Monday, April 26, 2010

In Tania's Words

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I've asked my friend Tania to write a little bit about how autism has touched her life. Here is her story.

Going food shopping. Going to the park. Driving to school. You know, the common tasks we all do. It may be just as simple as loading your kids in the car, but for me, it's got to be setup as a plan. "Where are we going?" "How long until we're there?" "Which way are we going to go?" Those are just some simple (daily) questions I get asked from my cute 5-year old, who is on the autism spectrum. When he requests his favorite Curious George listening CD in the car, it's not by title, it's by the disk number and track number: 3-2. He has memorized not only the disk numbers/track numbers from the Curious George CD, but he can tell me on any of my disks in my car, the song title and the disk number/track number to THOSE disks in my car.

"Where are we going?" "How long until we're there?" "Which way are we going to go?" Those questions may seem very innocent, but I do admit, after a while, the same questions over and over again can be draining. If I go a different way to the store, I have to explain why. If he doesn't want to go to the store, I have to explain why we have to go, and then tell him the sequence of events of what will happen AFTER we go to the store. I think I've trained myself so much that it's second nature to me. Other people may just think I'm a good planner if they overhear me talking to my kids in the store.

My 5-year old, despite being on the spectrum, is incredibly gifted. When he was 4 years old, he could count to 1000. Not only that, but he could count by 2's and 3's. He's reading at a 2nd grade level, and can help me cook, because he can read instructions. He's also so very cuddly and just has a sunshine personality. Seriously, this boy can brighten anyone's day by his amazing smile. We're extremely lucky. It's that thing called Autism that can get in the way sometimes....

First, let's talk about Autism. It's a biological disorder that affects approximately 1 out of 100 children. Autism Speaks ( states there are findings that boys are more susceptible to autism, with 1 out of 70 boys who are diagnosed each year. And the cause? Well, there are different theories out there: genetics, environmental toxins... others believe that vaccinations have made children autistic. This is the area where research is being conducted and, in my opinion, needs to be heavily supported: ; As for as symptoms to look out for, there are very specific areas: Communication Difficulties, Social Symptoms, and Repetative Behaviors: ; Usually kids on the spectrum speak later (or some do not speak at all), have little/sporadic eye contact with individuals, have difficulty regulating their bodies (sensory processing disorder:, and have other symptoms as well. Early intervention is so critical with these children. I strongly recommend seeking as much treatment as possible- as often as possible- when your child is young. I remember traveling 45-minutes away, 3-days a week for about a year to a speech therapist to help our son speak. This was when insurance didn't cover a dime.
What may be an everyday, typical task for you-- well, it takes me a little longer with a little bit more explaining to do. When you're off with the kids going to soccer practice, I'm off with my 5-year old taking him to Occupational Therapy to help him regulate his body (since his body has a difficult time processing things that are so common to our us -- touches to our skin, food textures, etc. To give an even better example of Sensory Processing Disorder- take something as giving a hug. Someone who has a sensory processing disorder may not realize they are squeezing the other person so hard that it hurts, since that person's body may be under-registering that type of touch.) On the weekends I also take my son to a Social Group, where he needs help understanding social cues and how to interact with his peers. We're so fortunate to have another little boy who is 3 years old who apparently is like a therapist for my oldest son. He engages his big brother into playing chase and board games. It's truly amazing to see how much my oldest son has accomplished.... from barely speaking at age 3 to now, where he makes jokes that has us laughing. He is now on a typical soccer team, and we're already planning summer programming to ensure he is constantly involved in different activities and engages with other children - to help him remain comfortable around his peers.

We're so fortunate that our son is mild on the Autism Spectrum, as other families have it much harder. I cannot even imagine how life is for other families. But what I can say is that it's an expensive, exhausting disorder, that you can probably only comprehend if you're living with Autism, everyday, just like we do.

Proud Mommy of Alex (5) and Aiden (3.5)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bubba's Story: Part Four

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We've put in a lot of work with Bubba.  We've made sacrifices and struggled but I have to say that beyond the screaming and beyond the sensory issues and beyond any struggle that we've faced with autism so far, the hardest thing to face is the lack of understanding from people.

