31 January 2008

Cheshire in NYC

Tonight, Cheshire and Linde are going to see a performance of the revival of Sunay in the Park with George -- one of our favorite musicals! I hope that they are having a good time.

30 January 2008

Snow day

Sometimes it is hard to appreciate forward movement. We are still so used to Cheshire's childhood – a child who didn't need to learn to take turns, to understand numbers, or to live in a family. For a bit more than a month now, we have been playing games with Julia. We have been playing stripped down versions of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Connect Four. We do it to learn about taking turns so there is no competition and usually no winner. Or rather, not no winner, but we all win when we finish. For Candyland we use one piece and all advance it during our turns. Julia has gotten very compliant about taking turns, and so it was time last night to move on. Last evening, we played Connect Four by taking turns asking each other to put a specific number of red or black checkers into the board. It took awhile – read that, most of the game – for Julia to get it but by the end of the game, she was doing it. However, what she did do was to take her turn and wait while we took ours – something that she had trouble doing just a few weeks ago.

Julia does not understand numbers. She will count and we count everything ,everywhere, but there is a gap between counting and knowing what the number we count up to means. Julia who can imagine lots of things – princesses, dinosaurs, living clay figures, lots of stories imagined – cannot understand the concept of numbers. I am looking for more ways to “explain” this concept. I cannot imagine a world without numbers. It more than stretches my imagination.

Tonight we had a sushi role at the beginning of our meal. I made Julia count out 2 for each of us and later give out the remaining 3 – one for each of us. We had home made lo mien for supper tonight. I was not so pleased with the taste -- rather bland -- but Julia loved it. She told me it was delicious and tasty, and I got lots of thanks. Maybe I should attempt more Chinese home cooking.

Yesterday, we had a warm day – up to 40 which felt great. Sidewalks and streets cleared of the last snow, and I cleaned up in the garage a little bit. Very pleasant! Today?? Well, today the schools were closed in Madison because of wind chill. Julia and I got dressed up and walked the dog around the block. By the time we were done, both of our faces hurt and Julia's sweet red cheeks took a long time to return to their normal color.

Okay, I did say this before we moved here, but we are never moving further north.

And it did snow last night, but it was a real dusting and it was too cold to do anything about it today.

28 January 2008

Searching for the red lion puppet

More of Madison on Sunday. Julia and I went to an amazing festival held in the local convention center. It was called Celebrate Youth and there were two floors and multiple stages of presentations, exhibits, and hands-on experiences for kids (and daring adults). We were there from noon to after 5 and Julia enjoyed all of it. She did make use of my hands over her ears when music, especially drums, got too loud, but she watched Chinese dancers, Tibetan dancers, Spanish dancers, Indiana dancers, and Ho Chuck dancers. She indulged in face painting for the first time, made a fairy crown, ran through a plastic jungle (many times), and tried the tight rope, a trapeze, and a giant wheel. The day ended with a really lovely kid performed circus – jugglers, clowns, trapeze artists, and unicyclists. The show was well done and well lit. Lots and lots of stimulation, and Julia did great.

The first Chinese dance starred a two person red lion puppet. Julia was a bit scared by the red lion but wanted to see it once the dance was over. We waited for the dances to be finished and then went in search of the empty puppet. It must have been put away after the initial dance but we looked through different rooms and behind stages and curtains. Julia remember to look or the lion the entire time we were there but did not act terribly disappointed when we could not find it. I told her that we would probably seen a lion like that at the Chinese New Year's Party in a few weeks.

Julia is stuttering again. She begins to stutter each time she make some leap whether it is new words, some new skill, or new behavior. I usually don't recognize what the leap is until after it happens.

This afternoon, Julia opened a big box of toys that were sent form Robin and dear, dear Alison. Alison, very grown up 8, is utterly finished with princess playthings and so was ready to ship them off to Julia. Julia is in no way finished with princesses and was in hog's heaven with the dressup clothes, high heeled shoes, and a three princess castle with lots of little plastic figures. Dinosaurs did visit the princesses' castle but only for a tea party.

