Last night was our parent-teacher conference for Kaeden. We headed off to the school expecting to get his report about all he's learning and what he's achieved and what he'll continue working on and what new things they'll throw into the mix next semester. The usual, but always interesting to actually know how he's doing academically, as his typical response is "I dunno...I don't remember...or I don't wanna talk about it." Luckily we have a daily written journal back and forth with the teachers, so I ahve a pretty good idea how things are going in general, but academically, little is said. I was looking forward to learning his test scores and feeling secure, because he always does well on the tests and on paper he stands out as a highly successful child. And that relieves me of some of my worry about him.

However, upon our arrival at the school, I was greeted with a new format of parent-teacher conference. There wasn't a single reference to how he is doing academically. There were no test scores presented. There was just this little circle of discomfort around my head as two teachers and another counselor from the regional learning center discussed our son with us. Discussed not his academic success, but his failure to thrive due to his extreme behavior problems stemming from his inability to control himself. He is just raging out-of-control, if not at home, then at school, and the myriad of problems this creates is great. Instead of getting assistance with his school placement for next year, they are advising us to have Kaeden put into care for a complete observation. They simply do not feel that they can justify any high school plans when his behavior is the cause of his lack of success. He can't sit still anymore, he can't focus on his work, he can't complete his work, and he can't move forth scholastically with these problems hanging over his head.

So, as I sat and heard their recomendation that my son be placed in a "unit", stripped of all his medication, given every test in the medical book, both mentally and physically, and find for once and for all the underlying cause for his aggression and anger and behavior problems, I found myself on the verge of panic. See, autism is no easy thing. It manifests itself differently in each individual, and on top of the problems with the autism, many other disorders can also arise. And Kaeden's medication is just not cutting it anymore. Coming into puberty, his 8 year old mental self cannot compete with or control his 13 year old physical self. He's simply losing it.

So, after we asked numerous questions about this placement, what it would mean for him, for our family, financial issues, and the symantics of the entire ordeal, I felt a bit of relief. I mean, no, I don't want my son to be sent away from home; no, I do not want to be subjected to too many questions about painful times in our lives; no, I do not want to hear all the reasons he is angry at me; no, I do not want to start the trials with medication all over again; no, I do not want to do all the paperwork such a stay will bring...but, and here's the big thing, I do want help for my son, to allow him to be the best he can be, to allow him freedom from pain and anger and hurt, to give him a concept of self-confidence, to find all the medical issues surrounding all these things and set him on the path for a successful life ahead. And this complete and thorough hospital stay sounds like it just may be the ticket we've been trying to find for a long time. It may give us some answers and some hope and some freedom from all the negativity that lies in our family. It may bring us, and most of all Kaeden, some peace.

I am scared. This is such a huge step to take. As a parent, when we first hold our little one as a newborn, we see their beauty, we're in awe over this person we have created, we can see nothing but the beauty his birth has brought into our life...and over the years that myth is diluted with each step forth on the path of independence. But with autism in the mix, that path is wound around far too many trees and stones and pathways through the forest, and you get a little lost trying to find your way back out into the sunlight. It kind of swallows you up as you sweat, wondering if you'll ever make it out alive, trying each path as it leads to yet another obstacle stuck in the darkness of the forest, thinking that you'll neevr make it out, never see the sunshine again, never be able to walk a steaight path from one point to another.

I want to walk out of the darkness of the forest. I want to feel the sunshine on my face. I want to follow my son from point A to point B without getting lost through all the obstacles. I want the relief of knowing it's going to be okay.

And so, there's this decision weighing heavily on my mind, and even though I feel in my heart of hearts that it is the right thing to do, to finally give Kaeden Kaeden himself back, I am in pain. In pain that our lives have gotten to this point, in pain that my child needs this type of intervention, in pain that my son will be removed from our home, in pain that I, his mom, wasn't able to make it all okay...but I feel a tiny tug of relief and some hope and finally I feel as if I can breathe fresh air, cuz maybe, just maybe, help is finally on the way. Maybe I can finally walk out of the darkness of those woods, next to my son, sunshine shining upon his beautiful, hopeful, paceful face.


Who Is That?

Sunday, we're trekking off to a Winter Wonderland Paradise called Phantasialand, where we'll be welcomed by rides and fun and maybe even a visit from Santa and fairies and elves all decorated in a Winter Wonderland theme. We're going with oma and opa and Aunt Ilse, and Michel is also coming along. And on Christmas day we're going to head to Helmond with my parents for a nice Christmas dinner with Erwin's family, and Michel will also be present.

Michel? Never heard about him...who is that?

He is the real and true boyfriend of my sister-in-law. And she likes him enough to subject him to these family days, which means it's gotta be serious! Really, who would bring their boyfriend along to an amusement park with an over-stimulated autistic teenager, a screaming, stubborn six-year-old, their mom who, though now Dutch, still has her Americanized language tools, and their father who knows all the right buttons to push to drive his sister crazy?! All I can say, is it must be LOVE! Holy cow, I never expected to say that where Ilse is concerned. But wow, I am SO happy for her.

