Friday, October 24, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Billy H



Billy and Asher.  Golden Gardens Park, Seattle WA, Aug 2014

Flipping mindlessly through my Facebook newsfeed on the school playground waiting for the release bell to ring, I had quite a shock when I recognized the face of the sweet-natured, curly-haired boy Asher had befriended at Golden Gardens Park last summer.

The post was an FBI alert from the Seattle Times.  Billy had been abducted by his father.

I frantically texted Ed at work, sending him the photos I had taken of him and Asher.  We know this kid!  We can help him!  But, it turns out, we haven't been able to help him much at all.

The weather was spectacular here in Seattle throughout August, our days were mostly free, and the beach was less than two miles from our front door.  The boys and I got into a daily rhythm of heading to the beach in the mid-morning, just as the fog was lifting and before the crowds arrived.  Billy approached the boys one day to play….and from that time forward they always looked for (and usually found) each other.  Billy was usually alone playing on the beach.  Only once did I see his dad, a fair distance away on his cell phone.  He didn't approach me and I left him alone to talk.

The boys played in the water, built cool stuff in the sand, covered each other up in sand, flew kites…all the standard beach stuff.  I tried to ask Billy a few personal questions, but he was not very interested in talking. I figured he was having too much fun playing to want to stop and chat with a boring adult.

He did tell us that he and his dad were sailing along the Pacific Ocean this summer on his dad's boat, which was currently moored next door to Golden Gardens.  He said he was from California (perhaps he had lived there previously, but we found out later he lived with his mom in Pennsylvania).   And he played Minecraft on the boat.  And that was all we knew about Billy, but we were all amazed, and a little jealous, of his grand summer sea adventure!

Did I see some red flags?  Of course.  Honestly, one of the reasons why I brought the boys to the beach so often was that I didn't want Billy to be alone.  I wouldn't personally allow my nine year old to play alone on the beach for hours on end, and I would guess most other parents would not allow that either.  And, at the very least, if I was Billy's father, I would definitely want to meet the family who kept him occupied most days.  But Billy looked well-cared for, and he played easily and happily with my kids.  He could return back to his boat, a very short distance away, at any time.

Also factoring into this whole situation, in my mind, was a slew of news stories of parents being charged criminally for allowing their older children to be in parks, and other public places, unsupervised.  Like many others, I felt this was sending a dangerous precedent of interference of parental rights, and further frightening parents out of teaching their children independence, an important life skill.  I didn't want to "tattle" on a fellow parent.

And the reality is that Billy's father had broken no laws during the time we had contact with Billy.  He still had legal custody of Billy during the month of August.  It was not until early September, when he failed to return Billy to his mother in Pennsylvania, that he was charged with kidnapping.

I'm not self-important enough to think that I could have "saved" Billy last summer, but I do have one haunting regret.  I wish I would have forced the issue and met his father.  Perhaps something in my brain and my senses would have clicked that this was not a good situation for Billy, that he might be in imminent danger.  Perhaps I would have tattled.  And likely, it would have done no good, but perhaps it would have caused a reaction that would have sent Billy back to his mother before his father's fateful decision to disregard the law.

Immediately after my Facebook discovery, we did our due diligence and contacted the FBI, telling them everything we knew about Billy.  Ed enlisted the help of his photo editors at the Times and sent the FBI one of our photos of Billy, which is now being distributed by the FBI in their efforts to find him.  I reluctantly told Asher the news about his friend, in hopes that it would spark a memory of Billy revealing where he and his father were headed next on their boat. (Asher doesn't remember, and likely never had that conversation with Billy).

It took a lot of explanation for Asher to understand how a father could "kidnap" his own child.  It is a strange concept, for sure.  I reassure Asher constantly that even though Billy was taken away, he is not being harmed.  I have to reassure myself as well, and hope it is the reality.  That Billy is on his grand adventure on the high seas, having the time of his life, and oblivious to the legal fallout of his father's actions back on land.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014

One week until the first day of school.  Hurray!  I've been looking longingly at the boys' new backpacks hanging up in their closet every day for the past month.

This morning Asher and I biked down to Green Lake so he could attend soccer camp on the pristine green soccer fields next to the lake.  Then I came home and worked remotely while Ed took care of Noe.  At noon I picked Asher up from camp by bike and we stopped at the library to collect more books and drop off others before heading home.

