My boys are tucked into bed without a single bit of difficulty. My husband made it safely home after a dinner party with colleagues after work. There is a baked pie cooling on the counter and jello thickening in the fridge. I have a menu ready and placemats painted. Little turkeys made of egg cartons are awaiting their place next to each place setting. My kitchen floor is soiled like never before, and my dishwasher chose today to quit working...when nearly every dish in the house needs a washing.

Today I am calm and centered. It is a special day. Yesterday Thanksgiving passed with nary a second glance. I spent the day with my American girlfriend, shopping, talking, and completing our day with turkey sandwiches. Last night I read Jari the story of the first Thanksgiving. But it was just another day, really. Today, I started out shopping for women's party gifts discussing what Black Friday means to someone who has never heard of it. I came home to make lunch for my son, did some surfing online, and completed my crossguard duties. Then, I started gathering Thanksgiving supplies, collecting items stored from the attic, moving furniture, looking up recipes and gatehring ingredients. And when my boys were home from school, we started working together, all three of us, their excitement catching as music played on MTV.

Decorations were hung, couches moved, tables put together and washed vigorously. They couldn't stop talking about Thanksgiving and most importantly, sharing the day with their friends. Each boy was allowed to invite one friend this year. Both chose and can't wait to share this special day, expand their Belgian friends worlds to include a little something from America. Another piece of them, unknown to the world within our reach. Finding out just a bit more about who they are through this tradition I have passed onto them. A piece of America, a piece of us, within these European boundaries.

Today, though the work has been aplenty, I feel a sense of achievement. As we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebration, a bit later than the actual day itself, I stand back and look at the works I have completed. I am thankful for these two boys in my presence, who though they drive me crazy and cause me worry beyond belief, have also allowed this sense of importance to forge through. Though I'm not even sure they realize it, this celebration is more than just a celebration of Thanksgiving. It is a celebration of their heritage, that little piece they have yet to discover and understand. The piece of me I have worked so hard to carry through to them. I am thankful that I have succeeded. That they are excited to share this with their friends. That it is also important to them.

Surrounding me are people I love and care for. This year, there are two new faces to add to our crowd. Two new faces to accept my boys as this other side shines through. Tomorrow our celebration will begin by being thankful for this opportunity to raise awareness. Awareness of differences. Awareness of something we don't understand. And accepting and celebrating that which we learn. Happy Thanksgiving.


Hazy Death

It's building in me
This thing that closes off my throat
That fills my head with fuzz
I can't breathe
I can't see
All that is before me is a haze
The only thing alive
Is the thing growing inside

The desire
To smash and throw and scream
I pull my hair as a groan escapes
A howling that blasts through my ears
Barely audible but to me
The howl of the deepest pain
My hair in handfuls in my fists
A haze I can't function

I move towards my bed
The serenity and tranquility
To remove me from the haze
My clothes shedded
My body upon the cool sheets
My scream muffled by a pillow
My tears like a river growing deeper
As each second unfolds

The haze lessening
The blankets warm
The thing leaving behind
A mottled face
An aching head
And a stomach queasy
A pillow wet and sad
Death of the haze
Death of yet another little piece
Of my already dying soul

I awaken
It remains, the thing
Though it's already forgotten
Put into the past
I can't shake the uneasiness
The haze, the thing
This, The death of me


Early Intervention

You know, I was thinking about Kaeden and his autism and the very beginning of my life with him after reading a post by Tanya at Teen Autism (www.teenautism.com) about surveying parents of autistic kids. It really made me think...and wonder.

I had no clues about Kaeden's autism until he was about 3. It was then that I started noticing little differences that clued me into something being not quite right. Of course, now that I know he is autistic and I know the signs of autism, there were clues prior to age 3. Things I mistakenly thought were him 'being a boy' or 'all kids are different' or 'he just has a lot of energy'. However, this being said, I don't know that I would have wanted it any other way.

