Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I Chose The Galaxy Note 10.1 Over The iPad

When it came time for me to admit that I needed to downgrade from a laptop I decided a tablet was for me. The caviot was that I had never used a tablet before outside of the few moments playing Angry Birds on one at a cell phone store while waiting for my data transfer to be done on my upgraded cell phone, which, by the way, just happened to be a Samsung Galaxy.

I decided I wanted a tablet because I wanted even more portability than a laptop could afford. I was tred of trying to balance my laptop on the edge of the couch just to read an article but even a Kindle Fire e-reader frustrated me with its limitations. I still wanted to surf the internet, edit, post and take pictures.

I started my search by polling my friends on facebook and the overwhelming opinion was that I should get an iPad. Since I already had a MacBookPro that seemed like a reasonable suggestion. I decided to keep an open mind to other options, however, and began searching the internet for other tablet options. I looked at Asus, Google, Sony, Apple, and couldn't find a tablet that had it all--at least not all that I wanted but the iPad was the closest. I decided the iPad was it. The only thing left was to go to a place like Best Buy and try it out before I bought it.

I got to Best Buy's tablet counter and was immediately greeted by a clerk eager to help me out. He asked me a lot of questions as to my intended purpose with my tablet. He asked me about my music preferences, movie watching, experience with tablets and much more. He was just about to agree with me about getting an iPad when I asked, "Now, is there any third party apps or products that allow my to write on the iPad like a notebook?"

He said, "I'm sure there are, but have you considered the Samsung Galaxy Note?"

I knew Samsung made the phone they called the Note with a stylus but I had no idea they had made that into a tablet.

It didn't take me long to fall in love.

What are the things that sold me?

1. SNote and the SPen.
I could spend hours (and probably will) playing in SNote. I'm drawing pictures, editing, writing. It's so much fun. While I'm sure that there are comparable apps and products for the iPad, it comes standard with the Galaxy Note 10.1 which makes it a bonus for the money. I also love the fact that you can turn off all input except for the pen so that you can write with your hand resting on the screen and not have to worry about accidental scribbles, lines and input confusion.

It also has a handwriting-to-type option that allows you to write with the pen just like you would on a piece of paper and the tablet converts it into type. It is amazingly accurate and kind of fun though I still haven't gotten used to it or figured out in which context I would use it. Shopping lists, perhaps?

2. SD card storage.
The Galaxy is very competitively priced with the iPad. However, when you buy the iPad the amount of storage is the amount of storage. If you want more storage you need to buy a bigger iPad. Not so with the Note. I can buy any size of SD card I want and be happy with the extra storage without having to buy a different machine.

3. Widgets
One thing I was willing to give up by going to the iPad was my widgets. I'm not a huge widget user but the widgets I do use I use daily. My calendar and weather widgets on my phone are my go-to widgets for the start of my day. I was a little bummed to not be able to have my widgets on the iPad but what is it really to make a tap or two to the info you want? It was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Then I saw the widgets on the Note. I won't lie. Seeing the option for widgets made me happy.

4. Front facing speakers
Let's face it, speakers on tablets and phones generally stink. You find yourself with your hand cupped under your machine to try to direct the sound to the front where it belongs. To have two (not just one) speakers that already face you is just awesome and they sound great.

5. Camera with a flash
I'll admit it, I'm a shudder bug. I have two kids and I take way too many pictures of them. To have a flash for those less-than-ideal picture moments is great. The iPad still doesn't have a flash and I'm not sure why. Both have the front view cameras for face time or Skype though.

6. Photoshop
The iPad has iPhoto for editing photos into those charming works of art though even those who have iPhoto seem to use third party editing software more than iPhoto. Having used Photoshop in school and for many years after I am well aware of the potential of Photoshop. I didn't expect it to be so good, however. It's not just generalized editing. It is the full potential of Photoshop to include layers, color replacement and so much more. This is a program I expected to be something I would have to pay big bucks for. Instead I learned it was included. It is more complicated than iPhoto but the results are amazing and there are tutorials to help users use the program to its full potential.

7. Immediate screen shots ready to be edited
When I asked the Best Buy employee how to take a screen shot on the iPad we both stared at the machine for a solid minute before we decided it was certainly possible b6t neither of us could figure out how. I've since learned that you simply have to hold down the power button and press the home button--easy. But what's easier than a button on the screen? There is a button next to the home button and the navigate button that looks like a little screen with a star in it. Touch that and you have a screen shot. But that's not nearly as good as taking screen shots with the SPen. There is a button on the SPen. Hold down that button and touch the screen and "CLICK" you have a screen shot. Then, an editing program automatically opens that allows you to draw on, crop and basically edit the image before you can share it via and number of common outlets.

8. Multiscreen Mode
I don't know if the iPad has this feature or not, but the Galaxy can go duo-mode on me. And I LOVE it! I'm a researcher and note taker. It is not unlike me at all to be reading a book and decide I want to look a fact up on the internet or write a note about what I just read. Yeah, I could close out of my book or switch between it and the internet and/or get out the traditional pen and paper or I could tap a button that splits my screen in half and gives me the option to open the internet or SNote and do my research and take my notes without ever leaving my page. Maybe I want to take a picture of what I just read or saw, point out something funny and send it off to a friend. All possible without ever closing my source of inspiration. I've even found myself with step-by-step drawing instructions on one screen with SNote on the other, whipping out cartoons. And more fun is sure to come.

9. Lightweight
One of the reasons I wanted a tablet to begin with is I wanted something I could sit on the couch with and use with one hand while I nursed my daughter. Or something I could prop up on the kitchen counter with a recipe from the internet without losing counter space or having to worry about getting flour in my keyboard. Of course both the iPad and the Galaxy Note 10.1 are lightweight but the Galaxy is a few ounces less than the iPad. Something to note for those intending on holding it for a long time.

10. Battery Life
When I got the Note 10.1 it was at 29% battery life. It was around 3 in the afternoon and the tablet survived being played with until around 9 pm that night. I plugged it in. It charged completely overnight and at 9 the next morning I unplugged it and began using it almost non-stop. I was drawing, surfing the internet, taking video and pictures, editing video and pictures, listening to Pandora while I cleaned, letting my son play with a coloring book app, downloading apps, typing, reading books and personalizing the many home screens. When I finally gave up and went to bed at 10 pm the battery still had 20% left. The next morning I got up at 7 and started writing my shopping list in SNote. Somewhere around 8 am I got a low battery warning and was advised to plug in my tablet but I have no doubt I could have continued to use it for another hour. That is roughly 14 hours of constant usable and a full 25 hours between charges. To say I was impressed is an understatement. I was blown away. I'm lucky if my laptop gets 4 hours between charges and even my cell phone needs to be charged at least every 8 hours and that's with very minimal usage.

I read somewhere that tablets are luxury items because they cannot replace laptops or cell phones. True, I cannot type as fast or accurately on the tablet as I can my laptop and even though there is a "print" option in my tablet options I have not figure out how to get it to print to my wireless printer, something that is not a problem with my laptop. Obviously, I cannot make phone calls on the tablet and since I didn't opt for a tablet with built in cellular coverage, once I leave my house or any other wireless hotspot everything that requires internet effectively dies but such is the case with my laptop as well and if I were to get a mobile hotspot on my phone that would no longer be an issue. Not to mention one can throw a stone in any direction in most towns and hit at least two mobile hotspots, including places like Burger King, Starbucks, McDonalds and others.

I was able to write most of this blog on the tablet only switching to my MaBookPro when I got the low battery warning on my tablet. I find the typing easy enough but I wished I could prop it up just a little better. Since I didn't buy any kind of case yet I have been experimenting with the best ways to hold, prop, type and otherwise position my tablet while preforming different functions. I know I will eventually be getting a keyboard folio of some sorts to accompany my tablet and allow me the option to make it into a pseudo-laptop when needed which will effectively make my laptop obsolete.

I know I'm a little enamored right now and we'll see how much I'm still loving my tablet in a few weeks. But I think, for now, I've made a very solid choice in which tablet I thought was best for my needs.

Galaxy Note 10.1 all the way!

Why do stores not decorate for Thanksgiving?

Stores sell merchandize. Their goal is to get a profit. And almost anything can be merchandized (and is). The two holidays that engulf Thanksgiving are two of the most merchandized holidays in existence.

One of these holidays is Halloween, a holiday centered around costume parties, candy and a social permission to explore your darker side with scary movies. Decorations of pumpkins, ghosts, haunted houses, costumes for the latest movie, bags of candy. What's left not to merchandize?