I went to dinner tonight with a new support group for families with kids with Asperger's Disorder. It is called a high-functioning form of autism, and kids with it generally keep up in school and some are even very bright. We met one of Julia's classmates, one who is a favorite of hers and the two of them were delighted to see each other out of school. I got to talk to a few parents and learn a few more terms and watch a few kids. It was good for both of us.

26 January 2008

A Madison Saturday

What a Madison day we had today!

I started off the day (after a very nice lie in) blowing a few inches of snow. My little Toro is just great. I can do the walks on two sides of the house, the drive way, the three aprons to the street, and the front porch within 45 minutes.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens brought an incredible Chicago dance group – the Alyo African Dance and Drumming – for two performances today. I had no idea how Julia would do and as things went we sat very close to where the drummers played. The drummers were loud and in the beginning Julia had to cover her ears, but she was fascinated with the music and when the dancers came out, she was overjoyed. The dancers were all young girls and they danced with skill and confidence and so much enthusiasm. The drummers were young men with two young boys; all of them worked hard and kept all of us clapping and tapping our toes.

Julia sat mostly in our laps, but for two of the dances, she pushed away from me and sat “with the kids” who were in front of us. It was good to see her enjoy a performance and to want to be independent.

After the show, we went to the Y for some swimming. After reaching a plateau in her swimming since the summer, Julia is moving past what she was doing in a pool. Today, she spent lots of her pool time doing an underwater dogie paddle. I have been trying to get her to kick more effectively and she is getting better at holding her hands in a cupped position. She also loves to ride piggy back as I swim underwater. Julia must have been a fish in her last life; she is far too happy in the water not to have had water as home.

The other half of the pool was used for a class to learn logrolling, the lumberjacks' sport. Logrolling! There were at least two instructors teaching and a few kids and teens who were pretty good at it. Julia and I both enjoyed watching the rollers although I think I was more surprised to see it than she was.

We finished up the day watching the Nationals Ice Skating competition. Julia was not crazy about watching them at first but she got into the pretty costumes, the music, and finally, the ice skating it self.

Yeah, a great day.

Last Semester for Cheshire at Conn College

A few pictures from the Milwaukee Airport when we saw Cheshire off last Monday. Gosh, I miss that girl!
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24 January 2008

What I asked for

Kids at the Madison Schools don't go outside to play when the temperature hits -10. We found this out today as that was exactly the temperature. There is some wind chill as well but we'll forget about that. IT IS COLD.

Julia has become very, very cooperative (even when she is pretty grumpy like she has been the last two days and which I attribute to Cheshire's going back to school) about putting on the pile of clothes she needs to go outside each day. I am reminded of the layers of clothes that Chinese kids, especially the babies, wear in the cold. Maybe she is used to it in some way of remembering China. Sher reminds me to put on my hat and gloves, to buckle my seatbelt, and which way to go after I back out of the driveway. Still, one bossy kid!

I am slowly coming to terms, becoming more comfortable, accepting – something in that pile of words – to the idea of Julia with autism. There is a very selfish part of me that protests, this is not what I signed up for. I look at all of those pictures of pretty, smiling, seemingly very normal Chinese girls who have been adopted by hords of families all over the world. Why isn't my kid like that? Of course, I know that there are lives behind those pictures and doctors seen, behaviors dealt with and medical issues worked on. And my envy of normal kids diminishes.

And two things come up.

First, this is my kid and I am ready for what comes. I know she has talents. I know she is bright. I know she wants to please us and I know she wants to have friends. I am so much more than willing to do what she needs. Of course, I realize that our task is to help her socialize, to teach her about conversation, interaction, and friendship. There is a bit of the gods laughing in this one. David and I love our friends and have deep and abiding relationships, but we are not the most social folks at the cocktail party! We both have suffered from shyness and can be utterly quiet in a crowd. AND WE ARE THE ONES TO TEACH HER??