Ever since I have been a member of Erwin's family, Ilse has had a few dates or been in a short-term relationship that hasn't worked out. Her horse has been her top priority and left her no time to manage a relationship as well. But since this summer, and her announcement that Michel is in her life, things have changed. She's still dedicated to Kartouche, she still makes it to dinners when we visit, she still goes to work...but now she's making time for this man in her life as well. And she seems to be very happy.

I am thrilled that Michel is joining us. It means that Ilse is taking her relationship to the next level, allowing him to know not only her, but also her family, and subjecting herself and Michel to a whole new aspect of Ilse. It means that he's important, and she plans on him sticking around, trusts him to join our family ride, with all our idiosyncrasies. And it means that someone new is throwing another element into our family. It's exciting, wondering about who he is, drawing a few conclusions from hearing stories, and awaiting judgement day when we finally meet. I know Michel is someone I will like, because he is making my sister-in-law happy, and that's something that really counts.

So, now that we're finally going to meet Mr. Right, can I begin asking when I'm going to be an auntie???! :-) Oh, and Congratulations Zusje!


Ticking Off The Days

Isn't it exciting? My mom and dad will be here in less than a week. And each night before bed, while we sing our songs and read our stories, we check off how many more sleeps til gramma and grampa are here to play! I can't even begin to portray in words the sparkle that flies from my children's eyes when they hear it's now just 10, 9, 8, 7...more sleeps! Gramma and Grampa are 100 times more exciting than Santa's visit. We've been trying to get the house cleaned up and organized so that they can come into a somewhat comfy home. Storage boxes full of treasured JUNK has been moved to the attic, and while we haven't yet begun the clearing out of their bedroom, we'll get to it eventually...oh, say, 11pm Dec 23rd when we need to leave for the airport by 8am the next morning...and they'll never be the wiser! Because, they probably won't even notice the cobwebs swept away, the shelves all dusted and windows sparkling clean...cuz if they have the same sparkle in their eyes that my boys have, everything will be shining and twinkling and nothing else is gonna matter. A year and a half since Jari last squeezed his little arms around grampa's neck...2 birthdays later, 3 lost teeth, 10 inches taller, and already able to read...and still, that bond between him and his grampa is as strong as if they see each other every day. It amazes me, makes me feel prouder than proud that I have managed to develop this special quality from thousands of miles away. And when I see the tears of joy make those sparkles shine even a little brighter come Dec 24, I'll be shivering from inside, happier than I have been in a long time, knowing my children and my parents get to indulge in their grandson/grandparent bonds, and make them even that much stronger without having to do it across the miles. Isn't it exciting?


O' Christmas Tree, O' Christmas Tree...

How lovely are your branches....

And lovely they are, all filled with the work of loving little hands and memories of Christmas celebrations past.


The Spirit of Christmas

I absolutely love the Christmas season. I enjoy listening to Christmas music and decorating the house. I love looking at decorations claiming streets and homes and yards. I love searching out special gifts and wrapping them up in pretty paper. I love the excitement I see in my children with the upcoming visit of Santa Claus. I love being in a church filled with decorated trees and Christmas flowers and the peaceful concept of Baby Jesus. I love the booming fireowrks and lighted skies during the New Year's celebration. I love going as a family and finding our perfect tree, wrestling with boxes from the attic and knotted together strings of lights. I love being surrounded by family and friends.

But what I don't love about Christmas is the feeling that giving brings when it swallows you up whole and becomes a competition. My favorite thing to do is find what I consider a perfect gift for a friend or family member, or making something I think they will love, and getting it to them so their eyes can twinkle during their Christmas celebration. However, sometimes when I find that perfection, or create that perfection, I am troubled. Troubled by wondering if they think it is enough, or will understand the meaning behind what I have chosen especially for them. Troubled by the fact that my measly 5 euro gift cannot compare to the 30 euro they have invested in me. Because, for me, the gift is NOT about the value or quantity, but about the quality...and the quality can only come in the form of giving from the heart, spotting that perfect gift through a store window and then lovingly handing over the cash, whatever the dollar amount, knowing you ahve chosen something your special friend or family member will either 1)love, 2) be able to use or 3) bring back a special memory of past days.