They talk about early detection and early intervention. And though I agree that it helps to recognize that something is wrong, I feel that early detection and early intervention may be a mistake. There, I said it. I disagree with catching autism too soon. Because once it is discovered and detected and intervened, life can no longer just be life. The kid can no longer be a kid, the parents can no longer just be parents. The kid is the kid with autism and the parents are the parents of the kid with autism. And once we have those labels, there is no turning back.

You can argue with me that we sense something all along, or that the child will never be able to be a 'normal'kid, or that the behaviors of the child already have us stressed as parents. And while those are all valid points and real, it is still my belief that kids with autism such as my son (not classic, but higher functioning) benefit from being allowed to be a kid.

When Kaeden was a baby and toddler, he led a life that every other neuro-typical kid lived. He went to daycare, he went to the playground, he took baths with water and bubbles, he got his shots and well child checks, and he made lots of messes. He watched Barney over and over again, he fingerpainted and played hide and seek. He didn't take an array of vitamins or bathe in epsom salts. He wasn't scheduled with so many therapists there wasn't a moment's break in the day. He didn't have PECS to schedule his life. He was just a kid.

I understand why parents take all these steps early in their child's life. I really do understand. We want to do everything we can to help our child be the most successful he can be. But in that quest to help them, I think we sometimes forget that first and foremost our kid is just a kid. All that autism hubbub and everything that comes with it is secondary. It's not less important, but it does distract from the fact that we have this kid...this living breathing little piece of ourselves who wants to play and eat and whines to get what they want.

When Kaeden used to scream when I vacuumed, I didn't understand why. I just vacuumed when he wasn't around. I now know he had sensitivity to sound. The result was the same, whether I knew he had autism or I didn't. We have instincts as parents. We know how to help our kids (to a certain degree). We know when they aren't happy, or when they are aggitated. And then we do what we can do about it.

Kaeden didn't have any autism-related intervention until he was 6 years old. Kaeden is not free of his autism, he is not cured, and he has many signs and symptoms of being autistic at the age of 15. He has outbursts and fixations and sensory overloads. He also thrives on music and sound, obssesses about money, and uses a strict schema for accomplishing tasks. But he is still autistic, just as he was when he was 3 and I first had doubts about issues.

I am glad we didn't have early intervention programs, as it would never have allowed us to have the enjoyment of each other we had without autism lurking in the background. I know many people will disagree, but in my heart of hearts, I stand true to the opinion. I am glad my kid was able to be just a kid, and I was able to just be that kids mom!



Kaeden came home with a letter from school this week. "Here mom, it's a stupid note," he says handing it to me. "Just check YES on all of it. You don't even have to read it."

I took the note and read it anyway. It was about Sinterklaas and whether our children believe in him and our thoughts on him being in the school. I did check yes to the following questions, as Kaeden read them to me. 1) Does your child have interest in Sinterklaas? 2) Do you think Sint should visit the school? 3) Does Sint bring you gifts and candy at home?

As he read, he tells me, "Of course I have interest in Sinterklaas. Why wouldn't someone be interested in Sint? And even when I was little Sint came to visit at school. WHy should he stop coming now? It's fun to have Sinterklaas visit us at school. And this is the dumbest question. Does he bring presents? HA Of course he does. That's what Sinterklaas does. He brings kids presents."

I didn't discuss the issue further with him, he was already aggitated from the necessity of the note.

Yesterday, I was in a warehouse with the boys. Sinterklaas costumes hung on racks by the door and I sneakily diverted Jari away to look at Lego. However, Kaeden saw the costumes and called for his little brother. "Jari, look! Sinterklaas...lots and lots of Sinterklaas." I hushed Kaeden and gave him 'the look' and told him I would rather Jari not see all the costumes for sale. Kaeden looked at me strangely and then whispers "Oh yeah, that's because Sinterklaas is not real, huh mom? You put presents in our shoes, right mom?"

