Watching it all unfold on tv it is just so unreal to me. I am unable to physically place myself in the scene of the disaster, so mentally it doesn't quite hit the very core of me. It can't. I wasn't there, living through the shaking, the fear of buildings crumbling around me, the deep sadness as I passed dead bodies in every direction I looked. The disbelief that my home and my life has been stripped form me, from all of us.

But I do feel compassion and a pit of unrest deep inside of me. My eyes fill with tears at the thought of such a poor country being robbed of the little they had. Seeing the people struggling to survive, people, just like you and me, people who have to hang onto a little tiny shred of hope in order to just survive.

Yesterday in Holland was a big action calling for monetary help for Haiti. As I watched on tv I felt pride in the human race. Whatever downfalls we may all suffer through in our own lives, we still want to help, to give, to hope. The money rushed in, some people giving up their summer vacation to help those in need, others handing over a candy bar they wouldn't purchase with their lunch. It didn't matter how much or how little, people were coming together for a cause to make something right in the face of a storm...a big, disasterous storm.

I was a victim of an earthquake. When I was in my 20's living in LA, my own home collapsed during the Northridge Earthquake. Sleeping in my cozy bed feeling safe, I was suddenly thrown across the room with the glass of the window shattering at my feet, my mattress covering me in safety. My whimpering puppy lay next to me, and after the shock of it all, I went in search of my roommate. It was so dark and wherever you stepped you could feel pieces of your life crunching under your feet. We dressed with whatever we could manage to find and made our way outdoors with all the rest of the freaked out people. We still had no idea what had happened, but we knew that we were okay, we had survived, even if nothing else had.

In the coming weeks after the earthquake, living in temporary housing at a hotel paid for by FEMA, fearful of the aftershocks that kept coming, no longer being employed, no longer having a home or any belongings, I finally admitted defeat, leaving my California life behind me and returning to my family to accept their offers of help. I had survived an earthquake.

But, the death toll in my earthquake was minimal compared to the lost lives we are seeing today. I can empathize with the survivors of the earthquake on some level, but I never had to face all the deaths of my family members, friends, or common countrymen. I can't imagine, I don't want to imagine, and yet I see the pictures forcing me face to face with the devastation. It grips me, and I shudder. Yet I can't begin to imagine, can't begin to understand. Thankfully, this time I wasn't there in the midst.

This time, all I could do was make a small donation to help people in need, a country in need. And be just one face in a large crowd offering hope in the form of money, compassion in the form of silver and gold. It seems wrong, but it's all I can do. I am one of the millions who care, just one whose tiny offering has expanded to something that really can help. I pray for the dead, I pray for the survivors, and I continue to have hope. I offer them hope.

Here are a couple sites in which you can also offer hope:

American Red Cross (US): https://secure3.convio.net/arc3/site/Donation2?idb=0&df_id=1320&1320.donation=form1&s_src=RSG00100E002&s_subsrc=eopgov

Doctors Without Borders (US): https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/SSLPage.aspx?pid=197&hbc=1&source=ADR1001E1D01

Doctors Without Borders (Various Countries): http://doctorswithoutborders.org/donate/otheroffices.cfm

Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties (in Nederland): http://www.giro555.nl/nl-NL/default.aspx


The Bus Stop

Last week, Jari and I took the bus. We had a 20 minute layover before making our connection. It was cold and snowing so we huddled in the busstop with 4 other travellers. Everything was pretty normal. There were 2 high school girls there dressed in trendy clothes with cell phones and earphones hanging around their necks, one late 20's guy with a camo backpack and long ponytail, and another high school aged student, maybe 18ish, cleancut and looking just like any other typical teen.

I am a people watcher. And an eavesdropper. I find it so interesting to pick up bits of information about other people's lives and devise fantasy lives for them. So, I was listening to the girls discussing their math class, and one pulled out her book where she showed her friend her test. I could tell she was proud of the results, and though I wanted a closer look to see what she was studying and her grade, I held myself back and just listened.

