Monday, August 27, 2012

Putting Anxiety behind Us

As noted in my post on our tour of the house that Manly built, Pamela's auditory processing skills have come a long way. We took a beading class the night before leaving on a trip to Pennsylvania. The lady teaching us explained all the wonderful things we were going to do "tonight"—a word that did not sit well with Pamela at five o'clock in the afternoon. Pamela quickly corrected our teacher, "It's today!!!! You're joking!!!" After about three slip-ups, she had our guide well-trained in proper time terminology. Obnoxious outbursts aside, Pamela enjoyed herself thoroughly and required hardly any help in following directions for stringing beads.

While Pamela still has moments of minor anxiety from time to time, she has come a long way. Too many times teachers and parents address behavior from the outside in (manipulating outside factors that happen before, during, and after the situation). I have blogged many posts about dealing with her anxiety and wrote a long series of what helped the most.

About a week ago, the Wii Fit remote was acting unpredictably, so Pamela came to me for help. In the past, I was not able to troubleshoot electronics until I calmed her down (one aspect of co-regulation). When things acted up, Pamela freaked out like many children do. Because she has learned to self-regulate, I worked in peace. First, I spent five minutes playing around with it, making sure the batteries were good and checking the settings. While working, I quietly explained to Pamela my thought process. While she watched me carefully, she show no anxiety. Then, I spent another five minutes searching for the manual. Finally, I studied the manual for five minutes before figuring out what to do (synch the remote to the console). Even though she was fighting the tears the longer it took, Pamela kept her cool.

I participated in a workshop on a recent trip to Pennsylvania. Pamela kept herself busy the first day, sitting on the couch, drawing, and playing with my Nook. On the second morning, the IT people had taken down the wireless Internet. Usually, she watches me like a hawk while I troubleshoot. Watching my progress reassures her. In this situation, I worried that the uncertainty of the process might cause her to freak out. I took her out of the classroom and quietly explained the situation. Pamela seemed content. I also warned the other teachers that I might be demonstrating how to react to challenging behaviors if Pamela became anxious. Then, she said to everyone, "Don't worry! It's okay!"

Since Pamela is handling her anxieties well, I tiptoed to the edge of her competency. The other day, David's friend stopped by to borrow both Wii Fit remote controllers. Pamela was in the tub, so she had no idea of his visit. Then, we ate dinner at a friend's house, and she went straight to bed when we got home. I deliberately did not tell her about the missing items. In the past, I would have mentioned something because being unable to find the controllers would have caused a meltdown.

The next morning, I heard Pamela pacing as she searched for what was missing. She woke me (as expected) and asked, "Where's the remote controllers?" I calmly explained, "Scott borrowed them for a lock-in at his church. He promised to return them tomorrow morning." She listened and said, "Borrowed them. Okay!" No tantrums, meltdowns, or crying.

Because we decided to pick up David from college for the weekend, Scott did not return the controllers until late afternoon. Pamela did not pester me or cry during all the time they were out of sight. No tantrums, meltowns, or crying.

P.S. Since I failed to work in Pamela's play on words, I'm just tossing it here for no particular reason. She decided that a male Canada goose is a Canada gander.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Royal Road to Romance

Whenever we travel, even if the trip is taking us from one place to another, we like to make memorable stops. On the way home, we visited our third Laura Ingalls Wilder site: the home that Manly built in Mansfield, Missouri. We visited a replica of Laura's house in the big woods (pictured left) when we lived in Minnesota (Laura Ingalls Wilder Day in September 2003). Last April, we saw a replica of their small cabin on the prairie (Independence, Kansas). This time, we were seeing the real deal!

On the way to the museum, a friendly Great Spangled Fritillary greeted us. It rested on these marigolds near the trashcan, so I had to snap a picture and submit it to Butterflies and Moths of North America for identification. David called me "Taylor Swift," and can anyone tell this out-of-touch mom why?