Second, that had Julia been left in China, she could have wound up living in some institution for the rest of her life. And what of her talents, her way of looking at pictures and sculpture that is different from her non-graphic artist parents, her laughter, her joyful love of her family. As we were driving Cheshire to the Milwaukee airport, Julia said to each of us in tern, “Cheshire, I like you,” “Mommy, I like you,” and “Daddy, I like you.” She really means it.

I am close to joyfully shouldering the task that is my Julia. I did not know that this was what I was getting into, but I am pretty sure that this was what I was asking for.

23 January 2008

Julia things

Two small Julia stories --

Last weekend, we had two very cold days with skies that were incredibly blue and clear. When we went outside on Saturday, Julia said to me, "Da sky not done." I asked her to repeat what she said and she said it again. I tried to figure out what she was talking about but had no idea. Later, we were driving around and Julia saw a smoke stack spewing out white smoke and Julia told us about making clouds. Still, I had no idea what she was talking about. She also commented about smoke we saw that was passing through the bear limbs of trees. Then, on Sunday, we were walking and Julia wanted me to blow out the cold air smoke. Julia told me that "we were making clouds." Putting it all together, I think that Julia was trying to figure out how clouds got into the sky. Julia loves clouds. She sees shapes in the clouds and loves to look at the clouds when we fly. And now she "knows" that clouds come out of smoke stacks, get caught in trees, and are made by Julia and I as we breathe out on very cold days.

Tonight as we were cuddling in bed before Julia fell asleep, she said, "Mommy, I smell you." I couldn't have been smelling too bad, so I asked, "Do I smell okay?" And my little girls who is getting better at answering questions said, "Yup. I love the way that you smell, Mommy."

At speech therapy today, Julia showed signs that she is beginning to adapt to school and testing. Carol, her therapist, put out two cards and then asked Julia which of the two went with a third card that she gave to Julia. The matches were easy -- tooth brush and tooth paste -- but Julia did about a dozen without making one mistatke. And also with patience. She did tell Carol when she was finished.

My own new year.

Today is my birthday and a good time to think about the coming year. I dropped Julia at school, went to the Y for a training session and some treadmill, and now I am going to read a bit and drink tea. I asked David for a really lovely leather bag that I fell in love with last week when I was shopping with Cheshire. I so rarely care about bags or clothes, so this was a rare find. I haven't used it yet but it is waiting for me to pick up and go. Perhaps for my interview tomorrow. My first in Madison. And for a temporary clerk position for an appellate judge.

Oh, I will read some today -- giving myself permission to enjoy the day. Later, I take Julia to speech therapy, and later still, I'll figure out some resolutions for the year. The two that I am sure of are:

1. Service. My motto of the year and what I want to be doing. So far, I am doing stuff for the PTO but I am sure there is more.

2. Workout. I am so fat! I need to exercise. Hence, the Y

19 January 2008

Happy Birthday to you!

A very happy 8th birthday to our very special friend, Alison. We love you!
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Birthday pictures

Take-out Chinese was the order of the evening -- the birthday evening, that is.

Cheshire decided to try the grilled dinosaur.

Julia wasn't the only one who enjoyed the noise makers.
Finally, there was the gift appreciation. Julia loved the new dress and knew exactly where to put the new googles.
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Birthday cupcakes and wishes

Cheshire's second year as designated baker. This year's treat was carot cupcakes with an intense orange glaze, with seven candles, a big number 7, and 7's on as many cakes as possible.
Happy Birthday to you.
A year ago, blowing out candles was still a challenge. This year, Julia knew exactly what to do with a bunch of lit candles on her birthday!
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And Thank Yous

Thank yous! The comments and email that I've gotten after writing about Julia's assessment have helped so much. I am humbled by the support; I am so happy to have friends. I hear you and I take what you say to heart with the start of tears. I don't know what I'd do without you.

Sharyn wrote: “Mother Theresa used to call all life events 'gifts', and she would say, 'What can we do with this gift?' . . .” Yes, yes, yes, what can I do with this gift? --- Well, today with are taking our gifts and going swimming at the Y!