Suddenly, the young man came to life. His voice boomed out through the enclosed bus house and shocked me with his loudness. As he spoke, his sentences were jumbled, his tone too high. He was extremely overexcited. He started telling the girl that his math was harder than hers and he is the best in math and....and and and. I didn't know it, but the girls knew the guy, probably from sharing busses or a class with him previously, and reacted as if there was nothing strange going on.

The 20-something guy had a little smirk on his face, and I think he was also a people watcher/eavesdropper. Jari looked up at me with his huge eyes, a slight smile on his lip. Quietly he asked when the bus was coming. The guy continued to shout about school and the cold and his bus schedule, all in what he considered a normal voice. At one point as he cursed about school, one of the girls asked him to watch his language and pointed at Jari. The guy answered Öh yeah"" and though he was still animated, I didn't hear him curse again.

The girls eventually put in their earphones trying to escape his energy. I was never involved in the conversation, but found it so interesting. His mannerisms, his voice, his obsession with bus times, his trying to fit in in a world where it doesn't come naturally. His bus was late, and he was cold and unhappy. He tried to make his point by discussing the politics of the bus company, yet he didn't really know what he was talking about, or if he did, he was having difficulty expressing it. As the girls tuned him out listening to music, he decided to copy their behavior and got out his own music player....but he had no headphones to silence the music for others. He turned on his jump music extra loud, holding his music player out so we could all see it, looking at all our faces to make sure we noticed he had one too. He started dancing to the music, quietly nodding his head at first and then his arms and eventually his legs dancing to the rhythm. The girls giggled, asking him what group it was. He didn't respond til his dance was done. As he realized their earphones were put away, he lowered the volume on his and started talking (shouting) again, this time about music. When a bus came through and stopped at another stop, he took off to ask the driver why his bus was so late.

The girls then watched him, like a hawk. They discussed his weirdness, his misunderstanding of how people are supposed to act, and their interest in whether he was just going to take another bus or catch the correct one when it arrived. The guy came sauntering back over when a disruption across the street captured all our attention. Some teen had knocked over an elderly lady's bike, and she was angry. The guy from our bus stop screamed over across the street: HEY, YOU TRYING TO BREAK THE OLD LADY'S BIKE? with a laugh. The old lady walked away gesturing her hands, the teens righted the bike laughing nervously, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The girls then noticed another friend and they came over, all talking, as the guy forced his way into the conversataion in close proximity with the girls, though it was obvious he didn't know these new people.

The bus arrived. I was relieved. I don't know why I was relieved. Jari, whose hand was nestled safely in mine the past 10 minutes released my hold, and he spoke to me in a normal quiet tone, rather than the quiet whisper when the others were present. He was also relieved. All I could do was consider the guy...the kid who so wanted to be just another kid, who wanted to fit in, who wanted to have friends to talk about school with, who wanted to be cool...but who wasn't. He so reminded me of my own son, and I was so confused about how to feel.

On one hand, the kid was attending school, taking the bus on his own, and obviously managing it all okay. He was making small talk, even if not in the most accepted way, and he even asked for help when he was concerned about his own late bus. On the other hand, it was obvious he had some infliction, something just not quite right, something that set him apart and made him react in inappropriate ways. Was it autism? I don't know, but it most certainly COULD have been. He reminded me a LOT of Kaeden.

It was an eye-opening experience. I was pleased with the girls for treating him respectfully to his face, as well as teaching him social skills by asking him to tone down his language. Yet, when he left the bus stop, they laughed at him behind his back...a sure sign he was different.

When my own bus came, I stepped on, wondering about the guy, where he would go, what he'd tell his mom about his day. And I said a little prayer for him and my own son.


