Friday, March 24, 2017

Hero of the day

We're very proud of Asher.

But we also worry about him. A lot.

Oh, he's a great student. The math he does is far beyond anything I encountered in sixth grade... or seventh grade. And he's unbelievable on the piano.  Most importantly, he's kind and generous to everyone around him.

But he is also a bit of a dreamer. I've lost count of the number of times he's ran out the door for school without his backpack. If we don't remind him to shower or brush his teeth, it does not happen. We've started to leave him alone for short stints of time, but find ourselves constantly texting to save him from himself. While Noé (you know, our severely autistic son) is weaning off his visual schedules with success, I recently created Asher an after-school schedule on a sheet of blood orange printer paper and taped it to his bedroom door in utter frustration.

We've tried to institute appropriate consequences to make him a responsible 12 year old. If he misses the bus, he has to pay his "taxi" $5 to get him to school (and I have just about the same temperament as a NYC taxi driver those mornings). He loses screen time frequently for forgetting and losing important things. But progress has been slow, to say the least.

Last night, however, might have been a turning point in our tweenage despair.

It was 7:15PM and steadily raining. We had just returned from a piano lesson and I realized that I didn't have our garage door opener on me, so I had Asher run around to the front and unlock the door. He came back and reported that the top bolt was LOCKED!!!

I had feared this would happen at some point after installing that sliding top bolt. We installed it to help keep Noe inside our house (now he can reach the bolt, so it's pretty useless). We lock it at night for extra security (our neighborhood is very "active"). Sometimes Asher locks it when he comes home from school, as he had today. As we sprinted out of the house for piano, I failed to notice that it was bolted, and I also failed to grab the garage door opener.

So many times in my mind I had thought about how screwed we would be if this were to ever happen. We have no other available points of entry into our house. We couldn't even call a locksmith because there was no key or lock.

I really tried not to panic. I jimmied the bolt with my keys and anything else I could find. I mostly had stray LEGOs in my bag. Then I started trying to kick in the door (that was kind-of fun).  I plotted hoisting Asher up to our second-floor balcony. But we ran into the same problem, because that door was bolted as well. I considered calling the fire department. So tempting, but there wasn't anyone in immediate danger, my mental health notwithstanding. Maybe I could hide Noé and say my autistic son was locked inside? Oh, that sounded a little bit too Balloon Boy hoax-y.

Ed arrived home from work around 8PM. He tried the same things I had tried, with the same result. Meanwhile, Noé had to use the bathroom and was done standing out in the rain. I took Noé to a neighborhood restaurant to find a restroom. Ed started knocking on neighbors' doors looking for tools, any tools. Asher guarded our stuff.

Well past 8:30PM and we were still outside, and yes, it was still raining. I was on the verge of a breakdown and took Noé for a walk because I deal with stressful situations by escaping them. Ed was considering the merits of breaking a window to get us inside. And then Asher pulled up a YouTube video (I won't link to it, lest you break into our house). It involved sliding paper into the lock at just the right angle. It looked ridiculous. I'm pretty sure Ed thought it would never work. I was still wandering the streets of Seattle in a fog-like state with Noé, so I had no opinion. Ed gave the YouTube hack a couple of lame attempts. Asher thought hard. He searched our backpacks and the recycling bin for just the right paper for the job. On his very first try it worked.

We were saved from our own stupidity by our 12 year old dreamer.

Reflecting on the evening's events while getting ready for bed (and feeling extra grateful, btw, for that warm, dry bed), we both agreed that Asher was probably going to turn out just fine. We, however, should probably start seriously worrying about ourselves.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blown away...

Flashback to last December 28th. Noé is celebrating his 14th birthday around Grandma's table with cousins. Physically unable to bake a birthday cake three days post-Christmas, we serve up some of his other favorites: pizza and root beer floats. I stick a birthday candle in his slice of pizza and explain to his cousins that Noé's apraxia makes it impossible for him to blow out his candles. Singing is followed by my long-winded explanation...blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I look over and Noé is sniffing out his candle with his nose, and it totally works!  He can't blow but he can sniff!

Forward to this morning, sitting at my desk and reviewing the IEP Noé's teacher has created for this year. I am pleasantly surprised to see his progress in school and all of the things he is able to do. A year ago, I never would have dreamed he could answer reading comprehension questions (even the simplest ones) after listening to a story. But here we are.