Oh, people THINK they know about autism...but they don't.  The hardest thing to endure by far is the judgment.  Here's the perfect example.  Bubba has trouble processing language so he often takes a few extra seconds to understand what people say to him.  Often times, people will ask him a question like, "how do you like Kindergarten?"  He will pause and stare at them, the wheels turning in his head.  He's processing what they said and gathering the words to answer.  But sadly, people walk away from him just as he begins to speak.  And they don't just walk away, they give him a look that says, "something is wrong with you."  I've had people tell me to "teach my child manners" or comment about "what is wrong with him?" 

All around him is a world that just doesn't understand; the bus driver who doesn't understand that a loud bus can be difficult (not impossible) for him, the school who wants to disprove his diagnosis so that they don't have to provide services, parents who think that having my child in the classroom means that their child won't get a good enough education so I should just "put him somewhere else",  the kids who scowl when he screams if the sun hits his eyes, the adults who purse their lips and insist that "he looks okay so there must not really be anything wrong with him."  And it doesn't matter how many times I tell people about the autism, when it comes down to it, they still relate his behavior to his being a bad kid instead of his autism.  Here's the thing, Bubba is actually a great kid, so what we deal with is infinitesimal to what others face.  Bubba may be viewed as rude or "weird" but what about the kid who is spinning or spitting? What about the kid who can't help but gnaw on the tire swing at the playground?  What about the kid who can't stop flapping?

There is an incredible movie out, originally made by HBO called "Temple Grandin".  It's about a woman with autism and her life struggles which she overcomes by using her autism to her advantage. She finds a way to maneuver in the world.  If you ever get the opportunity to see this movie, please do.  It's inspiring and incredible and will make you feel empowered.  Howie and I will actually be meeting the real Temple Grandin this weekend in Hartford and look forward to having the opportunity to shake her hand because she exemplifies hope.  She's a living, breathing example that you don't have to cure autism to overcome it.  In the movie her mother made sure to tell everyone that Temple was "different not less" and if anything that is the one thing that I wish people would understand about our kids.  They are different, NOT LESS! I wish that everyone knew how much autistic people struggle in order to live and survive in our world.  Because if everyone understood their efforts, they would see so much more than flapping and spinning.

Our story is far from over.  Right now Bubba is in Kindergarten and we've learned that repetition is the key for him.  It doesn't matter what we repeat, just so long as we do it a lot.  He's at the top of his class in terms of his reading and writing and is improving his social skills.  His last report card rated him as "presently meeting expectations."  This doesn't mean that he's out of the woods.  There are still episodes that worry me, new symptoms that creep up time to time.  But so far so good. This is not without a lot of work on the part of many people but it's obviously yielding great results.  I'm hopeful for Bubba's future and I have a lot of confidence in him.

Please know that compassion goes a long way for families.  Today, one in 110 children is diagnosed with autism so these kids are everywhere.  You WILL run into them at grocery stores or at restaurants.  And while you won't officially know whether a child has autism or not, don't be so quick to judge a child's behavior on their parent's lack of skills.  Because it could just be that those parents are trying the very best they can with the situation that can bring you to your knees.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bubba's Story: Part Three

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My strategy was simple: repetition.  I had tried this before but not knowing the ins and outs of autism, I did it wrong.  You see, I had tried many different strategies and if they didn't work, I would try something else.  Because that makes sense, doesn't it? If something doesn't work, you move on.  Thing is, that doesn't work for people with autism.

I decided to tackle one thing at a time and simply repeat as many times as necessary.  I also buttoned down the hatches at home.  I started restricting his diet but only in small amounts because he was averse to so many things.  I simply eliminated small things (like sugar) to see if that made any difference.  It did.  I also arranged things better for him.  We labeled things with pictures and created a structured routine at home.  We were more aware of sensory stimulation and decided to simply keep him away from things that would set him off.  He didn't like the sun, so we got him sunglasses.  He didn't like scratchy clothes so we bought him only consignment stuff that had been worn to softness.  He didn't like certain sounds, so we got him a set of ear muffs that would muffle things for him if we went to loud places.  This totally worked and calmed him down significantly.  We also continued to work on words, except we only picked a handful instead of going through many at a time.  We just tried to find what worked and rolled with it.  I know it all seems like common sense but it wasn't until we had a full understanding of autism that we could even remotely come up with any sort of strategy.  We continued to reinforce the basics: making him give eye contact, encouraging correct speech and eliminating triggers.  We also had to sacrifice a great deal of us being able to go out.  We didn't go on vacation, go out to eat, go to the movies, basically do anything because it was too difficult for him.  It was a small sacrifice for his peace of mind.  I also began to give him vitamin supplements and took him to a chiropractor for weekly visits.  Who knows if this worked but I had read a study where they found many children to gain many functions with the help of chiropractic.  I wasn't above it so I decided to give it a shot.  I can't say definitively whether the chiropractic alone did anything but over that coming summer with the combined efforts of diet changes, constant work at home, behavior modifications, chiropractic and special education, he made HUGE improvements.

