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Archive for the ‘peach festival’ Category

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

After our terrible, horrible no good, very bad morning you might think that Niksdad and I decided to lay low and stay close to home this afternoon.  You’d be mistaken.  After a hearty lunch and some down time for Nik —and a healthy dollop of analysis and brainstorming by Niksdad and me— we decided to try our luck a second time.  After all, the festival is only one day a year and the orchard offers free peach ice cream cones—made from their own peaches— which is heavenly!  Even Nik adores it.

I am happy to report that the outing was a rousing success!  Nik managed to consume an entire cone by himself —along with a goodly portion of mine!  We even managed to get in some play time at a nearby park which we’ve recently discovered.  Nik was so happy all afternoon; he sang and clapped and raced around the park without a care —exactly as we had hoped it would be.  He even picked up a sweet little guardian angel!

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our afternoon was the antithesis to our morning. 

So what was different the second time around?  Nothing, really.  And everything.  I know, I know —that doesn’t make sense.  But, really, the things we did were so incredibly simple that I wasn’t even sure it would work.  We met Nik where he was.  To do that, we had to observe his behavior and listen to his cues.

Let me give you a little background which might help this make sense:

Nik is nonverbal but extremely intelligent.  He understands just about everything that is said to him, about him, around him.  He takes everything in.  He also has a very strict interpretation or understanding of certain constants.  One of those constants is that food is eaten while sitting in his booster chair at the table unless it is otherwise specified. e.g., “We’re going to Nanny and Granddaddy’s for dinner.” or “We’re going to a restaurant for lunch.”  (Snacks are a different category; he’s ok with eating them in the car, at the park, play group, etc.)

Nik is also usually very good about adapting as long as he understands the sequence in which he can expect things to occur.  Nik knows ice cream is food.  He doesn’t know that “going to get ice cream” means going somewhere —let alone somewhere new —in the car.  So, to Nik, “ice cream first, then park” would mean “We’re going to sit at the table and eat ice cream and then go to the park.”

Nik is also amazingly observant of his physical surroundings.  He can tell where we’re going based on the turns I take or the scenery along the route.  If I tell him that we’re going somewhere different —and I may have to repeat it many times to reinforce the message as I drive— Nik is, generally, ok with it.  Today’s destination —the orchard for the ice cream and petting zoo —took us right past the turn for the park.

Can you see where this is going?

Right. So here’s our happy-go-lucky boy —already wound tighter than a top from the shoe incident— thinking he’s going to sit and eat ice cream and then go to the park.  By the time we got to the orchard, not only had we not eaten ice cream but we’d driven past the park!  Poor Nik  was experiencing such tremendous cognitive dissonance that he simply could not function.  I’m not using hyperbole for effect, either.  By the time we returned home this morning, though he was happy and clapping when we pulled in the driveway, Nik was completely motionless and silent when we opened the car door.  It was as if he simply checked out for a moment to re-calibrate.

This afternoon, armed with those realizations, and the knowledge that Nik doesn’t know what the new place —the orchard— is, we realized that we had to give him only one part of the sequence at a time.  Otherwise, we risked the likelihood that Nik would fixate on “going to the park” and block out the rest because he couldn’t visualize it.  We also decided to try something that I’ve been meaning to try for a while —a rudimentary picture schedule to help Nik know where we are going in the car and why we are not going the way he expects us to go.  (Side note: Nik doesn’t seem to have this trouble with changing activities at home or at therapy; it’s only when we are driving places that he gets so rigidly attached to his expectations.)

I printed out two pictures to take with us.  We gave Nik the first one —a full size picture of an ice cream cone— before we got in the car and explained to him that we were going to “a farm” to get ice cream.  Oddly enough, though I don’t think we’ve ever taken him to a farm, Nik seemed to understand that concept.   Maybe it was simply because I named something that he understands as an actual place or, at the very least, a place that is not home?  I really don’t know.