We entered the museum and, to my dismay, taking pictures is forbidden! Ug! I was tempted to head back to the car for Pamela's book of centuries, but the weather was hot and time short. Then, Richard Halliburton whispers in my ear, "Do it! Just sneak in a few pictures. It's worth the prison time." Unlike Halliburton, I am a mom with two grown kids, trying to set a good example. So I ignored him.

Who is Halliburton, you ask? He was a prolific traveler and writer who packed twenty years of adventures into a brief life, cut short by one of many ill-conceived plans (died at sea trying to sail across the Pacific in a junk in 1939). While the thought of blue-haired ladies at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum and home stopped me in my tracks, Halliburton cheerfully did time in a British prison on the rock (as in Gibraltar) for his illicit photos taken at their military installation. Yes, signs were posted everywhere and he blatantly ignored them all. His time in the slammer was so endearing that he generously offered gifts as explained in his letter to the Gibraltar Military Censor,
As a memento of the tempest you raised over this teapot affair, I am enclosing twelve excellent photographs of your picturesque fortress, the negatives of which I saved from the gentle treatment accorded their companions. Realizing how rare such pictures are as these are, I am sending one duplicate set, autographed, to the jail warden, whose considerate treatment I appreciate; and another set, artistically mounted on cardboard, to the judge for court-room decoration.
Reading The Royal Road to Romance reinforces my lifelong passion of exploring interesting things on the road. It all started when my father refused to stop to see Mt. Rushmore while we were traveling cross-country on yet another Navy move. The pre-teen in me failed to see that making time and limited funds and space (six kids, one dog, and three puppies crammed into a van) were not conducive to the leisurely stops I craved. But, I digress. At the museum, I told Mr. Halliburton to take a flying leap off Matterhorn (which he almost did) and quietly obeyed the censors in Mansfield.

Seeing the house that Manly built was his own hands was inspiring. It began as a two room house with a loft for their daughter Rose: one kitchen and one bedroom. The kitchen amazed me. Almanzo built all the cabinets by hand! When Laura needed a breadbox, he built it. He made stick lamps, baskets, and trays for her. How he tailored the kitchen to her needs was ingenious. The counters at the sink had built-in slats to hold up drying dishes and were installed at a slight angle to let water drain into the sink. What was a cutting-edge wood stove had a compartment for heating water. He ran a line from the spring to the stove and made a wooden plug to stop the water after filling the compartment. He put a woodshed next to the stove to store wood. When Laura bought her first refrigerator, he made an extension out of the wall of the kitchen for a snug fit. Because she disliked baking bread, he built two large windows with built-in seats on either side of the kneading table, so Laura could either chat with guests or look at the critters while she worked.

Over time, they upgraded their house. They were one of three places that had electricity in the 1930s (equipment and installation funded from the proceeds of their daughter's first book). The rest of Mansfield had no electricity for two more decades. They added rooms (bedroom, bathroom, music room, library, family room, etc.) until they had a total of ten, not including several porches. When their bedroom transformed into the dining room, Manly knocked a hole in the wall to make the transportation of dishes to the table more efficient. They tried out the newfangled electric stove for a few meals but found the wood stove produced more flavorful food. (What would Laura think of microwaves?) The house was fully of such romantic treasures: Almanzo's medicine box full of treatments for the life-long pain he endured from his bout with diptheria and the clock (all described in The First Four Years).

Almanzo carefully constructed the sturdy fireplace with rocks found on the property. They spent their evenings busy with handwork. Laura did needlework, crocheting shawls and lacy filet decorations on the furniture. Almanzo hooked rugs from burlap and wool strips (just as my dad did when we lived in Newfoundland, Canada). The music room held Rose's organ, and I ended up buying a CD of music played on her organ and Pa's fiddle (which took a prominent spot in the museum).

Halliburton whispered in my ear again upon entering the library. On the shelf within eyesight stood five books, one of which was Tennyson's Poem! Little Town on the Prairie describes "a perfectly new book, beautifully bound in green cloth with a gilded pattern pressed into it"—see a picture of it here). The one sitting on the shelf was red, so I suspect it was not the original. I was so tempted to take the book and peek inside for the inscription. When I glanced over to built-in bookcases roped off in the sitting room, I wanted nothing more than to wait for everyone to leave and spend a few hours perusing the treasures there. The sensible adult in me countered everything Halliburton said, and I dutifully followed the blue-haired tour guide out the door.