The first thing we decided to focus on was riding his bike.  He had desperately wanted to learn to do it but had such struggles.  He couldn't coordinate his hands and feet and the bike would tumble underneath him.  When that happened he would throw it to the ground, kick it and then start screaming at the top of his lungs and run off, sometimes falling down on the ground and hitting himself.  This had to stop.  As soon as summer came along, I started taking the kids outside for two to three hours a day and during that time I would work with him.  Every time things wouldn't work, I would make him look at me and I would tell him to say, "I need help."  I'm not exaggerating when I say we had to do this thousands of times.  It was not uncommon to say it up to two hundred times a day.  But do you know what happened? After about six weeks of doing this every single day, repeating the same thing over and over until I thought my brain would go numb, he got it.  Not only did the practice teach him to handle the bike, when he did fall, he would simply look over and shout, "I NEED HELP!" instead of screaming and crying.  This meant no fits, no frustration or exasperation for either of us and it was incredible. We had given him the words, a means to communicate and he finally learned it.  He made the connection that he could alleviate his frustration by saying those three little words.  In the end I would only have to raise my eyebrows and he would immediately stop crying and say "I need help."  What a difference!

Next, I decided to tackle potty training. Because I'm crazy.  And masochistic.  He wouldn't go anywhere near the bathroom.  It's understandable because it's kind of a sensory nightmare.  It's typically colder in there.  It echoes so the sound is off.  It's wet and stinky and bright.  I removed on of the lights from overhead which made it dimmer and made it warmer in there.  I also tried to warm the toilet seat, never flush while he was in there and never ran the faucet.  This seemed to calm him a bit but he would still scream bloody murder every time I put him on the potty.  I put him on every 15 minutes, for five minutes and he would scream for the entire time. Eventually I lost my hearing.

After about a week, he stopped screaming but would squirm and scratch.  It was at this time that I had to break down and take him somewhere because we couldn't stay home forever!  I took him to get the oil changed in our car and to the supermarket and to the post office.  And no matter where we went, I took our little potty and made him sit on it every 15 minutes.  He sat on there in parking lots, on the side of the road and in many businesses where we would come out and people would stare at me in disgust because he had just been screaming for five minutes.   I did this for eight weeks and nearly lost my mind.  It was incredibly difficult.  I can't tell you how many days, Howie came home and found me in tears.

Bubba has been holding his pee and poop for nearly two months.  Every once in a while, he would slip and pee in the potty.  It was just enough reinforcement to get me through another week.  But the poop? He refused, choosing to go in his night time diapers instead.  Eventually, I found that he would poop if I bribed him with dinosaur fruit snacks and slowly but surely, he started going on the potty.  Over two and half months had passed of me putting him on that damn potty every 15-20 minutes.  I was exhausted but triumphant!

We backed up all that we were doing with outside help as well.  One of Howie's co-workers was dating a girl who was a special educator and since she was looking for experience and we were looking for help, things worked out.  She came every week and helped him with his fine motor skills, language and comprehension.  He LOVED her.  In fact, he completely fell in love with her and would get giddy every time he saw her car roll up our driveway.  For whatever reason, he just clicked with her and learned a great deal from her as well!

Somewhere during the course of the summer, he had taken a liking to sidewalk chalk.  I would draw giant dinosaurs for him and he loved it.  Eventually, he started drawing as well and became better and better at it.  He also began copying letters, including spelling out his name and when he got good at it, I began showing him how to do it on giant dry eraser boards and finally on paper.  By the end of the summer I was weary but Bubba had learned a couple of handfuls of words and phrases, had begun writing the beginning of his name, was drawing and manipulating pictures, could ride a bike and was completely potty trained.  It was a very productive few months in this house!