As we drove along the exact same route we took this morning, I sang silly songs about eating ice cream and going to the farm for yummy ice cream.  Nik even got into the spirit when I asked him to show me how he eats an ice cream cone by, well, eating the ice cream cone picture!

eating pic of ice cream

Nik never once whined nor got upset the entire drive.  As soon as we arrived, he let Niksdad put him up on his shoulders and we made a beeline for the ice cream.  Nik’s reaction was all the proof we needed that we had done the right thing:

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After Nik downed an entire cone —and attempted to eat a few twigs, too —we asked if he wanted to go to the park.  He wasn’t quite clear about that so I asked if he was ready to go in the car.  That got a clear affirmative so we went and sat in the car.  Once we were in the car, Niksdad gave him the second picture —a picture of a playground similar to that at the park —and asked if he wanted to go there.  The light bulb went on and our little dude was on board.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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The shoes should have been our first clue.

After a perfectly delightful morning —one which began after more than twelve hours’ sleep for Nik and a leisurely breakfast for myself and Niksdad— we began our preparations for a jaunt to the local peach festival, followed by a visit to the park.  The pre-departure routine is always the same: “Okay, buddy, time for some clean pants.  Bring your toy and let’s get clean pants.”  “Clean pants first, then socks, MAFO’s and shoes.”

Nik is always eager to perform this routine; he loves to go out with us.  Lately, he’s begun to put his orthotics on by himself —even getting them on the correct feet.  He was just beginning to clamber onto the sofa, where I sat waiting with wipes and pull-up in hand, when Niksdad brought over his socks, MAFO’s and shoes.  The scream which issued forth from my heretofor sunny child was unlike anything I’ve heard except when he is in extreme and urgent pain.  It was the kind of sound which makes my heart race and causes me to drop everything and come running in an instant, certain I will find my child covered in blood.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth (to put it quite mildly) until we figured out the problem: the shoes.  Perfectly good, serviceable Nike’s which Nik has worn on many occasions though not for sometime.  (His other Nike’s were so filthy from repeated outings to the park— the laces were nearly black— that I insistedwe wash them last night; they were still in the laundry closet, slightly damp.)  I put the offending shoes on the floor at my feet while Niksdad went to get the still-damp shoes.  Apparently, even that was too close for those awful shoes; Nik screamed and jumped off the sofa, grabbed the shoes and ran to the entertainment center to put them on top.  That’s were they’ve been sitting for weeks now; it made perfect sense to Nik’s sense of order.

Once Nik realized the “correct” shoes were going on his feet he calmed down.  In fact, he seemed quite eager for our outing.  Off we went on our merry way.  “We’re going to get ice cream first, then go to the park. Ok buddy?  Ice cream first, then park.”  I repeated that phrase, like a mantra, as we drove.  Nik is usually pretty good about changed routines or routes as long as I tell him the sequence several times over.

I should have known that the shoe incident had my precious boy already wound too tightly.  As soon as I turned right at a traffic light where we normally turn left, Nik’s tenuous balance shifted and the tempest began.  I talked to him in soothing tones as I drove.  “It’s ok, sweetie, we’re going to get ice cream first then go to the park, remember?  It’s ok.  You’re ok.”  All the while, Niksdad held on to Nik’s feet so he couldn’t injur himself (or us) with his kicking.  I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand holding Nik’s sweaty fingers, gently squeezing to give him some proprioceptive input which I hoped would calm him.

We parked right next to the entrance (God bless our disabled parking placard!) and waited for the storm to abate.  When Nik didn’t seem to show signs of calming, Niksdad said tersely, “This isn’t going to work, let’s just skip it.”  His frustration level was, understandably, rising with each howl and each kick which landed on the back of his seat.  Not realizing that Nik was already overwrought and wound too tightly, I insisted we at least get out of the car and try

There have been times when simply getting out of the car has shifted Nik’s attention enough that he is able to calm down and we end up having a decent outing.  I also felt very strongly that we neededI needed— to not be held hostage to the autism.  We spent the first two years of Nik’s life sequestered away from everyone and everything because we had to protect Nik’s fragile immune system.  We’ve spent much of the last couple years isolated from nearly everyone and everything except the occasional family outing.  At some point, I felt, we just have to say “Damn the consequences!” and try —just try— to be a part of the very society in which we want our boy to thrive.