On the other end we have Christmas. The most merchandized holiday of the year. It all started with the magi and we've been gift giving ever since. This is the one time of year that stores can literally merchandize everything because absolutely everything is up for grabs. On top of the compulsion to find that perfect gift for every individual you know, there are also Christmas trees, wreaths, bulbs, lights, stockings, plastic Santas and snow men to put in your front yard because you're too lazy or there's not enough snow to make a real one (Curse you, global warming!!).

Anyway, it makes perfect business sense that stores would be getting people thinking about these two holidays almost as soon as possible. While strolling through WalMart in September for toothpaste you see the bright orange boxes and Halloween masks hanging on the wall and think, "Wow, it's almost Halloween. That's a really good price on bags of KitKats. I should grab two."

Then you eat them both before Halloween and have to stop and get more the night before all those trick-or-treaters show up at your door.

Not to mention you have the post-holiday 50% off sale and while walking the aisles on your way to getting toilet paper you see the adorable raven and bat lantern that was $4. You take it home for $2 feeling like you've gotten a good deal even though somewhere in your head you known that WalMart probably got it in bulk for 50 cents a lantern. (True Story.. That lantern is sitting on my kitchen counter and looking cute while doing it, too.)

And not only can you pick up those 50% off Halloween items, but down the aisle you can also get your pick of Christmas lights and tree toppers in one stop because at 12:00 am on November 1, the midnight staff of your local WalMart was rolling out their Christmas stock and rearranging the store to house it all.

But what about Thanksgiving? Why is it overlooked?

Because you can't merchandize thankfulness. It's one of the very few ideas that actually challenges people not to spend but rather to sit back and appreciate what one has.

Yeah, you might see the occasional cartoon cut out pilgrim and talking turkey gag gift and but for the elegant, fall colored tablecloths and loads of frozen turkeys, there's nothing to sell to make someone feel like they are in the Thanksgiving spirit. You don't have to buy the perfect costume or the biggest, shiniest tree. You don't have to make your house look the ghoulishist on the block or the brightest. There's no candy to give out and no picky aunt to satisfy. All there is to eat, watch football and appreciate what you already have.

I, for one, am okay with Thanksgiving being cast aside by the merchandizing kings. Why? Because it should be left alone. Yes, I wish there were more social reminders of its approaching and more time spent celebrating and appreciating it and maybe at least a week after Halloween before we start seeing Christmas decorations out of respect. I'd love to walk into a store and just see a banner that said, "Be Thankful." But, that wouldn't encourage people to spend, would it, so what's the point?

So, we'll just have to stop relying on (or getting angry at) stores for dictating our holidays. 

We can celebrate Thanksgiving far better than they can anyway and we can do it without spending a dime.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be Thankful! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

My Vision for My Daughter's Room

At this present time my daughter, Olivia, has no bedroom. She is eight months old and still sleeps nestled between her father and I in our bed. She has no crib, no bed, no toys specifically for her, no books and nothing but her clothes to remind her of her femininity.

She just recently acquired a dresser that was hastily refurbished by her loving mother but other than that her little life is afloat in a house of chaos her mother is on a mission to organize, decorate and define... including a space for her.

My son's room will eventually be Olivia's. We've known that from the day I found out I was pregnant with her which happened to be long before it was even finished being constructed. We also knew, however, that until she was ready to claim that room and her brother was ready to move downstairs to our now library, office and guest bedroom, he would be in that room and eventually they may be cohabiting that room. Because of this we tried for gender neutral in the paint color we chose for the walls.

The color we chose was "crocodile tears." A soft, almost moss green that is exceptionally neutral but goes well with my favorite colors: red and blue.

I admit to defeat in that I still have not made the room into a boys room for my son, Garrett, either. With bare walls and windows the room is his by name only and not by some form of boyhood identification. He doesn't even have a dresser. A toddler bed, a box of toys and a fish tank are all that make his room his. I hope to rectify that as well but in a way that can make for an easy transition when the time comes to move his boyhood down to his new room and allow Olivia to take full possession of the space she will soon be sharing with her brother as we transition her from our space.

Nothing against pink, and lots against princesses, with reds and blues in mind I've decided that my theme for Olivia will be "Strong Women." ... I have decided to construct the style of her future living space around this image and/or idea...

I LOVE the bold reds and blue that will already go perfectly with the space and the yellow is just the added pop that will set the room apart. 

And it opens up possibilities of adding images like these:

Again, lots of red and blue and bright yellow. I'm currently on a hunt for more strong female characters that have these colors in them. I'm not being picky about the characters either. They can be cartoons, real, fictitious, motivational posters, I don't care, just as long as they contain the colors I'm looking for and the idea of a strong, independent, capable female. I may use them all or only one or two. I'm not sure. I just want to see what I can find for now. 

I never had a bedroom that was "mine." I shared a bedroom with my sisters until I was 12 when my brother left for the Navy and I moved into his room complete with deer heads, bull whips, rifles and posters of westerns on the walls.

I had visions of a white bedroom with brightly colored flowers all over it but it never happened. I left home almost ten years ago and the room I inhabited for six years STILL has deer heads, bull whips and rifles on the walls.

I want to give Olivia something that is hers and feminine but also cool as sliced bread! And am I projecting the "strong woman" theme a bit? 

Ummmm YEAH!!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Aquarium Building?

Maybe my parents didn't tell me "no" enough when I was younger or maybe I'm just too curious for my own good, but sometimes I start something and I have no idea how much it will take me over until it takes me over completely.

Granted, I will admit that many times it overtakes me for a time and then I lose interest but I like to think of it as a little bump along the road to learning and growing and discovering new interests and... well.. playing.

And I use the knowledge I have gleaned in other areas of my life.

So, it was both a surprise but not a surprise when I found myself diving head first into the world of fish and aquariums.

It started innocently enough. We decided we could get Garrett a fish tank.

He loves fish!

We take him to see the fish at Walmart all the time and when he visited his cousin who had a fish tank our fate was pretty well sealed.

So, we went to a local fish/pet store and bought two fish and a tiny half gallon Beta tank to put them in.

We got it home and I was very disappointed.

The fish just sat there in this murky water. There was no light to shine on them. It was all very dull.

So the very next day I went out and bought a 3 gallon tank with a filter and a heater (because the guy at the fish store told me that all the fish I wanted to get required a heater).

Then we went back to the fish store and bought more fish.

Of course, as it happens with all new people and their fish tanks, a fish died, then three more fish were eaten by other fish, then another fish pecked another fish to death.

The current tank
I was pretty much frantic to find out what was going on in our fish tank. I guess I was like most people who just assume you buy a couple fish, put them in a bowl of water and watch them flourish.

Over the next few days my fingers flew over my keyboard and my search engine churned out results for everything from aquarium sizes, filters, water temperatures, chemicals, plants, you name it.

I am exceptionally determined to not only keep these fish alive but see them active and happy.

Now, I'm hooked. 

I am literally dreaming of aquariums and I've already drawn up plans to make my own.. out of a toy garbage truck, no less.

And because I didn't want to clutter my new and adorable tank with heaters and filters I have researched and decided to build my own wet/dry sump refugium filter underneath of the tank.

I've got the pexiglass. The solvents are in the mail. The dremel is standing by. I'm super excited.

I might even want to make this new tank salt water and put a clown fish in it. It won't be big enough for more than one or two fish, max, but it will be adorable enough to where I don't think it will matter much.

I've learned so much already and think this is going to be another really fun adventure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Devolving of Man

I'm only slightly addicted to a show called Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. I've actually discovered more about the mysteries of our world watching that show than any other. Strange ruins, amazing architecture, legends and stories, evidence of cultures crossing oceans long before there seemed to be the capability of doing such, etc.

Now, I believe in God. I also believe in the Great Flood and a young earth (between 6,000 and 8,000 years old). I have seen a lot of science that says carbon dating is a bunch of manure and that the pressure and heat produced by a flash world-wide Flood explains a lot of what other scientist believe took hundreds of thousands of years.

What is really interesting about this show is that the "specialists" assume that everything that cannot be explained has to be the work of some extraterrestrial beings. Either they told humans to do it, gave humans the tools to do it, imparted new knowledge or technology on humans or did the building and planning themselves.

The reason for this is because worldly science has an almost completely backward look at ancient history than the Bible does. It proposes that man evolved from nothing and has gotten more intelligent as he has gone along. What is interesting about Biblical science is that it proposes that man was created infinite and perfect and entirely capable and intelligent and that he, through sin, devolved.

