Happy 2009!



20 Autism Observations

Kaeden has been home from school for 10 days now and we have 7 to go. He got an extra-long vacation with parent teacher conferences falling on the last two school days before Christmas vacation. As much as I enjoy having him home, it's very tiring having him here THIS much. He isn't the easiest of kids.

Here are just a few observations I have made concerning him in the past week:

1) When there is no school, Kaeden is up bright and early in the morning. Instead of understanding the concept of sleeping in during break, he springs out of bed before the first light. And on school days it's the msot difficult part of the day to get him out of bed and ready.

2) Kaeden can not find anything for himself to do, unless it involves a huge mess. In general, if I do not 'play' with him, he doesn't do anything other than watch tv or play a computer game. He has a difficult time figuring out what to do, and even after suggestions he won't do it alone.

3) Kaeden is the absolute most messy person I have ever come across. If he pours himself a drink it takes 3 glasses, 5 spoons, a blender, and a couple bowls...plus drips across the floor and counters covered in spills. When he gets dressed he has 5 shirts, 3 pants, etc...and his dirties are left scattered where he walks as he goes.

4) Kaeden's clothing choices leave something to be desired. He can't figure out what clothes to wear regarding the temperature. Most of his short-sleeved shirts are gone for winter, but the few there he will be sure to find.

5) Blankets. I can't tell you how many blankets I pick up in a days time. I know this relates to his need for pressure and weight to ease his discomfort, but still.

6) The tv must be on extra-loud. I remember back to when he was 2 and I had his hearing tested. One of my first worries with him, and one of my first clues into autism, though that came years later. Certain sounds he can't handle even slightly, but if the tv isn't blaring, it's as if it's not on.

7) Kaeden can't get through an hour without teasing. He does this just to get a reaction. He knows which buttons to push, and does his best to accomplish it.

8) Kaeden's voice mimics the tv. It is LOUD. And the more excited he is, he louder his voice becomes. He can't regulate his voice.

9) Kaeden's eating habits are atrocious. He hums with each bite he takes, and shovels in his food as fast as he can. He grabs at food to get the last morsel, even if there is only a little of something left. He eats enough food for 10 people, and prefers his fingers to silverware. Also, wherever he eats looks as if a baby were sitting there as it's the messiest place at the kitchen table.

10) Kaeden cries at the drop of a hat, he gets angry at the drop of a aht, and he laughs at the drop of a hat. His emotions are so sudden that you never know what to expect in any given moment.

11) Kaeden is very egotistical. As much as I call him the most giving person in the world, which he is, he also cares nothing about others if it will benefit him. He believes that the world is meant to circle around his wants and wishes, and he does whatever it takes to make that happen.

12) Kaeden's conversation skills are getting harder to decipher as he gets older. He speaks through you, not listening to what you are saying and continues to speak one-sided until every thought of his is used up. You cannot reason with him at all.

13) Kaeden loves music. It doesn't much matter what kind of music: radio, MTV, cd-player...he sincerely enjoys it. And he likes it loud.

14) Kaeden's entire existence revolves around the cost of things. He places a monetary value on everything. Opening Christmas gifts he chose for us, he relayed the cost of each gift. He tries to decipher what is a good deal, but he doesn't understand the concept of cost verus value.

15) Kaeden loves hugs. And often these hugs are a jump into mama's arms kind of hug, though he is now nearly a man. Hanging on mama is a favorite pasttime. I continually remind him that I love hugs, but he's getting too big to hang on me...it hurts. He doesn't quite grasp hurting.

16) Kaeden can take a lot of pain without being bothered. If he has something seriously wrong, I often don't know it for quite some time as he can manage pain well. On the other hand, if he has a little teeny tiny owwie, it's as if death is standing at our door. A scratch can send him over the edge, and nothing but 20 bandaids can put his discomfort at ease.

17) Kaeden's eyes are easy to read. When I look at him, I can see right into his feelings. His eyes tell a story, and though I don't often know what to do about how he is feeling, I can often tell in the clarity of his eyes.

18) Kaeden cannot get into the car without there being some issue. Whether it is to go soemplace he wants to go (has even asked to go), or someplace we need to go, the car is sure to bring on some kind of intrusion in his life...and he reacts to this, by either bringing along blankets and a sack of his treasures, putting up a fight, or teasing.

19) Kaeden cannot fall asleep. Whether I put him to bed at 8 or 10, he is always up a minimum of 2 hours before sleep overcomes him. He doesn't fall asleep easily.

20) Kaeden is autistic. He was diagnosed with autism at age 8. At age nearly 14 (oh my GAWD!) he hasn't progressed all that much. He still seems like a little kid in so many ways. He is physically growing into a man, but mentally he remains a child. Sometimes I just wish he would grow up and act his age. Other times I am happy he is able to enjoy the freesom of childhood a bit longer. But it scares me, because what do our futures look like if he doesn't progress.

These are a few observations I have made being with him 24/7 for the past week. They are things that I have lived with and known as a part of my life, but explode when you're forced to encompass them day in and day out. Autism is hard. I'm not saying that to be negative. It is really, really tough being a parent of an autistic child. You try to do your best, but it never really seems as if it is the best. It is living in a constant state of stress and there comes no relaxation, until it's at the point of complete shutdown. I love my son more than the moon and sun and all the stars in the sky. And I am glad he is in my life, and I ahve learned a heap about life because of him. But autism isn't easy...on him or on me or my family. These are 20 of the 200 observations i have made. Just give autism a thought...what is it like for that child or his family? And save your judgements for people who really aren't livng day in day out with these stressors already pressingon their lives.


Letter to Santa

Jari is writing his letter to Santa. He always leaves his note with his cookies and milk on the table before heading to bed on Christmas Eve. Only, he believes Santa prefers Coca-Cola, so usually Santa gets Coke at our house. Anyway, his Christmas letter is private, I am not allowed to read it. But he asked me how to spell reindeer, so it must say something about reindeer. But then he got his markers and started drawing. I'm going to make a candy cane and lights and Santa's hat and a wreath and presents. He drew all these things happily telling me all the reasons they are on his picture. And then he says: I am going to draw Jesus and the nativity on my picture. Santa will like that, because Jesus is the reason we have Christmas. Santa just brings us presents but Jesus gave us the moon and the stars.

And then I felt like a good mom, that my son knows the true meaning of Christmas. The end.

****I sneaked a peek at his letter to Santa:

Santa, I want you to bring me a bell from one of your reindeer. Love Jari 2008

****And yet another reason for me to feel like a good mom. My son has the Christmas magic in his heart. And yes, I still hear the bell ring. I believe in the magic of Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

It is ever so late on Christmas eve. Christmas morning, really, as I glance at the clock hanging above our door. The tree is aglow with twinkling lights that shine into my eyes and make the tears fall a bit more sparkly down my cheek. These are tears of wonder.

Santa has already arrived, somehow passing me magically in the night. Under the tree are packages wrapped up in red and silver and green, joys for little boys come the first light of the morning. The stockings hanging on the wood stove are filled just to above the rim with candy and little treats, sure to bring about oohs and aahs of excitement. The stockings are always my favorite surprise, and I love digging clear to the bottom to retrieve the nuts, apple, and orange I know will be hiding there.

Music filled with Christmas words are giving me my own private concert and I listen to the song about the birth of baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior. I wander over to my nativity and gently touch baby Jesus there in the manger. I say a silent prayer of Thanks for this life I have been afforded. For my husband, and my children who never fail to be the stables in my life, for the family and friends that show me love and care throughout the years, and for a warm home, good food, and just this feeling of wonder that pulses through my body as I stand in this, my very own living room, so peaceful and cozy and yes, all mine. This is my life, and I am thankful.