I look back on things and realize this was the turning point for him.  He still had a long way to go but that summer, as difficult as it was, had been the foundation of his success.  There was still so much he couldn't do; but it was the beginning of great things to come.

Read Part One
Read Part Two

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Three Days, Two Teeth

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They started to get loose back in December and we had hoped that Birdie could sing "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" but alas, they proved stubborn.  We encouraged her to wiggle them but she's forgetful.   Finally, last Sunday, while eating breakfast, one broke loose.  What was she eating, Licha? Was it an apple? A carrot? A bowl of rocks?  Because you would think that it would take something tough to knock out a tooth.  But no, it was a piece of bread. Bread.

It dangled for a few hours until finally, we put a piece of string around it.  She was too scared for us to yank it out so Howie just held on to it and at one point she jerked her head back and out it popped.  Within minutes the tooth next to it was loose and had dropped a good quarter of an inch.  But that one proved more stubborn and instead protruded from her head, making her look a lot like Nanny McPhee.
 Here's the dangly tooth
See the similarity.  About the tooth I mean.

And then a couple of days later? She tied a dinosaur to her tooth, dropped it and the result?
  A toothless grin. 

Her adult teeth are already poking through so she won't be gummy for long.  But I have to say, this is pretty darned adorable.  And the lisp makes me want to squeeze her cheeks every five minutes which is why she's covered in cheek bruises.

Poor tooth fairy.  She's now broke.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Autism Awareness

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Thanks guys! For all of your support and kind words and just for understanding.  I know it's hard because as much as I share on here (and oh my goodness have I told you a lot of personal information), it is impossible for me to write every detail.  Mostly because they zoom past me at such a break neck speed that it is impossible to document and also because I don't know how healthy that would be.

And the fact that you would still support me even though you don't know all of the pertinent details and that you would have faith in our ability to make good decisions, you know...that means a lot to a girl.  It just does.  So thanks.

Now, I know I've promised you a bunch of information on Autism this month and I'm sure you'll understand when I say I've had a lot on my plate this last week so I didn't get to write anything.  I want to share Bubba's story with you.  You know, my Bubba.  The one who just today had one of those days where we say, "yep...that's the autism speaking."  He couldn't find his library book before school and even though all of looked for it, we couldn't track it down.  He melted down.  Like, a melt down that I haven't seen in months!  He could not function after that and struggled with everything.  He made it on the bus but 5 minutes into class he was in the nurse's office because when autistic children get stuck on something, it's exceptionally hard for them to un-stick themselves. 

Luckily, Howie did find his book and I drove it to school where I found him listless on the nurse's exam table. He was unable to function in class and couldn't continue so it was a good thing I brought the book because his world came back into focus and he was able to move forward with his day.  This just goes to show that while he is nearly asymptomatic, there are times when it rears it's ugly head and the truth is, it will be like that for the rest of his life.

So anyway, I don't have time to go into his whole story right now but I wanted to share with you guys a little bit from a book called Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew.

This is a terrific resource for anyone who knows a child with autism but really, it's something that every person should know because 1 in 110 children live with autism so you will encounter them in your life.

1.  I am first and foremost a child.  I have autism.  I am not primarily autistic.  We always make a point to say that Bubba has autism.  We try to never say that "Bubba is autistic" because that isn't all that he is.

2.  My sensory perceptions are disordered.  This means that the ordinary sights, sounds, smells , tastes and touches of every day that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me.  The very environment in which I life often seems hostile.  I may appear withdrawn or belligerent to you but I am really just trying to defend myself.  A simple trip to the grocery store may be hell for me.

3.  Please remember to distinguish between won't ( I choose not to) and can't (I'm not able to).  It isn't that I don't listen to instructions.  It's that I can't understand you.  When you call to me from across the room, this is what I hear: "*&^%$#%^&*, Bubba."  Instead, approach me and speak directly to me in plain words.  One of the hardest things to witness is how Bubba processes language.  When people ask him questions, he hesitates slightly as he sorts it out.  Sadly, people walk away from him before he is able to respond.  It's a heartbreaking thing to watch as a mother.