Not to mention, these men lived for hundreds of years vs our pitiful 90 year lifespan. I've said it again and again, take a man like Albert Einstein, give him two lifetimes and see what kind of amazing things he could have discovered. Now, take an even more intelligent man, give him eight lifetimes and is it possible he could come up with some form of electricity? Advanced tools? A means to lift large stones? Architecture? Yeah, I'd think so.

Now, I won't even begin to say I have all of the answers. Some of the things discussed on the show are absolutely out-of-this-world incredible and not even remotely touched upon in Biblical history.  What amazes me is that we stopped at only naming seven wonders of the ancient world when, to me, there are thousands!!

The show constantly substitutes aliens for any kind of angel or deity. Are they one in the same? A rose by any other name? The Bible talks about angels as flesh and blood and places. Who knows?

Either way, it's as fascinating as fascinating can be. So much hidden history. So many questions. So many mysteries and amazing things to discover in an age where there seems to be nothing left to discover.

These kinds of questions have not served to rock my faith, only to make it that much more intriguing.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stop the Pity Party

About three years ago I happened to be in a conversation with another woman about child-rearing. I was pregnant with my first and so it weighed on my mind. I don't remember exactly what topic we were discussing but as I told about my childhood bouncing from home to home of relatives while my parents traveled in Europe for their ministry. When I got to the part about my parents always traveling together meaning that sometimes my siblings and I would be split amongst several homes I was suddenly cut off with, "Oh, you poor thing."

Her response completely and totally took me off guard and I didn't know what to say. I had not been lamenting about my past, merely stating facts. I had not even implied that I had had a difficult childhood. In fact, the conclusion to my tale was to talk about the strength of our family and the kindness of those who took us all in while my parents travels. If you'd have asked me my opinion of the way I was raised I would tell you it was pretty good and out of the blue, for the first time in my life, I was being pitied for it.

She took my stunned silence as que to go on and said, "How horrible to be abandoned by your parents like that--to not have the stability--and to be ripped away from your siblings, too." Gasp, "You are such a strong woman to have overcome that."

More stunned silence.

I guess if you were to erase the "missionary" part my story would sound a little bit like the tale of a foster child: parents coming and going, being farmed out to relatives or the occasional stranger (to me at least), living out of a suitcase from time to time.

Horrible, awful, tragic.

Funny it took me until I was 23 to have some stranger tell me how bad I had it. If it wasn't for her I would have thought I'd had it pretty good.

Today, with the invent of Facebook, email and other instant sharing services, it seems downright impossible to keep news and articles out of view. And since I am a mother of two now I am subscribed to a couple of mom sites that share articles to make you feel guilty about seemingly relevant articles about parenting and child rearing.

I have read three articles in as many weeks blasting parents about the ways they are ruining the lives of their children. There was the article about the Mom on the cover of Time magazine and how her son will forever be scarred by his mother's selfish need to be in the spotlight. There was the article about how primitive parenting is better than modern parenting. And another about the long-term negative effects of spanking. Or there are the countless posts and tweets and blogs and blerbs from people more than happy to tell you badly you are parenting and how horribly scarred your child will be.. FOR LIFE!

Imagine being constantly told how bad you have it. Imagine being at an impressionable age and reading how horrible mothers are for not breastfeeding and finding out your mother didn't breastfeed you. Imagine constantly being bombarded by statistics saying that you will be a failure or more prone to some untoward behavior because of something your parents said or did. I'd imagine that it would only take so long before you starting wondering if you were really as screwed up as you were being told you were.

If being farmed out to other homes while my parents traveled was the worst of my life, yeah, I had it pretty easy. The truth is there are some darker events in my past as well, many of which transpired while my parents were away attending to the duties of their ministry. If they'd been home would I had been spared some hurts? Absolutely. But certainly not all. My parents were/are human. They made mistakes. But they love me and they did their best to raise me to be the best I could be. And I didn't only survive, I flourished. I'm happy. I'm loved. I got it great!

I don't blame my parents for anything bad that has happened as a result of living on this earth. You can't walk through this world without getting a little bit of its ugliness on you. If your life experience is summed up in all the parental negatives you can pin-point and sift through and point your finger at then you're going to have a pretty miserable existence indeed.

You also can't expect these doctors and psychiatrists and child-rearing experts (what the heck is that anyway?) to be infallible in their recommendations and diagnoses and statistics and theories. They are human, too, and I'm sure a few have had kids that have both suffered and succeeded with or without their parental guidance.

Instead of droning on about how badly we parents are screwing up our kids, why don't they talk about the amazing ability of individuals to overcome their environments? Instead of telling kids how horrible their lives are because of their parents, why don't they tell them it's up to them to choose whether or not they are going to let the good outweigh the bad? Pity and guilt and blame won't get anyone very far.

Sooner or later you have to stop blaming your life on your circumstances or upbringing or whatever and take responsibility for your own choices and outcome.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I don't know if it's true or not but I once heard of a a poem called "Loss" that a poet carved into a stone fountain. But before anyone could read it he chiseled out all of the words and said, "There are no words to describe loss. It cannot be spoken, only felt."

There is a deep truth to that even if the story is just that; a story.

Over the last week or so one of my good friends has been posting blogs from a woman who recently lost her twin sons at 20 weeks gestation after a few days battling for them after her water unexpectedly broke.

I did not say much about the situation. As I've said before, as extroverted as I am there are certain things that I can find no words for. Some things cannot be spoken, only felt.

I didn't intend to say much about this dear woman, Diana, as it has all been said a million times by dozens of women who know her far more than I do. But something she wrote in her two most recent blogs really touched me.

She said...

I was blessed to be able to have a hospital that let me stay earlier than 20 weeks and when they died – they were recognized. I was never made to feel .. that my struggle was in vain or silly. My children meant something there – and they let me know it.

But so many of you never got that chance. And no matter what you believe or what religion you are or aren’t – choosing to have a baby and then losing it at any stage changes you forever. To not have it recognized before a certain point is cruel and dehumanizing. My boys were born 3 days shy of 20 weeks. It makes so much of a difference every week that went by – somehow to someone they were closer to “real” and after that point, after those weeks, it was ok to grieve. And this truly bothers me.

And then she said...

The thing is – so many want to brush off women’s pain as something to do with that time of the month, hormones, pregnancy, mama bear, etc. But God made us in a different way than most men in this process. While we all grieve differently, it’s hard to grieve and let the words flow knowing that someone is going to try to diagnose or compartmentalize the way you feel. It isn’t done maliciously, ... but we have to stop doing this to each other. As Chrisians we so often feel anger is wrong or a loss of faith in God. Mine is neither. ...
I have a right to be in pain and grieve and be angry – as a woman and as a Christian....

And with that I broke into tears.
Just about four years ago, a few days before Christmas, after trying for months, John and I found out we were pregnant with our first child. On New Years Day we lost the baby. It broke my heart in a way I can't find words for. I suffered a deep loss.

And what drove me to a point of hurt I could even less explain was the reaction of those around me. Those who told me that if I hadn't of tested I wouldn't have known I was pregnant and therefor I would have thought my miscarriage was just a late menstrual cycle. I was treated very much like I was over reacting and that my loss was somehow minimal because.... because what? Because I hadn't gotten an ultrasound of my baby yet? Because I hadn't found out the sex? Because I hadn't named him or her? Because I didn't hold him or her in my arms as he or she died?

Do those things quantify a mother's love? Justify it? Make it any more real?

All I know is that I wanted that baby, badly. And when I learned I was pregnant I celebrated the life within me like the life it was. I talked to my baby. I told my baby he or she was loved and greatly anticipated. My husband talked to the baby as well. Then, suddenly, he or she wasn't there anymore.

That hope, that joy, that expectation... our child was gone.

And people treated me like it didn't matter. Like I was some kind of hormonal psycho. Sure, I may have gone through something sad but nothing nearly as sad as what others have had to endure.

I've never written about this because I have wondered (and often felt) like maybe everyone was right. Maybe I was just hormonal. Maybe my loss was not as great as the loss of others. Maybe my loss didn't matter as much as the loss of those who have something tangible to say goodbye to.

I have been forced to feel guilty for my grief. To feel like I should be thankful I didn't have to hold my child as he or she struggled for those last breaths. I've been forced to feel like I overreacted, made a mountain of a mole hill or that I somehow overestimated the life I lost.

That's right. I've been made to feel like I overestimated my child's life.