As I turn out the lights I carefully step over Santa's footsteps...dirty ho-ho-ho footprints which make their way from our hearth to the tree and amaze my little ones year after year. It is the little things, the simplicity, which brings the most surprise. I leave teh Christmas lights on as I close the door behind me, knowing sleep will be short, but filled with pleasant thoughts of this beautiful holiday.

I can't wait for excited shouts of HE CAME, HE CAME. I can't wait for the twinkle I know I will find as I search the beauty of my children's faces. I can't wait to give my husband a Christmas morning kiss, filled with all the thanks I never find the words to say on a daily basis. I can't wait to be handed a package with my name on it, written in shaky handprint from a soul so old, yet ever so magical as the dawning of his birth. I can't wait to hear the church bells sound, inviting us all to remember the reason for this day, even as we rip at the beautiful paper and find the floor again. I can't wait, I'm just as jittery as I was when I was a five-year-old girl, filled with the same awe and wonder and surprise and excitement. Now, I hold it a bit closer to my heart, and it is awakened in the form of thankful tears in place of the shouts and laughter. Tomorrow, at the first light, my laughter will be achieved.

I walk up the staircase, knowing my children are sleeping soundly and safely in their beds. I climb in bed next to my husband, where he has turned on my warming blanket to welcome me. It feels so comfy and I pull the covers over me and snuggle next to him. His arm automatically pulls me towards his chest, even as his breathing is deep and sound. I close my eyes and let the magic of Christmas ensconce me in a dream. A dream which is my reality. The reality of my life.

Merry Christmas From Our Family to Yours. May you believe in the magic of Christmas!!!


Everything Christmas

Yeah, I'm finally truly getting into the Christmas spirit. Last night our choir put on our Christmas concert and party and when I went back to help clean up after getting the boys to bed everyone was drunkenly dancing through the streets, singing silly songs, and you couldn't help but get drawn into their antics. Oma and opa stopped by in the afternoon to see our tree, which really is pretty. I was busy getting ready for the concert and didn't really have a chance to visit with them. I felt a bit distant and later realized maybe I seemed a bit rude to them. I hope not. I hope they realized I was just having a busy day.

I called and talked to my mom for a few minutes and could hear her excitement about their upcoming Christmas celebration. My entire immediate family will be sharing Christmas in a rented cabin in the mountains. It sounds like so much fun. Helaas, I won't be able to share in the fun this time around.

Next, I talked to my brother. I haven't spoken to him since I have been back from summer vacation. It was nice to catch up and feel connected again. His family is living in a camper and when I called they were at my sister-in-laws parents house showering. Seems their water has been frozen for a month and showers are comign few and far between. They were getting ready to go out Christmas shopping. Sounds like the wish lists of my niece and nephew are bigger than those of my own little friends. Snowmobiles. Nothing else shall do.

I was busy on the phone this weekend, as I also talked to my gramma. They are planning a quiet Christmas celebration with lots of snow to keep them indoors. Sounds as if my grampa may be having a harder time with his memory. He looks at the Christmas cards they have received and each time its all new to him once again. As sad as it is, it also has a certain charm. Think of how surprising life would remain if you didn't have your memory, other than that of the past. All the wonderful memories to retain, yet everythign staying new and exciting.

Today, the boys and I sat down with Lego and built some Christmas goodies. But, as it turns out, I was the only one to actually complete something Christmas themed. Jari made a castle (what a surprise) and insisted that castles have everything to do with Christmas. He set it up under the tree. Kaeden made an airplane which he flew through the house trying to attack Jari's castle as Jari explained to him that there were no helicopters in castle days so it didn't count. My Santa is quite charming.
We also got busy with flour, rolling pins, and cookie cutters to begin our Christmas cookie marathon. It's an activity I really enjoy doing with the boys, and they were more than happy to oblige. We haven't started decorating yet, but they taste yummy (except for the rock-hard, burnt first batch I left in too long), and will make Santa very happy come Christmas eve. I was very busy rolling out dough as they can shape them much faster than I can roll it out. I think I got to make one cookie, but will probably get stuck with decorating the majority. Though it's exciting, the thrill wears off quickly.
With the Christmas music playing in the background, the lights twinkling through the house, adn the smell of gingerbread wafting through the air, as well as a stack of cards from family and friends in my mailbox, who couldn't be looking forward to this special day? I, for one, am.


Christmas Delicacy

I think I am going to be sick. Saw this in the news today and couldn't believe it. People in Peru are eating guinea pigs for their Christmas dinner, as it is a cheaper alternative to turkey or pork. I can't believe the newspaper includes a video and a recipe. In some lands this may be acceptable, but here in Europe, where my little PET piggies sit in my yard eating the best of veggies I can give them, I feel shocked. This is not news. It is animal cruelty. It is horrible how they dress the guinea pigs in Christmas outfits before killing them. Those poor little animals. I just feel sick.

**** Okay, I'm going to add another installment to this post. I am feeling even stronger about my point after thinking about it all evening. I am not so upset over another culture eating guinea pigs. What bothers me is that it is being posted in a Dutch newspaper, with video footage AND a recipe for fried guinea pigs. In our culture, guinea pigs are pets. They are NOT a food source. I researched the history of eating guinea pigs in Inca culture, and it still exists in cultures today. So, yeah, it's the same as eating pigs or cows or, god forbid, horses. If they choose to eat guinea pigs in Peru, so be it. But, I am adamantly convinced, that in our culture today, where I am at this moment in time, this was an unneccesary article to publish. Maybe if there was an artticle published over Christmas cultural differences, it could have been included. But to write an article soley about eating guinea pigs and then include a recipe seems to me a shout out asking people to try guinea pigs. That to me feels wrong. If I want to learn about other cultures and their food I can go in search of that information. I don't need to find a recipe for frying up my beloved pets on the front page of the newspaper. I'm done venting. Good thing I don't have a farm filled with horses, pigs, cows and chickens, huh? And I managed to eat a vegetarian dinner tonight as well. Maybe tomorrow I'll fly off to Peru so I can try fried guinea pig without remorse. But here in Belgium I won't be eating that cute little critter dressed up in his Santa suit waiting to be slaughtered. C'mon, they dressed him in a Santa suit before killing him. That's okay? Culture, say what you will, but sometimes I am shocked.



I just talked to oma on the phone. She asked if our tree was a bit like the leaning tower of Pisa. That is the perfect statement for our Christmas friend. From this day forth, until January 6, we shall call her Pisa. And hope that she stays standing as long as her namesake has ;-)


Tonight is our women's club Christmas party. I am looking forward to going and seeing the play that is being put on, to helping decorate the hall to look Christmassy and pretty, to sitting among women I am slowly coming to know. But, there is one aspect that has me shaking a bit in my boots. I have to speak. I have to read a story to 75 Vlaams-speaking women with a Beek dialect. I have to do this in Dutch. And though my Dutch continues to improve, though I USED to speak in front of groups of people daily as a teacher, though I have read and re-read the story, I am still a bit uncomfortable about it. Yet, it's a big challenge, and I feel good to be pushing myself to accomplish this. I think that once it is over, and the fear has subsided, I will be proud of myself for being successful in one more thing in life that scares me.