We all ate a quick lunch together, and then headed out to Mercer Island to play at the Adventure Playground.  This is essentially a forest where kids have access to all kinds of building materials and can build, construct, imagine, and explore.  The kids had a great time playing and pounding nails all afternoon!  On our way home, we stopped by a home in the Wallingford neighborhood that hosts a year-round 'soccer shoe bank' on their side patio.  We found some cleats that don't pinch Asher's feet and I will add his old shoes to the bank next time I am in the neighborhood again.

After a seafood dinner, Ed took the boys for a walk down to the lake while I worked on getting ready for some upcoming Lego robotics classes.  I enjoyed the cool breeze coming in through the windows and the rare silence in the house while I worked.  There is just a hint of fall in the evening air and we haven't seen any real rain in weeks.  Such a beautiful time of year here in the PNW!

Before bed, I worked with Noe on his literacy skills and using his communication device.  When I told him we were finished for the evening, he requested to continue working.  This doesn't happen very often and he probably just wanted an opportunity to earn more fruit snack rewards, but I'll take it as a win.  Now Ed and I are settling down to finish our 'Mad Men' marathon.   Just a few more days before the Seahawks officially open their season, so I'll try and enjoy these last couple of evenings together.

#LovingtheSeattleLife

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Giraffes By Asher, Age 9

Asher has been working on completing requirements for his Cub Scout Bear badge this summer. I'm not a fan of the BSA program, so this is something he does on his own, without any push from me.   Someday he will understand the politics behind it all, but for now, he enjoys going on adventures with his friends and the refreshments at den meetings.  And I do see the appeal…he likely isn't going to get a chance to shoot a BB gun with Ed or myself.

Anyways, one of the many badge requirements was to research and write up a short report on any subject.  I decided to repost his report on our family blog because it is such a cute representation of him at age nine:  Bright, engaging, full of all kinds of useless facts and righteous indignation.   And always looking for a laugh.  It will be fun to read this a few years from now……

GIRAFFES

Here are some amazing facts about my favorite animal, giraffes.

First, giraffes don't sleep much.  You're probably thinking, "oh my gosh giraffes are gonna get sick after staying up till midnight," but they do that because of those mean lions and tigers out in the savanna.  As you can see, if they sleep, the tigers are gonna sneak up on them and eat them so some giraffes died because of that.  The ones that stayed up till 4 o'clock in the morning survived.* In fact, they still do that at the zoo even though they're safe and far away from the lions and tigers, I hope.  This is no excuse to as your parents to stay up and watch TV!

Second, a giraffe's neck is up to 6 feet, 7 inches.  THAT IS NOT FAIR!  Why can't mother nature create us like that!  Long necks, oh yeah!  I could get my cereal from the top of the fridge because of that instead of climbing up and getting it.  We'd have to make our doors extra tall for our heads to fit in, too.  Alright, let's stop talking about that and talk about why giraffes have long necks.  That's because they love to eat leaves and where do they come from ?  Trees, of course.  So they have long necks to reach up and eat the leaves.  You probably knew that.  It's not like Mother Nature would put our food in the trees to reach.

Third, giraffe's skin is brownish-orangish and white.  I like my skin how it is so there's no point in changing it.  Their skin is that color because when they're born, they start off white.  Then they start changing color to brownish-organish and white.  I really don't want to say that a million times.  I'm gonna say white instead!  And for some reason they're white.  I like their color.  Do you think they could blend in with nature?

Fourth, many giraffes live in Africa.  That's pretty obvious.  Above, I said lions and tigers and savanna so you can see they live in Africa.  I heard in Africa they have mosquito nets around their beds so they don't get bitten by mosquitos.  But that has nothing to do with giraffes.

Fifth, baby giraffes are called calfs.  I love baby giraffes.  They're so cute.  I love them.  I kinda talked about them above.  Read on.

And finally, giraffes are common hunter targets.  I don't like hunters.  Why do they have to kill giraffes?  Why can't they get lions and tigers instead of giraffes?  They use the body as meat, tail hair as fly swatters, and hair for necklaces and bracelets.  Why can't thy go to the store and buy them?  LOL

I hope you enjoyed this helpful, and crazy report on giraffes :) :) :)
 


*We talked about natural selection on our last trip to the zoo.  I guess he kind-of got it?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Autism's Second Mourning

A new friend shared this term with me.  She is a BCBA and has worked with kids on the autism spectrum.  I've pondered our own 'Second Mourning' a lot since she mentioned it offhand while helping me diffuse Noe's very public meltdown.  I've decided that if I ever write a book, this will be the title.  It will be the anti-miracle autism book.