More Stuff

  1. Michael Jackson. The King of Pop. A couple days back I was channel surfing and saw a new show: My Name Is Michael. All these Michael Jackson fans are singing his songs, dancing his dances, while trying to win the contest of the best Michael Jackson impersonator. What I don't get is why when he was alive, all we heard about was his dirty deeds with little kids, his plastic surgery, and his strangeness. And now, he's dead, and suddenly the whole world loves Michael. I don't quite understand this about people. How we always put others down and judge them while alive, yet faced with their death we idolize them. Why can't we support them in life? It happens even in the most everyday faces, not just with celebrities. How many times has a teenager died in a car wreck and then teachers, parents, kids are on the news telling us how wonderful they were, all the good they brought to the world...yet the kid never knew it as it remained unspoken in life. I think we need to start finding more positives with people while they are in our lives, breathing and living.
  2. Wednesday Jari and I made a bus trip to attend Kaeden's birthday party at a bowling alley with his group of housemates. When the kids arrived, I was happily surprised by their unexpected thankfulness towards me for giving them a chance to go bowling. I got a picture from one of the kids, and handshakes saying thanks from all of them. When I handed out cupcakes, I was told how good I can bake, and thank you yet again. I was happy to hear all of this as I think it is something Kaeden will learn being in his home. Grateful, thanks, respect. In addition, I got a chance to watch Kaeden interact with his new friends, and I absolutely loved every second of it. Watching my son surrounded by other teens playing a game and enjoying themselves doing it is all I ever needed to feel a deep satisfaction. I received it.
  3. I had a few more appointments concerning my hand/arm this week, and the doctor is concerned about my progress (as am I). He ordered additional tests and today I went in for a bone scan. He's leaning towards something called CRPS or PD which is a form of dystrophy. It really concerns me as it can be a chronic problem, and treatment sounds a bit scary. I'm trying not to think to much about it til I get a diagnosis, but in the back of my mind I am worrying. I know something is up, but will be relieved to figure out what it is and what we need to do from this point. I hope the results are positive for my recovery, but whatever happens, I just hope it's not one of those "Hmmm, I'm not sure what's going on..."kind of games doctors often seem to play.
  4. The past few days I have seen a positive change in Jari. He's actually been saying please and thank you and been a bit calmer. I like this change in him and it makes me feel proud to call him my son. The last months he's been turning wicked, and I haven't really enjoyed being with him all that much. He's mouthy, mean, wild, and flat out doesn't listen. I hope we're at a turning point, because I sure do love the sweet kid he is when his attitude is what it has been the past couple days. I like feeling respected by my child.
  5. Soccer is cancelled again for the third week :-( I miss watching Jari play and I miss the weather being nice enough to get outside in the fresh air to release some energy. Soccer has become a huge part of our family life and there is something missing without it dictating our wekends.

So, there's a bit of stuff. Life, as life is in my reality.


Birthday Wishes

Dear Kaeden,

Today you vare 15 years old. You're so proud of yourself for growing up. You love telling people you are bigger than mama, that your shoes are size 46. You love having control over your own wallet with all your special documents tucked inside...your Buzzy Pass, your ID card, your insurance card. You love growing up to be a man.

Mama, well, mama isn't so sure. When I hug you tight you squeeze me, when I look at you I have to raise my eyes, and when we go to the doctor you can now check in yourself. Where did my job go? But okay, mama is proud of you too. Very, very proud. You never cease to amaze me with what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. What amazes me most of all is the care you give to little children and babies. The interest you take in them and the love that pours from your heart as you give them your attention. Every time I see you interact with little people, my heart swells a thousand times as I know that this is your value system; giving, caring, loving. So my job, though never complete, has been one filled with success. I helped to get you to the place you are today. And today, you are a 15 year old young man with much to offer the world.