Just like on his birthday, I am once again reminded not to limit him. Not to decide what he can and cannot accomplish.

He finds a way. In his own time, in his own way. He continues to blow us away......

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, from Grandpa's Kitchen

It's been over five years since my Grandpa Razz passed away, but I still miss him every day. And especially over the holidays. I keep thinking it will ease with time. I remind myself that he had an adventurous and full life. And both in life and death and through every season he is with me.

He is an endless Portland summer evening, and I'm relaxing out on the back patio. The smell of his rose garden, the taste of Alpenrose ice cream on my tongue, the sound of his laughter rising above his post-WWII neighborhood.

He is a rainy autumn Saturday in Portland, his hamburger soup served up with crusty bread and parmesan cheese on the stove of his tiny kitchen. The local news hums from the living room. We discuss the Blazer's playoff chances this year. Every Blazer season is Rip City for Grandpa.

He is Christmas. Dipping chocolates onto cold marble in his attic. Every nook and cranny of my grandparent's small home decorated in Holiday. Warmth and giving and friends and memories.

He is hard work and family and love and generosity.

I wouldn't consider myself a generous person by nature. I'm a true introvert. My safe place is within myself. I hold a strong desire to be generous, but too often over think things (Is my gift wanted? Is it the best way to help?) But my grandpa…he just gave. 

He never went anywhere empty-handed. Like Santa Claus, he always came bearing gifts. Always willing to lend a hand. Always wanting to make a new friend. He had beloved nicknames for his neighbors and friends that stuck over generations.

Grandpa helped me move into my graduate school apartment in Eugene after my dad died. He and my other favorite grandpa, both well into their seventies, hauling heavy furniture up my narrow, wooden staircase. My heart!

He was my first phone call after Ed asked me to marry him.

He was my favorite dance at my wedding.

When Ed and I decided to take a job in New York City six months after that wedding, I dreaded telling my grandpa. It took me multiple attempts to spill out the news. The only other time I have ever seen him cry was after my dad's accident, when it became apparent that he would not survive it.

My dad had passed away less than two years earlier. My grandma's dementia was worsening. His health wasn't great. His family was abandoning him (well, at least I was). 

I may have left him for the Big Apple, but he has never left my heart. When I miss my grandpa and want to feel close to him, I know exactly what to do. I find a way to love and be generous towards someone else so that I can feel him strongly inside of me. And I am instantly transported back to the smells and warmth of that tiny kitchen. The Blazer game buzzes in the background. Grandpa is answering his front door to guests. I hear his jingling laugh. Everyone is welcome here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Noé's Starry Nights

I've been staring at this painting for days after rereading Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures.

In the book, Temple explains her theory that Van Gogh was an autistic and painted his world of perceptual distortions:

The swirls in the sky in his painting Starry Night are similar to the sensory distortions that some people with autism have. Autistics with severe sensory processing problems see the edges of objects vibrate and get jumbled sensory input. These are not hallucinations but perceptual distortions.

And now I'm dying to know.....

Is this how you see the world, Noé?

Do the edges of your bedroom, your neighborhood, your school, vibrate?

Is every day a starry night filled with blinding brightness and swirls and dark intrusive dreams?

Do you want to reach toward those bright stars or hide away from them?

Is your world marked by agitation or beauty? Or perhaps both?

One thing I am sure of, my Noécito. You don't see the world with ordinary eyes.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hands Around Green Lake

"Why are we going to the protest again, Mom?"

"I think it would be nice to do it together as a family. It's been a hard couple of weeks."

"Will it make Trump not be our president?"

Asher was right. I didn't really know why we were all trudging down to the lake this afternoon in the pre-winter rain (well, I knew why the boys were going -- we had promised them a treat afterwards). It did seem a little hippy-drippy and pointless. I just knew that I needed to begin to face the next four to eight years head-on instead of letting the "what ifs..." hold my brain permanently hostage.

Turns out, there were a lot of good reasons to go.

We circled all three miles of the lake and held hands in silence for a few moments. And then we chatted with our neighbors, shared cookies and hot cider, gathered donations for a local homeless shelter.

At any point along the lake, you could see people aligned together. There were no gaps. A human friendship bracelet of sorts. These were our neighbors. We stood together, at least for the afternoon.