And this morning a woman I don't know posted something in a blog I've only read a few handful of times that seemed to give me permission to stop feeling guilty for the pain I experienced.

It was a long time ago and there has been healing and there has been joy. I have two beautiful children whom I love dearly. Though the memory of my loss has faded it has not disappeared and sometimes I wonder about my third little baby. S/he is waiting for me. That gives me comfort.

Diana will probably never read this blog. She'll probably never know how her experience, still so fresh and tragic, has helped me find some sort of post-loss peace, but she has.

I pray for her. I hope she finds the healing and peace she needs. I hope and pray she finds joy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Growing is Good

In about fifteen hours or so my little girl will celebrate 5 months of life (outside of my belly, that is). She's my little sweetheart. My smiley one. My bubble blower and, yes, she's growing up so fast.

As the old cliche goes, it seems like just yesterday I was holding her for the first time and while five months is just a drop in the bucket it can also seem like so much time.

When you have kids and you love them as much as most parents love their babies there is this conflict that seems to kind of tear you up sometimes. On one hand there is this kind of sadness that its going by so fast. People tell you it will. You know it will. And while there are times (i.e. when you're baby is screaming her head off at 2 am and nothing can console her) that it seems like it will never end, somehow it seems to fly by and the sadness comes. You try to cherish every moment the way everyone tells you to and hang on to every second, but all of a sudden they are too big to fit the newborn outfits. Suddenly your baby is growing out of 0-3 month clothes, she no longer wants to sleep in your arms all day but wants to sit up and look around and even tries to start standing and rolling. Yep, there's that part of you that kind of screams, "I'm not ready for you to grow," no matter how much more growing they have to do and how relatively little growing they've done.

But, on the other hand, it's always good to remember that growing is wonderful and something to be so thankful for. I don't have to look farther than my own family and friends to find mothers who've lost their children in infancy. They will never see their babies open presents or hear their first words or give them kisses. Still other mothers have their children but through disease or illness will never have children that grow the way other children might. The disability may mean their child will never walk or talk or see or read a book or sing a song or climb a tree or skip on the sidewalk.

Sometimes I watch other parents talking with their children and I get jealous. I so crave that interaction with my son who is still struggling to catch up in his speech. While he is making daily progress there are still delays that make me ache from time to time. I want to share those moments with him and I'm so eager to listen to what he has to say and share stories and ideas. I can only imagine how much a mother would ache to watch her child who cannot walk take the steps I take for granted in my own children, or say the words or throw the ball or paint a picture or ask for a hug.

My heart breaks for these mothers and I think of how ignorant silly we are when we express how sad we are to watch our children grow and develop. A common phrase I see all over the place is, "I just want to freeze my child like this forever."

I know parents who have children who are frozen (at least mentally, if not physically) at a particular age forever and I'm sure they are far too polite to tell us what they really think. That WE should grow up, get real and thank God that we have children who do and will grow to accomplish new and wonderful things. That we should look at our growing children as a miracle and remember that children who are frozen in time usually come with expiration dates much earlier than children who are healthy and grow in the manner we lament and take for granted.

When I hear mothers lament about how quickly their children grow (or even when I start to get those feelings myself) I have to stop and remind myself how blessed I am to have children who are growing and learning and developing into healthy, beautiful children who, Lord willing, will grow into healthy, beautiful adults.

Olivia and I spent a few minutes before bed laughing and playing as I tickled her feet and kissed her cheeks and hands. Every day it seems she is getting stronger and more coordinated, faster with her hands and steadier in her balance. She's no longer content to sit in her swing, but wants to stand in her walker and for the first time she started to scoot across the kitchen floor yesterday morning.

She amazes me with her strength and new strides every day and I cherish the moments I have with her as my little baby. But I am so thankful and blessed to be here to watch her grow and change. There is so much to look forward to and I cannot wait to watch her grow and learn just like I cannot wait to watch Garrett's progress and growth.

I am so blessed with the gift of growth for my children.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Might be time for a new pediatrician

When we moved here from Virginia Garrett was three months old. I looked up pediatricians in the phone book and took the next available appointment with the next available ped when it came time for his 4-month check up. We've stayed with the same ped even though there are times she has really annoyed the fire out of me.

Now, fast-forward three years and I'm taking my 4-month old daughter to the same ped. It was deja vu all over again and I realized again why I was thinking about switching three years ago and just too lazy to do it.

Pediatrician: "How is she sleeping?"
Me: "Great! She only wakes up once or so to nurse and then she goes right back to sleep." I specifically through in "She easily sleeps five to six hours straight," because as a pediatrician she should know that "clinically" 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep is one of the three criteria considered "sleeping through the night." 
Pediatrician: "I think you need to wean her from that. She doesn't need to nurse during the night and she's essentially using you as a pacifier and relying on you to put her back to sleep. You need to wean her from the night nursing."

I've mastered the art of smiling and nodding while standing up and screaming, "NO!" inside. If Olivia is healthy and growing well and we are happy, well-rested and enjoying the arrangement why should we have to change it? I greatly enjoy nursing her and being close to her at night, especially on the nights I have to go to class and I see no reason why I should change that. From a medical stand point there is no medical reason to change our arrangement either. 

We moved on to food.

Ped: "How is she eating? Is she eating any baby food?"
Me (rather proudly, I might say): "She is still exclusively breastfed."
Ped: "I recommend starting some solids at four months. She doesn't need them but at four months she's lost the tongue-thrust reflex and can start eating solids. You can mix some rice cereal with breast milk if you'd like and feed that to her. It will also help her learn to accept a spoon."

This was the same speech she gave me when my son went in for his four-month check up.

My facade must have cracked and I think even she could see my disdain through my tense smile and nod.

Now, I'm no doctor but I am a mother and I like to think of myself as educated and versed on the needs of my growing children. I am a fanatic when it comes to breastfeeding, having breastfed my son for one year, eleven months when he weaned himself. I did not start my son on solids until he was eight months old when he got his first teeth and started showing genuine interest in other food. I also have a fantastic and healthy breastfeeding relationship with my daughter despite being back at school. She is growing beautifully and is perfectly healthy!

I know the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six month with supplementing with breast milk up to a year. According to the CDC the risks of childhood obesity decrease the longer you breastfeed, specifically if you exclusively breastfeed to at least six months. For every month you breastfeed, according to the CDC, your child's risk of obesity is decreased by 4%. There may even be health benefits to delaying solids and new research presented in the breatfeeding and baby food classes I took in 2008 suggests one sign a baby's intestines are ready for solids is the introduction of the baby's first teeth.

Either way, my 4-month old shows NO signs she is ready to start solid food. She cannot sit up on her own. She does not reach for food or bring things to her mouth on her own. She also has no pincher grasp.

I've also read many articles that suggest a child eating solids too early can mess with sleep patterns and entice him or her to start nursing more during the night.

I remembered the battles I had with her when at Garrett's 6-month check up he was still exclusively breastfed and how she warned how he would have a problem using a spoon. We battled it out again at his 9-month appointment when he was only beginning a few solids and feeding himself, not being "fed" by me with utensils.

Well, when you are using the baby led weaning method, why does it matter if he (or she, in this case) can tolerate a spoon or not?

Then she got a crooked smile on her face and said, "Are we doing any vaccines today?"

She knows my answer to that question. She's been my son's pediatrician for three years and we have yet to give him a single vaccine. Before I get crucified on the cross of pro-vaccination I must say that I am not anti vaccines. I am anti so many vaccines at such young ages when there is low or no risk of the disease being contracted. I have told many people, many times, that if the diseases we commonly vaccinate against were to start coming back due to individuals not vaccinating against them I would be the first in line to get my children vaccinated. If polio started a come back you'd better believe I'd get my kids a polio vaccine. Yes, there has been a slight come back in some diseases such as pertussis and even measles but the risks in our family are exceptionally low. They do not go to day care, they stay at home with me in a closed environment. All in all we really don't have much to worry about.

I shook my head. "No," I said.

"You'll have to sign the vaccine refusal form."

They must have a dozen of those refusal forms from me.

I'm not trying to be difficult and I'm sure that she had 3-dozen patients who have gone through her model of growth that are alive and well to tell the tale about it. I have my own style and opinions and research to back up my parenting decisions regarding my child's sleeping, eating and vaccinations. I have not felt disrespected for my decisions, but I have felt that condescending disapproval that says, "I'm the doctor, I know best."

