Kaeden and Autism, A Positive Side

So, I thought I'd talk about Kaeden today. It seems to me I always write about autism when we're going through the difficulties, which come quite frequently with my son. I need the chance to get all the emotions and frustration out someplace, and my blog is the place I turn for help. But today, I can graciously step up and write a post about autism that is a good one. Or maybe it's not so much about autism, but about my son. I don't know, the two go hand in hand and can't be separated, so I suppose it's about both: Kaeden and Autism. Autism and Kaeden.

In any case, it's good. We have had a very good week in our home. These weeks of freedom from fighting are always a huge relief to everyone in our home. They also make me wary, wondering when the BIG explosion is going to come. But for now, I am choosing to focus on the positive.

We changed Kaeden's medication a about a month or so ago and have been playing with dosages as we build him up on his new med and lower or remove his other medications. 'Playing' with medication is always difficult, and finding a prefect combination is next to impossible. We've been 'playing' this game for 8 years now, when he first started taking ritalin. It's a difficult proccess.

This week has been like living in a state of bliss, as far as Kaeden is concerned. Though the biggest difficulty still comes in getting him out of bed and ready in the morning, there have been no big outbursts, no major incidences to send us all off the deep end. Our home has been an oase of peace, actually speaking and conversing in place of yelling and screaming. Kaeden has been more talkative, telling us about his days, his interests, his needs, rather than flying off in anger when we are unable to understand. He has shown more interest in us as individuals in his family, rather than seeing us as his servants and enemies.

I know that it helps that we haven't been yelling, that our voices are calming and soothign rather than blasting out frustration and anger. I know our bodies are more soft, not so tense and strained, and in my husband I have seen glimpses of him trying to be playful, rather than on edge worrying. Kaeden has given me the motivation to be more open to him, and I have played games with him daily, sharing a cup of coffee at the table as he recounts things that happen throughout his day.

This is not typical in our home. This is not typical in our son, or in us as parents. It hasn't been typical for the past 3 years. And it feels good. It feels like what I always dreamed our family should be. It hasn't been without incident, but the incidents we've encountered have been manageable. They've been nearing what I'd call normal for a family with a teenage child. They haven't been out of control on either of our parts. I've had an opportunity to begin to relax as a mother, to be allowed to be the mama I wish I could always be. I've started feeling enjoyment in my child again.

I'm not yet done holding my breath, and I'm not yet singing out praises for his new medication. But I am thinking that our life as it has been in the past week has been more enjoyable, more happy, more upstanding and more loving. We've all been able to rest our tired spirits and take a big breath of this clean air. We've hit a crossroads, and finally it's a right turn. I am so proud of Kaeden, because whether it's his medicine helpign him or he's feeling healthier in his own skin, he's had a chance to regain some self-control and put it to use for himself and our family. We have seen the soft, loving, giving side of our son that hides underneath the surface. We have been given back our little boy filled with sparkle and happiness.

I am grateful. And I am, at least for this moment in time, at peace with autism and my son. My son and autism. The fight is momentarily gone, and I am grateful.



Knikkers=marbles pronounced Kuh-nick-kurs
Kikkers=Frogs pronounced Kick-kurs

Today after school Jari and I were playing Monopoly. When he jumped on my lap I felt something bulging in his pocket. I asked him if he had rocks in his pocket. "Nope, mama, guess what I have," he answered.

"Knikkers!" I replied. And I was right!

We started talking about knikkers and how he plays at school, and how he won these two in his pocket from his friend. We played a couple times with his new prizes when he asked if we could go to the store and get some more tomorrow. "Jakub says we can buy a big sack with 100 knikkers for just 3 euro at Blokker."

"Jari, we can buy them someplace else even cheaper," I answered. "But we have so many kikkers (frogs) in the house we don't know what to do with them all."

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHA" my son couldn't stop giggling. "Yeah, mama, our house is full of kikkers (frogs)! But we can still go to Blokker and buy some more knikkers (marbles)."

Sometimes this Dutch language stuff is just too much to handle.

Playstation Games

Yesterday I spent time playing Playstation with Jari. We always play soccer and he gets so excited picking the teams and seeing which players will be playing. He really lives in the game, becoming those players as his little fingers work the controls, his whole body jiving with the moves of the players. Well, if you can't play soccer outside, might as well figure out a way to do it inside.