4.  I am a concrete thinker.  This means I interpret language very literally.  It's confusing for me when you say, "hold your horses, cowboy!" when what you really mean is "please stop running."  Don't tell me something is "a piece of cake" when there is no dessert in sight.  Idioms, puns nuances, double entendres, inference, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are lost on me.

5.  Please be patient with my limited vocabulary.  It's hard for me to tell you what I need when I don't know the words to describe my feelings.  I may be hungry, frustrated, scared or confused bur right now those words are beyond my ability to express.  Be alert for body language, agitation or other signs.  On the flip side, I am compensate by memorizing scripts from the world around me.  This is called "echolalia".  I don't understand the words I'm using.

6.  Because language is so difficult for me, I am very visually oriented.  Please show me how to do something rather than telling me.  And please be prepared to show me many times.

7.  Please focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can't do.

8.  Help me with social interactions.  It may look like I don't want to play with the other kids but sometimes it's just that I simply don't know how to start a conversation.  I do best in structured play activities that have a clear beginning and end.  I don't know how to read facial expressions, body language or emotions from others.  If I laugh when someone falls off the slide, it's not that I think it's funny.  It's that I don't know the proper response.  Teach me to ask, "are you okay."

9.  Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns.  Meltdowns, blow-ups, tantrums or whatever you want to call them are even more horrid for me than they are for you.  They occur because one or more of my senses have gone into overload.  If you can figure out why they happen, they can be prevented.  Try to remember that all behavior is communication. 

10.  If you are a family member, please love me unconditionally.  Banish thoughts like, "if he would just..." and "Why can't she..." You did not fulfill every last expectation your parents had for you.  I did not choose to have autism and remember that it's happening to me not you.  Without your support, my chances of successful, self-reliant adulthood are slim.  With your support and guidance the possibilities are broader than you might think.

And finally, these three words: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE!!
Look past what you may see as limitations and see the gifts autism has given me.  It may be true that I'm not good at eye contact or conversation ,but have you noticed that I don't lie, cheat at games, tattle on my classmates or pass judgment? It's also true that I probably won't be the next Michael Jordan but with my attention to fine detail and capacity for extraordinary focus, I might be the next Einstein.  Or Mozart.  Or Van Gogh.  They had autism too

Monday, April 5, 2010

Nothing But Heartache

When I was 22, I was set up on a blind date with a guy named Rocco.  He was this giant, red headed Italian who loved to cook and treated me like a princess.  He was doting and loving and endearing.  On paper, he was everything that I was looking for: tall, nice, funny, gainfully employed.  There should have been no reason in the world that we wouldn't be perfect for each other.  Except, there was just something not quite right, something I couldn't explain it, which is why I figured I was just being picky and kept right along with the relationship.  He never did anything wrong, how could I break up with him when he was so right?  I was young and single and really wanted to find love, settle down and have a family.  Even though I didn't feel a spark with Rocco, I reasoned that I didn't have to have one, that I could will it to happen, that the love would grow over time.

It never did.

I eventually did break up with Rocco.  It was heartbreaking for both of us.  Because I knew all along that it wasn't right and had strung him along for my own personal gain.  It was one of the hardest things I've had to face up to in my whole life.  I just couldn't agree to something that wasn't right for me.  Could I have done it? Absolutely.  And I could have accepted a marriage proposal and walked down the aisle and stood next to someone that I didn't love at the altar.    I could have tried my hardest to live in a marriage without resentment and frustration but the truth is that ultimately it would have never worked.  At some point I would have cracked and it wouldn't have been pretty.

I'm sorry to say that I've experienced this once again but this time it's with Raul.  Everything is perfect about him.  He's perfect for us and everyone agrees about that fact.  He's been unbelievably pleasant and endearing and beyond anything we've expected.  There should be no reason in the world that we shouldn't be a perfect fit for each other. Except, there was something not quite right, something  Again, I can't explain it.  I felt it from the beginning but I thought it was just me, my fears getting the better part of me.  But then the feeling got stronger and we finally sat down as a family and talked about it.  Turns out it's not just me. In fact, the only one who seems to think everything is going well is Bear, but I don't know how much weight her vote holds.

I want to love him so much.  I've been walking through the motions because I expected that it would all fall into place, that it would come in time.  Thing is, it's been four months and because of the way we were introduced, we didn't really get to know him until the last 3 weeks.  I really believe that had we been given the opportunity to know him earlier, we would have figured this out much sooner and consequently saved everyone a lot of time and heartache.  But that was out of our hands.  This is unbelievably heartbreaking.  We've put eighteen months into this, eighteen months of emotional investment and we're to the finish line here.  We were like a week or two away from forever.

