Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Silly Math

Silly Math

One of Fynn's favorite places to learn and discuss new concepts is on th' swing. It's also a good place to test his understanding of things we've covered in th' past. He's moving, he's relaxed, calm and focused- and having fun. One of his favorite things to do on th' swing is a game he calls “Silly Spelling” where we take turns spelling numbers from one to one hundred. We always start off spelling them correctly, and get sillier and sillier as we go. For example, i'll say 0-N-E, then Fynn'll say T-W-O, then i'll say T-H-I-R-S-T-Y, then he'll start laughing and say “What, that doesn't spell three, that spells…..” He'll try to sound it out, and i'll help him if he needs it. “Oh no wait, that's not right” I say, “T-H-R-E-E”. And back and forth. His spelling can get infinitely more silly than mine. He'll say things like “T-W-E-N-T-Y-N-I-N-I-N-I-N-I-I-I-I-E-E-E” Which makes him laugh uncontrollably. We learned long ago that th' best way to test him is to give him th' wrong answer. If you ask him a question he'll usually just say
“I don't know”- but if you give him th' wrong answer he'll correct you if he knows it. And if you can get him to laugh, well, it's just better for everyone. So, not only do I tell him something wrong, but I tell him something that's wrong and completely ridiculous. He'll start laughing and say, “Oh, that's not right, it's….. That's silly Papa.” And it's great fun, no pressure testing.

So one morning Fynn was quietly swinging, I was sitting by him drinking my coffee, pushing Rowan, when I thought to introduce some basic algebra. “5 + K=10, What's K?” - He got a little smile on his face and said “What?” - I repeated th' question and he got it, “K is 5, that's kind of silly Papa.” - So we did a bunch more that way, real simple ones, just to get him used to th' concept. The problems got more advanced, as well as sillier, as we went on. “18 + T = 6, What's T?” He thought it was kind of silly, but it wasn't making him laugh, which is th' key to success with him. So after a while I say “5 + W = Whale, what's W?” Ah, laughter, now we're onto something, “Oh no wait, that's not right, 5 + W = 34, What's W?” He got a real kick out of this, and said we invented Silly Math. So now when he get's on th' swing, if i'm nearby he wants to do Silly Math. And of course his questions are sillier than mine and often make absolutely no sense whatsoever- but we still have a lot of fun together, and he answers my questions, and tells me when I get the answers wrong, showing that he understands th' concept.

4 + K = Kangaroo, what's Kangaroo?

6 + T = -12, what's T?

Next on the agenda is the mathematical order of operations- 5 + 6 x 10 = 65. This one has been tricky for him as he wants to go in order, but as we swing and work through th' problems together he's getting it… just need to find a way to make it sillier. 5 + 6 x 10 = Cheetah – What's Cheetah?

So, if you get stuck in th' math arena with your kids, try silly math, and tailor it to their interests, it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grey Whales and Following a Childs dream

Rowan, packed and ready to go

Fynn is seven years old now- and his two main passions in life are man's frontiers, th' places we know so little about, space and the ocean. Since he was three he's been in love with and fascinated by whales. He has especially latched onto the many stories of whales rescuing people and keeping them safe. He has quite a collection of whales, including a stuffed whale which he calls “Mama Whale,” because she is the safest of all. But, as you can imagine, we don't get to see a lot of wild whales here in Colorado. So for th' past three years now we've been taking family trips to the ocean. I grew up near Galveston, Tx, and we have family there, so that's th' first place we went. There's a small company that runs dolphin tours right there in th' harbor. Fynn did really well on th' boat and sure enough, we got to see some dolphins playing around near us. I've been to Galveston more times than I can count and had never seen a dolphin till Fynn came along, thank you Fynn.

Th' next year we went to Sea World San Antonio, We saw Belugas and Orcas, and got Fynn a dolphin pet ticket. He met pet and fed a dolphin named Donley, who was brought to Sea World after being found stranded on the beach just after birth. Now, whatever your opinions on Sea World are, th' fact is that there are whales and dolphins there, and the people we met care for them. And Fynn cares for them too, and we had a good interaction. Yes we all agree they would be better off in th' wild, but many of them simply will not go back once they've been in captivity for a long enough time. Donley is one of them. He grew up there, it's his home. No matter how wrong it was of us to catch them in th' first place, they are caught now and throwing them back into the ocean and turning around and walking away is not th' best thing for some of them.

