Happy Place

One of the Roc’s favorite places to visit is the beach and we got to go many times in the two weeks we spent visiting GC’s family over Christmas vacation.

We went in sunny warm weather,

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IMG_3036with Marcello while he was still in town,

IMG_3049and with the Roc’s cousin Aiden when he came up to stay at Nonna and Nonno’s house for a few days!

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We even took our crazy dog to the beach one evening!

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It wasn’t sunny every day, but even light rain won’t keep the Roc away from the water.

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While we spent most of our time walking on the beach, the Roc and I finally hiked a little trail at the state park (that I won’t step foot on in the summer — poisonous snakes!) and he loved this awesome tree.

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IMG_3409I love that the Roc wants to be outside as much as I do.

We also stopped by the marsh and freshwater lagoon one afternoon so I could photograph birds.

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The Roc is working on his patience while I work on my photography.  We both have a long way to go.

The beach is my happy place too.  Especially when I’m with my boy.

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SC Christmas + Cousins

A few weeks before Christmas we decided to road trip to South Carolina to spend the holidays with GC’s family.  We hadn’t spent Christmas with his parents since 2006.

We were in good spirits on our drive down,

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even the dog.

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GC’s parents were on a cruise so we spent the first couple days in their house without them.  The Roc and his Nonna made some Christmas cookies together when they got back.

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IMG_2791The Roc was very excited to be with his SC cousins for Christmas.  He was most excited to sleep at his cousins house on Christmas eve and wake up with them on Christmas morning…which is what GC and I were most worried about.  Our Christmases have always been quiet and calm.  This year would be so different and we could envision many things that could make the Roc melt.  We did a lot of prepping before we left home and crossed our fingers that things would go smoothly.  I was still worried a little until my sister-in-law Andrea texted me,

“We love Roc so much and will be there to help if he has a rough time.  It will be different for him to be here and we totally understand that.”

There is nothing like family who love your kid just as he is, understand that things may be hard for him, and are willing to step in and help.  We are so lucky.

The Roc spent Christmas eve morning playing on the iPad and continually asking when we would drive down to his auntie Andrea’s house.

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When we got there the fun began.  The kids were so joyful.  The Roc and his cousins immediately got together.  They spent the night laughing and dancing.

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IMG_2853The Roc and his cousin Bella even made up a dance and performed it for us.  They are so cute together.  Bella is a gift.  She is sweet, playful, and so wonderful with the Roc.  She reassures him when he is anxious and she is willing to play all night.  She is a very special girl.

IMG_2928The kids weren’t the only ones having a good time.  There was a lot of laughter in the kitchen.

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Guinness found a friend in my youngest nephew Anderson!  He tried to hide his face but I captured this shot this funny little guy.

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My mother-in-law shed a few tears when my brother-in-law from Colorado surprised us all and showed up!  We were so happy to see him!

IMG_2921At the end of the night the kids all opened new pjs from their Nonna and Nonno.

IMG_2931Before the kids went to bed my nephew Aiden read, “The Night Before Christmas” to all the younger kids.  Almost all of my pictures of Aiden on Christmas Eve are of his blurry face as he slid in front of the camera or waved his hand in the corner of my frame.  Except this one.  He’s a good kid.

IMG_2957A moment the Roc still talks about.

The next morning the Roc expressed some anxiety before leaving the bedroom to open presents, but after a little pep talk he told me, “Okay, I’m ready now.  Let’s do this.”

IMG_2958The kids had a blast opening up their gifts.

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We spent the rest of the day eating and relaxing before we headed back to GC’s parents house.

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The holiday was a success all around.  The Roc had so much fun spending time with his cousins and he was very well behaved.  As we drove out of Andrea’s neighborhood GC and I looked at each other and he said to me, “I think that was my favorite Christmas yet.”

Last year, for reasons we never figured out, the Roc had such a hard time on Christmas day.  So we are extra thankful for such a family filled fun holiday.

We made wonderful memories.

 

July: South Carolina

July was awesome.

We spent the whole month of July in South Carolina, staying with GC’s parents for most of the time, except for one week in which my parents flew out and the five of us stayed in a house right on the ocean.

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Being ocean front was marvelous.  The view from the porch was gorgeous any time of day.IMG_1059

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IMG_0293The Roc was very excited again this year to go to the ocean.  Last year was the first time he actually spent time in the water, running and playing in the waves, carefree in the sun.  I was looking forward to watching him in the ocean, getting in the warm water myself, and playing in the sand.  I was doubly excited that my parents were with us this year.  I’ve talked about the magic of South Carolina for years and it was so fun to share it with them.  The big thing this year was boogie boarding!  The Roc tried it for the first time and really enjoyed it, though he got pretty frustrated when he couldn’t catch a wave just right.