Since moving to Europe, I have lost a little piece of the woman I used to be. I have always been a bit shy and never someone flambuoyant, but I was also outgoing and secure when I spoke, even if in groups I got a case of the jitters. Here, the language issue most certainly detraccts those qualities from me. I now seem, even to myself, as a mussy, quiet schoolgirl hiding behind her sleeve, looking out and wanting to be part of the action, yet afraid to allow myself that luxury. And it is a luxury, being able to use your voice and words to portray a meaning, share a joke, understand, and be able to speak impulsively, say exactly what is on your mind. Though I speak Dutch regularly, and at a fairly high level for an expat, I'm still very insecure about using my words. Sometimes people don't understand me due to my accent. Some people are fearful that they won't understand, so they just don't listen and instead assume they can't understand me. Sometimes, I speak a bit too quietly due to my insecurity, which makes it even more difficult for people to understand, and sometimes I just get the sentence structure completely wrong, or throw in English words without thinking, or can't find the word I am looking for in my bag of brains sitting in my head. It isn't easy to speak another language.

But tonight, I am going to conquer my fear. I am going to stand up on stage, with a stage light on my face, and read a Christmas story about a kleine, grijze spin (a little, grey spider) to a group of women. Women who speak Dutch. Women who are after all, just women. And women who, hopefully, will be able to understand as I speak loudly and clearly into the microphone, who won't be fearful of my accent and miss the meaning the story portrays. Who won't be speaking among themselves and not listening as to distract me in my search for getting it right. And I will have my moment of fame. Because, in the end, once the spotlight has dimmed and I exit the stage, I will have accomplished yet another goal in this book of my life.

I'm looking forward to the party tonight.


Our Weekend Recap

Wow, what a weekend we had. It was busy, busy, busy, but oh so nice. Nothing relaxing about it, but how much fun we managed to accomplish. One of those feel-good weekends with family and friends and something that makes you stand a little taller and say: Hey, THIS is what being a family is all about.

Friday Erwin came home from work early so I could off and skiddaddle with my friends. 4 ladies out on the town, friendships created from the common bond of needing English companionship, but hardened into true friendships. We took one of our girlfriends out for dinner for her birthday, and we ended up at a Greek place. YUM! It was heavenly, sitting in this newly remodeled, cozy restaurnat with these women I have come to love. The talk went from men to children to vacation plans to sex to depression to men to weather to money to sex and back again. We had many laughs and the atmosphere was what we here in BE/NL call gezellig. It's a kind of coziness, happiness, and complete feeling described in one word. We had planned to attend a mini- Christmas market after, but it was ice cold and with our chatter got to be a bit late, so we forewent the market and headed to watch some tv at AJ's house. We ended the evening fairly early due to our old-age tiredness, but it was really nice to get together and share hte spirit of friendship.

Saturday we all stumbled out of bed into the bitter cold of the day...with brilliant blue skies and sunshine, but still freezing. We layered ourselves in extra pants, shirts, hats, mittens, scarves as we headed off to Efteling for a day of fun. Tante Ilse Piet brought us tickets for Sinterklaas to this wonderful family amusement park, and we met up with oma, opa, Ilse, and Michel in the great hall where we all entered the park together. We immediately saw one of the Efteling characters and stopped to give her a hand before descending further into the park for some fun on the rides, stops for coffee and warming up, and walks through the magic of the Winter Efteling, complete with snow and bon fires and the feel of winter in the air. It was a really nice day, if only a bit too cold....but it definitely put me in that Winter Wonderland spirit, perfect for a start to the Christmas holiday season.

Sunday we awakened late, at which time I made pancakes for a leisurely breakfast before we got ready to go once again. I cancelled my attendance to a Christmas concert at a nursing home so that we could go off and find our perfect Christmas tree, and then decorate our home as a family. My very favorite activity during Christmas is heading off on a search for that perfect tree, and so we bundled up once again and made the trek to the tree stand which has become our steadfast tree haunt for the past years. We sang Christmas carols on the way there, and then the trees were all standing before us, as we excitedly went in search of holiday cheer. I found a beautiful tree, perfectly formed and full, but Jari found one even better, a bit bigger with more space for hanging ornaments. As we put the two side-by-sie to compare, and then walked through the stands again to make sure we had found OUR tree, that one that you grab and just know its THE one, we settled back to where Jari's tree stood. Mine had already been whisked away by another customer, which gave me all that much more faith that this was to be ours. Erwin liked Jari's choice, and when Kaeden gave his thumbs up as he held it proudly for me to examine all its angles, we knew we'd found our little piece of Christmas, and as we paid and loaded it into the car the smell of fresh evergreen was overwhelming and intoxicating. We dropped the tree off at home to come back to later and headed off again, to a little Christmas market I'd read about in the paper. It was situated at a castle, close to our home, with promises of a visit from Santa. We entered the castle grounds where Santa was awaiting us with a basket of goodies to choose from. We walked through the stands of homemade crafts and goods, 80% of which were food related...waffles, fish, soup, cake, hot chocolate, jams, chocolates, gluhwein...listening to the sounds of a band playing Christmas music. The boys got to pick a prize from a bag, and were excited as they opened their first Christmas package of the season.

We returned home to the duty of trying to get our tree to stand up, and managed to sort-of do so. We took an axe and chopped away at it's stem until it fir into our stand. We got it into the house, I got half the lights on before I started dinner, when Jari burst into the room telling us that the tree had fallen down. Erwin tied it with wire to the screw on teh ceiling, but it's still not the most stable tree we've ever had. I won't be surprised if it falls before the holidays are over, but what's new? Seems this is a certainty in our Christmas celebration.

Jari put out the nativity, making sure the donkey stood close to baby Jesus to give him the warmmth of his breath, while Kaeden collected all of his own ornaments from the years past and hung them on the tree. We all worked together to create this amazing feast for our eyes...balls of silver, homemade paper angels, and all the special yearly ornaments we've collected marked with our names and the year we received it. As we herded the boys into bed after a fulfilling, long weekend, I stood and looked at the glorious tree lighting our home and felt so comforted and peaceful. It really was a wonderful weekend.


Need (copied from Chris Cactus)

Okay, I'm feeling a little guilty about my Sinterklaas post below after reading this post by Chris Cactus. It is titled NEED. And I think every one of us should take a minute to read it. Because not only will you have a good holiday message flow through your heart, filled with the spirit of giving, but you'll also have an opportunity to make a donation to a worthy cause. How? All you have to do is leave him a comment on this post. For every comment he gets, he's donating 50 cents to an organisation called Fisher House. And with my few readers I won't make him break the bank by posting this, but help you all get a reality check about the spirit of the holidays. This cactus guy, he may be a little prickly, but he's an awesome writer, a dad that can't be beat, and seems to have his head all on straight when it comes to important issues. And this is one of those issues. Helping those in need. So, even though you don't have to do a single thing other than give 1 minute of your time, you'll still be helping out. How cool is that? So, come on, just click on the link and go leave him a comment. Hurry up, you've only got 24 hours. Cheerio, my friends!