This year however, we decided to go on th' hunt for wild whales. After planning a trip to th' Pacific Northwest we ended up in Pacifica, California. Plans always seem to change for us, and always at th' last minute.

Grandma and Grandpa came along, and Rowan who loved Fynn so much he copied everything he did, also loved whales, and was very excited to go. He even packed his own clothes in a little basket. So for th' third year in a row, with grandparents in tow, we set out for California, chasing a child's dream, which had by this time become th' family dream. Everyone of us loved the ocean, and thought about it everyday. It felt like a family reunion.We listened to Kyle Coleman, an autistic boy who can't talk but can sing.

After three days of driving through a geologists paradise (Beth being head geologist on this trip) we landed in a hotel just outside of Davis, California. It was glorious going from a Colorado winter into a California spring. In th' morning th' kids discovered that there were snails all over th' bushes outside. Big snails. “How fast are they going papa?” Fynn's most asked question these days. “0.000002 mph” I tell him with a smile. Rowan was delighted by all th' flowers blooming as well as th' snails. We eventually made it into th' lobby for breakfast. Bacon, eggs, a waffle maker which th' kids loved, and fresh fruits, Best Western is th' hotel to stay in if you like a good hearty breakfast. Fynn wanted to use th' place as a racetrack, which just wasn't going to work in there- He was unsettled as we tried to get his plate to him quick so he could sit down and eat. It was too quiet in there, even though there were others eating. We could see Fynn's energy levels rising, he was twitching and flapping and talking louder and louder. There was a large screen tv playing a political debate, which Rowan seemed very interested in, but no one else in th' room was paying any attention too. Fynn started making a mess, tipped over a chair. A guy sitting behind Fynn kept looking over at him. I was preparing myself to defend him- but instead th' guy just got up quietly and walked over to th' tv and changed th' channel to some cartoons, then sat back down. Fynn calmed down instantly and ate his breakfast. Th' guy looked over at us again and smiled and said, “I've got fourteen grandkids.” “Thank you” I said. I was ashamed at having assumed he was going to be mad at us for being so disruptive. I was humbled, Fynn and Rowan were at peace, and I was able to eat my breakfast and get my mind out of defense mode. We finished up breakfast and went outside to race around th' hotel while we waited for grandma and grandpa. Rowan wore his sunglasses on his belly. We felt good.

We packed into th' cars, by this time th' kids had taken to riding with grandma and grandpa, which was great because they got to spend a lot of quality time together, and me and Beth could relax and talk, and miss our kids. It's good to miss people you love sometimes. We drove through San Francisco heading towards Half Moon Bay, our tentative destination. Just outside of SF we passed through Pacifica, and then saw a sign which read Grey Whale Cove. We pulled into th' tiny parking area and before we were all out of th' car a lady walked up to me and said “Did you see the whales?” “No,” I told her “but we drove a thousand miles for that very reason.” “They're on the other side of that rock, you can't see them from here or th' beach, come on, i'll show you.” We were led down a narrow side of a highway with trucks barreling around curves from either direction, we would not have gone this way if we hadn't met this lady. On th' way we talked a bit about our kids and their love of whales, and she told us that she's lived here for over 25 years and has never seen this many whales at one time and so close to th' shore. “Well,” I told her, only half joking “they probably knew Fynn was coming.” When we got to the edge of th' cliff, there they were- Grey whales, about fifteen or so, just playing. Splashing, making bubble rings, waving their flippers and tails and blowing their water spouts all over. It was incredible. None of us had ever seen wild whales before. There is nothing like it.

I can't even begin to explain how seeing those whales affected Fynn, but I can tell you that I was so thankful I nearly burst into tears. On th' long drive here, Fynn had some really rough times, tantrums and screaming and being mean to Rowan on purpose, and i'd finally lost my patience and said to him th' worst thing I can imagine saying to him- I told him that if he keeps acting like this those whales would know about it and would not be there for him. That they could not keep him safe if he was acting like a bad guy. I regretted it immediately, but you can't take things back that you've said to Fynn, he remembers everything. (Except where he put his shoes.) Eventually we all calmed down, I apologized to him (for the umpteenth time) and he forgave me. Th' truth is that when you are at your worst is when you need someone to love you th' most, and if we had shown up and there had been no whales, i'd never have been able to forgive myself, and I don't dare to imagine what that might have done to Fynn. So I thank God and those whales that they were there, and I thank Fynn for forgiving me, and being so patient with me as I learn what it truly means to abandon myself wholeheartedly into th' service of my kids. And what a rewarding thing that has been. Autism truly saved my life.