He is pretty good at PES, mama not so much. I can't ever make my guys do what they're supposed to, and as I beat at those little knobs sometimes I just manage to make a good move ("Great action, mama!) or steal the ball away (Wow, that was good of you mama. You can steal very good!"), or even score a goal (WOW! THAT was a good goal...in the cross, mama!). Yesterday, I even managed to win a game, but only because he 'helped' me score one since he wanted to have the penalties round. He was surprised when I actually won that round, and thus the game :-)

While we were playing he was discussing how I could practice more and become a better player. And through that conversation I learned something very important. My son feels secure and quite settled in his life. Here's how it went:

Jari: Mama, tomorrow I can go back to school, right?
Mama: Yep, that'll be fun to see all your friends again.
Jari: Yeah, and when I am at school you will have time to practice PES. When you are finished with the laundry and the dishes you can play this game and get even better.
Mama: Yeah, I suppose I could. But I like it better when I can play with you.
Jari: Yeah, but if you just practice, you'll get very good and then you can even beat me!
Mama: Do you want me to beat you?
Jari: No! But if you practiced you could. Mama, are you going to go to work when I am 10 or 12 or soemthing like that?
Mama: I don't know if I will go to work when you get bigger. Why?
Jari: Well, now your job is to take care of me and Kaeden and cook and clean, but when I go to school you have extra time to practice. If you practiced this game for an hour every day til I am 12 when you go to work, you would be the BEST!
Mama: I still don't really like to play it unless I play with you. But I could practice sometimes and show you what I learned when you get home.
Jari: Why would you want to go to work when I am bigger? Don't you like staying home?
Mama: Well, I do like to be home so that I can pick you up from school, but sometimes mama would like to go do something away from home. PLus, then we would have more money.
Jari: Yeah, then we could go to Italy!
Mama: Maybe...
Jari: But you won't go to work til I'm 10 or 12 cuz I can't go home all by myself, right mama?
Mama: Jari, mama is always here when you need me to be here. If I go to work, we'll make sure you know where you have to be and when. But you don't need to worry about it right now, because I don't have a job now.
JAri: Yes you do! (He removes his hand from his controls for a moment to pat my arm) Your job is playing with ME!

It was just a millisecond when he glanced my way and touched my arm, interrupting his dedication to his game, bt in that touch and conversation he gave me a great peace of mind, knowing he feels security. I don't need any other job, and this conversation just bore into me the importance of the job I do have. My boys KNOW mama is here. They know that whatever else is happening in life, I will be here to care for them. They know that I will play a game, feed them, wash their clothes (even if I don't put them away ). I am grateful my husband and I chose to have me be a stay-at-home mom. Even though I miss outside adult interaction, the extra pay, and having a carreer to pursue, nothing could be worth taking that security away from my children. Playing Playstation really is worthwhile. I learned a whole lot yesterday, and it wasn't about how to push the X to make a pass...today, I'll be practicing that little maneuver! Got to surprise my little guy!!!



I'm struggling. Usually at this time of year that dark cloud that hovers over me lifts and I start to feel energized and renewed and just a tad bit lighter. But this year, it hasn't yet happened and I feel myself stretching, trying to grasp onto that sunshine in the sky and flip over onto the happy side, but it just isn't working. I'm feeling, instead, as if the rubber won't hold much longer before I break.

The reasons I know this is how I try to convince myself to do things I know I will enjoy. Rather than talking myself into it, I usually talk myself out of it. Things like meetings with friends and parties and going on a bike ride. Things like needing to sum up the energy for a family day out, preparing sandwiches for a picnic seems like it takes more effort than it should. Calling my family and friends at home, though always at the forefront of my mind, I never just pick up the phone and do it. I have plans to better my home swirling in my mind, but haven't yet lifted a finger to accomplish any of them. When it's my turn to pick kids up from Judo, I become angry that I have to leave the shelter of my home to make that 10 minute trip.

I feel like a bomb just nearing explosion, and though I haven't yet reached that point, I can feel it coming. I need to cut the wires before it happens. But how?

I haven't been physcially well, having bouts of sinus infections and problems with earaches and migraines and teeth. My family hasn't been healthy, with mumps and Q-fever and allergies on the rise, as well as a concussion my mother suffered last week. Foot infections and heartburn are the least of our health issues. Money is short paying all these added doctor bills, as well as a large bill we owe the beginning of June hanging over my head. Kaeden's trip to America looms on the horizon while we still don't know where, or if, we will go this year. Father's Day is quickly approaching, as well as my dad and brother's birthdays.