I have missed having you home today. On your birthday, having you living away from home has been hard for mama. I didn't get to wake up to find you here and share my birthday wishes with you. All day I have wandered from room to room missing a little piece of myself. This is the first time I haven't been with you on your birthday. Tonight, as we head to your new home away from home to bring you a much needed birthday hug, I will again feel complete. And yet, I knwo how very happy you are in your new home, how relaxed you feel and how content you are. And though I miss you here, I am happy you have finally found your special place in this world that brings you all that you need. I am happy you have true friends to share your secrets with, people that can help you to make the most of the responsibilities in your life. I am so very proud to know that my son has been given the chance to be at peace, and taken that opportunity and run with it; that you have discovered happiness.

This growing up stuff is hard for mama. Today I think back to our previous life, when you were just a little guy and we slept together in mama's single bed, when you still nursed and still cuddled me tight in need. I think about our drives to daycare and the awaiting hug I would receive upon picking you up. I think about walking up to the playground to push you on the swings, and the time you were so bundled up from the cold to play in the snow that you couldn't even move your arms or legs, and how we laughed and laughed. I think about our trips to visit gramma and grampa and all the goodies we stocked up on to bring with us for our ride. I think about all the songs we sang together, the unimaginable number of times we watched Barney. I think about all the months we spent in the hospital, nursing you through another bout of sickness, the near-death experiences we overcame. I think about all of this, and know that it brought us to today, this day when I can be nothing but proud of who you have become.

Kaeden, today is your birthday. Today you become 15. Today I wish you what every mother wishes for her child: peace, hope, love, and happiness. A year full of the best experiences and growth (just not TOO much more!). A year to see your eyes shine as you tell me once again: Mama, look, I'm taller than you! haha

Happy Birthday to my forever mine not-s0-little boy! I love you!