I don't want to have to be geared up for battle every time I go to the pediatrician's office. It might be time to make a switch. But, to who?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spiders and School and Squirrels, Oh My

Garrett has had two more appointments with his speech pathologist since my last blog (or has it been three). Since that time I have also gone back to school to become an EMT. This has set our little world on its head and effectively sent it spinning.

There are rarely spare moments (like the one I stole to write this blog). I'm constantly trying to find time to study and when I'm not studying I'm thinking I should be studying playing with the kids or feeling guilty I'm not playing with the kids studying.

I'd be lying if I said I have been perfect about keeping up with what I'm supposed to be doing with Garrett for his therapy.

Because of that, or maybe not, Garrett has kind of hit a wall. His understanding and speech have really not gone anywhere in the last 3-4 weeks. He continues to be able to give two or three word commands for things he needs or wants but he still cannot tell stories or put things into sequences through verbal communication.

The pathologist has been trying very hard to get him to tell simple stories such as what he did on a particular day or what is going on in a book. If he talks at all it's a bunch of jumbled gobbly gook with a few words thrown in that mean nothing when taken out of context. 

The two events that have encouraged me have been the dead squirrel and spiders.

Tonight, while coming home from the grocery store, Garrett saw a dead squirrel lying in the road.

He correctly identified it as a squirrel and then noted that, "Squirrel fell down."

I confirmed for him that the squirrel had, indeed, fallen down.

Garrett continued with, "Bump his cheek. Boo boo."

I confirmed that I was certain the squirrel did, in fact, have a severe boo boo.

When we got home he continued to talk about the squirrel.

"Squirrel fall down. Bump on the cheek. Hurt. Boo boo. That's naughty."

I corrected him that neither getting a boo boo nor falling down was naughty and that sometimes it just happens and it's okay to get hurt.

He said, "Oh. Okay."

It's really been the first time he has attempted to tell a story that ended up having any kind of sense and flow to it. He's tried to tell many stories before with unsatisfactory results.. i.e. we couldn't understand anything he was trying to tell us. So to have a story, even if it's just three broken sentences, is a huge thing for him.

He's also fascinated by spiders. He hasn't been able to tell me any stories about them but he has been able to alert me with, "Mommy, come here!" and point out spiders wherever he sees them. He's also very good about saying, "Bye bye, spider!" as I flush it down the toilet.

Another part of his therapy I finally got around to doing was making picture prompt cards for him. Previously, whenever John would come home from work and ask Garrett what he did during the day the onslaught of unintelligible blabbering would start. Thrown in would be those few words that meant nothing to me but obviously were sources of great passion for Garrett.

The pathologist then suggested that I make picture cards of places we commonly go and things we commonly do and as he does the activity or goes to the place, upon returning home I was to put the picture card on display so that when John got home he could take Garrett to his activity board and run him through the prompts to get him to tell the story of his day.

I started out taking pictures of these places but decided to get crafty and ended up making construction paper pieces instead....

I think they turned out pretty good. If I may say so myself.

I will admit that I am extremely jealous of parents who can talk and dialog with their young kids. In our play group there are several 2-4 year olds who have regular dialogs with their parents. They tell stories, communicate wants and desires, give their opinions. I ache to do that with my son. Then I feel like crap because I realize there are parents out there with children with much greater disabilities who will never be able to dialog with their children even to the extent that I can with my son.

I am trying to be content with what I have while also trying to press for betterment and the best for my son... all while trying to be a mom to my daughter, a wife to my husband, a student, a housekeeper, an accountant, an instructor, a friend, a sister, a daughter and whatever other role I'm forgetting I need to play at this particular moment.

Right now, however, I think I need to play the "sleeping person" role. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Understanding Correction

When the Speech pathologist showed me that Garrett's echolalia was a sign he didn't understand what was going on I felt particularly bad because there had been many time I have disciplined or corrected Garrett thinking his echolalia was evidence that he was understanding.

"That was naughty."


"Do you understand?"


"Say you're sorry."


I'm happy to say that in the last three weeks, through being more interactive with him and with some more tools to better understand him I have not had to correct him for anything. He's been pretty obedient and good.

That changed last night when I saw the cat go galloping out of the bathroom with Garrett following close behind with his bathroom cup held over his head. Before I could even process the scene, Garrett threw the cup at the cat who barely escaped behind the basement door.

"GARRETT!" I yelled. "That was naughty."

Instead of echoing back to me he just looked at me.

"Come here. You are going into time out."

"Time out."

"Yes, time out."

I put him in his time out chair and it did not seem to register to him that he was in trouble. He sat there smiling and seemingly waiting for an explanation for why he was sitting there.

After a minute or two he tried to climb down.

"No. You stay there. You are in time out."

He finally got it. His little face scrunched up in sadness and he whined, "Time out?"

"Yes. Time out. You threw your cup at the kitty. That was naughty. You need to be nice to the kitties."

He just looked at me.

"Mommy, time out!" he said.

"No. Mommy doesn't go into time out. I didn't do anything naughty. Do you know what you did that was naughty?"

"Naughty?" he asked.

"Yes. Naughty. What did you do to get a time out?"

"Throw at the kitty."

"Yes. You threw your cup at the kitty."

"Sorry," He said without my prompting.

"You need to say you're sorry to the kitty."

"Sorry, kitty," he responded.

After that we hugged and he promised to be nice. We practiced being nice by petting the kitties and that was it.

This is rather paramount to us and him as this is the first time he's ever been corrected where I know for sure he understood what he did wrong and why he was being corrected.

Again, this morning, at play group he tested the waters by pushing another little boy who was trying to play with the same toy Garrett was playing with and we went through the time out process again. This time when I asked him what he did wrong he said, "Push the boy."

After he apologized we practiced sharing and being nice by helping the boy build a fort out of giant legos. He didn't push anyone else for the rest of the play group (which in itself is a bit paramount as pushing has become his go-to method of communicating disapproval).

It's such a relief to know that he's understanding correction and discipline and even responding to it.

It certainly beats sentence after sentence of echolalia.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sequencing... and It's Not Autism

This morning was Garrett's second appointment with the speech pathologist. I was so excited to tell her about Garrett's progress: his new understanding of books, increased vocabulary, better understanding and follow-through of two-part commands, better following of direction and increased use of words in sentences.

I was feeling pretty optimistic about today's appointment.

We spent the first few minutes of the appointment talking about his progress and while the pathologist was impressed with his progress she didn't waste a lot of time praising us. Instead, she jumped right in to the next phase of his evaluation.

She sat down with him and a whole bag filled with laminated pictures of things. My kid ROCKS the nouns. Even things she would preface by saying, "Not many kids get this one," or "This one's a hard one," he'd name it with hardly a pause.

With that test Ace'd she moved on to sequencing.

And he failed miserably.

She put down four cards with pictures put in line to tell a store. In the first picture a little girl put on her boots. In the second picture she put on a coat. In the third she added a hat and in the last picture she walked out into the rain.

Despite going over the pictures with Garrett many times, when asked what the little girl was doing in each picture he would resort to simply naming items in the picture to include naming the pictures on the wall behind the little girl and the color of her boots and hat.

We took a step back from sequencing and tried instead to get him to name actions in pictures.

The pathologist brought out a couple dozen pictures of children performing different actions such as talking on the telephone, reading a book, drinking juice, etc.

Again, instead of naming the action Garrett plowed ahead with naming the things in the picture. "Juice!.. Milk!.. Chair!.. Baby!"

She went over every single picture with him and he was able to echo back the actions such as, "washing his face... drinking the juice... eating the sandwich," and when she tried again with the same pictures he responded perfectly with the correct answer. But when she added new pictures with the same actions he was stumped again.

When she tried to get him to work on one more set of pictures he wanted nothing to do with it and resorted to dumping her bag, knocking over chairs and tipping the play refrigerator in the room over all while screaming, "NO!" at the top of his lungs.

I was mortified by my child's destruction but she just smiled and said, "This is so typical of a child who's just come to the end of his understanding. He doesn't get it and so he's giving up."

We talked a little about preschool and she warned me that he is not ready for preschool at all at this point. She was afraid he would spend most of his time in correction because he wouldn't understand and would start acting out like he was with her and neither he nor the teacher or his classmates would benefit at all.

After a few moments of thinking she said, "I'm still not going to give you a diagnosis of what I think is going on here. There are some things I'm pretty sure it's not but there are a few things he's showing signs of that I want to see if we can work on and maybe narrow it down further or eliminate them altogether."

I asked her if she could be a little more specific and she said, "Well, not right now, but one of them does have to do with how he cannot identify the same action in different pictures."