Wat een gezellig avond

Sinterklaas...pakjesavond...5 december 2008

The evening when the family comes together after nearly a month of setting their shoe for the biggest night of the year. The night when Sinterklaas shares his birthday with us by bringing jute bags filled with special presents for all good girls and boys. First, we turn on the stereo filling our home with music, Sinterklaas music to be precise, and we sing at the top of our lungs, into the fireplace and through the windows, trying to make sure Sinterklaas and his pieten know we are ready for his visit. He only comes if you sing for him, and this we do, loudly. There is also much checking out the window to see if we can get a glimpse of him, before he manages to make it to our house. Oh, the anticipation! Candles are lit and the lamps turned low, all the curtains tightly closing up the room, banners with Sinterklaas's face peer down upon us from the rafters. And suddenly, without warning, ginger cookies and little candies are thrown into the room where we sing, raining down upon us to signify that Sinterklaas has heard our song, that he is ready to bring us dreams come true. This is done by the Zwarte Pieten, Sinterklaas's helpers. They manage to wrangle their way into the house and throw us candy and treats without us ever seeing them, as they are very busy delivering goods on pakjesavond (package evening). And as the children crawl all over the room collecting their treats, it suddenly dawns on them that there must be gifts parked outside the door, and they run checking the front. Nope, no presents here. They run to the sliding glass doors on the side of the house, sliding them open, walking out onto the veranda, seeing no bags full of presents, their faces becoming worried as they have searched everywhere, and still not found their stash. But there is one palce left to look, the back door, completely covered by a floor length curtain, and when we glance out beyond we see the pond, but no gifts. It is complete darkness. But then we look again, and suddenly we hear shouts. "He came! He came!! I see presents! Look at how much! I see a present for Tera. Look at that big one" as the door is opened and eyes twinkling, the boys head out to help carry in the goods.

This is the basis of our pakjesavond with Erwin's family. And it truly is magical, something just 8 years ago I couldn't have imagined, and now am myself deeply drawn into the excitement of a month leading up to this moment. The moment of Sinterklaas's arrival. The moment of dreams come true, laughter shared, and eyes twinkling in satisfaction. Perfect boys. Happy boys.

After the gifts are brought in and a bit sorted, we take turns opening them, giving everyone a chance to see what eevryone has received. Some of the gifts have a little poem attached, written about you or soemthign you have done in this past year, and giving a hint as to what gift awaits you inside the colorful paper. This is a task which is difficult for me, but the one I most love during Sinterklaas. Writing up funny poems in Dutch is no easy task, I assure you. But it is a challenge I love to meet, and soemtimes my poems come out truly better thanI expected and sometimes they end up not working at all, but still, these poems are truly from the heart and my favorite of the gifts received on pakjesavond.

My first poem this year came with a book entitled: Feng Sh*t: The Art Of Domestic Disorder. I got a total laugh out of this gift, and it was perfect poem flodder. I'm going to write out the poem in English, so it won't sound as classy and fun as in Dutch, but will give you an idea of what the poem means.
Sweet Tera

Sinterklaas can read a bit of English
There in your house above the laundry room door
But don't worry
How it looks in color and scent

A clean house is a sign of a misspent life
But you have other things on your mind
Once in awhile it seems you're a desperate housewife
With piles of laundry til over your head

Your house is your home for many things
Cooking, games, computer time and kids
Even time for you to go sing
So once in awhile a messy house
Doesn't worry the good Sinterklaas

There are more fun things in life
Than cleaning, ironing and such
For you living means giving
You have that right, if that's what's important to you.

From Sinterklaas

So, I open the book and it discusses all the manners in which you can have a messy house...and lo and behold, 90% of them fit me to a tee. When we got home the next day, at 2 in the morning, Erwin and I sat together, him reading me the book as we both laughed so hard tears fell from our eyes. It truly is a written diary of my life. For instance: CABINETS: Not for storing things, for hiding things. And : PILE AND DUMP: Use piles to collect and store dirty laundry. Studies show that beneath the door of the washing machine, at the foot of your bed, and any spot on the bathroom floor work best.

This is a perfect book for me. Perfect because it exemplifies my cleaning habits without admonishing me, but instead making it a joke. I really enjoyed this gift, and will whenever I pick it up. So, that's how the gifts and the poems work on pakjesavond...and it is that way for everyone...a bit of humor, a bit of love, a bit of family all combined in those little poems and specially chosen gifts. The kids don't normally get a poem, just the gifts they asked for on their verlanglijstje (wish list)....and plenty of others added in for good mix. Erwin signed his poems this year SintERklaas, which I also found really fun. And one of the poems I received for him was really special, and included a great big canvas that now hangs on our wall of the Welcome sign in Las Vegas. It looks really cool.

In the middle of all the opening and reading poems, we stopped for a coffee break, all sitting around the kitchen table having coffee and cake, discussing our lives and being a family. I feel so completely a part of this family, of this life, and I am thrilled that I have been accepted into such a wonderful home, and the hearts of its inhabitants. My spirit in the holidays is always crying out extra loud, and knowing that even with my own family thousands of miles away, I am a part of another family just as special and important makes it much easier and keeps me happy.

At the end of the evening, as we were all wrapping up the loose ends and collecting our new goods into sacks, suddenly oma noticed another gift hanging from the mailbox. Erwin and the boys went to collect it, and on this gift was my name. I was in shock. Usually, the last gift of the evening is the hoofdcadeau, your main present, and I had already received so much. I was already giddy from the glasses of wine that I had drank, and then to get the last gift was such a special surprise. I opened the poem and read about moving and riding with the wind. About a tiny gift that fits in the mailbox, not in a big bag...and when I opened it, there was a little blue bike statue made from metal. That's when I went outside looking for my real surprise...and there it was, under the porch, a new bike, just for me! I was ecstatic. And in shock! Did I mention how very much this family means to me. Thank you Sinterklaas!

We left oma and opa's home after midnight and the boys fell into dreamland immediately on the way home. I'm sure their dreams were happy and complete, as Kaeden received a High School Musical pillow, his favorite gift, while Jari got his Indiana Jones Legos he's been dying to have. It was another wonderful evening, and one that will remain in my heart for years to come. The magic of the holidays...Dutch style.

Here is a little video of the boys waiting for Sinterklaas to arrive and collecting candy when the Pieten threw it into the house...the beginning of our gezellige avond. It's a bit dark, but so was the room, and you can hear their excitement anyway. I'm also including a link to look at some of the pictures during our night. http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=lgyy8pf.8s0rfmcb&x=0&y=-8d1h2d&localeid=en_US&cm_mmc=site_email-_-site_share-_-core-_-view_photos_button


This Is Me.

Today, when I picked Jari up from school, he glanced my way, turned, and then did a double take. As he came towards me with a BIG grin on his face, uncertainty in his eyes, he said "Mama, I didn't even know it was you. You changed your hair." Yes, I dyed my hair today. The greys were peeking through more than to my liking, and I did the necessary deed...and I have never been so dark in all my life. Today, Jari's little friend came to ask him over to play after school. When I opened the door he said "Tera, you look different. You changed your hair." Yes, I dyed my hair today. It's dark, very dark, darker than I have ever had it before. It doesn't look natural to me, being brown instead of a lighter shade nearing blonde. But this is me. Recognize me or not, take me as I am. This is me, whether blonde or brown, happy or sad, laughing or crying. This is me. I am always me on the inside, whatever my outside shows. Whether I am fat or skinny, angry or at peace, I am me. And today, I am a brown me...a dark me...a happy me...but I am still me. Take me as I am.