The First Mourning occurs after the initial autism diagnosis.  You immediately realize that your child's path is going to be different.   But there is hope!  Autism therapies, special diets, brain studies.  You read the miracle books.  You convince yourself that once you can get your child the proper help, he will come out of this relatively unscathed.

So you devote all of your time, money, and patience to this pursuit.  Uproot your family's entire life by finding new jobs and moving to a place with better services and schools and the hope of an insurance mandate. You lure the best therapists to your home ABA program, make sure his IEP goals are carried over at home.  You analyze daily data from therapy sessions, laminate PECs and visual schedules at ungodly hours.  Even a quick outing to the neighborhood grocery store becomes a targeted learning experience.

While I don't want to belittle the progress Noe has made and the amazing work of his therapists and teachers, I think all can agree that we haven't had the outcome we hoped for nine years after his diagnosis.

And as a result, a dark gloom lingers over our family life.  The knowledge that we failed to save Noe from his autism, lurking in every shadow.  That maybe if we'd worked harder, spent more money, tried a more unconventional approach to his therapies, we would be looking forward to college prep rather than life skills, varsity sports rather than Special Olympics.

This Second Mourning is keeping expectations high for Noe, maintaining his therapies and constantly looking for ways to increase his skills and quality of life, while trying to preserve our finances, our sanity, our family.  Remembering that we have another typically developing son who has spent his summers as a "peer model" at autism socialization camps, and way too many afternoons sitting in appointment rooms.  My baby boy, who learned to both walk and read in the waiting room of Noe's speech therapist.  Second Mourning means making sure Asher has room to spread his own wings and is not defined by his brother's autism.

Second Mourning is also worrying incessantly about the future.  Where will Noe live?  What will he do when he ages out of the school system?  Will anyone hire him?  Who will care for him when we pass away?

This Second Mourning has been long, drawn out, and unpredictably painful.  One day I think I've made it to Acceptance, that I've cried my last autism tears, and then something happens… Noe throws a tantrum on the city bus and we have to get off, or he tosses his iPad into his bath, or a stranger comes up and asks if he's a "retard"... that catapults me back into the painful realization of our situation.

I remember the day I transferred the money we had saved in Noe's college fund to Asher.  Despite all of our other Noe-related expenses, we stashed away a very small amount each month for this fund.  It was our Hope Fund. My voice cracked over the phone as I explained the transfer of funds to the college fund account manager guy.  He was sympathetic and helpful, probably assuming that Noe had died.  Noe was not dead but we were holding a funeral for our own dreams and anticipating a more realistic future for him.   That was a Second Mourning.

Life is complex, nuanced, beautiful and terrible all at a once, and that lurking black shadow is just one layer of our lives.  Along with the constant worry is constant joy.

Last night I found Noe snuggled between my bed sheets, hiding from his bedtime.  When I had told him earlier to get into his pajamas, he had stripped to his underwear and promptly forgot the second half of the request.  Instead of scolding him, I giggled with him under the covers, wrapping my arms around his soft brown skin, tracing his sharp angles and bony contours with my fingers and whispering sillies into his ear.  He grabbed for my hand just before he fell asleep.

Before I had children, I recall wondering what it would be like to raise a disabled child.  I knew that I would love any child of mine, disabled or not, but my focus was so narrow, and my life experience so limited, that I couldn't completely comprehend how that would come to be.  But it is not hard to love Noe.  I love Noe because he is.  Because he is mine.  Because he loves me and needs me.

I see such emotional maturity and compassion in Asher, surely an unintended consequence of his life beside Noe.  A life lesson that Ed and I could have never instilled on our own. Noe's teacher told me that Asher comes up to Noe's lunch table every day to say hello to his brother and to give him a hug.  I am so proud of him.

Ed and I have not won, but are fighting the autism war together.  We are old autism war buddies with stories and battle wounds, true partners, confidantes, and through it all….still madly in love with one another.  If I am Noe's advocate in the community and his teacher, Ed is his peaceful beacon.  When Ed is home there is a calm in Noe and in our home.  One that I have never been able to replicate on my own.

The thing to remember amidst the fear of the Second Mourning:  Everything has always worked out.  When Noe was first diagnosed and I read about kids on the spectrum, I feared Noe's autism would keep our lives permanently trapped within the walls of our home. Now we are barely home.  I couldn't envision preschool, elementary school, moving cross-country before they happened.  And Noe has always adapted, and even thrived in new situations in his very own way.

There will always be mourning and there will always be joy….and we will continue to move forward.