I keep copping out of all my extra-curricular responsibilities. Such as helping serve at a funeral for a neighbor last week, going to choir activities, attending my women's club end of year party (which is tonight, and I am trying to work up the courage and strength to go, but it doesn't feel like it's going to happen). I keep making excuses, such as not feeling well (which I don't) or having family responsibilities (which I do). But, and this is a big but, I could still manage these other things if I was mentally able. But I am not, and as I keep letting these other things fall to the wayside, I'm bringing myself down even further as each activity quickly passes me by on the calendar.

I just haven't yet learned how to make myself well with a positive attitude. I haven't been able to take a shower and face the day with a smile. I haven't been able to summon the courage to take that first step. I'm feeling stuck and stretched and just not bubbling and flowing as the creek so alive with the rush of spring water, the melted winter snow filling it to capacity. I just want to wake up out of my winter sleep and feel hungry for that taste of sunshine.


Parenting Part 2

A couple days back I was thinking about parenting and what it means. Yesterday, I realized yet again what it means as I took my little swollen boy to the doctor. His face all swollen to 3 times it size, I was expecting to hear he had an abscess or something. His pain was big, and he was unhappy that he couldn't eat. I got him into the on-call doctor at 5:20 and when we arrived the doctor immediately looked at him, and told me "He's got the mumps."

Mumps? How does that happen when we vaccinate our kids to protect them? How often in this day and age do you hear about someone contracting mumps? And where did it come from? It was the furthest thing from my mind when I first noticed his swelled cheeks, recognized that he was being a bit less wild, a bit more reserved. When he cried out in pain upon eating a spoon-full of his favorite cereal, I knew it was time to take some action. I picked him up and rocked him, brought him a glass of water, held onto my little guy, kissing his head and rubbing his pained little body.

This morning, his face is even more swollen. He woke with a fever and in tears, and as I spent my first waking hours sitting in a chair watching cartoons while holding my little guy, I recognized the importance of my job. Being a mama is about offering your child security and comfort. Even when you can't take away the hurt, those little kisses and the softenss of your bosom offer enough to help ease the pain. Offering an ice pack and wiping away tears is all he needs to know that you care.

I'm hoping for good news in the coming days as his pain subsides and our home becomes mumps-free. I'm hoping nobody else catches it, nobody else has to feel the pain of this long-ago common childhood illness which today is just something you once heard of. I'm going to give my child lots of cuddles, keep him hydrated, keep his fever at bay, knowing that this is what being a parent means...mumps and all.


On Being A Parent

When we are young and considering starting a family, it just feels so happy and carefree. You want that little bundle of joy to fill your heart and home with laughter and love. You imagine how happy life will be, sharing painting and coloring and baking cookies, playing in the sandbox and pushing them on swings. You can't wait for your world to be expnaded, for you to be called "mommy".

But when all these happy thoughts race through your mind in the initial phases of expanding your family, what you aren't prepared for is what really being a parent means. Youhave no concept of just what your duty will be, how much energy you will expend, how much pain you will endure. You haven't considered what this will mean; being a parent, being responsible for another life, emotionally, financially, physically.

When you consider parenthood, you may consider sleepless nights, though you won't imagine your perfect little bundle of joy will REALLY give you any problems. What you won't imagine is night terrors and screaming for hours when you are completely powerless to help. You won't imagine lying with your child through many stories and many songs trying to get them to sleep in their own bed, only to have to carry them back to their own bed when you head to bed yourself hours later. You won't imagine still having your seven-year-old sleeping between you and your husband, or the many different monsters you'll have to put to rest. You won't imagine your son can outlast you before falling to sleep, needing more hours but unable to soothe himself enough to fall into slumber.

When you consider parenthood, you may consider feeding issues and worry about whether to breast or bottle feed, how big your child will be upon delivery. What you won't imagine is weekly visits to the doctor with your tiny little sprout because though they are nursing well, they are not gaining weight. You won't imagine taking your child to Auschwitz Concentration Camp only to compare the ribs of those poor children with the ribs of your own. You won't imagine medicating your child and worrying about the extra pounds your child is gaining, or the unbelievable sheer amount of food a teenage boy can consume. You won't imagine the picky eater issues, when beans makes him puke, when you nickname him cookie monster as that is all you can get into his body. You won't imagine the fun 'cooking' sessions when every dish in the house is dirtied for a simple bowl of cereal. You won't imagine how if your child is hungry or thirsty, he becomes a demon child crying and mean.