Spiderman Monopoly

I just spent 2 1/2 hours playing Spiderman Monoploy with my kids. It started out fun, til I started losing. It seems I always lose. Then I don't waana play no more. I feel like throwing the dice across the room. I wanna crinkle up the money. I wanna break pewter Spidey in two. And I wanna tell my kids I am done, done, done as they laugh every time I land on their skyscrapers, every time I get sent (yet again) to jail, every time they pass over my skyscrapered properties, every time I have to pay the hospital bills for Aunt May. Argh! It's one of those love to hate things going on with me. I love playing with my kids, but I hate being a loser. And when it comes to Spidey Monopoly I always am. A loser that is. Plus, 2 1/2 hours...it just ain't so much fun more after a little while of seeing their giggling faces peering back at me as my eyes burn with disgust. I wonder if they know I hate Spiderman Monoploy. I doubt it, cuz I always play when they ask. They probably think Spidey is my FAVORITE game in the world. They probably think I love handling the money all curled from millions of play dates we've shared. They probably think Spidey never makes it back to the game cupboard just so I can play it again and again and again with them, day in and day out. I wonder what'll happen when Spidey suddenly gets hidden, deep in a dark corner of the mittens and scarf cupboard, where my angels NEVER peek. I wonder if they'll be sad for mommy, that she can't play her FAVORITE game with them, yet again and again and again. Spidey makes me crazy. But I just love going crazy. It's a love/hate relationship...just me and Spiderman. And all that money with those Spidey figures. And the dice...double 2's I get 200 euro, double 6's I can win a property...but I never do. I always shake too low and never get what I want. Then I wanna throw the dice. Then I wanna crunch up Spidey's face on those fake Spidey euros. Then I wanna be the bad guy. yeah, Spidey Monoploy turns me into Black Spidey 3. I like Black Spidey. His costume is really cool. Did you know if I throw double 5's I can pick a Black Spidey card? I like getting Double 5's. Oh yeah. That's FUN! Then Spidey is my FAVORITE game. Spiderman Monopoly. It's a love/hate relationship. But mostly, it's just that I love my kids.

Busy? Crazy? Preoccupied? Other?

This morning after my shower I grabbed my toothbrush and got ready to brush my teeth. When I stuck my toothbrush in my mouth, I had a distinct feeling of something is not right here, and then my tastebuds were treated to a chalky, powdery spit-it-out fast treat. I looked at my toothbrush, but didn't see anything unusual...until I glanced in my other hand and noticed that I was holding my deodorant stick. Yum, lekker suave powder-fresh deo stick flavor. At least my mouth should have smelled good and not sweat today! But seriously, using deodorant to brush my teeth. What is going on with my mind these days?


The Language of English

After our wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, Sinterklaas and his helpers, Zwarte Pieten, strode into our house and surprised us with a visit. It was really fun, and what a jokester that Sinterklaas can be. He actually asked me for a classic American baked bean recipe as he was leaving. And, during his visit, which lasted an entire hour with the boys singing and dancing and Sinterklaas discussing with them all the good things they do and the things they could do better, he started speaking in English. He asked the boys if they could speak English, and Jari told him horse, while Kaeden added the addition of the word lady, in which Sint then joked about a sexy lady...hmmm...

But, what really made me crack up laughing was when Sint said: I'm just pulling your leg! As the rest of my company looked around puzzled, I started cracking up and couldn't help myself from jiggling at my own good fortune. Someone that I could actually crack an American joke with, not feel as if I couldn't speak my mind, and he'd still understand the nuance of me? It really hit me in a way I haven't considered for many years, since I first started living in Europe with the understanding that my limited language skills wouldn't allow me to speak freely and crack jokes on a whim. I was sitting up there laughing on cloud nine with this saintly, holy Dutch icon man sitting in my living room and grasping the concept of an American joke. And I totally felt as one with him, felt okay to be me, to laugh and smile and be my American self, to say things that were American that others wouldn't understand just for the sake of feeling free, as I typically don't in my everyday Dutch conversations. So, I'm pulling your leg is a saying I will never forget, and will probably choose to use more often, as it gave me a sense of my long lost American self, and made me feel totally, well, American...and accepted as such. It was a great evening, and for many more reasosn than just that. But, that was one of those seconds in time that define you, that you hold onto, just a little something that gives you courage and acceptance, and from my Thanksgiving, it was the whipped cream on teh slice of pumpkin pie.

Tonight, when Jari was brushing his teeth, I was in the bathroom with him looking at our aquarium sitting on the bathroom counter. We have always had our fish in the living room, but due to needing the space for turkey dinner, I moved them on Thanksgiving day and have left them there, trying to decide if I like them better in the bathroom. So I asked Jari: What do you think of having the fish in the bathroom?
He replied: They fit in better here.
Why? I asked him.
Because the bathroom is all about water...the sink and the bath and the toilet, and fish are all about water cuz they need water to live. But the living room, it's all about the tv, and electricity. I think the fish like it better in the bathroom!

So, now you know. Each room of the house has a personality. And right now, our fish are adding their own character to the personality in our bathroom, because fish like water better. And, the LIVING room, well, it's all about the tv..... I won't say another word. I plead the 5th...


Happy Thanksgiving!

From our house to yours, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!


Happy Birthday Erwin!

Today my husband celebrates his 39th birthday. Happy Birthday Erwin! May it be a year filled with all the glory you deserve, all the success of which you dream, and all the love that you give to us returned ten fold. Hiep, Hiep, Hoera!!! Enjoy the last of your 30's and try to remember (if you can in your 'old' age) where you put your keys, wallet, and slippers!!!
In other news, look at all this snow!!! It just kept coming down and I was quite excited to see a thick blanket covering the ground last night. Too bad it's nearly gone this morning, but at least I had my moment.



This week I spent the better part of a few days helping my neighbor lady fill candy bags. She has a little shop that's right next to our house, and had an order for 300 candy bags to give their employees as a Sinterklaas treat. We set up all the different boxes of candy and made a production row out of making the candy bags, tied them up with a ribbon, and off into the box to be picked up next week.
What we were discussing while trying to count Marias and peanuts was the differences in holiday traditions around the world. In Belgium and the Netherlands, though both celebrate Sinterklaas in similar manners, there is still a difference in traditional candies, and styles of celebrating. It was also fun to tell them about a traditional Christmas stocking (at least traditional in my family).
So, here's what we placed in the Sinterklaas 'snoepzakjes' that we filled today:
15 peanuts in the shell
1 package Speculaas (a ginger type cookie decorated in Sinterklaas form)
1 large chocolate coin
1 Mars bar (Mars in America and here are different candy bars)
1 sack of potato chips
1 mini Mentos
1 decorated ice chocolate square
1 chocolate/marshmallow cigar
12 Maria soft sugar candies (schuimpjes/guama)
2 spekjes (colored marshmallow candy, and very popular with children year round)
1 sack Nic-Nacs (a hard, bland cookie with some super sugary hard frosting piped on top)
1 6" hollow chocolate Sinterklaas
Here are the pictures of the traditional Belgian Sinterklaas treats.
In Nederland there are kikkers and muizen (frogs and mice) made from chocolate and marzipan (Erwin's favorite treat), chocolate letters (you get the letter that your name begins with from Sint as a typical Sinterklaasavond surprise in your shoe), pepernoten (hard ginger cookies), taai-taai (a soft anise flavored cookie), and suikergoed, which is a sugary half-hard, half-soft candy that is usually mixed in with papernoten and schuimpjes (soft foamy candy) to create the typical Strooigoed.

Got all of that? Because even if you don't, trust me, it's a yummy time of year here in Europe!


