Saturday, May 24, 2003

He's back!

It's Diego The Cat In The Bag!

This time he's found something really fresh to slip in to. I finished an artisan baking class today and came home with a bag full of my baking efforts. Smells delicious!

Friday, May 23, 2003

How We Came to El Rancho

One year of writing Chicken Blog has me thinking about our arrival here; how our family came to live at this almost rural, rambling ranch house with turkey vultures overhead, rabbits in the pasture, and cowboy hats on the coat rack. A friend of mine likes to say "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

This is the house that Max chose, or at least that is how we tell the story. We hadn't planned to move, to buy a home far from our neighborhood, to make a big change. We had planned to stay at Neptune, in the beach house. We liked the sound of the surf, walking to stores, and the barber shop, and neighbor's homes. We had done so much to make the little bungalow a comfortable home, that leaving was a ridiculous suggestion.

In the Spring of 2001, when Max was 2 and a half, he got sick. The pediatrician diagnosed him as having bronchitis and insisted Max needed antibiotics. We went home with the big bottle of pink stuff and measured it into his favorite fruit smoothie. After one day taking his prescribed medicine, Max stopped talking, and by the second day he only screamed, and hit himself, or others. And when he would look at me, it was a vacant look and totally without recognition. I made him cry, the way a stranger can make a baby cry. He did not know me, or his father, or the boys he had called "the brothers." Sometimes he would start to speak, and as though his memories had been erased, he stammered and paused, and tried to start again, but the words did not come. His face would collapse in an expression of desperation and frustration.

We went back to the pediatrician, and I explained all that we were experiencing. He had been on the medicine for four days; "could he be allergic?" She was certain that he could not be allergic; his symptoms were not consistent with an allergic reaction. Her suggestion or 'diagnosis:' His symptoms were 'the result of being the last baby in the house.' I was 'too indulgent and had babied him. He was simply spoiled' and I 'needed to reform my parenting methods.'

Her dismissive, and uninformed perspective was neither constructive nor fair. She wasn't even our regular pediatrician. She did not know him. She did not know me. She did not know that her head was up her own ass, and that her perspective and comprehension were profoundly compromised by her ignorance and obscured vision; that was my emotional response that I bottled up inside. Meekly, I defended my parenting and explained that the greater likelihood was that Max, as a third son, born during the construction of a kitchen, with 9 people living in a 1200 sq ft house, was slightly more neglected than indulged. He was a bright and active child that related well with his family, and was expected to put up with errands, construction, homeschooling. Making the case that "I literally neglected him" was not my point, but there was really no foundation for her saying that he stopped talking because I caved in to his whims and babied him.

Nothing else in his life had occurred that was new or different except that he was taking pink medicine and it was the first time I ever gave him antibiotics. I did an experienced, intuitive, mom thing and stopped giving him the antibiotic.

We took Max to a psychiatrist. The doctor did not want to diagnose what he saw. He advised us to be cautious about seeking a definitive term to explain what Max was going through. He wanted to take blood samples, and stool, and urine samples, and he evasively, psycho-jargoned his way through a minefield of scenarios and possibilities, and many other things that I frankly stopped listening to. He didn't know what he was doing, but he knew what he could charge our insurance for.

By this time Geoff and I already knew what Max was "going through." Every Google search and diagnostic flow chart pointed to Autism. The symptoms, the timing, everything was classic, even obvious. And we couldn't know how deep in he might be. We couldn't know if he'd speak again, or look at us, or even know us. The reality, especially the unknown of what we were facing, was like being repeatedly punched in the stomach. It knocked the breath out of us again, and again, and again. We cried, almost inconsolably.

Desperation is the mother of action and invention. We were not finding help or support from the traditional channels; the doctors we saw were in denial; we didn't feel we could afford the luxury of denying what we knew, so we invented our own solutions and formulated our own plan for action.