I can't bring myself to say he doesn't exist. In my mind, I know he is alive and well. I also worry that telling Kaeden the entire truth would ruin the magic for my little guy in his last moments of believing. I told Kaeden that just because Sinterklaas doesn't come and put gifts in your shoe, doesn't make him less real. What is real is the feeling he brings, the excitement in your heart. I am not sure that he understands completely, and in this way I am taking advantage of his autism. His desire to have Sinterklaas be real is strong, and in his mind he does exist. I'm not sure it is fair, but that's how it is. Here, in our home, he lives on.

Jari got a chocolate cigar in his shoe a couple days ago. Chocolate cigars are a typical treat for children to receive in Belgium. However, when he pulled it out of his shoe it was a bit wet and broke in half (from his shoes worn out in the wet and muddy fields the night before). "Mama, Amerigo (Sint's horse that carries him from house to house) licked on my candy!!! I didn't know he liked to eat chocolate too!" Jari was gleeful considering this horse ate his candy...and even though he had horse germs, he polished off his treat.

Sinterklaas is back...and I believe in the magic...


Problem Solving

Last week the boys had fall break from school. As is typical, we set out on a Halloween mini-vacation in a bungalow park for the week. This year, Kaeden happily chose to be with us from Friday-Monday, and return to his home away from home Tuesday-Friday. It was a good compromise, one in which we could all live with. It gave us family time, but also a relaxed break apart in a different setting. It was ideal.

However, Friday afternoon we started for Belgium after our week away, where we were to pick Kaeden up at his home away from home at 4pm. The usual 2 hour trip turned into a 4 hour one due to the numerous traffic jams, and you can imagine my fretting when I realized we weren't going to make it in time to collect Kaeden. I tried calling the home, but there was no answer. I tried calling a friend to see if she could pick him up, no answer. Kaeden's cell phone is having some mystery issues (I may discuss this in a separate email, but something to do with using his phone to make emergency calls, as everything is an emergency when it isn't his way...so his service was disconnected) so I couldn't contact him via phone. But, I tried to send a text message and it got through and he used the house phone to return my call.

"Mama, where are you?" he asked me. I told him we were stuck in traffic and had been for awhile. That I wasn't able to make it home on time to pick him up (knowing his home closes at 4). And then, just as I was about to offer my idea of a solution, he came up with one of his own (mine!).

"Mama, should I take the public bus home?" he asked me. "Then we could just meet at home."

When I heard him offer this solution so many feelings flooded throgh me. He managed to come up with this on his own. He found a solution to a problem. He called me to convey his idea. He can use public transport on his own. He is becoming independent. He is making me so proud!

I told him to have his caregivers look up bus times, though both Kaeden and I were sure there was a 4:20 pm bus direct to home. I then asked him to call me back to let me know if it would work out for sure.

The phone rang 5 minutes later. "Yep, mama, there is a 4:20 bus so I'll be home before 5." This coming from MY son! It still amazes me.

I relayed to him that if we weren't home by the time he was, to just wait in the backyard or play basketball until we get there. I told him he could feed the animals if he wanted. I didn't realize we'd be stuck in yet another traffic jam. We were.

I texted Kaeden to let him know, but he couldn't respond (seems he can receive texts, but can't send or call) so I hoped he recieved my message. As we got closer to home a good HOUR later, I texted him again. (Almost there, kiddo! Can't wait to see you!)

As we turned the corner to our house, a whole hour later that the arrival of his bus, and 2 hours later than when we thought we'd be home, I saw my son a scooter in his hands, a huge smile on his face, on the street corner. My heart leaped into my throat. There he was, my beautiful boy...rather, young man...independent, successful young man.

I got out of the car and hugged him tight, for that 2 seconds he would let me, bretahing in the smell of this new side of my son...this thinking, problem-solving person in my midst. And I looked to the sky and said a little prayer of thanks.