Alien Me

How can it be that I feel so unsure, so uncomfortable in my own skin? Nothing has changed in my world. But I feel so disfigured, so completely tight and knotted in all the wrong places. I want my mind to be free, my body to be healthy, my heart to feel flowing and not so rock hard. I am stuck in a rut in which I question who I am, can't come to terms with what my place in the world is. I feel a weight hefting me down, shoving me deeper into the ground with each step I muster. And, there is no explanation for any of it; none, that I can actually take hold of to cement all the pieces together. I just feel like curling up in a fetal ball and crying until all the tears are spent. Tears for what, I don't even know. I want to be held tightly, arms wrapped around me, protecting me from these thoughts, warming up my entire spirit, until I can once again face the world. I need to feel welcome, to feel wanted, to feel comfortable and secure. I just want to be loved. Loved more passionately and deeply than I am able to love myself right now. To be able to concentrate and to actually accomplish the goals I set out for myself each day, but never manage to achieve as I walk in circles and can't focus on my one foot in front of the other, let alone the rest of the world out there waiting for me, needing me, expecting me to be strong. I can't put my finger on this sadness, but I know it hides behind my eyes, comes forth in the discalming manner in which I speak, the steps I take looking as if I am climbing a mountain. I am not me hiding behind this alien being shrouded in the folds of my skin. I just want to be me.



One of my favorite pasttimes is watching my little guy play soccer. I'm not one of those parents that finds it a task to have to attend another game or wash soccer clothes or be home in time for practice. It is something which brings me a great deal of joy, watching my son out on the field. I love cheering him on, giving him a thumbs up, and sometimes shouting at him to get after the ball. I'm not one of those parents that others would look at and think: Geez, she's boisterous. But, I do support my son and his team, cheering everyone on. And soccer, well, it takes up a great deal of time and interrupts our regular life when we're required to be there for games. We don't have freedom in the weekends like we did in the past, but instead our weekends circulate around when Jari will be playing. My son, he's pretty good, if I do say so myself (he's got good genes!). Soccer is his life at this point in time, and I am glad I have the opportunity to make it happen for him. I hope he will be a success and be able to further his soccer skills, and become the star he hopes to become. So, this was a pretty big soccer week, and Jari had his first ever injury. Nothing serious, but he stretched his groin and had trouble walking for a few days. I suggested he rest up and miss practice so he could play in the game this weekend. He was adamant that he go to practice. Until the day of practice, when he was walking all funny, and he came to me. "Mama, my leg hurts." I asked where, rubbed it a little, told him it'd be okay in a few days. "Mama, maybe I should stay home from practice today and rest my leg so I can play in the game this weekend." Yeah, that might be a good idea. Only you know how bad it hurts. But I would rest today. "Mama, but I can for sure play this weekend, right?" Well, it depends on whether your leg is healed or not. But you have lots of games, so if you miss one it won't matter. My son decided to stay home from practice. And by the weekend he was feeling better, walking normally again, and I wasn't worried about his injury any more. Anyway, here are some pictures of my son in action on the field. He usually plays forward as he has speed and stamina, but they still change positions on the field often. I particularly like the picture of him going in to score...see his coaches foot helping him kick the ball?
You can click on the pictures to make them larger and see his voetbal expressions!
Go Groen Star Beek!!!


Saints in the House

Well, what a weekend we had. Saturday we watched Jari play soccer and then quickly left to whisk our chillies off to see Sinterklaas, arriving just in time to watch his boat harbor and collect a few handfuls of treats from Zwarte Piet. We then biked to the city center where we got pushed and shoved in a line with 'millions' of swooning children waiting for their chance to give the good holy man a hand...and collect their stash! We managed to stand in the perfect spot to make it in the top 20, meaning we were one of the first in line. Sinterklaas took his time with each child, asking what they wanted as a gift and settling each on his knee, before handing them a snoepzak (candy bag) filled to the brim with wonderful treats. It was pure magic. Just ask my seven year old whose eyes were twinkling as he made known that he wants a new ball, man sauce (Asia sauce, as Jari calls it...his fave), and Indiana Jones Lego for surprises at the door this year. Kaeden informed us that he is expecting a new laptop, a videocamera, and a cell phone. No worries, my boy, no worries (said as sweat trickles from my brow). But truly, it is magical, and it is special, and I have this year left to fully enjoy every aspect of the magic with my children. And when I trip over their shoes sitting filled with carrots and pictures at the door, or have to pick up markers and paper yet again after another 'tekening' was created, I will do so with happiness...thrilled that my children have been offered a life in which they can be free to dream, to fantasize, to hope and to believe. Believe in the magic of the season.
Oma and Opa kept the boys overnight (what a TREAT! THANK YOU!!!) while Erwin and I attended my yearly St. Ceciliafeest for my choir. We had so much fun. We shared lots of laughter and great conversation, and were awarded by understanding just a little more of the dialect spoken than we could last year. The food was all about fish, ever course being a special serving of fish, which was a huge disappointment for the two of us who cringe just at the thought of fish, but luckily we could remove some of the seafood and still had a nice meal. And the desert bar...to die for! YUM! Our theme this year was Famous People...Erwin went as Batman while I managed to become President of the US for a night. What a high walking into the party venue and receiving cheers all around as I waved my American flag, and was greeted by yet another Obama face in the crowd. The costumes were varied and fun, making the atmosphere really come alive. We staggered home at 2am and fell into bed, only to sleep in until nearly 11am without our spawn to awaken us. Did I say THANK YOU yet to oma and opa???! So, all in all, a very saintly weekend filled with fun...and magic...and well, life is quite good.


A few things

Kaeden made the bus wait again (3 times this week). The bus teacher rang my doorbell and told me they will NOT wait again. He hasn't even gotten out of the shower when it arrives. Makes for a very stressful morning ritual for everyone. But how do I get him to get himself ready on time. Good question...one we'll be working on in the coming days. He HAS to make the bus. I have no other means of getting him to school.

Erwin and I REALLY enjoyed our time out last night. The concert was terrific. Having so many varied artists you don't have a chance to stop and catch your breath before the next one arrives. We had to leave before it was over, so we didn't see the finale. Too bad, but it was woth it to beat the crowds. Plus, my friend who was watching the kids has to work this morning and as it was, we didn't make it home til 1:30am.

I had a moment of hope for America last night. A couple of the artists asked "So, is Belgium ready for President Obama?" And the entire crowd cheered and raised their flags and clapped. I think the entire world is ready for a change. I was thrilled to hear Belgians cheering for America. That's not something they do very freely. One woman in particular sitting in the section next to us was really animated. I was wondering if she was an American. It's possible, but I just think the entire world is ready to see our nation shine again. America holds a key on so many levels for issues across the globe. I know I was cheering as well...and will be as Obama begins the work needed to put his plans into action.

Live was my favorite act last night, but I missed them playing Lightning Crashes, one of my faves. Simple Minds is my favorite band. I think because I have seen them live before it wasn't as sensational as seeing a new band, but they are always magnificent. Sinead O'Connor sang those high notes really lovely, but she sure doesn't know how to put on a crowd-pleasing performance, other than her voice. She didn't hardly move, other than tapping her shoeless foot. Midge Ure was also great as smoke rose from the stage as he sang Vienna. And the fireworks shooting through the Antwerpen Sportpaleis was quite spectacular. Oh, and the comic musicians...wow, they really kept the show moving along, making classic music something to sincerely sit back and thoroughly enjoy. Some of the biggest cheers went to the Harlem Gospel Choir which surprised me, but they really do a great job of pulling the crowd in. And the orchestra was not as magnificent as I had hoped, but they got better as the show went on. So, all in all, a very worthwhile adventure out with my husband.