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The Roc’s cousins came up from Charleston and spent some time with us at the beach house.  The kids all had a blast.IMG_0325

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GC’s parents came over a few times and it was fun watching the guys play soccer on the sand.IMG_0713

It went by fast, but we had a great week.IMG_1155

GC spent some of our time in SC working, (since he works from home and can work anywhere!) so there were many days the Roc and I headed out to the beach just the two of us.  We stayed for hours and constructed a lot of sand castles.2014-07-22 11.42.48

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One morning, after a bit of a meltdown, the Roc and I went walking at the state park beach.  We were in calf deep water and all of the sudden the Roc said, “Look Mommy!” and to my left this was swimming by:2014-07-22 17.17.08

The Roc did really well most of the time we were in South Carolina, but of course, he had a few moments, and there was more than one time I thought I may lose my mind.  I never stayed mad for too long.2014-07-20 11.26.57

IMG_0119Pomegranate margaritas also helped to take the edge off.2014-07-19 13.10.28While we did spend the bulk of our time at the beach, GC, his mom, and I took the Roc mini golfing for the very first time.  He loved it!IMG_1196

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We also spent a lot of time at the pool!

2014-07-19 17.34.00Quickly our month came to an end and we were back in the car headed home.

2014-07-26 14.34.49Until next time….

 

 

 

 

 

My wish for the Roc

My wish for the Roc in 2014 and beyond.

May I work to find and foster connections for him so he can have acceptance, with himself and from those around him.  May those who encounter him not just accommodate him, but celebrate him, for he is worth celebration.  May those who work with him find joy in the process.  May he be loved, not because of obligation, but truly loved, for he deserves nothing less.

I will build the Roc a family of relatives and friends who accept him, celebrate him, and love him.

Inspired by words written by an autism mama friend.  Words that have stuck with me since I read them a few short months ago.  Words that I wrote down, because we all deserve as much:

“At the end of the day, there was so very much to be grateful for. But this — this is what I will remember most.  Not just tolerance, but acceptance. Not just accommodation, but celebration. Not just patience, but joy. Not a sense of obligation, but LOVE.”

If only we could all have this.  If only it were easy.

My wish for the Roc will take more than a year.  It will take more than 2014.

It will take me a lifetime.

It is worth working for.

He is worth everything.

A tale of two birthdays

The Roc turned nine while we were in South Carolina and he was lucky enough to have two celebrations.  First we celebrated at my in-laws house on the Roc’s actual birthday.  My MIL, the Roc, and I went out that morning to get some decorations and some cake.  We got to decorating when we got back to the house.  Uncle Chelch and Guinness slept on the couch.  Both had good reason, Chelch because he flew overnight from CO and Guinness…because he’s a dog.

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My cousin, who moved to Charleston last summer, was able to come up and help us celebrate.  It was so fun to see him.

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IMG_0425We had a very nice meal and then the Roc was able to have some cake, which was what he was waiting for all afternoon.

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It was a nice little celebration.

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***

The real party came a few days later when we went down to my SIL’s house.  The Roc wanted an angry birds/pool party so we took all the kids over to the pool,

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IMG_0609before coming back for a meal and some pinata bashing.  We let the Roc go first,

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but it was his cousin Aiden who busted the tiki head open!

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The kids were all very gracious and let the Roc go in and get some candy because he was really worried about all the kids rushing in.  Uncle G helped the Roc pick out some candy.

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When he had picked up a few of each kind, he took a step back and the rest of the kids ran to fill up their bags.

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Then Uncle G had some fun with the tiki head.

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The Roc was so excited to come back inside for cupcakes,

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and presents!

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He was very happy to get angry birds toys and he and his cousin Bella got to playing right away.

IMG_0832 It all proved too much for Uncle G and he just laid down on the floor and went to sleep…

IMG_0826At this point the poor man had been awake for over 30 hours!  Unlike Uncle G, it was hard getting the Roc to go to sleep that night.  He was so wired up and overstimulated from the day, but he had such a great birthday party and lots of fun with his cousins (and his cousin’s cousins who were visiting!)

***

And this has nothing to do with the Roc’s birthday celebration(s) but I stopped and stared at something I saw in my SIL’s neighborhood:  See that dark shape below the bench in the next photo?  You know, a bench you are supposed to sit on and relax?
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Yup, you’re right!  That’s an ALLIGATOR!  o.m.g

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There is no sign like this one in my neighborhood in Minnesota!

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Ahh!

 

August Travel Part 3, Indiana

I know.  It’s October.  I know.

I started this post weeks ago and almost finished it and hit “publish.”  Then school started and my focus has been everywhere but on what we did this summer.  But I want to document this trip, and this post was almost done anyway.  So here goes.