One more thing about the assessment doc: He spoke to Julia in Chinese and she first looked at him with very wide eyes and then answered a few of his questions. In Chinese. He persisted and she started repeating what he said. (This is something that she does when she has no idea what people want from her or when she is board with the interaction and wants to get back to what she is doing.) He told me later that she repeated what he said but used the right intonation. He also said that some of her mistakes in English grammar are really correct Chinese grammar. Finally, when he was talking to me and paying no attention to her, she tried to get his attention by giving him toys and posing before him, and finally by saying to him in Chinese, “Look here, look here.”

In China, Julia did not seem to understand much of what our guides said. She has not responded to anyone speaking Chinese to her once we got home, and usually acts like she has no idea what is going on when she hears Chinese. I have assumed that it is because she learned so little language in the orphanage, or that the dialect, or baby language she learned, was so different from proper Mandarin that it was like another language. I was astounded that she understood the doc and that she actually tried to use Chinese to get his attention.

Yes, Elaine, Julia has more than a few surprises for us.

Saturday morning

It was a tough day on Thursday. From the time I dropped Julia off at school after her assessment until the time I picked her up, I was miserable. The label, the word, got to me and I went through the range of emotions. I have been wanting some label – I was calling it a diagnosis, but I wanted something that would get Julia what she needed in school. And here I had it and I was walking around with my heart hanging out bleeding.

Then we got home together and had some cuddle time and ate our leftover dinner and watched the end of Pocahontas II and read stories and put the kid to bed AND I felt lots more like myself. She is still my heart's desire and I am still crazy about her. And the label does not change her personality, talents, and love for us.

Thinking now about what the doc said and digesting what he said. He said her strengths were that she was a pleasing child, that she clearly wants to communicate and wants to have friends, and that she looked to me and also to him at times to see if she was doing the right thing – she wants to be successful.

When he first said these things, all that was in my head was “SO WHAT!” Everyone is pleasing and wants to please and wants to have friends. The last few nights I have been dipping a toe into the online literature about autism, I see that these strengths are indeed important.

This morning as we were getting ready for breakfast and Julia was at her white board in the kitchen. Her drawing has grown and changed so incredibly! Six months ago, she was scribbling and I was thankful that she was interested in doing that. Today, she was drawing herself swimming with stick arms in a recognizable position on waves and with bubbles around her. She drew a little boy who was peeing on the floor and I had to had a mother telling him to pee on the potty. She then drew herself having her hair brushed by me and a man with wings who was angry and crying. Her people are generally still stick figures but have very recognizable emotions and have shoes and clothes, sometimes with buttons. And she is always drawing relationships – people and animals with families or fighting, with swords these days, or being angry or being happy.

Julia also wrote the letters of her name twice on the white board this morning. Not the correct order, but carefully and the second set under the first. I do not make her practice writing or letters, so this is from school.

She is such a big dr. suess fan! David has found recordings of a few Suess stories that she likes to listen to and we have a Cat in the Hat for the computer that she likes playing with. She seems to be memorizing Cat in the Hat.

So I am still digesting the label, but I am living with Julia.

17 January 2008

Birthday and Assessment

We had the initial developmental assessment at the Waismen Center that we've waited months for, and the doc said that Julia is on the autism scale. This is no surprise to us but still, having the doc say it so emphatically takes the wind out of my sails. There will be a much more in depth assessment done now and recommendations for therapy and for the school. In a sense the work can finally, after 16 months home, begin.

Yesterday, was Julia's birthday. My glorious girl is 7. She was much more aware of how it was her day ,and the presents, and decorations, and cake, and special dumplings, than she was last year. It was good to see. I expect that next year, Julia will be anticipating the day. We counted 7 of everything from dinosaurs to candles to pillows in the living room. She loved her dinosaur cupcakes that she brought into class, and she loved the cupcakes that Cheshire made for her. She loved her new dress and the new bathing suit with goggles.