My favorite moment of the evening was when Simple Minds was playing and Erwin wrapped my hand in his. I had this very real moment of truth and didn't even hear the rest of the song as I sat there thinking: This is my life. This is my husband. This is where I belong. Something so simple, yet so profound. Life is full of the very littlest of treasures when you take the time to really look around you.


10 Years Later

MY BOO IN COLORS^^  kissmeh
October 28, 1998 The first day I met this man. Tonight, we're celebrating our 10 year anniversary. We're going on a date...off to enjoy the music of Night of the Proms. http://www.notp.com/english/home
I can't say enough about what this man has done for me. He has given me comfort, security, and commitment beyond anything I had ever imagined for myself. He has stayed by my side through all the trials, and loved me more than I sometimes love myself. He is the one I turn to when I need a hug, the first person I want to share with when I am happy, the one I reach for when I am hurting. And he is always there, supporting me and giving me his love. I don't know where I would be if I hadn't met him 10 years ago. But I do know that I am happy that I chose him to be my partner in life, that he chose me to be his wife, and that we have created the life we share today. Happy Anniversary, Er! Thank you for being mine.


The Times: Changing.

Back in 1955, Rosa Parks was the first known black woman to take a seat on a public bus. She was tired of being discriminated against for her color. Throughout all these years, black Americans have struggled to be equal to their white American counterparts. Today, another first has become a reality for America. In this historic presidential race, Barack Obama was voted, by the American people, as our next president, our next leader. He is a black man. And his is the new image of the American family, granting each African-American a chance to see equality, a chance to feel that slavery is finally a thing of the past. Congratulations, America, on change that is about to take place. Congratulations, Americans, on voting in fresh blood, someone who will bring about the needed changes for America to shine. Congratulations, Obama, and success in your work as you help America climb.



is weer voorbij :-( Yes, our fall vacation is over, but it was so nice getting away from home to relax and do things we don't get to do every day. We had a great time exploring the Gelderland region of Holland. We've gone there numerous times before, but each time is another surprise with new things to see. This year, our vacation started off with a typical Tera entrance...I was playing hide and seek with Jari and sprained my ankle...badly enough that I had to hobble around all week. That was Day One. Day Two? We went to head off to do some sightseeing and our car wouldn't start. We called our travel insurance and they sent a tow truck to jump us. We left the car running all afternoon as we took turns looking at the sights and staying by the car. Day Three? Car started, we headed off on a nice nature walk through the Veluwe with all the fall colors crunching under our feet. Got back to the car...dead again. Called another towing company who got us started and then headed directly to a Nissan garage where we got everything fixed and could really begin enjoying our vacation. Still, it was fun testing out all those new, fresh-smelling cars and imagining which we would choose IF we could have any we wanted.

The rest of our vacation was really terrific. We visited my favorite zoo ever, called Apenheul. It's a zoo completely filled with monkeys of every sort, and they are free range throughout the park and come right up to you. It's a lot of fun. We also went to the train museum which was a huge hit for the kids as it is very interactive, and we went to the water museum which was also an afternoon well spent. We spent an afternoon at the Nederlands Mint where we played all kinds of money games and you can see one picture where I got in trouble trying to take a picture of the money-making process..oops! We also went to an artillary museum which always makes me imagine all those that have been through war. Especially since I have been in Europe, and I see so much evidence of the war even as long as it has been over, it humbles me.

Of course, we celebrated Halloween when the great pumpkin surprised us with treats hidden all through our house the night we got back from the zoo. The kids were totally in their element and couldn't wait for his arrival. And he managed to keep them quite stocked up on treats for an evening viewing of Lord of the Rings!

Here's a link to the pictures if you want to share in our adventures this past week.


2 Things:

1. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, our car will be full to bursting at the seams with all of our stuff....because we're heading off on vacation to a Holland destination! We'll be spending a week enjoying the sights and visiting museums and zoos and playing in the colorful autumn forests and relaxing in our little house in the woods...yes, we're off on vacation! Here's our Holland destination: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veluwe

2. We have company coming this afternoon! Yeah! My American aunt is visiting her family (my cousin, her husband, and their 3 kids, one of whom I have not yet met...he's 6 months old) who are stationed in Germany, and they are heading our way to say hello. I always LOVE having company from home, sharing this little piece of Europe I call my home, letting them see rather than have to envision where I now live. So, though the timing wasn't right to really have an adveturous visit (did I mention we're leaving on vacation tomorrow?) I'll still get to see them all and I'm really excited! Plus, now knowing that they are stationed just 4 hours from us, makes the possibility of future visits a reality as well, which, hey, I'm always up for seeing family.

So, those are the two things. I probably won't have internet access where we're headed, so I'll be back in November, surely with lots of stories to tell and pictures to share, and hopefully a renewed spirit, sharing special moments with my little family. Happy Fall!!! Oh, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!


My Lil Devil!

Definitely No Angel Wings To Be Found...I like him just as he is, my lil devil!

Kaeden In School

Last night I attended Parent-Teacher conferences for Kaeden. I came home feeling happy with the place he is in. He is enjoying school, and doing well there. His class consists of 7 kids, 2 boys and 5 girls between 12 and 15 years old, all with differing handicaps. He is no longer in an exclusive autism classroom. But, he is doing terrific!!!!! And I am so proud of his accomplishments to date. Not yet has he received a check which would limit his entry to special activities. He helps in the class, he accepts criticism from classmates, he laughs and makes jokes with them, he seems happy to be a part of the class. He does his work, and does it well. He has been able to partake in the school reward program, and his teachers told me what a joy he is to have in their class. And they also told me that after reports from his previous school behavior, they were worried...but had no reason to be.

I was glowing by the time I left the school halls. My son has found his niche, he is succeeding, and happy all in one breath. And wow, I am so glad.

When I came in the house, Kaeden was in the bathroom getting ready to brush his teeth before bed. I walked towards him and did nothing other than give him a thumbs up...and in that moment, I saw his eyes brighten with pride, I felt a connection between us as he lowered his head onto my shoulder and gave a little chuckle! "I am so proud of you, Kaeden! You are doing GREAT in school!!!" and I pulled him close, into a hug which bonded us in this special moment.

After he brushed his teeth, he asked me if I would snuggle with him in my bed. We read a story, I sang songs, and rubbed his hair, my 'little' boy snuggled tight against me. It was a moment stopped in time, remembering back to days long past when he was just a little guy, when I wasn't scared and living in a cloud of autism dust, when it just felt so perfectly right and not worrying about whether my son was happy, if he would be a success, but just relishing in the feel of him warming my body, my heart, my soul, with his love. Last nigth gave me back something that has been lost in the shuffle of life with autism. It gave me back my little boy, and all the dreams I once had for him, now slightly changed, but a dream for a happy future none-the-less. I am so proud of you, my beautiful boy!


Women of the Web

Last night I had a meeting. A meeting on my calendar, and nothing to do with kids or friends or school or family. It was a meeting for me. A meeting which I attended as the new webmaster for my women's club.

This year, I kind of got myself pulled into being on the board of our local women's club. It wasn't something I was sure I wanted to do, but after being asked a million times I finally broke down and decided to give it a try. Though we've only had a handful of meetings, and a couple activities I was involved in, I think I might just enjoy it. And now, I have been voted in to create a website for our club.

I haven't made a website before, though I enjoy being on the computer. And it seems simple enough, as it is just a template in which to place activities and members, etc. But still, I am really looking forward to being involved in something in which my work is seen. Something of my creation in which I can be proud. And so, I had a meeting. And now, with my little handbook in hand and a few ideas spinning out of control in my mind, I am hoping to spin them off onto a new website for our club. It should be a challenge keeping on top of it all, and I hope I don't get bored with it all too quickly (I tend to get distracted after I do things for too long), but I think it'll be good for me, good to have something to keep me busy, something to challenge me, and give me a creative outlet for my ideas. I'm looking forward to getting started!