We watched those whales for a long time, waving at them, shouting at them, until they made their way around th' rock and towards th' beach. So back along th' narrow highway trail we went, to th' staircase th' leads down th' side of th' cliff to a small secluded beach. Fynn led th' way and made sure none of us touched th' poison Ivy and Oak that was everywhere. We made camp on th' beach and just hung out there with th' whales right in front of us. Both kids were terrified of the ocean and would only go so close to it, but had a blast playing in th' sand for hours. Somewhat ironically, Fynn didn't seem to pay much attention to th' whales, but just played in th' sand. We'd seen this before, at Sea World, and when he was into dinosaurs, at th' museum. Perhaps he was comfortable, which is rare for him, and didn't need to gawk at them like we did.

Well eventually we all got hungry and found ourselves sitting at a fancy, quiet, sea side restaurant for lunch. We were lured in by huge sign saying “Best Crab Sandwhich”- It was ok, definitely not th' best, but th' kids liked it in there, it was cool and had nice wooden carvings of whales on th' walls, and you could see the ocean from it, something you can't do in Colorado, and it was pretty nice.  Again, Fynn couldn't sit still, he was getting that mischeivous look where he's about to do something he knows he shouldn't and then laugh about it. What he actually did was quietly get up, walk over to the table next to him and push a lady eating, then sit back down. Nobody expected that. Th' lady made this face like she'd just been hit by a truck, so over exaggerated that I almost started laughing. From behind, before any of us had a chance to react, I hear a lady saying “Not cool man, not cool- if that was my kid i'd spank th' sh*t out of him.” I looked at her, to let her know that i'd heard what she said, and calmly walked over to Fynn and told him that it's not polite to push people and he needs to go over and tell that lady he's sorry, which he very politely did. She looked scared as he approached her, th' way someone might look when you hold a snake out towards them. Fynn said “I'm sorry for pushing you.” and she said, “OK” and proceeded to stare at him with her mouth open as he went back to his seat. I was so proud of him because usually when he apologizes you have to say “I forgive you” or he'll go into a meltdown screaming over and over “why don't you forgive me, why don't you forgive me?” I was pretty sure this lady wasn't ready for that. I heard th' people sitting with her say “Did he scare you? Are you OK?” Normally I would have been a bit upset with him for something like this, as he really does know better, but with that lady's reaction it seemed as though she probably needed a little push, he's a kid after all, not a monster- add to that how proud I was of him for apologizing so easily and not meeting her reply with a tantrum and th' situation was quite comical. I thought, i'm supposed to be mad at him and show everyone in th' restaurant that we don't let our kids act like this, instead I just wanted to laugh, and I did as soon as I got outside.

After lunch we headed down to th' beach near th' restaurant, which we named brown sand beach because th' sand was a nice dark brown color. Here we found caves to explore, and a freshwater spring, seeping right out of th' rocks and forming a nice little drinking pool before traveling a mere twenty feet to mix with the ocean. I had a few drinks, it was good water, despite the Aqua No Potable sign up near th' entrance to th' beach. (My friend Meshach, who just moved to Colorado from this area of California, told me he used to get water from there whenever he went to that beach.) There were rocks covered in Mussels, and crabs, and anemones, and starfish. Later that day we decided it was time to find a place to spend th' night and get some dinner. Nothing makes you as hungry and tired as a good sunny day at th' beach. We were still entertaining notions of going to Half Moon Bay to visit Square Peg Foundation, a therapeutic horse riding center run by Joell, who is th' reason our plans changed from Oregon to California, so towards Half Moon Bay we went. Finding a hotel in between Pacifica and there we got th' kids settled down to a movie and I found a nice store with real food to pick up some dinner. Let me tell you, when you've been traveling through th' boonies of America, you eat a lot of Del Taco, and it's really nice to end up somewhere that has a food co-op, or something like a whole foods store. I loaded up on fresh fruits and vegetables and awesome deli sandwiches and headed home, to th' hotel. We all really liked staying in th' hotels, being all packed together in one room, th' kids really had a lot of fun there.