We determined to asses all of our options and to asses all of our needs, with special consideration of Max's needs. This led to the realization that our affection for our house stood in the way of meeting the greater physical needs of our growing family. My cousins, who had lived with us for 6 months while they rebuilt our kitchen, had already moved out, but we were still too crowded. Seven of us, including my grandparents, were living in the three bedroom house. Max had never enjoyed a clear floor to crawl across or a room that didn't already belong to adult activities or big brother toys. We had managed to juggle things and activities and people, but this was not an effective solution. We realized, with some shame, that Max was growing up in a constant state of 'don't touch that,' and 'that's not yours,' and 'be careful there.' I had built a model in my mind of remaining at this house forever, because it was lovely, and could provide stability, and because it was for me a symbol of our success. Now, as dearly as I had held to my old values, I was determined to release anything that impeded our ability to physically and emotionally meet our family's changing needs.

It had already been a full week since Max had stopped talking and four days since his last dose of medicine. Already one nurse, and a good friend, had confirmed that what he was experiencing could be a reaction to the medicine; not to the antibiotic, but to the red dye. Parents of Autistic children learn from experience that many artificial dyes and additives cause severe reactions, and other diet changes often make significant behavioral differences.

Max was less violent, but still not speaking and he was tense, restless and easily frightened, and frustrated. We all lived with fear and anxiety of doing something that would set him on a screaming session or cause him to cry pitifully. His brothers came to us in a joint mission to seek the truth. Compassionately they asked, "Is he going to die?" We said no, and we told them all we could from what we knew and we promised to keep looking for more answers.

In the past, I have found answers to frustrating medical problems through Oriental medicine. Colic, breast cysts, and hives so severe they caused bruising over Alex's entire body; all of these were cured simply and immediately by a practitioner of acupuncture. I took Max to see Dr. Alex, a pediatric acupuncturist. It had only been a week since Max was diagnosed with bronchitis, but all other events had overshadowed his initial illness. Relieving Max of his cough and congestion were Dr. Alex's first concern. He explained that all the issues, the physical and behavioral symptoms, were influenced and affected by the body's attempt to deal with the bronchitis. By relieving the bronchitis we could have a clearer view of his other needs.

Max sat in my lap. It had been 7 days since he recognized or fully trusted me. We still couldn't get a complete sentence out of him, or comfort him when he cried. He sat on my lap and Dr. Alex whispered to him. He held his hands gently in his own and spoke to Max in an equally gentle tone. He had Max's attention, and I will never forget the way Max's body slowly released its tense, agitated posture. Dr. Alex had begun to massage pressure points in Max's feet and around his knees and I felt Max actually relax. Dr. Alex talked about releasing Max's congestion, and he decided to also focus on "balancing his energy." At this point Max turned to face me and he whispered in my ear, "This is a good doctor. I like it here." He spoke. Eloquent and simple, and the dearest words I ever could have hoped for.

Max slept well for the first time in over a week. He was still sensitive, and sometimes irrational, easily upset or unable to express even simple thoughts or needs, but we felt the most hope we had in a week and it was inspiring.

We recommitted to our plan to find a home that provided enough room for Max and for everyone to have safe and adequate space for living and learning and playing. That weekend we went out with a list of possibilities and a map stuck all over with little Post It markers. In Southern California the equation is simple: moving east = more house for less money. So we began to acquaint ourselves with inland North County. For a while visiting big, strange houses was a fun game for the boys, but it did get tiring after several days of house hunting. And not surprisingly, Max was growing especially tired of driving from place to place. He was beginning to mumble angrily, and we recognized that he needed a break.

We were a little turned around and took a left turn, when we should have gone straight, and I turned to Max and promised a cool drink and home soon. But then we saw yet another 'for sale' sign, so we turned down the street and drove slowly passed the long, white ranch style fence that was in front of the house and enclosing a corral. The house looked big, but a little strange, and probably out of our price range and we were tired and ready for a break, so Geoff turned and we were driving away when Max asked, "Horses?" There were four horses in the pasture in front of the house. "Yes, Max, horses," I replied and Geoff kept driving away. Max spoke again, loudly, "What is all that stuff on the ground? Is it kaka?" I looked back at the pasture and sure enough there was plenty of horse "kaka" laying around, but by now Max was asking, insisting, on seeing the kaka.