Pamela did leave her mark though. Her auditory processing skills have improved so much that she listens to what people say. Once everyone assembled into a room, the tour guide began her spiel. When finished, she would ask, "Does anyone have any questions?" Since Pamela has not learned the fine art of giving others time to think, she immediately answered, "No!" Eventually, everyone began to anticipate her reply and we all giggled when the tour guide arrived at her question.

The final two pictures are the rocky house that Rose had built for her parents. When she came to Mansfield after becoming a successful writer, Rose wanted to give something back to the Wilders. She hired people to construct this gorgeous house. Somehow, a house built by unnamed workers lacks the romance of the quirky house that Almanzo made with his own hands. They moved into the rock house out of respect for their daughter, and she lived in their old house. Ten years later, she moved away and they settled back into their beloved home. Somehow, the rock house seems too antiseptic and lacking in personality in comparison.

A final wave of romance hit me at the rock house. Up until the 1990s, regular people owned and lived in the rock house that Rose built. Imagine what it would have been like to live in a house full of such history. I can see myself bragging to friends, "Oh, yes. We live in the Wilders' old place. Not Almanzo's house, but the one that Rose built for them."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Making Memories in the Midwest

Pamela and I popped into Kansas and spent a lovely week with our menfolk. Steve and I were discussing how differently Pamela turned out from the dire stories in the few books about autism that existed back in 1991. Even though she is not completely independent and self-sufficient, the joy she gives us makes our hard work worth while.

This post is a hodge-podge of memories stored in my heart from this trip. One afternoon, while I was doing a Wii Fit routine, Pamela popped onto Steve's laptop and recorded this recitation of Cinco Pollitos. In case you don't understand Spanish, Pamela said, "Cinco pollitos tiene mi tia. Uno le canta, otro le pia, y tres le tocan la symphonia." It means, "My aunt has five chicks: one sings, the other peeps, and three play a symphony."
Life with Pamela also takes you to places you never expected to go. On the way to Kansas, she begged me to eat dinner at the "Dinosaur Cafe". After careful investigation, I figured out that she loves watching the PBS television show Dinosaur Train when we stay with Steve, who has an HD digital antennae at our place. Somehow, she became aware of a restaurant in Kansas City, KS called T-Rex Cafe (there are only *two* in the whole world). Steve, David, and I were a bit leery about eating dinner at a "kiddie" place, but the food was surprisingly good. Or, maybe the hour-long wait for a table sharpened our appetites. The enormous portions offered another meal the next day. You can see Pamela's extreme joy in the few dark, blurry pictures I managed to take.

Watching Pamela interact with people she has not seen in a long time helps us see how far she has come. Because David has spent the summer working in Kansas, Pamela has not spent much time with him. Sitting in the back seat of the car on the way to dinner was the first opportunity to bond. Pamela said a single word to him and waited for him to reply. She did this so often that it became clear she was initiating conversation with him. After each prompt, David commented on the word, leading to a brief exchange. Then, she came up with another single word, which began another round.

This morning, she showed David how much she cares about him. She walked to the door of his bedroom, where David stood with his cup of java. She looked him in the eye and said, "I'll miss you." He smiled and said, "Let me put down my coffee." Then, he gave her a bear hug and Pamela leaned into her big brother. Friends and family know how much this simple act means. One wrote on Facebook, "That is such a huge statement." My sister commented, "That is amazing, and you know she understands and feels what she is saying."

During our stay, we headed over to Iowa to see my youngest sister and her family. Her only child is about fifteen months old. Pamela longed to engage with him but did not know exactly how. While I was holding him, she came up to us and put out her arm, expecting him to play tickle games with her. I tried guiding her to tickle him, but she didn't quite grasp what she needed to do. I guided her to a seat to let her hold him. She gave him a hug and kissed the top of his head.