Winter Bits of Life

Just bits:
  • Kaeden turns 15 (FIFTEEN) next week. It seems one of those marked ages. It makes mama feel old and Kaeden feel powerful. Maybe it's the 5's. Seems to me 5, 10, 15 all hit me with some kind of reality that my kids are changing, growing. Which, yeah, that's what I want them to do, but why so darn fast?
  • I changed my layout again. Last night Erwin told me he can't even read my blog anymore. I had to agree. Somehow the color combo was all wrong, so we're onto this style for awhile. I change my blog as much as I'd like to change my life. I like change. It feels comforting and clean and gives me a new start. It isn't a character trait that makes living with autism easy, as change is exactly what Kaeden doesn't seem to need. So, if changing my blog layout gives me comfort without affecting him, it's a little piece of freedom.
  • It's snowing again. I love the fresh beauty of snow, but this has gone on long enough now! When I was a kid, I lived for snowy days. I couldn't wait to ski and snowmobile and build snow huts and snowmen. Now, give me a few days of snow fun and it's enough. Especially being tied to bike transport which I cannot use in icy conditions one handed, this snow is making me feel a bit stir crazy.
  • This country is unable to deal with the snow. It drives me nuts that traffic stands still for hours from these dustings. In Wyoming where I am from, there we get real snow and life goes on. People drive to work and go to school and life continues as normal. Here, it seems like it puts life into a frenzy. Maybe it's too many cars in too small an area, maybe it's not knowing how to live with these conditions...but whatever it is, it seems to be irritating me lately. Get a grip people...it's snow. Learn to live with it, and please quit telling me for 25 minutes every night on the news about all the traffic jams and accidents.
  • I am so beyond homesick that my stomach is tied in knots. I'm feeling like a mental breakdown is nearing from it. I know that I will be heading to the states in just over a month, but it hurts my heart to pieces that Jari hasn't seen my parents in so freaking long. So, it's more like I'm feeling this huge guilty pressure that doesn't go away knowing that my son and my parents are being unallowed to share a bond. That hurts me to my very core. If I could let Jari see my parents instead of going myself, I would forsake the much needed hugs to give myself piece of mind knowing that my son knows his grandparents. It's so important to me, and I feel like I am failing.
  • My husband and I seem to be stuck in some kind of non-communication mode. I hate when we go through this. Erwin doesn't notice it, but to me it feels as if our relationship is falling to pieces. Maybe it has more to do with my own inner struggles and I am more needy for him and his attention, which I don't feel I am getting enough of. He tells me that every year at this time I feel this way. That may be true, maybe it comes around this time when I miss my home and family the most, but then I need him to recognize that I need more from him and take charge. He fails to do so. Last night our conversation went like this: Erwin mutters something, I say "Were you talking to me?" He says "No" I say "Why not?" He says "I am watching tv." And then I start to cry because I wonder why he wasn't talking to me, why tv is more important than me, why our life seems to have become something we both take for granted, why we can't enjoy each other more, why we can't make each other a priority. But instead of telling him this, I stay quiet and go to bed. The wall between us is back, and it feels thicker than ever. I need it to shatter.
  • My housekeeper came to help out Tuesday. I only have her help three hours in the week now as we can't afford more. She showed up and told me her mother-in-law is dying from cancer, and should be gone sometime during the week. It was only the first week of December they discovered she had cancer. It is into her bones and blood and she's living her last days injected with morphine in the hospital. My housekeeper started to cry and I hugged her tight, telling her I'm sorry, it will all be okay. How can you comfort someone when they are losing a mother? Anja has become somewhat of a friend to me, and it didn't feel at all odd hugging my housekeeper, it just felt right and good. I hope it's a long time before I have to go through death in my family. I know life is fragile, I've learned just how fragile when I nearly lost my own life this summer, but I don't want to deal with death.
  • Last night at our women's club New Year's get together (just the board, of which I am a member with 5 other ladies), there was a secret Santa gift exchange. Somehow my name was left out. As everyone shared their gifts, I realized I wasn't going to be getting anything. It hit me odd. I wasn't at all upset, just felt once again like I was the outsider, that even in something as simple as a gift exchange I am apart from the group. Now, I may not be the most open person in the world, I may be somewhat private and a bit closed off, but I have tried to become a part of life here. It doesn't happen easily. It takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. And yet, I'm still an outsider, still on the edge looking in. Getting no gift was a mistake, or wasn't it?
  • Our car is giving us fits. When we bought it we had hoped to get 4-5 years out of it before looking for another. This car hasn't been good to us. In just 2 1/2 years we've already put quite a bit of money into it, and now something else is wrong again. Erwin thinks it may be the gear box, which is the reason we got rid of our last car. 1500 euro is a lot to put into a car you don't know you'll have a lot of life from. So, do we fork out more money fixing it, or take the plunge (yes, a plunge it will be, and probably result in being unable to go to America for the summer)and get something more reliable? I guess we need to take it to the garage first and hear the verdict. Maybe it's nothing big. But the sound it's making sure doesn't sound very promising.
  • December 18th as Erwin was driving home from a work party, a 19-year-old drunk kid ran across the street in the middle of a green light and hit our car with his body as Erwin was driving. The kid's body dented up our car and we couldn't even use the driver door until we allowed the garage to internally open the lock. We chose not to fix the damages, but just fix it enough to allow the door to open. The kid was brought to the hospital with a concussion and wounds to his knee and scrapes all over his body, but went home and is thankfully doing okay. What a mess this is, having to deal with all the insurance stuff becasue some kid drank so much that he didn't know what he was doing. I hope he learned a lesson from this accident which could have ended much more tragically. Tonight Erwin has to go to his home to finish filling out paperwork and reports, and I hope that it goes okay and some agreement is achieved. I hope the kid learned a valuable lesson, but kids think they are invincible. I did too, at that age. I did some stupid things back then. I made it out alive. I hope the kid does too.

So, that's a few bits of life at this moment. It's winter, what can I say? I'm doing my best to keep my attitude in check and my spirits high, but it's winter...and winter does this to me.