Yesterday, I spent the day with friends of mine at a Christmas market. We enjoyed wandering through the stalls and picking up a few odds and ends. On the way there, my one friend said: Oh no, I forgot to get M a gift. Maybe I can pick her something up at the markets. I thought that was a good compromise. As we wandered the stalls, she could decide what our other friend would love and then purchase it as a surprise. I, however, did not bring a gift, nor did I plan to buy one for this particular friend. We have neevr exchanged gifts, and if I see something I think she'll like, I pick it up and give it to her....but not as a necessary Christmas exchange. But when we got the the market and started looking at all the Christmas surprises, it turned into a money game. "I am going to buy you something for Christmas today, so let me know what you like," my one friend said. "Well, only if I can buy something for you in return," said the other. And then the game began. One purchased one thing, and the other purchased another to reciprocate. And it kept going on that way all through the afternoon. And I admit, it was starting to drive me crazy, because it became more a game of who could out-give rather than finding that special feeling of choosing a perfect gift. And at the end of the evening, my girlfriend said "" Well, I got nearly all my shopping done today. I got a little something for you and her and her......but, I need to just get a little something more and then I'll be done." And what I felt, instead of excited that she'd found me a perfect gift, was a bit of a let down that she needed to have even more for me. Why wasn't what she bought for me enough? If it was something she thought I would love, something she had hand-chosen becuase it suited me, why did she need more to round it off? I could care less of the dollar value or if my 2 euro gift is equal in price to my friend's 10 euro gift. I certainly don't need more junk to clutter my shelves, but I always love a gift when I know it was spcially chosen for me, and my shelves of special things grow because I know they have special meaning from whomever has chosen it for me. Or at least I hope they have special meaning.

Anyway, through all of this, I worried that maybe I was going to let my friend down by not equalling her 20 or 30 or 40 euro's worth of purcahses. I mean, she gives to all four of us, and they have only 2 to buy for and maybe I was supposed to buy even more to make the dollar values equal in our families. I want her to feel special, and I want her to enjoy the gifts I give to her, but without the expectation that it must have a dollar price attached. And if I choose to buy for one friend and not another, then I hope that I won't be looked upon as a grinch. And if I give something taht has cost me a measly 1 euro because it's soemthign I think she will like, I hope she doesn't feel short-changed. I don't want giving to feel like a competition.

I have had numerous favorite Christmas gifts, and I can assure you that the ones that brought tears to my eyes were simple and cost next-to-nothing. Let me list a few of my favorites over the years.

1) Wrapped inside a box with a note stating: These are my gifts for you this Christmas. I hope that each will bring you happiness and peace throughout the coming year, as having you as my daughter brings to me. Love, Mom. And inside the box were little hearts cut out of red felt, each with a simple word written on them: Love, Peace, Health, Joy, Happiness... and that gift touched me.
2) I adore the book Polar Express. I believe in the magic of Christmas. And I wanted my husband (who did not grow up believing in Santa and his spirit) to understand how deeply the magic touches me. We watched the Polar Express movie as a family, and at the end, tears washed down my cheeks. He didn't seem to understand why. However, on Christmas morning, in a pretty little tapestry box, I opened the lid and found a single red Christmas bell...and I could hear it ring as I held it up to my ear and jingled it. My absolute favorite gift from my husband to date...his understanding.
3) A box of chocolate covered cherries or thin mints...because that is my dad's favorite gift to give and it just isn't Christmas without them under the tree.
4) Whatever I receive from my boys. I give them 2 euro to go search out a gift for me, and the possibilities are endless...but whatever I unwrap, I know it has been chosen specially from them with much heart and thought...and when I see the package wrapped with extra tape and edges not so smooth, I get a lump in my heart and realize that this is the gift of love.

And those are just a few of my favorite things...because it isn't about the money, but about touching someone's heart. So, no competition here; no worries about how much I spend or if it will be enough or if everyone is equal (though I admit to giving my boys an equal NUMBER of gifts to open under the tree)...because when it comes from a gift from me, it will be one that I have specially hand-chosen with love...and it will be something perfect and special just for you.


A MeMe by Jade

Ok, so Jade Me Me'd me, and to prevent bad luck that may fallow I am going to continue the Me Me. lol (Yes, these are Jade's words...not mine...but I'm just going to go with it!)
So here's the rule, name 7 odd, random, or strange things people might not know about you and then pick 7 people to do the same. :-)My Me Me.

1) I won the local spelling bee when I was in 6th grade, went onto state level and lost by spelling a simple word wrong due to the stress...and at this moment, I can't even rememebr the word...but I did wear the exact same outfit for all the spelling bees thinking that's what helped me to win...purple pants and a tshirt with glitter butterflies!
2)I cannot stand to touch polyester training pant material...it gives me the weebie-geebies
3) I saved someone's life doing the heimlich maneuver at a park where I took my clients. And after, I spent a good hour in the death grip of one of my disabled clients who was overwhelmed by all the hupla going on.
4) I used to work with pottery and created a beautiful, large piece that is housed at my parents. I want to do pottery again, because it is so freeing.
5)I have no clue how to back-up my computer files.
6)I stole my mom's car from her work and went out joyriding with a friend when I was 14.
7) I use plastic wrappers, plastic wrap, strings, etc for a toothpick because it gets stuff out easier...and it drives my husband absolutely crazy when I do it.

I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you think it's interesting, have a go! So, something new about me? Or do you know me too well already? :-)

We're Back in the Computer Age

My computer is BAAAACCCKKK! She's a bit of an empty shell after her untimely death, but we'll have her filled up again in no time. But, so much has been happening, I thought I'd just do a picture post. Enjoy the zoo, Sinterklaas, Erwin's birthday, Thanksgiving, and my new title as Dutch citizen...it's all right here, folks! You saw it first!