As part of her birthday, Julia went to a first ballet class. She has been dying to do ballet and just loved receiving a "real" leotard and tights as a present. She was in a class of 6 and tried very hard to get it all right, but she couldn't maintain the discipline or follow enough of the directions, and the teacher had to tell me at the end of the class that Julia could not be in the class. I could have burst into tears -- Julia had tried so hard and wanted to be in the class so much. The teacher was apologetic and even suggested that if Jula came before the class she would work with her some. I have no idea whether I should take her up on that.

Yes, I am sad. And scared. Time for research and advocacy and lots of work. I have to find out what so much of this means and what it will mean for Julia's life.

And it really is snowing.

15 January 2008

Silly faces

Julia makes a lot of silly faces when I take pictues of her. What a clown.

How can you not love this face!?
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Left over Christmas pictures

There were a few Christmas pictures left in my camera and these two, although not perfectly clear, were sweet and pretty. They have a quality -- maturity? Maybe some self-awareness.
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13 January 2008

Saturday and Sunday thoughts

Julia is playing with a Styrofoam butterfly made with a Lisa Frank kit. It took about 20 minutes to punch out all of the pieces – only one rip during cut out. Another ten minutes to put it together. Now, it is a new prop, a new means of transportation for little people and a new creature to inhabit various houses and pieces of furniture. Julia comes to Cheshire or I to put together the pieces that have slipped out of the slots but also tries to put the pieces together herself. She is handling the model rather carefully, gently, and I wonder if our constant reminders of months and months ago to be gentle made some impression. She can still be rough with her toys – as her doll house bears witness to -- but she is coming to some understanding that some things are breakable and might break easily.

It is snowing! We got a dusting yesterday, but it was warm enough that it melted off. Then, this morning it started snowing after dawn and we have a good inch or so out there now. Presently, it seems to have stopped but it is cloudy enough that we may get more. Why so excited? I want to use my new toy of course. Is it too silly to take out a snow blower for an inch of snow?
The snow is such the metaphor here – I have thought when I was shoveling ever other day that it was like Buddhist prostrations -- a practice of the everyday --, then that inches thick ice sheet on our driveway that I chopped at for weeks was penance for the sin of not shoveling after the very first snow. Yesterday, when I dropped Julia off at school, the guy who previously owned this house compared the great melting of the past week to forgiving all past sins. Yes, I agreed – my driveway is flat and as wide as it was made, and I start again with a clean slate. We all need a clean slate now and then.

Julia is singing Christmas songs. Her favorite – Rudolph is often changed to Julia, the red nosed reindeer. And when she sings, or makes me sing of the reindeer Julia, she uses “She” instead of “he.” Julia is beginning to recognize pronouns. Her use of prepositions is getting better, and some of her sentences are getting longer, but her word order can be pretty mixed up and kinda' funny. She continues to enjoy listening to the Hop on Pop recording – I have to find more stories for her to listen to. The other day in the car, I had music on the radio, and Julia asked very nicely if I would “put on kid's music, please.” Like any other 6 year old, she does have to be reminded about please and thank you, and for Julia, we have to remind her at time to use all her words by which we mean, and she knows, that she should ask for things with full sentences and not just with key words. Sometimes she stumbles over the full sentences, but she understands what we want from her and gives it a try. The kid works hard at her words.

Julia will be 7 in a few days. We are still going to have a quiet celebration. No big party or big pile of gifts. I hope that we can do the kids party thing in another year or so, but right now, I think it would be too much. We will decorate with balloons and streamers, and give her clothes – a new dress, a bathing suit and goggles, and ballet clothes – and Cheshire will bake a cake. I think we should do some take out Chinese as a treat. And it will be just us.

We are seeing both the OT and speech therapists three times each this month and next. Julia loves visiting Annie and Carol. The games and tasks are fun for her, and give me so many ideas of what to do at home. I don't get to them all but we do some, and I feel like we are making progress. Julia's teacher sent home a note that she will start Julia on letter making in the next week.