It felt good to be surrounded by people who felt the same way as we did, who shared our values, our hopes, and our worries. I think it was the first time since the election that I felt hopeful and relaxed instead of vulnerable and worried.

Afterwards, we stood in a long line at our neighborhood bakery to make good on our promise of a post-protest treat. I put my arms around Noé so he wouldn't get antsy and start touching the strangers around us, and I let my mind wander. Asher and Ed joked and talked in the way that only the two of them understand.

On our way out of the shop, baked goods in hand, an older lady cornered me. There were tears running down her cheeks. Her voice was calm, barely above a whisper.

The way you and your husband show affection to your boys is so beautiful to watch. You have a beautiful family. 

Surprised, I thanked her for the kind words and walked out of the shop.

Perhaps she was caught up in the emotion of the afternoon. Perhaps she noticed our collection of skin shades and our autistic teen and felt compelled to say something nice.

Regardless, the validation felt really good. And I felt renewed gratefulness for this little corner of the city in the corner of the country that I call home.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lessons in soccer and chickens

To be completely honest, Asher's soccer season has been kicking my ass.

Every year, the practices get a little longer, the tournaments multiply like lice. This season, I've been completely late to the game, in all respects of that statement. It doesn't help that Asher is also playing on an Ultimate Frisbee team this fall, the other official sport of Seattle. It doesn't help that Ed is away on Seahawks duty for most of the fall.

Today, we were on schedule for Asher's game. But then we forgot the water bottle. And then Noé refused to enter the car for ten full minutes. Suddenly, we were behind schedule. We headed towards Queen Anne, my Seattle neighborhood driving nemesis. If I'm not stuck in traffic, I get lost somewhere on that giant Ant Hill in the Sky. Today was a little of both. Asher rolled out of our moving Honda CRV as we reached the stadium, just minutes...ok, maybe seconds... before kickoff.  I searched for parking. Noé quietly contemplated how to make this game especially miserable for me.

Navigating Asher's busy schedule with Noé in tow requires a lot of logistical planning. I drop off Asher at practice, we play at the park with snacks on hand. Game day? I take Asher to his game, then find a nearby hike. We hike until halftime. I go back to the game to check on Asher and to see if he needs his inhaler, and to sneak in a quick high five. Noé and I go find a treat around the neighborhood during the second half, and then come back and watch the final five minutes of the game. I try and cheer extra hard so Asher will forget I'm not watching him the other 55 minutes.

I got a lucky break today. The stadium had a whole section of empty seating near the field where Asher was playing. Noé happily began stomping up and down the aluminum stairs, "thump...thump.... thump....splash...splash...splash." I found a wet bleacher and sat down.

Asher doesn't have a pro contract, or probably even a college scholarship, in his soccer future. But, for the first time all season, I really watched him play. And I was in complete awe.

His legs are growing and he has serious speed. When did that happen?

His coach is a yeller. But instead of getting down on himself, my sensitive kid kept his head high and did his best to follow his coach's instructions.

When he had a decent shot on goal, he push passed the ball over to his teammate, who had an even better look at the goal.

On the sideline, he cheered hard and gave out high fives to all of his teammates.

Today, they lost by three goals. It was indeed a rare loss for the Gold Division Lucky Chickens. Yes, that is their team name. The very best thing is when the coach shouts "Hey, Chickens!" at the top of his lungs and eleven tween boys turn their heads in unison.

But Asher hustled and ran down balls and slide-tackled opposing players until the final whistle blew.

The Lucky Chickens have played together for three years. They are not the most athletic or even the most skilled group, but their coach has taught them to work together within a system that enhances their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses. It is soccer's version of the Triangle Offense adapted to a group of rowdy, amateur and sometimes immature 11 year olds. The kids have bought into this system as their wins have piled up. They all have their roles, they all understand the rules of the system. There are no stars, truly. Everyone's role is equally important. A goal scored is a team success, a goal given up is a team failure. They win with grace. And today, they lost with grace. When luck is not on the Chickens' side, they identify the problem, and fix it. On the field. Together.