When you consider parenthood, you may consider the costs involved in child-rearing as you go buy those first little onesies, a crib, and stroller. What you won't consider is soccer camp, Judo lessons, school field trips, family days out to the zoo. What you won't imagine is how fast a 14 year old boy grows out of his shoes and pants, how many pairs of shoes a soccer-manic seven year old will need in the course of a month. What you won't consider is necessary medications, all the "PLease, please" s, the toy store that will become your home. You won't imagine how much you can spend on coats in a given year, winter, summer, rain, sport, and then that one extra when they outgrow it or the zipper breaks or they accidentally climb through a barbed wire fence after having this coat just 3 days and it rips to shreds. You won't consider all the birthday party gifts and the extra gas to run them to their activities. You won't imagine the extra water bills from all those long showers and baths, the extra energy you'll use keeping lights on all night to fend off monsters. You won't imagine how many batteries you'll buy in a year time.

When you consider parenthood, you may consider the fun you will hope to have with your little bundle of joy. What you won't consider is a fun afternoon bike ride turning into a severe medical emergency, or how a walk through the woods will result in your child falling into the pond with you having no change of clothes ready in the car as your kid becomes hypothermic. You won't imagine the severe fear that results when a child is exposed to changed schedules, how difficult it will be to leave the house to do something fun because the switch-over from home to activity is too over-stimulating. You won't imagine you'll hear a doctor force you to tears telling you your child is autisitc, or that you'll have a discussion with your child about what it means to be colorblind. You won't imagine holding your child's hand through dental procedures where you have to help hold them on the chair, or crying as they fall giggling after being given the medicine to prepare them for surgery. You won't imagine how your heart will lurch when you have a special day out with your child and hold hands walking to the car together. You won't imagine how long it will take to choose an ice cream cone.

This week we went to the hospital to visit my father-in-law. My sister-in-law and her boyfriend were there, and were heading off to Belgium to sit on a terrace, have dinner and a few drinks, walk through the flower market and enjoy their day. After we left the hospital, Erwin and I commented about how easy life would be with no kids, how we could do whatever we wanted and go where we wanted and life would be so simple. We were both lost in thought, both feeling a little jealous of our sis and her freedom. We were both imagining life without kids.

When you consider parenthood, you may consider always having your little bundle of joy attached at your hip. What you won't consider is all you give up being a parent. You won't consider eating out means going to McD's, that a museum visit must have children's activities, that travel will take you 5 times as long for pee breaks and stops for travel sickness accidents. You won't consider that going on a romantic night away with your spouse MAY happen once in a great while, and that jumping in the car to go grab a few groceries just 'ain't gonna happen' cuz it's past their bedtime. You won't consider what being a parent means in your joy of having a baby to love.

When you consider parenthood, you may think about the possibility in loving this new little being you created. What you won't imagine is how much you will give up, how silly you will become, how treasured you will be. What you won't imagine is how much love you hold inside you, how much love you have to share, how much love you will gain. You can't imagine it until it happens. You won't be able to consider that possibility. And you will be unable to imagine. For as much as being a parent takes more energy, time, patience, and funds than you could ever imagine, one smile from your child, one thank you, one giggle, one kiss, one question, one story, one evening without argument, being a parent is something you will never wish you could replace. Being a parent is the greatest joy in the world. Being a parent is so much more than you ever could begin to imagine.



Jari asked me to play soccer. "Sure," I told him. "As soon as mama hangs out the wash to dry." I began the job, the sun still just peeking out from a darkening sky, the wind blowing strong enough to let it dry before the rain. "Mama, if I help you, we can play soccer faster," said my soccer-maniac son. And so he began to help, reaching up to the washline to gather some clothes pins.

"How do I do this?" he asked, grabbing a t-shirt and crumpling it into a ball on the line. "Jari, t-shirts have to be hung straight so they aren't all wrinkly. Like this..." I showed him. Then, I divided our piles, giving him socks, undies and washcloths while I took the bigger atricles of clothing.