Autism Eyes

This week has given me a few more facts about how my son sees the world. It has been mind-opening for me to hear his views on things, and realize that he truly sees the world through his autism-eyed glasses.

We were watching tv, while it was still light outside. On the screen, a dark night was being portrayed. Kaeden asked me: Mama, where do they live that it is so dark outside when it's still daytime here? When I tried explaining that the show was taped, he stayed focused on the fact that the people were speaking Dutch, which means they live in Holland or Belgium, so it had to be light there too. He just wasn't comprehending that a movie is a movie, and doesn't mean that it is live.

Yesterday we went to a museum. It was a nature museum and there were animals which had been stuffed. Kaeden was really interested in the videos they were showing of all the different animals in their natural habitats. As we passed a display of the storks, Kaeden said: Look, there are the storks. I think they are making babies right now.

Now, this may be just a little something that could be misunderstood...but it wasn't. Kaeden truly believed the storks were making babies, human babies.

So, sometimes I have to step back and wonder if he really lives life always inside his autistic mind, or if sometimes he just has an autistic moment and misunderstands concepts. This is very typical of autism, translating things literally. And hearing his viewpoint makes me remember how hard it must be to live with autism. And how hard it is to be a parent of a child that sees the world differently...


The Neighbor Boy

Jari got out of school and immediately I heard his pleas: Please, mama, please can Jakub come and play. I already asked him. Please can he come play today?

I enjoy it when my kids have friends to play with. And I welcome a chance for them to share time with their friends. However, this particular friend is here every day, from the minute school lets out until after I send him home when our dinner is ready to eat. He lives just across the street from us, and it's a very convenient friendship. I like Jakub, I really do. He's a nice kid and never causes me any problems. He is polite...but he is NOT MY KID! And he's here far too often.

So, when Jari pleaded with me to have his friend come, I told him No, Jakub was just here ALL day yesterday, and teh day before that you had another friend here, and the day before that Jakub was here, and now I want a break from other people's kids!

Just as we were discussing why I didn't want a kid here this afternoon, the doorbell rang. Jakub was standing there, with the same pleading 'Can I play?' in his eyes that my own son was also giving me.

I reluctantly opened the door further, and told him he could play for a little while.

And that is when he gave me a HUGE smile, his blonde hair shining, his eyes twinkling and handed Jari a sucker.

"It's my very last sucker and I saved it just for Jari because he's my very best friend!" Jakub said, putting his arm around my son's shoulders. "We're best friends, huh Jari?"

As I saw the two boys embrace, their eyes sparkling with friendship, I decided maybe it's no so bad afterall. He entertains my son, they play well together, and he gives my son confidence and self-esteem and happiness. So, I pay up in cookies and drinks and finding things for them to do, but what a small price to pay to see two little boys happy, learning what it means to be giving and loving; learning what it means to share and to be a true friend.


As kids get older, it seems like we as parents only manage to get more busy. It used to be hectic, dealing with crying babies and diaper changes and needing to be constantly on guard for falls and dangers in the house. Now it is hectic in the need for organizing playdates and sport activities and school activities and scouting and the like. It seems we are always running here or there, and our family activities always circulate around someone having a game or meeting or whatever else falls across our path in the week. We can't just wake up Saturday and say: Hey, let's go to the woods today. Now, it's more that we set the alarm to wake up in time for the game, go and watch Jari play soccer, run a few errands that need to be done, and make it home in time for Kaeden's scouts. It isn't nearly as free and impulsive as life was when we still had babies running around. Of course, we don't need to bring the stroller and diaper bag and extra clothes with us either. Now it's just tell the kids to get in the car, and they go. Usually, mama still has to make sure the coats make it along.

Parenting has so many different dimensions. With our growing children, our duties change. We need to teach our children what is appropriate behavior, discipline them for being unruly or cruel, and help them find their place in this world by organizing and making sure they are where they need to be. We need to stimulate them by giving them choices, but not too many choices that we get too bogged down with appointments ourselves. It's management skills, being a parent.

Last night, I forgot that it was Sport Club for Kaeden. Jari had a friend here playing all afternoon and I played a game with Kaeden and then started dinner. Suddenly, as I was putting laundry away, it dawned on me that I had forgotten all about Kaeden's activity. "Kaed, we forgot sport club tonight!" I told my son. "Didn't you want to go?"
"I forgot it too, mama." he replied, concentrating on his Playstation game. I was glad he was otherwise occupied, as sometimes forgetting sport club could result in a full-blooded meltdown from my son. Having the game to entertain him kept his emotions in check.

Yesterday, I got all of Jari's needed items ready for his special Autumn adventure with his class. I made sure Kaeden had his gym clothes for his gym class. Both boys left the house with full bellies and healthy lunches. As did my husband. I made a few important phone calls, answered the door when our oil was delivered, paid a few bills online, read the electric meter and tried to turn it in online, ran to get some meat at the grocery store, did laundry, cleaned up the visible messes, made dinner, played games, supervised playing children, said hello to the neighbor, looked up activities for us to do while we're on vacation the end of the month, and chose not to attend my choir activity (Erwin wasn't home in time, and even though I could have reminded him, I soemtimes feel like he has enough on his plate and I don't need to add to his daily struggles. When I do choose to tell him he needs to be here for this or that at a certain time, he ALWAYS is. Even if it is in the middle of the day when he should be working. But marriage is like that. You give, you take, you share, both responsibility and joy and struggles, and somehow, when you both give it your all, everything gets managed just fine...and life seems to revolve and circulate and you live together comfortably.)

Anyway, even though I was home alone yesterday from 8:40-3:30, I had a busy day. I have been considering going to work, as it is something I would like to do for my emotional health, and the extra money could help finance our trips to America, activities for the boys, the oil to heat our home, the lunches out with girlfriends...yeah, all those extras. But, I don't know how we would manage everything if I was working. My boys have it very easy as I am always here for them, and they know that whatever they need, mama is always here. They don't have to worry who will pick them up from school, when they need to attend daycare, why they can't have friends come to play...it is natural for them to have the comfort of knowing mama will be home when they are, to supply a snack, to play a game, to help with homework, to find a misplaced soccer shirt or judo belt.

It was a choice Erwin and I made for me to be a stay at home mom. And I am glad my children have the security they do, this being my job. However, my job seems to be changing as my kids get older, and as I become even more busy than when they were toddlers, I wonder what is in store for me...but I have a hunch that as Jari ages another few years, he's going to be quite self-sufficient and independent. And as Kaeden ages a few years, he's going to need more assistance, and maybe not just from home and mama's heart. And so, I will happily continue my job, helping my children to grow into their own people, and know that this job, though not always exciting or satisfying or giving me social contact, is the most important I could be doing at this time in my life, in my children's lives. And someday, Erwin and I will again find the time to wake up lazily on a Saturday morning and have a leisurely breakfast before we grab our bikes for a ride through the woods, our kids off on their own activities, their own calendars and agendas filled with their own handwriting, while mine is just a reminder to be at the soccer field at 6 for Jari's game, or to attend Kaeden's Judo exam watching him receive his next belt.

This parenting stuff is ever-changing. It's both the best ride and most wrecked accident all rolled up in one. But it's an adventure I wouldn't want to be without.