She went on to explain that kids normally see a behavior, the behavior is named and when they see that behavior being done in another scenario they can correctly identify it as the same behavior. For instance: Johnny is brushing his teeth and later, when the child see Susy brushing her teeth the child can identify that the act of brushing teeth is not unique to Johnny. Susy is doing it, too. The child can figure that out on their own without being told.

Apparently some children need a little help expanding those connections of actions across several scenarios and it can effect understanding which then effects language.

She said he has a fantastic basis of knowledge with which to work with as evidenced by how many objects he could name. So now we can start to back off on working on naming objects and work more on naming actions and sequences such as, "I am brushing my teeth. First, I get out my toothbrush. Then, I get my toothbrush wet with water. Then, I get out the toothpaste. I put the toothpaste on the brush...." and so on. We're also supposed to point out those same actions in others and try to make the connection for him ("Daddy is brushing his teeth. Remember when I was brushing my teeth?") to try to help him make the connection to actions and just not things.

She sat him down with a puzzle and while he worked the puzzle we talked a little more about the next steps.

Finally, I asked her point blank, "Are you thinking autism?"

She said, "At first I was, yes. I won't lie. Part of my job is to work with kids with autism spectrum disorder and when I first met Garrett I was seeing some definite, isolated signs that I couldn't ignore. But the more I interact with him and the more I see him and how he relates to me and you and with the progress he's made I am no longer thinking that's what we're dealing with. He's so interactive and social. He shows a few isolated signs here and there but nothing close to the full criteria we would expect for someone who was truly autistic."

She added, "There are a couple of disabilities I have in mind but I don't want to get fixated on them without more time to work on a few things and see if it's not something else altogether or be able to better narrow it down. These things take time and I don't want to rush it and risk putting a label on him without knowing for sure what is going on or whether or not there really is a problem."

I was satisfied with that. I've been very glad to be working with someone who doesn't want to just put him in a box with a specific label on it and write him off as a disability or disorder.

I'm thrilled to have her working with me and giving me tips and guidelines and ways to help communicate with him.

One thing I must stop doing is asking him whether or not he "can" do something when I'm trying to give him a direction. When I say things like, "Can you get off the table?" I'm giving him the option of saying, "No." Instead, I'm supposed to make it the command it's meant to be, "Get off the table."

It was also nice to have her tell me to stop feeling guilty.

I mentioned how bad I felt that here we were, two adults just going about our merry way and not really noticing any problems, talking over him and just expecting him to catch up and she cut me off by saying, "Hey, that's how most children learn language. This was nothing you did or didn't do so stop thinking that right now. You are doing a great job with him."

We have two more weeks with these new guidelines. Here's hoping we can blow her away with his new mad skills!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Train Book Breakthrough

Garrett's favorite book is The Train by David McPhail. We bought it for $.10 at a Library book sale.

We've read it to him every night for months. It's the book that I was so discouraged about after reading it to him the first night after his evaluation.

John and I vary who puts Garrett to bed and who reads to him so that he gets time with both of us. Friday night, after another full day of modeling pronouns, interactive play and going out to the store to buy him some fake food for him to play with and a Buzz Lightyear to encourage him to talk for his toys, it was time for bed. John took him upstairs and Garrett started asking for "Train Book" which means he wants to be read The Train.

John had gone through one of the Read Together, Talk Together books about fire engines on Wednesday night and I went through the Read Together, Talk Together guidelines while reading The Train on Thursday night. It took 45 frustrating minutes of interactive questions, explanations and work that I wasn't even sure was getting through. But I used the guidelines given to me by the pathologist and tried my best to shed new understanding on the story.

When John picked up the book and started reading it to Garrett I was happy to hear John immediately start in on the Read Together, Talk Together interactions and even more amazed to find that Garrett seemed much more in tune to the story.

The Train is a very small book about a little boy named Matthew who loves trains. Matthew lets his baby brother operate his toy train and his baby brother runs it too fast. It falls off the tracks and breaks. Matthew wants to fix the train but his father tells him it's time for bed and he'll have to fix it in the morning. They go to sleep and that night Matthew dreams about fixing and running a real train.

John had not been there when I went through the reading guidelines with Garrett while reading The Train so he wouldn't know what questions I asked or prompts I'd given. This was a perfect way to see what genuine information Garrett had gleaned from our going through it with the new guidelines in place.

Immediately we saw amazing results! I was so amazed I had to stand back with my mouth open in astonishment as I saw John and Garrett interacted while reading the book.

"Who is that?" John asked.

"Matthew!" said Garrett.

"What is Matthew doing?"

"On the bed!"

"Right! Matthew's sitting on the bed. What is he doing?"

"What he doing?"

Knowing echolalia means Garrett doesn't understand, John took another approach. "Is Matthew reading?"


John read a few pages of the book where it talks about Matthew and his love for trains and letting his baby brother run his train and breaking it.

"Crash!" Garrett said.

"Yes!" Replied John, "Crash. His baby brother broke the train. What did Matthew say?"

"I can fix it!"

My mouth fell open. "That right," said John. "Matthew said, 'I can fix it!'"

He turned the page to where Matthew's father comes in and tells Matthew the repairs will have to wait until morning. Matthew asks if they can read a book before bed and Matthew's father agrees to read one book.

"What was the book about?" John asks.

"Trains!" says Garrett.

I am in complete astonishment at this point. This is the most interactive I have seen my son regarding a book, EVER!

John turned the page and asked Garrett what was happening.

"Mommy turn on light."

Garrett gets his off and on mixed up but it was still pretty darned amazing as this was the part in the story where Matthew's mother says goodnight and turns off the light.

When Matthew's dream about fixing the train begins it's a picture of Matthew working on a wheel with a wrench. When asked what was going on Garrett said Matthew was working on the wheel. Matthew then cleans a headlight and when asked what Matthew was cleaning Garrett again answered correctly with, "Light!"

Garrett went on to tell us that Matthew helped load the baggage car, passed out pillows and punched tickets. He identified the water tower in the picture where the train takes on water and talked about Matthew helping to drive the train. By the time it got to the end of the story and Garrett said, "Good night!" I was nearly in tears.

Later, after John went back downstairs and Garrett was asleep, I crept into his room, knelt beside his bed and I did cry. I thanked God for such a precious little boy. I thanked Him for giving him to us. I thanked Him for the progress Garrett's made and asked for help for Garrett and for myself and for John. I asked for patience and for wisdom and grace. I watched Garrett sleep, combing his hair with my finger and just wept in gratitude and love.

All my frustrations and guilt for the day were gone and I was so happy and thankful to have see him understanding and enjoying his favorite book with his Daddy.


People who meet Garrett for the first time often ask the question, "What's he like?" meaning, what's his personality like.

I'm often stumped by this question because I feel, sometimes, like his personality is locked behind this communication barrier. I know he loves trains and cartoons. He's pretty easy going except when he's tired but he has not yet started to show truly distinct personality traits, especially around other kids.

He is a personality copycat right now. He mimics children around him. If one kid is screaming, he will scream. If one kid starts throwing a ball, he will throw a ball. If one kid hits, he will hit. If the other children are laughing, he will laugh. And if you look at his face it is as though he is confused but eager to follow and keep up with the other children. He performs all actions with a look of, "I don't know why I'm doing this, but everyone else is doing it so I will, too."

When children take things from him (except for trains) instead of looking hurt or angry he looks confused and then resigned almost like, "Oh, I guess I wasn't supposed to have that." He doesn't fight or argue and when the other child is corrected and told to give the toy back or to apologize it is almost always Garrett who is saying, "Sorry" and receiving the toy back with a look like, "Oh, I guess it's my turn again."

I've even seen him get bitten so hard he was nearly bleeding and just look at the little girl like, "What sort of game is this?" When the little girl (who is almost a year younger than Garrett) was told to apologize to Garrett she refused. Her mother, mortified by what happened said, "You say your sorry and give him a hug." Her daughter said, "NO!" while Garrett leaned over, gave her a hug and said, "Sorry." Later that day he started biting himself and coming to show me the bite marks. Thankfully that didn't last long.

This is not to say he doesn't have fun because often, once one child he's been mimicking has stopped a particular style of play he will continue it on his own and continue laughing in seemingly genuine enjoyment at having learned something new and fun. Unfortunately, the same thing goes for "unwanted" behavior that he learns from playmates as well.

Watching him play with other children is a little like watching perpetual deja vu. Unless, of course, there is a train around, then he's perfectly content to sit by himself and play with said train and ignore anyone and anything else.