Julia and I will be going to the much anticipated Waismen Clinic appointment this coming week. We have waited since August for this appointment, and I am not sure that we will get any answers from these folks. The first appointment at this developmental clinic consists of informal observation of the child and parent interviews. I am not at all sure of the criteria for further testing, diagnosis, or treatment. When I spoke to one woman from the clinic she mentioned that most families who use the clinic have much younger children, and I said that Julia had only been home a year when we applied for the interview, and that she was still learning the language, and that we had been advised that any testing done before she had some English would not give us any realistic picture of what she could do. I also said that I would not have been able to fill out their information forms a year ago because I just didn't know Julia all the well. The woman seemed surprised by my answer/comment and I was disappointed that she had not looked more closely at our initial intake form which had the date of Julia's adoption on it, and also that one, that is I, the parent, could have perceived her comment as a judgment on my parenting. Was I being too sensitive? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Last thing then I am getting the day in gear!

I sent in the sealed envelope from the Indiana State Police that I received two week ago. I thought it was the requested police record and it went in with my affidavit, amendment to Bar application, and letter to the Board of Law Examiners. The police letter was returned to me. I had sent in $7 for what I thought was the correct police record, and the cops wanted me to do the $10 version which includes finger prints. Of course, I couldn't open the letter before sending it to the Bar because they want ONLY sealed envelops. I was a bit angry, frustrated really, but I just swallowed it, got fingerprints taken, and resent the request. Right now, I still feel so far from my license and a job. I keep hearing the jobs are few and far between – and I know those saying this want to make be feel better. It doesn't. IF this is a time to reinvent myself, I seem to lack all imagination and the question, what would you be doing now if you have total freedom to choose leaves me blank. Okay, that is just the blues talking.

Now to blow some snow, pick up our ceramics of last week, and go to the pool-o with my little fish.

Pictures later.

09 January 2008

rather boring update

Has it been a week already? Cheshire is home and I have been having such a delightful time with her. We've done nothing much but spent time together and doing things neither of us really like, like shopping. We also have been watching lots of movies. Ah, the pleasures of an adult child. Cheshire has been taking it easy but moving steadily towards doing school work during some of her time home.

Julia is getting back into the swing of school. She was quite happy to go back on Monday but by today she was more inclined to stay home. This made her a bit grumpy about getting the day going and she was not pleased that the weather is turning cold again and there are more winter clothes to put on.

Ah, weather. For the last week – more than a week by a few days – it has gotten warmer and warmer, and snow has been melting and melting. The rather large pad of ice in the driveway that has been with us since our first snow, and at which I have been chopping as penance for letting it slide that first snowy morning. Anyway, it is gone!! And we can start again with the next snow.

And speaking of snow – we have had rain, rain, rain and intense fog for days. Today, we did have frost on the windshield so I think the next round of snow is on the way. And then I get to use my machine!

03 January 2008

This is a picture of Julia in front of a fallen triceretops at the Wisconsin State Museum. Julia is going to believe that every museum has dinosaurs. She loves the diaramas especially when they are life size. We visited on Christmas Eve and it was a great time to explore and it was a great time to explore a new place for the first time. I am sure we will be making a trip back, we didn't get to see all the exhibits or go to the planatarium show.

Happy New Year. We heard from Cheshire late last night. She was on American soil, albeit Hartford, CT, until today, but then she will be home until her last semester begins. Yahoo!!

Julia and I spent a very nice day together yesterday. After we finished breakfast this morning, Julia said we should "go make a list" for the day. She was much more willing to put walking the dog, and shoveling ice on the list. And she was much more willing to do the things we put down.

Julia is calling me Mom these days. She sounds like a much older kids when she says it.

She has been watching Sesame Street during the vacation with a lot more interest. And now there is a show after that is called Word World. The animals and some objects are made up of letters. She tries to sound out the letters when the characters do. I’d say we are making progress.

No, it has still not snowed and this weekend there is a prediction that it sill be in the high 40s. Can one woman’s purchase of a snow blower really control the weather? Or is this just the gods chucking for a little while? Whatever it is an ice chopping reprieve is welcomed. And if it doesn’t snow the rest of the winter – yea, right – I will not complain at all.
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