When your son has stopped talking for a week any request, even driving back to look at horse droppings, has to be honored. Geoff backed up the van, and we stopped for a good look at those horses, and Max's satisfaction was quite gratifying. William and Alex laughed, this was an odd attraction, and we were all very happy to hear Max so clearly express his desire and be interested in something, anything. He repeated his questions about the horses and the horse's kaka, and he pointed solemnly at all the droppings that were scattered over the acre of land. Communication, comprehension, engagement... this felt practically miraculous.

It's hard to be discreet driving one mile per hour in front of someone's home, and then driving as slowly backwards, and then forward again. We were mortified when we realized the home owner was walking down the driveway to meet us (or accuse us?) We apologized, and explained about our little boy really wanting to see her horses. We never would have stopped or looked at the house or considered it, but she insisted we come up for a closer look and a tour of the house and to meet her horses. In time we realized that the unfinished, single story ranch house was our best choice.

This is the house that Max chose, and we smile thankfully when we tell the story. "The Horse House." The horses are long gone. There are chickens and cats here now, and three young boys and two grandparents, and me and my husband. We live in "El Rancho," where we are far from the things we knew, and where we have learned to operate a tractor and live with heat and wildlife. We keep looking for answers and inventing solutions, and we have found a great deal of happiness here. Max says amazing things and is astonishingly perceptive. He is also very easily frustrated and he can be very "frustrating," as he told us when he was almost three years old. He has all the signs of being on the Autism spectrum. It is a strange and confounding path. Our time here, the space the boys have to explore, the serenity of the view and the luxury of being able to move here, all of this has gone a long way to helping us and Max. We have also re-affirmed our resolve to let our love be the guide and strength in caring for our family; I thank God for the blessing of this. There is more to tell, and new stories are forming everyday, but this is the story of how Max found our house, and how we became The Jolly Green Rancheros.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

No photos, just memories. The boys and I have been learning about marine life, including whales and the intertidal zone. It follows that we would make a field trip to the ocean, so we packed our water shoes and a picnic lunch, and made our way to the beach in time for a decent low tide. The marine layer, May Grey, actually makes for a comfortable climate while tide pooling, wave hopping and picnic-ing.

We made our way over algae covered rocks to discover hermit crabs and "big yellow and orange pincher crabs," and sea anenome, little fish, limpets, mussels, and pools with swirling sea plants. As Max's confidence grew he expressed his enthusiasm for stepping from rock to rock, and for each new discovery.

We ate our lunch, and watched the swimmers and scuba divers enter the chilly water. Kayakers paddled past the Cove and as the sky cleared we could make out the pier in the distance. Max was the first volunteer to be buried in sand; he was up to his shoulders and then we each took turns being buried, which is fun.

At one point the four of us were simultaneously buried in sand, when a sea lion hopped up on to one of the rocks. He attracted a lot of attention from visitors with cameras. He barked at them as they approached for close up pictures. While the sea lion and the tourists were negotiating their terms, a pod of dolphins was swimming south. They slipped in and out of the water, gliding past us like mystical beasts.

Alex and William want to return in warmer weather; we want to snorkel and swim along the cliffs. In the meantime there are a few creatures we found whose names we do not know; we'll look those up, and read more about dolphins and anenome, and sea lions. And we will keep working on our swimming skills in our own pool of water.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Error Error Error

I have been warned: low memory has made it impossible for this program to run images. It seems my online family photo album has overloaded the entire www, or at least my minor corner of it...Guess I will have to postpone my elaborate "First Year of Chicken Blog Anniversary Extravaganza and Photo Gallery." Too bad. Geoff warned me about large images eating up the program memory, but I couldn't 'compromise' quality for quantity! Now even my computer is making its point clear, and the images are not coming up or they load too slowly for my 21st century patience. Aren't the trials of the middle class simultaneously tragic and ridiculous?!