Perhaps it's all been part of his echolalia. He doesn't understand what's going on so in order to feel like he is participating and interacting he just echos the actions of other children like he echos the words of adults when he doesn't understand.

Other than with toy trains he has expressed no real interest in branching out to new toys and forms of play. I have been trying to introduce him to new toys and games through puzzles, match games, drawing and other pretend play. Lately, I've actually been trying to keep him away from his trains just a bit to help him branch out and discover what else he might like.

That being said, I've been waiting for his personality to develop and to see him have some original ideas, feelings and expressions.

He goes to two play groups and a children's library group every week and lately I have been seeing him getting a little more belligerent with other kids. This encourages me because it means he's starting to form differing opinions about what they are doing.

While he has yet to hit or push or bite out of anger (as opposed to out of simply copying what he's seen) I'm finding he has a very strong, "STOP!" and the cutest little scrunched up angry face.

I never thought I'd be happy to see my kid finally screaming "STOP!" at other kids and I'm trying to somehow express to him that letting his opinion be known is perfectly acceptable but perhaps not at that volume. Right now I'm a little inclined just to let him keep it up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Speech 101: The First 24 Hours

Life is communication.

The better one can communicate the easier life will be. Of course, the opposite is true and the more difficult it is for someone to communicate the harder life will be.

I failed to realize just how hard life is for Garrett right now and to be honest (and to put more miles on my guilt trip) we have failed him in our communication with him. We've come to a place that is "comfortable" for all of us and it has left Garrett at a stalemate.

We did everything that we thought good parents do (played, interacted, played games, didn't let him watch too much TV, read him books, gave him snuggles) but until yesterday we didn't have much in the way of ideas on how to work with him and figure out whether or not he was understanding our communication with him. In honesty, our "play" with Garrett was more of us sitting on the floor and watching him play or running our trains behind his trains or tickle fights or simple interactions that don't require much language.

Armed with some new information from the pathologist John and I wasted no time diving in with our interactive play with Garrett centering more on language.

Right away when we got home I started modeling pronouns. I listened closely for his echolalia and tried to figure out new ways to phrase questions so that he understood. I also spent most of the day figuring out ways to take all of the negative commands I've given him over time into positives. Since he's also potty training, a lot of our time was spent in the bathroom communicating with words like "pee," "potty," and "YEAH!!"

When John got home we jumped right into working on his two-step commands. We got out some toys for Garrett and took turns telling him to take one or two of those toys to Mommy or Daddy. We then went on to interactive pretend play by breaking out pots and pans and setting up a makeshift kitchen in the living room.

It was then we really started to grasp how little he really is listening to us.

We brought out a cup full of colored marbles that he was "cooking" for us and I asked him to give me all of the red marbles. He didn't even register that I was talking to him. John tried to tell him to give me the red marbles and we might as well have been talking to the wall. I started to take all of the red marbles while saying, "I am taking all of the red marbles," and he finally realized that this was something that required both listening and a response and through a series of fights over whether or not I was stealing his marbles he finally started to give me marbles of specific colors or put marbles of specific colors into certain dishes or cups.

That small battle over with we did our homework by watching the "Read Together, Talk Together" video about dialogic reading and asking and responding to questions that expand language.

It was about bed time so John took the first Read Together, Talk Together book upstairs and read him his book and put him to bed.

The next morning started a new wave of challenges for me.

I'm very used to making him breakfast and letting him play on his own while I clean the kitchen and other household chores.

I started collecting laundry after the morning potty rituals and stopped in his room for some interactive play.

The pathologist said it was important for him to incorporate play that includes him having to "talk" for a toy like a doll or animal. She said not to press the issue with him but to model that kind of play for him and see what happens. So, here I am, a woman who has not "talked" for a toy in probably twenty years, on the floor in his bedroom with Woody the cowboy and a stuffed kitty trying to model both sides of a conversation. It was very awkward at first. I'll admit.

Garrett thought this was hilarious and laughed at me and threw blankets at me but I wasn't deterred. After a while I was throwing the kitty into "jail" in the laundry basket and asking Thomas the train to take Woody to the Sheriff's office. When I put the toys down to pick up my screaming 2 month-old I was so happy to see Garrett pick up where I left off and at least try to mimic my play and talk with his kitty, Woody, monkey and goofy bird.

Soon Olivia forced us downstairs for some diaper and potty time and then we were right back to pretend kitchen play in the living room. Garrett expressed to me that he wanted to cook me eggs and that they were hot!

Instead of leaving Garrett upstairs play on his own while I did laundry I let him come downstairs and help with feeding the cats while I did laundry.

Upstairs I modeled pronouns and actions by explaining and trying to get Garrett to help me fold towels.

"I am folding the towel. I fold it in half. Then I fold it in half again."

One of his issues is that it seems like he's listening but he's really only listening for key words that indicate what is going on and skipping over the rest. For instance, when I say, "I am folding the laundry," he knows this means I fold clothes up and put them in piles so if I ask him to help he just wads up clothing and puts it in piles but does not listen or understand the language behind actually folding or putting clothes in specific places.

I worked with him through those steps and then we went upstairs and I had him help me put clothes away.

"I am putting my clothes away. Garrett, where does Daddy's pants go? Daddy's pants go in the dresser. Daddy's pants go in the dresser drawer. Can you open the dresser drawer? Can you put Daddy's pants in the dresser drawer? Can you put Mommy's socks away? Where do Mommy's socks go?"

It was a long but fruitful process.

Then came lunch and the whole process started over again for cleaning the kitchen and doing dishes.

Garrett expressed to me that he wanted to help and instead of telling him no and that this was Mommy's job I figured this could be another opportunity to communicate with him.

He climbed up on a chair next to me and started going nuts. He was throwing dishes here and there and for a moment I didn't think this was a good idea.

I told him to stop and to listen and to put dishes in the water one at a time.

The pronoun modeling started and it was, "I am washing the plate. I am washing the bowl. I am washing the spoon. I am putting the plate on the drying rack. Do you want to help Mommy dry?"

Garrett said, "Yes," so I gave him a plate and he promptly threw it right back in the dish water.

"No, Garrett. That is washing the plate. What do we need to dry a plate?"

Out came his echolalia, "Dry a plate?"

"We need a towel to dry a plate."

"Towel to dry plate."

I took out a towel and started to dry.

"I am drying the plate. I am drying the plate with a towel. We need a towel to dry a plate."

I gave the plate and towel to Garrett and he did well. And step by step I directed him in putting it away.

Then he climbed back on his chair and I gave him the next plate. He promptly threw it into the dish water.

We started the whole process over again.

After about the third or forth try he was starting to realize that drying was not the same as washing and that dishes to be dried did not go in the water. I was even more encouraged when I started to ask him, "What do we need to dry the plate?" he started looking around and thinking about it and finally said, "Towel!"

And it wasn't echolalia. He understood. It was like music to my ears!

We even got to the point where he was following two-step commands like "Give me the towel and put that plate away."

The rest of the day was like this, even down to bath time where I sat there with three trains trying to come up with conversation for the three trains as I mimicked them talking to one another in the bath.

After a few minutes playing trains it was time for bed and it was sweet to have him climb up in my arms and not want to let go, asking to "Snuggle Mommy." 

For bed time I read one of the Read Together, Talk Together books and then he wanted to read his train book.

Now, we've read this book to him almost every night for probably a whole year. You would think he would know what was going on in the story. But using the Read Together, Talk Together guidelines for interaction and the pathologists guidelines for ques as to whether or not he was understanding I got a big slap in the face to how little of the book he actually understands. To him, the book is about trains and that's all that matters.

Almost every question I asked him about what was going on was answered with echolalia. It made me feel like I was being kicked in the gut. Months of reading to him and it seems as though absolutely nothing was getting through. I went through the Read Together, Talk Together guidelines through the book as though we were reading it for the first time. A book that typically took us three minutes to read took almost forty-five minutes.

To sum up my feelings of the day: I am exhausted.

I am encouraged. I am humbled. I am chastised. I am frustrated. I am hopeful. I am mad. I am unsure. I am determined. I feel bad that Olivia is kind of getting a back seat to Garrett as other than feeding and changing her I've been propping her up on pillows and putting her in the swing or just sitting her in my lap to play and interact with Garrett. I feel torn about my responsibilities to him, my daughter and my home. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and it's just the first day.

 And now it's off to bed to rest up for day two.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Boy's Speech

For as extraverted as I am, I'm a pretty private person. I don't like or feel comfortable sharing anything too personal, be it positive or negative.