Kasteeltuinen Arcen

We spent the day in a winter wonderland yesterday. It was beautiful! Fresh snow lined everything and though it was cold (-6C) we braved the temperatures in hats, mittens, and thermal pants and spent the day in Kasteel Tuinen Arcen (Castle Gardens). We were there for the last day of the winter wonderland, where there were fires burning through the park to roast you toes toasty warm, and in the evening we were awarded with a light spectacle which was really beautiful. I am so glad we braved the boys' fighting in the car and didn't let it stop us from getting to our destination. It was so worth it, spending the day watching the kids run crazy through the park, covered in snow!
The guys even managed to get on skis and take a little ski route through the park. It was both Kaeden and Jari's first time on skis and they thought it was magnificent. Jari got scared a few times when his skis got crisscrossed together, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the kid I picked up out of the snow with her one foot forward, the other backward and unable to get herself straightened out enough to stand. We ended our skiing expedition with hot chocolate and coffee along with sandwiches I brought with us. It was nice sitting by the open hearth and getting warmed up.
We watched a small play of Scrooge which with just four actors they did really well. It was a fun reminder to care for others and the boys were pretty mesmerized with the ghosts, and pleasantly surprised when Scrooge threw candy for them to collect at the end.

The park takes you on a journey of different styles of gardens. There was a bamboo forest, Japanese gardens, rock gardens, water gardens, rose gardens, etc. We have been there before, when it was in full bloom, and though the winter gardens were glorious covered in snow, I think without the snow the gardens themselves are much more fantastic to see during the spring or summer when everything is in bloom. However, we timed it just right and were awarded with a wonderful end to our winter vacation, in which we all enjoyed playing outdoors in the snow.

It's a place in Holland that offers some really nice photo opportunities. The snow added to the magic, and with all the fires burning, candles lighting the pathways, and a Christmas light show, it was well worth the extra driving time on snow-covered roads.


Comfort Zone

Yesterday was the last day of 2009. Happy 2010! The first day of a new year, new expectations, new adventures. However, on the very last day of 2009, I also took the challenge of going out of my comfort zone and making an adventure with my boys. We wanted to visit the Winter Wonderland in Holland, but without a vehicle and 50 kilometers between us and the fair, I had to arrive at an alternate plan. Which I did!

I don't mind using public transport. It gets you where you need to go, even if the timing is sometimes an issue. However, whenever I go someplace new, I get so nervous. I worry I'll be stranded and never be able to find my way home. I worry I won't be able to understand the time charts, the correct stop, or even get on a wrong bus or train and be headed to neverland.

Yesterday, with detailed printouts of times and maps, I took the boys on a bus to Holland. The trip was 1 1/2 hours and took us into the center of the city we wanted to be. The price was more reasonable than if we had driven. And, though we had to stand for a portion of our return trip, the majority of the trip was smooth sailing.

I stepped out of my comfort zone. And in doing so and arriving back home I felt so proud of myself. I now have another route in which I can provide myself a little getaway. We visited the Winter Wonderland, played games, rode on rides, drank hot chocolate and ate bratwurst from the fire. We had a fun day, and the boys were wonderfully behaved. When we had to find our busstop home, I got the same feelings of dread in the pit of my stomach, but allowing ourselves time to find it was our savior. We walked a few wrong turns, and then passed by our stop, but after consulting my map again, I realized our error and headed back where we caught our bus.

Kaeden was a big help. I was amazed at how well he could read the time charts and knew which busses took us where. Without my telling him, he looked at the chart and told me what time our bus would arrive and on which bus we needed to go. He needed reassurance he was correct, but I told him I was very proud of him for knowing this. It gave me extra reassurance that when I send him off on the bus, he'll be ble to reach his destination even if he comes across scheduling conflicts or other problems.

So, a good way to end the year...on a new adventure filled with fun. I think 2010 will be a year of trying out new challenges to bring a bit more excitement to my limited region. The bus will get me there!