In th' morning Fynn was at it again. Being mischievous, picking on Rowan, ripping all th' blankets and pillows off th' bed and throwing them around th' hotel room. Beth was trying to pack up while I was trying to keep Fynn under control. Finally we made it out of th' room, ran around a bit, then tried to get into th' lobby for breakfast. Fynn was screaming and flailing so me and him sat down outside while Beth made him a plate. He didn't want to eat outside so he screamed and flailed more. I told him if he just calms down we can go in and eat, which he eventually did. But he seemed to be regressing, tantruming more and more, losing his patience more, going to th' bathroom in his pants more and more, he had practically stopped using th' toilet. We were running out of clean clothes, had to buy him extra pairs of underwear while we were out there. There were times when I thought, is this worth it? Times when I just wanted to go home and cry. I felt like we were losing him. But now I had no time to worry about this, Fynn had finished his breakfast and needed to run. So we ran around th' hotel and parking lot again while everyone else got ready to go to th' beach. If we never stopped running he'd be fine. If I could pop out of bed at six o'clock in th' morning and hit th' ground running we'd be fine.

We did make it back to th' beach. Pretty much had a repeat of th' day before- which is exactly what we were hoping for, went to Grey Whale Cove, saw th' whales from on high, went down to th' beach, played in th' sand, Beth chased a whale up and down th' beach, stayed there till lunch, made a scene in a much smaller italian cafe with excellent food and a very kind staff, who brought out th' kids food right away while th' rest of ours was cooking. I'd recommend it to you if I remembered th' name of th' place. Then we went to brown sand beach to spend the afternoon. When we got there Rowan was passed out, and everyone else was a bit tired, so they all agreed to sit in th' cars and read while Rowan napped and me and Fynn went down to th' beach. Fynn is scared of dogs, and they are not allowed on most beaches, and have to be leashed on most others, but there were a couple of dogs running loose so without breaking his stride he turned from th' beach running, with me following behind, to th' cliff and started to climb. Up and up we went, up th' side of a beautiful cliff where you had to use your hands as well as feet in many places. When we reached th' top of th' first cliff, we saw there were more cliffs higher than this one. We threw rocks into the ocean for a while, spotted whales, then decided to keep climbing. Fynn was in good cheer and there was no stopping him so up and up we went, till at last, just before th' top of this mountain that rises right out of th' sea, there was a vertical canyon, about eight to ten feet in height, and maybe twenty yards long. Again, we had to climb it using hands and feet, but it was so beautiful in there, and th' roaring of th' surf echoed and swirled and blended into a calming dull roar. In th' midst of th' canyon Fynn said to me “Oh Papa, I love this place. This is one of my favorite places in th' world.” Man this kid can break my heart. “Mine too, Fynn” I told him “I love this place too.” He slipped a couple of times going back down, so I carried him on my back most of th' way, till we saw Beth at th' foot of th' trail coming up to meet us. “You guys were gone a long time” she said. We told her about th' canyon, and meeting a priest up there in his robe- and went back down to th' beach for th' rest of th' day. Grandpa set up his camera and filmed us all. Fynn raced anyone willing up and down th' beach, made sand tidal waves, and mountains, him and Rowan had me and Beth and grandma and grandpa in a bucket brigade hauling water out of the ocean for them to pour on their sand volcanoes. Fynn made me a 'sand'wich. Life was good again.