As I watched Pamela and the tot, a wonderful thought hit me. Our Charlotte Mason study group is planning to have an enrichment day once a week this year. One of the mothers in our group is due any day now. I am seriously considering skipping the science lesson to hang out in the nursery and show Pamela how to interact with babies. Pamela could mature in her ability to connect to babies and the wee one matures.

On the way back from Iowa, we stopped in a town of population 422. My parents, who are camping not far from where my sister lives, saw a segment about the man behind the mural on Independence Day. The reporter at the Des Moines Register quoted my mother, "We saw it on the 'Today' show and just had to come." The story is about a man named Todd Spaur, who flipped his car and landed in some underbrush where he lay for sixteen hours, unable to move or call for help. Doctors predicted he would never walk, but, after a extended recovery, he can get around with his cane. The people of Bussey helped raise his children and supported his family. Between the pain and difficulty walking, he is not well off financially, so he took some art classes with funding from the town and painted their portraits in the mural as a thank you. Todd even enlisted the help of local children for the final touch-ups. This human interest story reminds me of the importance of relationships in the lives of differently abled people. Bussey, IA showcases what makes our country great!

Pamela loves music. On the road, she brightened when she connected the lyrics of "Mockingbird" by James Taylor and Carly Simon to the folk song we learned awhile back. She's also fallen in love with the "Symphony Hall" channel on Sirius (a relief from listening to videos she has recorded on her iPod which are accessible to the car audio system thanks to bluetooth). The other day, we heard some unfamiliar music after I started the car. Then, it shifted to speaking parts. We looked at each other as if to say, "That's odd." So, I changed the display from navigation to the music band we saw the title A Midsummer's Night Dream by Mendelssohn. A huge smile of recognition hit her face because (a) she adores Shakespeare and (b) she enjoys Puck's adventures in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill. Yesterday, after a couple of bars of music, Pamela turned to me and said, "Bach!" Since I knew it was one of her favorites I asked, "Do you know which one?" She flashed a smile and said, "Brandenburg!"

Driving through Missouri, Pamela knowingly made a play on words and called the state "Misery." we stopped for breakfast in a fascinating town called Bolivar. The city was named for Simon Bolivar, the hero who led South American countries in their quest for independence. The first thing that caught our attention was the YMCA's aquatic center which brought Prince Albert's Crystal Palace to mind—we read about it in Tappan's In the Days of Queen Victoria this year. Pamela looked at me and said, "Is it future?" While I was dwelling on the past, she was focusing in the other direction of time.

After we ordered breakfast, I saw more evidence of Pamela's progress. Because of the extensive reading aloud we do together (half and half), her articulation has improved greatly. Since the restaurant wasn't too busy, I let her go back to ask the fast-food employee for forgotten items. Pamela managed to get her fork, mayonnaise, and mustard without any help from me.

Friday, August 03, 2012

A "Calvin and Hobbes" Conversation about Algebra

David hasn't looked at math in a year and is brushing up on algebra for a class this fall. He read my favorite book Jacob's Algebra from cover to cover and worked on problems. After finishing the book, he told me how easy it was. He said, "I never realized how much common sense there is in math."

Lately, he has been drilling himself to improve accuracy with a little help from Khan Academy. He got stuck on the concept of the domain of the function  and Sal's video left him even more confused. He came to me for help (I tutor several students during the years so keeping algebra fresh in my head isn't an issue).

Our "Calvin and Hobbes-like discussion cracked me up, so I have to share.

Me: So what are the restrictions on x?

David: x can't equal -2.

Me: Why?

David: Because you would have 0 in the denominator and that is undefined.

Me: Are there any other restrictions?

David: 9.

Me: What does the function equal when x is 9?

David: Undefined.

Me: No, it's 8.

David: 8????? But that makes no sense!

Me: The function is set up so that it equals 8 when x is 9.

David: It's not logical. Why does it do that?

Me: Just pretend it is your mother. "It's 8 because it says so."

David: But, all these years you've been telling me to use logic. This isn't logical. AHHHHH!!!!