. Sunday we woke and quickly got ready to take the kids to a movie. We're making our own tradition, spending Sinterklas morning at a family movie with our kdis. We all enjoyed the movie, but it was a bit too deep for Jari...Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek. Then we walked around the shops a bit before heading to another friend's birthday/graduation party. And then, the big thrill was upon us! We arrived abck at oma and opa's and immediately put on some music for Sinterklaas. We sang and got excited and suddenly there was pepernoten being thrown into the room adn all the windows and doors were shaking from Zwarte Piet. The boys were so excited...not sure where to look first or which cookies to grab from the floor...and then, as they checked out the window, big ooh's and aah's escaped their spirit and gathered big smiles on their faces as the presents were discovered under the porch! Jute sacks filled with brightly wrapped gifts, a tub full of goodies...and Jari's huge sigh as the excitement leadign to that moment escaped him. It was a pleasant evening...the boys were so well-behaved and not at all the wild monekys they normally are. Each gift Jari received was opened with a huge sigh...his sign that it was just breathtaking! And Kaeden sat quietly next to oma the entire evening, happily showing off his gifts and carefully placing them into his pile on the floor. As we read our poems to each other, the boys listened contentedly. Jari played with his new garage, Kaeden listened to his new CD on his new CD player, Ilse let her motorized puppy walk across the floor, I read a book with children's oldtime games in it, Erwin checked out all the dates on his new calendar, oma set up her new digital scale, and opa flashed us all decked out in his new bathrobe. And we all ate snacks and yummy bits oma had put together, as well as candy carefully placed within everyone's reach! It was a relaxed evening, and after 4 hours everything was exchanged and a mess left behind in oma and opa's living room. We all received the gift of tickets to the Efteling, a wonderful amusement park for young and old, from Ilse Piet, and made plans to go on Saturday. So, that's where we're headed this weekend. The kids both had Sinterklaas celebrations at school today and came home with some cute things they had made. And tomorrow they are both off, for a chance to get over the excitement and play with their new toys. A short list? Mama: digital scale, lottery tickets, an angel candleholder, a movie, tea towels, game book, splatter paint kit, uhm...there is more to be sure, but that's what I rememebr at the moment. Papa: calendar X2, 2 new sweaters, atari game, lottery tickets, AOE game, ??? Kaeden: Cd stuff, Knex, lots of paper and pens, a stapler, pyjamas, pants, undies, socks, a book starring him, ??? Jari: garage, a new training outfit for his soccer practice, soccer shoes, a book starring him, blocks, a USA puzzle, a catepillar, ??? And we got a new vacuum too! Yes, we certainly were all very good little KIDS this year...and what a loot we received. But I can honestly say that the best gift is that I have such a warm and loving family with whom to share the new cultures and traditions, to learn all about my husband and his heritage, and to create that same excitement and magic for our own children to carry on further through the generations. My dear little boys, you are lucky guys...and I love you both.


Biting My Nails

Dang! About 6 or 7 months ago I quit biting my nails. Jari started biting his and I promised him that I would quit doing it if he would...wé both stopped. But, yesterday I spent the day chewing away. Today I am feeling the pain. I have 3 very mismatched nails left and 7 stubs bitten so low that they are bleeding. I can't believe I did it. I sincerely thought I had that little problem licked...now I can only hope my baby doesn't start again. Every time he wants to bite, he says "But momma doesn't bite her nails, so neither do I" with a proud smile on his face. Maybe he won't notice. This really just bites...literally!