We were busy for awhile, getting everything strung out, when suddenly Jari perks up loud and clear "Mama, THESE are BIG undies. I think I need TWO pins for these," as he holds up a pair of MY undies outstretching his arms.

He hung up the undies and then I saw him considering the situation. "Mama," he questioned. "Those are very big undies for a very big butt. Those are your undies, huh mama? I think those were supposed to go in YOUR pile!"

Nothing like a little reality check in the day to day living of life!


Running Away?

Yesterday I was cleaning up and suddenly had a memory. It's something I haven't thought of in years, maybe even since it happened. It happened when I was 16 years old. During the period of my school years when I frequently 'missed' a class, be it that I was really sick or just'sick'. I had good grades, was active in school sports, and also took part in the school newspaper and a couple of other clubs. I worked for my parents at their store, and didn't really get up to too much trouble. I was a pretty average high school kid, not anybody popular, not totally cliqued into the 'jock' group, not part of any clique really. I just was, attending classes and trying to do what I had to do to be done with it all. I never really found my place during highschool. In fact, I think that's something I have carried with me throughout my life. I always have plenty of acquaintances, but true friendships are harder for me to come by. And so the friends I do have, are people I truly treasure.

Anyway, back to my memory. I had a friend named Becky. She was having a hard time at home, and was also very involved with her boyfriend, someone a bit older, not attending high school, and not from our town. I don't remember exactly where he came from, but it seems as though he was working construction, kind of just paving his way from place to place, a bit of an orphan. Becky was head over heels in love with him, but her parents were not. They forbid her from seeing him, which of course she rebelled against. I had recently gotten my driver's licence and drove to school each day....and also drove Becky around to meet up with her boyfriend, whether during or after school hours.

At one point, her Beau was skipping town. I don't know the reason, but Becky planned to follow him. I remember there being talk of them getting married, and I also think that the possibility that she was pregnant was also a factor involved. In any case, she asked for me to assist her in running away.

At the time, I didn't consider what my actions would mean. I just agreed to help my friend. On the day of her departure, we met at school, loaded her bag into my car, and off we went to the local airport. At the time, I remember asking her if she was sure she wanted to take this step, if she was sure he was someone she could trust. But, I didn't try to stop her. In fact, I was an accomplice in every step of this journey.

When we got the airport, Becky checked in, and we sat and talked waiting for her plane to arrive. She made a phone call to her boyfriend so he'd know she was on her way. And then, when the flight began boarding, I hugged her goodbye and waved as she headed through security. As soon as she entered the security gates, police surrounded her.

The look on her face was of complete shock. Tears began streaming down her cheeks as she was taken into custody. She looked my way and yelled at me to call her boyfriend. I didn't know waht to do. I stood there, watching my friend being hauled away by the police, her bag still sitting where she dropped it. An officer finally came to me in the waiting area, suggesting I get myself back to school before I also found myself in loads of trouble. He mentioned they would be in contact; e already knew who I was from my parents business.

I was embarrassed, scared, and sad. Instead of returning to school, I drove straight to my mom's store, where I poured out the entire story. I was in tears, and felt so helpless. I wasn't sure what would happen, or where to go from here. I stayed home from school the rest of that day, just relishing in my time with my mom, glad that she was someone I could count on.

The story ends here. I know that Becky went to a counseling center for teens and that she kept in contact with the boyfriend. I know that she made further plans to leave home. What I don't know is if she succeeded. After all of this, our friendship evaporated once she changed her focus to running away from home. I have never seen her again.

I don't know from where this memory came, but it makes me wonder about teenagers. My son is a teen, but I can't imagine him being advanced enough to make plans such as these. I can't imagine him driving a friend to the airport, packing a bag to run away from home, handling being confronted by police officers. He is autistic. And as much as he creates plenty of other problems, these would not be something I would have to deal with as the mother of a teenager.

Interesting what little experiences we come across in our book of life, and how those little things may never be thought of, but always and forever remain a part of who we are.


Reading and Writing

I have been reading a lot lately. I have become so involved in the stories, awaiting the following moments that come alive in my mind through the pages in the book. The stories I have been reading have all been stories about women during the World wars. What their lives were like, who they became, how they survived. I am entranced by this era, what women had to live through, the choices they have had to make in order to survive. And I have loved reading these stories.