After our big road trip to CO and then our shorter road trip up north with my in-laws, the Roc and I were back in the car at the end of August, this time with my Mom.  We went to visit my Grandma in Indiana.  The last time I saw her the Roc was just shy of two-years old, about six years ago.

The Roc and I had flown into town to attend a party celebrating her eighty fifth birthday.  I struggled with the Roc at her party, he didn’t want to come inside, he pushed a little plastic lawn mower around the yard instead, he squirmed and whined when I tried to show him off to my Grandmother’s friends.  I remember feeling mystified and sad, having calmed the Roc down in a back room of my Aunt and Uncle’s house, a few relatives walking by, urging us to come sing to Grandma.  I knew in my gut that I couldn’t take him into that crowded room, but I didn’t know why.  With tears in my eyes and an out of sorts Roc on my hip, I told my Mom I needed to go next door, back to the quiet of my Grandma’s house.  As soon as we got back to the empty house the Roc was fine and I felt both relieved and alone.  I do have pictures of the Roc having fun on that trip, but I also remember feeling the push and pull of what I thought I should be doing, against what I instinctively knew wasn’t going to work for the Roc, and how I wondered what I was doing wrong.  I didn’t know about autism then.

The Roc has changed tremendously in the last six years, and so have I.  But one thing I’m grateful hasn’t changed is his willingness to travel.  I knew this trip to Indiana would be vastly different from the trip we took six years ago.

The Roc did really well on our ride down to Indiana.  We stopped in Illinois for the night, and after having dinner nearby, the Roc got to swim and swim and swim.  The pool was empty except for us for over an hour, and the Roc loved having the pool to himself.  When a man and a few boys entered the pool I felt that familiar dread creep up.  A few years ago their entry would have caused the Roc distress and we would have left.  The extra boys were rambunctious, jumping and splashing.  The Roc watched and laughed, imitated a few moves, and kept jumping in from the side yelling for me to watch him.  I moved to the hot tub and struck up a conversation with the dad, asking if all the boys were his.  Quickly into our conversation he mentioned that his youngest son had autism.  My eyes got wide as I pointed to the Roc, “my son too,” I told him.  Quickly, our conversation went below surface details into the real grit of life.  We spent a long time talking about our boys, life, schools, family, and how we view the world through a different lens because of autism.  When we saw them at the hotel breakfast next morning the dad gave me his card and told me to keep in touch, that we can never have too many people who “get it” in our lives.

We drove on to Indiana and it was wonderful to see my Grandmother.  We were only in Indiana for a couple days, but we kept the Roc busy.  We drove over to see my Aunt Donna and Uncle Dave in Ohio for a few hours one afternoon, giving my Grandma some quiet time…  Have I mentioned the Roc is kinda loud?  The Roc remembered my Aunt Donna from her trip to visit my parents in July and he gave her a huge smile.

He grinned even wider when she made him a huge ice cream sundae after lunch (at Skyline!)

We also visited with my aunt and uncle, who live next door to my Grandma in Indiana, and the Roc had fun jumping on their trampoline,

swinging,

and trying out the tire swing.

I enjoyed watching the dog Zora follow my 91 year old Grandmother around and totally obey her orders.

As well as the sunsets from the front porch.

While we were in Indiana we attended a ceremony for one of my cousins who became an eagle scout.  The Roc was excited to go to a “party” and kept asking if there would be cake, a question he knew the answer to as we had picked up the cake the night before!  When we got to the hall, the Roc was nervous and after being introduced to a few people I asked if he wanted to walk down Main Street to see all the big painted chickens in town while we waited for the ceremony to start.  He did, and I now have a nice collection of pictures of the Roc standing by ten different chickens.

I figured the Roc might not make it through the whole ceremony, and I was prepared to take him out and do a bit more walking around town, but he sat quiet and still the whole 30 minutes.  He amazed me, clapping when everyone else clapped, watching and listening to each speaker, only covering his ears during a prolonged period of clapping for every single eagle scout in the room.  We did go outside to walk around when the ceremony was over and everyone got up and started chatting.  Too much movement, too loud, and too many people the Roc didn’t know made him so anxious he started digging his chin into my hand and arm.  We came back just in time to get some food from the buffet and for the Roc to have some cake.  My mom commented that she was impressed that the Roc said hello and shook hands with the few adults we did introduce him to.  He really worked hard and earned not only the cake, but the cookies and brownie my mom grabbed for him.  He ate a LOT of food on this trip…

The night before we left for our long drive back home we took a four generations picture.  My Grandma, mom, me and the Roc.