These are lessons that Asher, or anyone else, won't learn from a book or in a classroom and definitely not in front of a screen. Sometimes, we need to outsource the most important learning opportunities for our kids. And sometimes the best source of these life lessons is a crazy, hollering coach and his flock of tween chicks. Even if it means our evenings are spent in traffic and our dinners are cold and our weekends are booked.

I think I forgot all of this until today. When I got to watch my own Lucky Chicken and found some new perspective.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Namaste, October

September is always insane in our house thanks to back-to-school, the start of Seahawks season, and my own work schedule ramping up in a big way. But once October hits, our family life tends to find a rhythm.  I woke up to a foggy and rainy October 1st morning today, ready to embrace autumn and the steady but predictable beat of our days. This despite my 6:45am Saturday morning wakeup call for Asher's 8am ultimate frisbee game. Why????….

Overall, we've had a good start to our school year. This has been a winning stretch for our little family. I feel like we are all thriving in our individual ways. Here are ten quick hits from our last month:

1. Noé has the most awesome teacher and staff in his classroom this year. And there is so much good happening in there every day. I am so pleased. I feel like a drooling fangirl every time I go to his school to speak with his teacher. I have almost forgotten the nine-month long migraine that was his 6th grade year.

2. Thanks to his awesome school setup, and a later school start time, Noé loves going to school this year. He has been getting up before Asher in the mornings and has been eating a good breakfast every morning. These are both alternate-universe phenomenons in Casa Guzman.

3. Asher's K-8 school is living up to its hippy hype. As he enters his classroom each morning, he has to tell his teacher "Namaste" and touch palms with her. They plot their mood on a grid. There is a lot of journaling. But, his rag-tag class of ten 6th graders have all become great friends and it is a very diverse and supportive learning environment. I try to hold my tongue.

4. I received an email from Asher's math teacher the first week of school introducing himself. He mentioned that he is calling him "Buzz", per his request. I am completely baffled. Asher has never been called Buzz by anyone. He just isn't a "Buzz." My mind starts wandering and wondering if he is trying to create a new identity at a new school with a new group of people? Do I know the real Asher, I mean Buzz???

A couple hours later, his teacher emails back with a whoops….wrong kid….explanation. We call him "Buzz" around the house now!

5. All transportation departments of large school systems have their issues, especially at the beginning of the school year. But Asher told me a funny/crazy story about the bus that many of his friends ride to school. The driver had just moved to Seattle the night before and drove her first route that morning. She got completely lost and the bus ended up at Seattle Center next to the Space Needle, which is a good four miles or so (and a LOT of Seattle traffic) away from his school. The kids were telling her she was going the wrong way but she kept insisting she knew what she was doing. Some of the kindergartners were crying. Finally, a school vehicle (the bus police?) arrived and the bus had to follow it to the school. They were two hours late when they finally arrived at the school.

6. Noé got off the bus at school one morning before his teacher could meet him. A massive manhunt around the middle school grounds ensued. Noé was found in his classroom, sitting at his desk, looking at a book. I suggested that maybe it was time for him to go independently to class each morning.

7. I decided NOT to hire another instructor to help me with my side STEM business, so I am teaching five LEGO robotics classes this fall. Trying to remember five classes worth of kids names when I only see them for an hour each week is the worst kind of Memory game ever. Those little buggers get really pissy when you call them by the wrong name.

8. Our friendly neighborhood heroin addict jumped out of the bushes as Asher and I were walking to his bus stop one morning. He started yelling incoherently and lunging towards us. Luckily traffic in both directions saw what was happening and stopped so we could cross the street immediately.

9. Ed's press pass for the Seahawks has 'No Autographs' written in bold letters on the front. There is an ongoing debate in our house about who is not supposed to give autographs…. Ed or the Seahawks.

10. Ed inherited the Seattle pro sports teams this fall with several of them on the verge of the playoffs (namely the Sounders, the Storm and the Mariners). We say a lot of prayers in our house that sound something like…."Please let the Mariners lose tonight so they'll be further away from playoff contention so Papi can spend next Saturday with us." We basically want them all to lose, except the Seahawks, because they make the paper a lot of money.

Update: The Mariners lost last night and are safely out of playoff contention! We obviously have some sway with God.

My kids are proving something to me that I've failed to believe myself. The middle school years don't have to be awful. In fact, they can be pretty awesome. I am taking their lead on this as I watch them learn and grow and change faster than ever.