There may be another way; perhaps create a link to a "Photo Blog." This is ironic, because when Geoff first set up Chicken Blog I came to the computer dragging my feet, reluctant, as usual, to learn a new technology trick. I am the type of person that pops popcorn on the stove top, enjoys handquilting, and pulling weeds. Geoff sat me down in front of our computer and rattled on about 'Blogging and Bloggers and writing pioneers, and the whole Blog frontier.' And I was sure I'd have little to say and I was even less convinced that what I could write would be interesting to others. One year later and I am still not certain whether I am interesting to others, but I sure have plenty to say! And now I am pestering for upgrades, memory, and more new tricks.

Last night I dreamt that I visited an old feed store that I used to walk to as a child. The details of grain sacks and tack were quite vivid. I was so absorbed in seeing the familiar shelves and products, and smelling the sacks of feed and leather saddles, that I resolved to look for the candy I was sometimes treated to. I walked around the store, never knowing what to expect to find, but all of it looking and feeling familiar. I was looking for Chick Sticks. I think I saw just about every other candy created including Marathon Bars, Fun Dips and wax soda bottles and bubble gum cigarettes, but no Chick Sticks.

I did see chickens though, and I thought 'to heck with Exotic New castle Disease!' I bought three hens. They were different from each other and different from the 3 chicas we have at home. I doubt they were any kind of real breed that exist outside of my dream. I loaded them in to my van...not the Odyssey, but one of those very old fashioned kind of delivery vans. And the chickens were roaming about in the empty back of the old van. That's all. Except I did begin to worry that my chicas would contract the disease, and I woke up with the uneasy feeling one gets from doing something hastily, thoughtlessly.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The first time Geoff and I made a date he was late. Over the phone we agreed to meet at the mall. I lived nearby with my family, in University housing, and he could get a ride from his mom. And so it was settled and with plenty of time to spare, I headed to the shopping center to meet the boy with beautiful eyes, who spoke with kindness and respect.

I waited in front of the theaters, near the skating rink entrance. My youngest brother came by after awhile, on his way to the arcade. A movie let out and I thought I might not see Geoff arrive in the small crowd of people filing out of the theater. Enough time passed that my crush and affection were tested; I wondered if it was too shameless to stand around waiting. I wondered whether I had much pride. And then he was standing with his mother, and sister and her friend, and he was explaining his plans, and saying his goodbyes, and he saw me and walked toward me. I saw his long legs, and shy, reserved smile. I saw the casual way he he was walking, and I even looked around; he could be meeting someone else I thought.

His hands were in his pockets, and though his approach was confident he seemed now a bit hesitant. "Sorry I'm late," he explained, his hands still in his pockets. "I had to wait for my mom. I don't have any money or anything. So, what do you want to do?"

Suddenly I knew exactly what I should do. He would have to pass the brother test. I figured if my brothers liked him, then I could be sure. "Let's go to The Yellow Brick Road. My brother Hans is there."

Do you know what we did after our time in the arcade, after Hans and Geoff met, and talked about their favorite games? We walked over the to the grassy hills at the north western corner of the mall, and we kissed. We kissed a lot. We kissed sitting on a bench, under a tree, and we kissed until my lips were a bit numb and tingly at the same time. In the middle of the day, in Summer, with no money or plans; we kissed and kissed.

Where the grassy hill was, there is a Nordstrom and William Sonoma. Where the arcade was, there is a Great Khan Mongolian Festival. The theater is a sporting goods store. We live in a home with a view now, and children and chickens and my grandparents. Hans comes by, and other family and friends, and we have good talks. Geoff tends to run late. And he is still a very good kisser, with beautiful eyes. I'm glad I waited.