Most of the stories and posts I make to blogs or Facebook are impersonal or personal in a very impersonal way (if that makes any sense).

I keep those closest to me up to date, asking for advice, prayers and help when I feel it appropriate but I rarely vent or just "talk" about certain things that are currently happening with myself or my family.

Today, however, I feel compelled to write about something that can be considered small in the grand scheme of thing but has become pretty big in our household: My son's speech.

This story really begins about a year ago, maybe more.

To put it simply, our son just didn't talk.

He smiled, he laughed, he played, but words, if any, were few and far between.

All around us I saw 2 year-olds who could speak in full sentences and had very developed language while my own 2 year-old remained silent.

When I expressed concerned I was always told, "Oh, every child is different and develops at their own rate," or "Girls talk earlier than boys," etc.

Of course there may be some truth to that but there are benchmarks that all children should be achieving and while my son was making those benchmarks they were the minimum requirements.

We were also a bit encouraged by the fact that a little boy at church who was six months older than Garrett had a more limited vocabulary than he did.

But 2 1/2 came and went and while he continued to add more words he still was not putting together even simple sentences.

I started to think it was time to stop hoping for the best and comparing him to both the best and the worst of examples and get him professionally assessed.

The final straw was, at right around his 3rd birthday, I sat with him in nursery and the little boy who was so far behind him was now talking in sentences, having genuine conversation and my own son was still limited to one or two word back-and-forths that can be considered conversation in only the most primitive of means.

"Purple sippy!"
"Do you want your sippy?"

"Blue train!"
"Do you see a blue train?"

Just after Olivia was born I talked to a mother who's developmentally delayed daughter is in speech therapy and asked her who I needed to contact about getting my son assessed. I also scheduled Garrett for an appointment with his pediatrician who tried to encourage him to converse with her and agreed that he was no longer even making the minimum benchmarks in speech for his age.

Garrett's hearing test
The first step, of course, was a hearing test that he passed that with flying colors.

I was told that the next step was a speech evaluation and that would have to wait until after Christmas.

Over the Christmas and New Years break we tried to work with him more carefully and while he made quick progress with words his language still seemed stalled.

After stalking the early education people for three weeks, they finally got back to me and scheduled Garrett for his speech evaluation.

I can honestly say I wasn't nervous. I knew he wasn't where he was "supposed" to be by the speech benchmarks laid out by people who are in the know about these things but I'd already accepted that this is where we are right now. Because I'm a research fiend I was learning that certain patterns and habits of speech (and other play behaviors) that Garrett is exhibiting can be signs of autism or other developmental delays or disabilities. Yet I wasn't going to put the cart before the horse and think the worst. I had accepted that whatever was, was and there was no point in borrowing trouble from tomorrow though it doesn't hurt to have a little bit of worst-case information just in case. We would take this a step at a time and right now, at this step, we need to find out how far behind he is and if we can identify the problem.

For one whole hour I watched the speech pathologist play and interact with Garrett. We talked about my concerns which she was able to pick up on immediately in her interactions with him.

Through her evaluation she was able to tell me that he has areas wherein he is excelling (even more so than other kids his age) but also areas wherein he is very behind.

The good:
  • He has better-than-average articulation. If given a sound to replicate he can do it and if given any sentence, broken up into one syllable parts, he can say it almost perfectly.
  • He understands simple one-step commands.
  • He can communicate his needs and wants very well through one-word statements. 
  • He can name almost anything you put in front of him and remembers the names of objects very easily.
The bad:
  • He does not understand two-step commands. The pathologist put four toys in front of him (a toy banana, drumstick, fork and french fry), she asked him for the banana and the chicken. He gave them to her but didn't stop there, he also gave her the french fry and the fork. 
  • He does not understand verbal choices such as, "Would you like an apple or banana?"
  • He cannot understand negatives. If told, "Don't touch that," or "Don't throw the ball," all he understands is "touch that," or "throw the ball." 
  • He exhibits a lot of echolalia. Echolalia is when, instead of answering a question such as, "Would you like an apple or banana?" with "apple" or "banana" he echos back part of the question by saying, "apple or banana?"
  • He can not understand the language behind identifying an object's purpose. The pathologist put four pictures in front of him (a pan, a pencil, a sock and a clock). Even though we had gone over these objects and their purposes before hand, when she asked him what Mommy cooked breakfast in he was unable to identify the pan. She asked him what item told the time and instead of pointing to the clock he just grabbed all of the pictures and threw them in the air. According to the pathologist, these are connections he should be able to make by now.
She gave me some homework assignments and some videos to watch along with a couple of books and assessment charts we are supposed to work on over the week. She's going to see him next week and see what progress (if any) he has made and go from there as far as the next step is concerned.

There is no diagnosis or prognosis at this point and according to the pathologist there won't be for another couple of weeks. We all (me, John and the pathologist) are going to need to work with him over the next several weeks to see what he is learning and what he's not and that will help her and us decide what exactly is the issue and if it is just a delay or an actual disability. It will help determine what kind of testing, therapy or work he may or may not need and how we should proceed.

I was warned that his echolalia is his way of communicating to me that he doesn't understand what I'm saying and to not punish or correct him when he starts to exhibit it. I was told to inform everyone who might watch him to be careful not to identify his acting out with "naughty behavior" when he doesn't obey because many times its just because he simply doesn't understand. She said it was very clear to her that he does not understand the language that an average 3 year-old would understand. This struck me particularly hard as there have been many times I have punished or corrected him for things and listened to sentence after sentence of his echolalia thinking it was just his way of telling me he DID understand instead of realizing that it was his way of saying he DID NOT understand.

This weekend we will go out and get some more pretend play toys. He pretend plays like crazy with trains but we're supposed to work with him with other objects and toys, too.

We read to him all the time but now we're supposed to go through the worksheets on how to get him more interactive with the stories.

I'm supposed to be very careful not to use negatives with him and find a way to somehow turn, "Don't do that," into "Do this." Turning "don't hit" into "be gentle" or "don't throw" into "put that on the floor." It's a lot harder than I thought. I'm still trying to find a positive way to say, "Don't throw things at the cats."

I'm supposed to model pronouns. "I am putting your train in the box" as I put the train in the box. "I am making you eggs" as I make him eggs. My day is going to become a series of status updates for him.

I'm supposed to work on his two-part simple commands like, "give me the spoon and the fork."

I'm glad we're finally working towards some answers with his speech. As the pathologist said, he does not have a word problem, he has a language problem.

Yeah, I feel guilty as heck that I didn't get the ball rolling on this six months ago, but I guess there's nothing I can do about that now.

This is definitely going to be a step-by-step process. Here's to taking the first steps.

When I'm awfully low....

God bless Frank Sinatra.

Every now and then, when things get a little overbearing and I find myself feelings lonely or frustrated or tired, for some reason I start to hum a little tune.

It's a well known song that has been around for ages and in countless movies.

It goes like:

Some day, when I'm awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you...
And the way you look tonight.

Yes you're lovely, with your smile so warm
And your cheeks so soft,
There is nothing for me but to love you,
And the way you look tonight.

With each word your tenderness grows,
Tearing my fear apart...
And that laugh that wrinkles your nose,
It touches my foolish heart.

Lovely ... Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it ?
'Cause I love you ... Just the way you look tonight.

Mm, Mm, Mm, Mm,
Just the way you look to-night.

Now, I don't have any particular memories to go along with the song. There's no one standing in a tux in the back of my mind, or even in a pair of whitey-tighties and a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth that brings about feelings of warmth and glee.

It's just a song that makes me happy.

Then again, anyone who doesn't feel better after listening to Frank Sinatra has issues.

DEEP issues.

Things I Don't Understand: Nautical Bathrooms

There are lots of things I don't understand.

As I've said many times before, I am only human.

But some things I don't understand that maybe are understandable if only someone who does understand would impart upon me their understanding.

One such misunderstanding is the nautical bathroom decor.

It seems to be abundant. In fact, there is not a decor store I have been to that does not have nautical-themed bathroom items such as towels, little wall hangings, compass roses, sea shells, etc.

But what is it about the bathroom that makes for a good nautical scene?

Is it that it is a place with more water than other places in the house?

Now, I realize that other rooms can and do have nautical themes. I've seem nautical kids rooms, dens, living rooms and if someone were a sailor or otherwise interested in oceanography or something, then I guess it makes sense, but some people just do nautical bathrooms just because.

I don't think I've ever seen a nautical kitchen.