However, I have been disappointed time and time again. Throughout the stories I have been so involved in the characters, the story line, my own visions coming to life in my mind. And at the end of each book, the story, so strong in the first 400 pages, has ended much too quickly, without a concrete ending, without fulfilling my ideals for the story. It is so disappointing to read all those pages, get so into it, not wanting to put the book down for fear of missing out, to come to the end and feel as if something has been stolen from me. A book needs a strong ending. It needs to make the reader feel as if those hours spent reading have given them satisfaction. The reader needs to come to the end sad that the book has ended.

The past 3 books I have read haven't left me feeling that way. As I turned the last page, I was plain angry at the last words. I could have created a much better ending, I think. I could have made the reader feel that the story is complete. I could have given a deeper satisfaction.

Yet, until the ending, it was a good book. How could something so strong end so piddly-poo? How come I feel cheated? And is it really the story, or is something more going on within my mind? Why have three books, one after another, all disappointed when I was so involved throughout each?

I'm wondering what I am expecting? Why wasn't it enough? Could I do better? Could I actually write a book and leave the reader feeling complete at the end of the story? Is it my time to finally become an author? It's somethign I have been told, my entire life, that I have the ability to do. People always read my words and tell me I should be a writer when I create a story. It's something I have always wanted to do, but never knew exactly how to do it. But, I am considering taking that leap. I want to hold one book in my hands with the author staring back at me someone I personally and intimitely know. I want to see my name in print.

I want to be a writer.



Today, I can't stop thinking about my husband. When we went to the city hall yesterday to get our new residence permits (oh, what a story in itself...do you think ther eis a little box they can click on for someone like me to renew my permit? Oh no...there is nobody in Belgium with all my 'credentials', and the program was not made for a person with my dual-nationality, living in yet another country. They can't renew my permit...not without first contacting government officials to find out how, when I'm such a starange case...). Anyway, back to my husband.

We're standing there with our passport-sized pictures and Erwin says: Who is that guy? as he looks at his old residence card. He pulls out his new photo and we both look at the two very differnt faces starign back at us. "I think this guy is his dad," he says pointing at the new picture. "geez, I sure have gotten old."

Yes, my husband has gotten older. In the course of the past five years his youthful face and curly brown locks have given way to a bit ruddier face, a bit heavier and his brown curls have become infested with gray. He doesn't look like a little boy any more. He has the worry-lines of fatherhood etching his forehead, his eyes filled with doubts about how to best support his family. He has aged.

Yet, when I look at my husband, what I see is not an 'older' man. Though he'll reach the big 4-0 this year, staring back at me is someone who has worked hard, given his all, and made a good life for his family. He has been a success, and when I look at his face I see the most handsome man in the world staring back at me. He has allowed me to stay home with my children, to return often on American adventures, to open up a world of exploration for our family as we travel, sometimes within our own land, sometimes further into the great wide open. We have become more acquainted with each other, learned how to get along and have created a life of security within our family and our home. I see a father who never gives up, even when the going gets really tough. I see a husband who holds me at night in our bed as we discuss our weekly plans, laugh at silly things our boys have done, or he tightens his grip on me when I am flailing. I see a son who regularly makes plans with his parents, giving into his desire to just stay home to make sure everyone keeps the bond we have captured.

When my husband leaves the house each morning, giving me my daily dose of kiss with our goodbye, heading off to work to support our family, I don't see some middle aged guy starting to slow down a bit. What I see is a man I admire. Someone I am still in awe of all these years further down the road. Someone whose brown curls have gotten greyer, yes, but with each grey hair comes an even deeper sense of stability, strength in our marriage, and commitment to each other.

Nope, hon, that picture of you as a young whippersnapper has nothing on the man you have become, the man I love today. He just helped get you here, those mere five years ago. Give yourself five more years...we can share another laugh as we stand at the city hall with yet another new set of pasfoto's...you've earned those grey hairs!!



Tonight, we are going to renew our residence permits for our lives in Belgium. That means that I have officially been a Belgium resident for five years. Five years...and in one breath it seems like just days, while in the next it feels like a lifetime.

As a citizen of the Netherlands, Erwin has the right to work and live in any of the European Union countries. After I obtained my naturalised citizenship as a Nederlander, I was also granted those same priviledges, though I was partially granted rights just as the wife of my husband, even as an American citizen. Our children have these rights as well, though upon turning eighteen they will be forced to declare which citizenship they choose, rather than having the advantage of being Dutch-American citizens.