Monday, May 12, 2014

mother's day 2014

Sunday afternoon at Casa Guzman.  Ed is working, so it's just me and the kiddos….

Asher: Mom, I have to give you the Mother's Day present I made at school for you.

Me:  Ok

Asher:  It's in my backpack.  Where did you put my backpack?  (Looking frantically)  Help me find my backpack!

We look for the backpack and I find it….in the closet where it typically lives on non-school days.

Asher: (Dumping all the contents of his backpack on the floor of my living room).  Huh?  I can't find it!  It should be in here!  Did you throw it away?

Me: No.  Why would I do that?

We look through the backpack and it isn't there.

Me:  Did you put it in your coat pocket?

Asher: Maybe.  Mom, where is my coat?  Where did you put it?  Did I leave it at school?  (He dumps all of the coats out of the closet and onto the floor trying to find his….)

Meanwhile, Noe has used my distraction to put a barstool on top of the couch and is attempting to climb up on top of it and sit…..

We did a have a lovely evening walk around the neighborhood together.  The weather was warm and inviting.  My intention was to just walk a few blocks before dinner, but we ended up outside until after bedtime and then ate a quick, late dinner.

I never wanted kids growing up.  Sometime after college, but before I met Ed, I warmed up to the idea. Then we vacillated between being a family of four or a family of six.   Autism made that decision for us, and four feels perfect.  I strive to be a better person for these two - I don't want my actions or behavior to ever disappoint them.



Saturday, May 10, 2014

confessions

1.  I have not one but three top secret chocolate stashes around my house.

2.  When walking into my kids' elementary school, I used to wait for people to come up to me and say that I couldn't possibly have kids old enough to attend elementary school.  I couldn't figure out why no one ever said that.  Until this year.  When I realized I look EXACTLY like a mom of elementary school aged kids!

3.  Growing up, I notoriously and unapologetically drank milk straight from the carton.  But as soon as I moved out and lived on my own with my very own carton of milk, I stopped.

4.  When I was in elementary school, I would hide my clarinet behind the shed to go play basketball with the 5th grade boys instead of attend early morning band practice like I was supposed to.

5.  My youngest child has a VERY full piggy bank.  I don't give him an allowance, but he does make me give him a quarter every time he hears me swear (a dollar for the really bad words).

6.  I "borrow" from that piggy bank when I'm short on cash.  He is the only one with cash in the house!

7.   If someone I just met asks me what my husband does for a living, I sometimes make up a vague mundane job description (i.e. he works downtown, in an office) to avoid a long laborious conversation about the Seahawks.  

8.  My youngest child spent most of his first few months of life sleeping in his car seat on the floor of the bathroom in our one-bedroom NYC apartment.  It was the only quiet place available.  I constantly worried that he would end up with a curved spine.

9.  I first thought the "small craft center" near our neighborhood lake was an arts and crafts center rather than a boat center.

10.  I hated babysitting my younger siblings growing up.  I still don't love babysitting other people's kids.   On more than one occasion, I put my youngest…then toddler….sister in our rabbit hutch out back so I could play basketball but still keep her alive.

11.  I love my husband and I'm grateful for the support we received when we married, but if I had my wedding to do over again it would be much smaller and more intimate.

12.  I guesstimate my contact lens prescription and then order my contacts online to avoid seeing an eye doctor.  I will pretty much do anything to avoid going to a doctor

13.  A couple weeks ago I told my husband that I was going to a PTA meeting.  I walked right past the
school to Ben and Jerry's for free cone day.

14.  I am HORRIBLE with directions.  Living in NYC pre-GPS, I mostly relied on toddler Noe to help me locate the nearest subway station.  He had a great knack for finding them.

15.  When my DC neighbors did not recycle, it would fill me with homicidal rage.  Sometimes I would sort their trash myself in the dark of night.  Some I refused to talk to after frequent violations.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

middle school angst part 2

Note: This blog is turning into a series of Asherisms.  I'll try and write a real post again soon!

Tonight, before bed, I mentioned to Asher that in a few years, he can have his own room downstairs. (We have a small guest quarters downstairs with a separate entrance. I am nervous for the boys to have their room downstairs because we live in a densely populated neighborhood…. so the boys share a room upstairs next to our bedroom).  

I thought he would be excited.

"NO WAY!"  he said.  "Only teenagers who drink alcohol want their own bedroom away from their parents.  I don't want to be the kind of teenager who has to drink alcohol."

Asher thinks it over and then says, "Maybe Noe can move downstairs."