This is the equivalent of making it all the way to the wedding and standing there knowing that this person wasn't right.  Naturally, there would be a lot of pressure associated with this (people flying in from across the country, thousands of dollars spent) but to go through with it would be for the benefit of everyone else, out of obligation.  It's the same thing for us.  There IS a lot of pressure.  People have been supportive and understanding, there are a lot of people invested in this, working hard and putting a lot of time and effort in for us.  But if we went through with it, it would be for everyone else, not for us.  It's simply not right.  We kept wondering why we would be brought to this place, what the purpose is in all of this.

Trust me, there was a lot of soul searching that went on for us to reach this decision.  We had to consider a million things but ultimately we kept coming back to that same place.  One of my major concerns was that I spend a good deal of time telling people great things about adoption and it's always such a difficult sell.  People don't want to consider it being reasonable for them and I don't want anyone to point their fingers at us and say, "see there, that's why I would never consider adoption."  I don't want to be an example of things going wrong or of why anyone should NOT do it.

I want to point out that two weeks after I broke up with Rocco, I met Howie.  It was perfect, easy, natural.  And while I didn't know that he was "the one" from the beginning, I did know that he was right for me.  That there was something there, a spark.  And as hard as it was to hurt Rocco, what a shame it would have been if I had stayed with him and not trusted my heart.  Because I would have missed out on the love of my life.  To say that we would never consider adoption again would be like saying that because one relationship went wrong, that you would be single for the rest of your life.  Some things just aren't mean to be and all you can do is the right thing.  You have to put your trust in God that there is a reason for everything and that he can make good come of it all.

We are still on the waiting list for an adoption and frankly, I don't know what will happen.  We could get a call tomorrow and have our perfect match the next day. Orr not.  I've noticed that this process has definitely changed Howie's heart toward international adoption as well.  We may up on a different route completely.  Or, we could find out that we were meant to do something completely different.  I've given up trying to figure it out and trust completely that things will work out for the best. We're just going to have to be patient.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Crazy Weekend

I've been meaning to blog but these last few days have been hectic.  Raul came on Thursday afternoon and will be there through the weekend.  It's been a rough few days.  His foster mother had to put him in our minivan while he was kicking and screaming and spitting and hitting.  Not a pretty sight.  This has continued in spurts here at home.  He's not a happy boy and definitely lets us know.  The thing about adopting an older child is that they are old enough to verbalize just how much they hate you and how you are ruining their lives.  He finally gave up when I told him that it doesn't matter if he hates me right now, because I love him enough for the both of us.

Anyway, tough weekend.  I want to really focus on Autism this month on the blog because April is national autism awareness month.  If any of you have been affected by it in any way and would like to contribute as a guest writer, please email me at and I will post it and link you.  There will be a few guest speakers but mostly I just want to spread awareness here and there.  I hope to be back sometime this weekend to write my own story about autism.

If I don't see you before the, have a very Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Memo To Kids: March 2010

 To: The Trifecta
From: M to the O to the MMY.
Re: The last month we are a family of five

The other night at dinner when we were all sitting around talking about our day, you told us about how girls are picking on you at school because you are friends with Chris.  Chris has been your friend every since Kindergarten, except back then he was known as Christopher, the goofy kid with the glasses and funny clothes that nobody talked to, except for you.  Because you have that way about you. It doesn't matter who your friends are or what they say, you will always stop to help someone who's been left behind.  Your compassion worked to your advantage with Christopher because that geeky little boy with the glasses suddenly turned into the second grade hottie and guess who he hangs out with? You! And now all the little girls who used to make fun and snicker at him,are scrambling to get his attention.  And since it's you he's always with, they make fun of you and say you're "dating" to which you laughed nervously, shook your head and said, "that'"  When I asked you how old you have to be to date you said " like out of college" and I have no idea where you learned that but you are ABSOLUTELY right! You are so smart.  As a matter of fact, can you put that in writing...and sign it? Just in case we need to clarify this in a few years. You turned a corner in terms of your dress code this month.  A while back I gave you free reign as far as what you could wear with the only stipulation being that it must be weather appropriate.  This month you have looked pretty fantastic.  Long gone are the days of sequenced hats and pleather belts and knicker socks in stripes of pink, blue and yellow.  You've been getting creative with your hair and your nails and you are now using a purse.  A purse! Because you have been making extra money by helping Mamaw with chores around her house.  That reminds me, can I borrow five bucks?