This to me is a bit strange. They are born dual citizens, why should they have to make a choice over which countryman to become and waive their birth-given rights? As their mother, I have been granted dual citizenship, simply by following the integration program rules, paying fees, and being married to my husband. I was not given these rights at birth. I will also not be forced to revoke these rights. But my children will. If I can be granted dual-citizenship, I feel it should also be granted to my children, for their entire lives, and not just until the day they reach the age of adulthood. At the age of eighteen, will my children have had the oppotunity to have explored and become knowledgeable enough to make such a life-altering decision?

I realize that the majority of people are born into a country and never have the freedom to choose which country they want to honor. But, my children were lucky having parents of two nationalities to give them a beneficial start in ife; living and learning two cultures, living and learning two languages, living and learning two lands. In our case, three with our move to Belgium. However, at such a crucial age as 18, when one begins making their own choices about life, begins making a career track and setting off on their own to explore life, it seems that taking away their choice in a matter as important as nationality is unfair. They haven't had the option to explore both lands and make an educated decision about which they want to make their own. And once that choice is made, it is extremely difficult to make a change, if at all possible.

This situation makes me a bit sad. Since my children have lived their entire lives growing up in Europe, it would be very inconsistent with what they have lived and learned to make a choice to become American citizens. Though they are still young, I can already ake a guess as to what choices my children will make in the future. Kaeden may actually lean more toward America, being that he has had an opportunity to live there, and has the patriotism to America in which Jari is lacking. Jari, without even a doubt in my mind, would choose to make his home in Europe. And, because of my dual citizenship, Erwin and my choices are much broader than those of our children. Will we have the opportunity to one day live in America as we hope, and leave our children and grandchildren behind in Europe? Or will we, because of government regulations forcing our childre to make a choice, also be forced to remain on European soil in order to protect our family unit.

This sounds very irrational. I was born an American and made a chocie to become a European. Both places are embedded in my heart, both I consider my home. But I left my family, I left America, to create a new life with my husband and our children. My children could very easily resort to the same. But, knowing what I now do, I don't want to lose my children to the soil on the other side of the world. I want us to remain a fmaily unti within bounds of being physically present. What happens when each of my children choose another route in life?And most especially, what happens to my autistic son when he makes a choice to be an American citizen and I am living on European soil?

In any case, it's something to consider after five years living in Belgium. I wonder where I, my huband, and my children, will be when another five years rolls around.



These here are cows. Bet you already guessed that? But there's something special about these cows, that you don't see upon first glance.

Friday my boys and I took a picnic lunch, our bikes, and excessive amounts of energy with us to the woods. We rode 5 miles which I wasn't sure Jari would be able to manage, but he did wonderfully. And we parked our bikes and headed off past the watermill into the heavily wooded paths to find the perfect spot for our picnic, which was a total surprise. Kaeden created our lunch, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but as he uncovered all the items in the cooler, I was in disbelief. Not only had he brought along everything we needed for a picnic, but he even brought jars of mayonnaise, a bottle of ketchup, and a beer complete with bottle opener for mama. It may have been a bit overdone, but he was so proud, and we had a wonderful little picnic and after a trying morning at home, both my guys suddenly turned into adventurous explorers and everyone's moody attitudes quickly changed from tearing-my-hair-out irritation to relaxed excitement.

We started a walk through the woods, pausing to play tag and hide and seek. We gathered sticks and stones and walked over logs across the water. We had races and then began the quest...the quest to become knights who could defeat the witch who lived in the forest. Our sticks became bows and arrows, swords, and hatchets. We crept along keeping the witch in our sights, waiting for the perfect moment at which we could surprise her and rise victorious.

As we continued our jaunt through the woods, we arrived at a field with cows. The cows were traveling with us, staying back a ways from the fence, but trotting with us as we walked. "Those cows are in our army," I told my boys. "The witch can never esacpe now." "Nope," said Jari. "Those are not just cows mama. Those are monster cows. Kaeden and I used our special computer to surge them and now their horns have special powers. Those are superhero monster cows!" So, now you know. My boys are a bit like Inspector Gadget. They have a special computer which they can whip out and control animals in the woods, and control those animals to defeat a wicked witch of the European west. How's that for a dose of creative thinking and fantasy play?