The Roc did well on our drove back the first day, mostly because we were holding the big ticket over his head…the swimming pool at the hotel.  When we got to our hotel my mom was offered an upgraded room and man was the Roc excited to find that it meant our hotel room had 2 rooms!  One with the beds, a dresser and TV and another room with a couch, TV, desk, fridge and microwave.  He did his version of a happy dance,

and ran back and forth between the two rooms shouting, “This is amazing!  I love this place!”

After dinner at a wonderful Irish pub we hit the pool.  The Roc was in heaven, again with the whole pool to himself.

Eventually another family with a boy a few years older than the Roc entered the pool and I could tell the Roc wanted to interact with him, but he didn’t know how to start or what to do.  When the boy said hello, the Roc ignored him and told me instead, “I’m nervous.”  After a lot of coaxing, the Roc said hello, and after a lot of scaffolding, the Roc and this young boy started a conversation.  They graduated to jumping into the pool together and then started a game I couldn’t quite understand but had something to do with the ladder, construction workers, and sharks.  I sat on the other side of the pool and struck up a conversation with the boys parents, who were in town from California, dropping their older daughter off for her freshman year of college.  They had no idea what they were witnessing and part of me didn’t want to tell, and then another part of me wanted to stand up and shout just how amazing it was to be watching my boy PLAY!  With another child!  That he had never met before!  I pulled out my phone and snapped a very fuzzy picture, which I then texted to GC.

When the conversation moved to our boys and the dad mentioned how shy the Roc was at first, I told him it wasn’t just shyness, the Roc is autistic.  I told him it was HUGE to be relaxing on a chair, watching him play with a child he couldn’t even look at, let alone say hello to, just 30 minutes ago.  HUGE.

“I would have never known,” the dad said to me.

I couldn’t think of anything productive to say, and I didn’t want to give a list of all the reasons he would know on any other day.  I just sat and smiled as I watched my boy who loves to travel, who is genuinely excited about a hotel room and going to new restaurants, who really rolled with everything new we did this summer.  My boy who really, really, really wants to make a friend and connect with another child… have fun.

Fun.

It’s what I wanted our summer to be about.

We had lots of fun.

August Travel Part 2, SD + MN

We left Colorado with two more people in the van than we arrived with.  My in-laws had flown from South Carolina to Colorado the week before we arrived, and then rode home with us to Minnesota.  We stopped in South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore and spent the night at a nearby hotel.

I tried to get the Roc to pose by this teepee, but he wasn’t having any of it.

He had to sit on every single bench we passed on the little trail though, and after many photos capturing his anger at my pointing the camera his direction, I got this shot.

I love that smile and those bright eyes.

After dinner we headed down to the hotel pool and the Roc was surprised to find a water slide there.  He was hesitant and GC and I pushed him too hard to go down.  As soon as he got to the top and saw the rushing water, he could not bring himself to get on.  No matter how many times I explained that the water wass only spraying out at the top of the slide to get it going, his fear was too overwhelming, and he walked back down the stairs in tears.  I shouldn’t have pushed.  I still feel bad as he was very stuck on the fact that he didn’t go down the slide, and I know without a doubt that my pushing made him feel worse.  Sometimes I have a hard time controlling my emotions, and I definitely learned a lesson that night.

We had a very long, very boring drive across South Dakota and back home the next day.  Very long.  Very boring.  Some screaming for the last hour…or so.

We spent one day at home unpacking, doing laundry, and then repacking for a short(er) road trip to the north shore.  We stopped at Split Rock and hiked up to a look out, then back down to let the Roc throw rocks.

We all enjoyed the view from the balcony at our condo when we arrived.

The Roc enjoyed the pool after dinner.

Guinness enjoyed being there…I don’t know about the hug…

Especially because he looked like this 2 seconds after the above photo.

And then this.  “Help me!” his big eyes plead.

The next day we drove north, stopping at Cascade to see the waterfalls.  Of course.

Then we stopped in Grand Marais to walk out to the light house and around the little town.

We ate lunch at the Angry Trout and were happy it was warm enough to sit on the deck–because we had Guinness and he was allowed on the deck!  Our waitress didn’t even know he was there!

We continued north stopping at Grand Portage where we saw some wildlife,

a very tall waterfall,

and Canada (that’s Canada across the river.)

My in-laws really enjoyed seeing the North Shore and I’m so glad we took them.  I have so many childhood memories of camping up north, I always like sharing that part my beautiful state.

We were all so tired after our long trip from CO and then our northern MN trip, but we did make some time to go see my Mom’s beautiful yard,

and we convinced my father-in-law to make us calzones,

as well as pizza!

I’m so glad that we were able to overlap our Colorado trip with my in-laws and that they were able to come to see our new home.  It is hard to be away from GC’s family, seeing them during the school year is something we gave up when we moved away from the East Coast last year.  We definitely cherished the time we got to spend with them.

And now that they know it doesn’t snow in August, the will definitely come back!