Enough already with the m*ther *&^%$#+ zhu zhu pets!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really have no idea why your grandmother hates me so. I've been kind to her.  I run her errands and write her bills and take her shopping and trust me, I should get a metal or something for taking that woman shopping! But do I get gratitude?   Last year she bought you guys tiny peeps for Easter.  Tiny little peeps with sensors on the bottom that made them chirp anytime they came in contact with your flesh.  They peeped for two months straight until they mysteriously disappeared.  It's sad how that happened.  But then after the peeps, Mamaw bought you guys that keyboard that played so loud we could hear it in the basement when you were playing it on the 3rd floor.  It's just too bad they don't make the right kind of batteries to fit it anymore.  What can I tell ya, in this economy, everyone is making cutbacks and the first thing to go was the manufacturing line of D batteries.  And then for Valentine's day she gave you all Zhu Zhu pets.  Because she clearly hates me and gets a kick out of making my nerves explode.  Doesn't she know that I will have a 50/50 say in which nursing home she ends up in?  Those stinkin zhu zhu pets make pretty cute noises for the first, oh...five minutes.  Then those noises become a chattering that starts to chip away parts of my brain, like a battery operated jackhammer.  And then there is the having to pull Bear's hair back any time she comes within 10 feet one of because we learned the hard way that there really is a good reason why it says "keep away from hair" right there on the warning labels. You've recently become obsessed with anything that has to do with "Star Wars" and I'm amazed at how on your very own you become interested in the exact same thing as every other boy.  First it was Bob The Builder, then Thomas, then Dinosaurs, then Monster Trucks, then Transformers and now Star Wars.  By my calculations, I will be finding a Playboy magazine under your bed in around eight years.

Spaghetti is always a guaranteed crowd pleaser in this house.  It's pretty much the only time your brother will eat all week...if I cook spaghetti...if I don't he will starve until I cook spaghetti.  Hey, remember that time we gave up pasta for a month? It was the same month you learned how to count to 24 on your brother's ribs.   Good times.  So, you'll imagine my surprise when you refused to eat your spaghetti.  This became a problem when I offered a handful of marshmallows as dessert to anyone who finished their dinner and you couldn't have any because of your no eating protests.  You pouted and whined and we ignored you and went about our business which is why we almost missed what you did next.  You devised a plan to get your sticky little fingers on some marshmallows by getting your sister to eat your dinner.  Like she's the family dog and you could just slip her your spaghetti under the table.  It's no surprise why you went to her first, I mean normally none of us will sit next to her because if you get up for a re-fill of water your food will be gone when you get back to the table.  But this night she was full so you asked me.  I didn't quite know your plan until I noticed that you were standing next to Bubba, waiting patiently for him to eat your food and as soon as he was done, you picked up your bowl, brought it to me and said, "there.  I want some marshmallows."  Like, "Are you happy lady? The damn spaghetti is gone.  Pony up the marshmallows."  I had to give you some for the sheer creativity and explained that it wouldn't work next time, no matter the ingenuity. Like the ingenuity you use when you tried to get MORE marshmallows.  "Um...Francine didn't get any marshmallows and she's really, really hungry mommy.  "Francine" is your imaginary friend.  When anything goes wrong, "Francine did it".  When you want another cupcake it's because "Francine is starving." All I know is that "Francine" better start pulling her weight around here or else "Francine" will find herself on the street!

Through all the highs and lows I have to point one thing out to all of you guys: you are amazing children.  You are children who can roll with the punches.  You guys have extended welcome to Raul with such a loving spirit.  You've not been jealous or bitter or demanding and we are so very proud of all three of you.  You've been patient and welcoming and sweet.   It's not easy to have a new brother whether they come in the form of a new born baby or a 5 year old adopted boy.  It requires so much selflessness and understanding and we've been amazed at what wonderful, generous children we have.  I guess we've done a pretty good job after all *blows on fingers*