Until we got to th' Lighthouse Hostel we had booked for th' next two nights. It was a quaint little place, quiet, echoey, people milling about with awed looks on their faces. Red flags went up right away, but we'd already made our reservations and paid so here we are. Th' list of rules was enough to unnerve any autism parent- be quiet, respectful of the others, no food or snacks in your room, do some chores around th' place, only one shared bathroom for all these people. Oh boy- we got into our room, Fynn liked it because it had blue sheets, he said it was a whale room. Then Rowan dropped his diaper and peed all over th' floor, which threw Fynn into a panic because he couldn't step anywhere and what if Mama Whale got pee on her. Luckily no one was in th' shared bathroom- Beth snatched all th' towels out of there while I ran all th' way up th' hill to th' parking area. When I got back with Rowan's changing bag, I could hear Fynn's screams echoing through th' building like he was right next to me. There was a porch swing outside so I grabbed him up and took him out to it, got him some snacks, which i'd already sneaked into our room, and Beth, Rowan, and Grandma joined us as he calmed down. We talked it over, there was a 48 hour cancellation policy but this was just not going to work for us or the others who come here for th' solitude. We told th' staff we were leaving and they kindly refunded us a day. We told Fynn we were going to stay somewhere else tonight and he broke down again, started screaming as loud as i've ever heard him- Everyone was staring at us, again. But we're used to being stared at. I started running. Fynn calmed down a bit and started chasing me- we ran up and down th' hill while the others packed up again- then Fynn tried to cut a corner and spiraled out on th' gravel. He let out another blood curdling scream as he watched th' blood come to th' surface of his knee and foot. My heart ached for him- I know these fits wear him out, and he hates them, but he just can't help it, they attack him like a seizure. I picked him up with him hitting me and rocking and flailing around, me telling him it'll be Ok, we walked over to a pic-nic table by th' cliff, watched th' sunset as he wailed, ignored th' people watching us- Beth getting some iconic photos that belie th' turmoil that was going on. We went back to th' same hotel as before, got settled in and th' kids fed and a movie on. We were all exhausted, and bed never felt so good. One of my favorite things about traveling is that me and Fynn always sleep next to each other, where as at home he sleeps by himself in his room. As we lay there covered in stuffed whales, I wondered how I ever got so upset and impatient with him during th' day. I love that kid so much, and have such high hopes for him, have seen him overcome so many insurmountable obstacles that I sometimes forget that he really is autistic and can't always control himself, and when he does it requires monumental effort on his part that often leaves him drained and tired and cranky. He has told us before that his body just does things without his permission, and I need to believe him and respect that a bit more at times. He is such a strong person, so much stronger than me.

Finally it came time to leave. It was sunny and clear th' whole time we were here, on th' morning of our departure we woke up to a dense fog. We stopped off at Grey Whale Cove to say good-bye to th' whales. Th' fog was too dense to see the ocean, much less th' whales. Fynn had made up some signs for them, which read “Whales I want to live with you”, “I want some whales to keep me safe”, and “Whale I love you”. We held them up for th' whales, and then read them out loud, just incase th' whales couldn't see through th' fog. I was sad to be leaving, we all were. We went north to see some giant Redwoods, which we found just before dark on top of a mountain on th' curviest road in America. Then turned towards home. Before we got home we decided we weren't quite done yet, so we stopped early and booked into a hotel with a pool and an exercise room. Again Fynn was all over th' place, climbing on th' counter as we were checking in, trying to throw rocks, me hoping they were gonna let us check in after watching him. But as soon as we got into th' pool he calmed down. Instantly. We stayed in th' pool till ten o'clock when it closed. We realized that he needs to be in water more, especially if he is making a career out of the ocean. There's not many good places to swim where we live so we decided to get a membership to a pool as soon as we got home. Once we made it home, we all felt a bit melancholy, we missed the ocean, but knew we had to go on. Me and Beth decided that our job is to do what we can to prepare Fynn for his career- so that meant more ocean research, not just whales, but everything about the ocean and it's inhabitants. More swimming. More running. More swinging. More playing. More grandma and grandpa. More traveling. More family. Some time along th' trip Beth and grandma were talking and grandma broke down crying and said something along th' lines of “Why didn't God send him into my life sooner? I've learned so much from him, Why did he wait so long?” And that is exactly how I feel about it. We've had so many people, both friend and stranger, tell us how he needs to change, we need to change, he needs more discipline, etc… But he is such an amazing person, th' greatest i've ever known, all you have to do is listen to him, understand him, and you have no choice but to love him. He is making me a better person, I realize now that I need to change more than I thought he did. He is pure life, and yes times are hard, yes, we'd all like to see th' tantrums and incontinence end- but Fynn has told us that one day it will, and I need to have a little more faith in him and believe that what he says is true. Thank you Fynn, and Rowan- by following your dreams, I am beginning to realize mine.

And thank you Joell, for inviting us to your place, even though we never made it. So much more happened that we've not told you, but this is a blog post, and not a book. Peace to you all.

Wyoming is Windy

sand volcano

my Sandwich

Add caption

Name's Bruce!

Rowan became quite th' grandmas boy

Eucalyptus seed pod

Good-bye whales