Today was not the day for that.

We never made it to the ice cream or the petting zoo.  We pulled into the parking lot at the park and Nik fell apart again.  By this time, he was so overwrought he couldn’t tell us anything.  “Are you hungry?” Nik signed please so we offered him a bite of his sandwich; he thrust it at me and screamed.  “Do you want to go play in the park, sweetie?”  He simultaneously signed please and shook his head no.  I started to hum Mary Poppins songs to calm him.  It seemed to work until I stopped.  The wailing began again.

We drove home to nurse our wounded hearts and try to figure out what our boy was telling us, what he needed.  As we pulled into the driveway —like magic— the tears and tantrums abated and the happy singing began.

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Nik has now had lunch and is a very happy camper —singing Mary Poppins and Signing Time songs to his toys, playing with his alphabet puzzles.  We may attempt the outing again in a while —or not.

It’s so hard, trying to find the right balance between stretching Nik’s boundaries and honoring his needs.  Between giving my child what he needs and giving myself what I need.  Trusting my instincts and listening to the voice in my heart that says “We have to try…”  The lines are hazy and constantly shifting —like walking on a sand dune in a headwind. 

I believe we are at a crucial point in Nik’s communication development:  the more he knows he can make himself understood —and the fewer tantrums as a result of that success, the more intensely frustrated he becomes in those instances where he cannot make himself understood.  The extremes seem to be farther apart and I feel stretched to my limits straddling the chasm.  But I’ll write more about that another time —after I mull it over some more.

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As my little hometown grows up and becomes overrun with new housing developments and shopping centers, it is becoming increasingly rare to find celebrations of the old ways, the agrarian culture, and the simpler times. Sigh. As Rascal Flatts sings, “I miss Mayberry…”

One of the neighboring towns hosted their annual peach festival this weekend to commemorate the town’s once rich agricultural history. You see, Delaware was one of the top peach producing states in the union until the dreaded peach blight of eighteen-something. Seriously. Nonetheless, there are a few large farms around doing a booming business; one of them always hosts a huge customer appreciation event complete with music, hayrides, a small petting zoo, and free peach ice cream cones all day long.

So, Saturday morning found NiksFamily heading out in the sweltering, muggy air to embark upon an adventure —to expand our cultural horizons. It was, I think, the start of a new family tradition. We ventured into the town center —all two blocks of it —to check out the official peach festival (which is separate from the event hosted by the orchard). The town’s single train station —long ago converted to the town hall —doubled as the main stage on Saturday. Heck, it was the only stage!

We wandered the street along the edge of the railroad tracks, perusing the offerings of myriad vendors. The local high school drum corps playing in the background, Niksdad and I held hands as we wandered and sweat. Nik wanted to walk a bit so we took turns holding his hand for support. When the heat became too much to bear, Niksdad hoisted Nik onto his shoulders. Now, I have been to many “street fairs” when I lived in NYC and near San Francisco —the kinds with a gazillion different vendors and umpty-ump musical acts (some big names) and an air of highly organized chaos about them. Saturday’s festival was nothing like it.

There were tables of crafts and clothing, jewelry and hand-sewn handbags, potpourri and wood art. And the baked goods. Oh, the baked goods. None of the slick, mass produced bakery fare here. No sir, each and every pie, cookie, loaf of bread and you-name-it —all home baked by the ladies of the XYZ church auxiliary. Such a fierce competition between them, too! I found myself getting teary as we wandered; I suppose I could claim it was from the heat or the sun in my eyes. The truth is, I felt an odd connection to another time; I felt nostalgic for a life I’ve never known but always dreamed about. I felt like time must have stood still for this one day, just for me. And that was just the beginning…

After melting under the morning sun, we got in the car and headed up the road to the farm for the customer appreciation event. Now, my mother swears she use to take me to this farm as a kid —to pick out pumpkins; I have no recollection of this whatsoever. I am sure I would have remembered such a beautiful farmstead; their event was so much nicer than the festival we had just left. There were huge tents —set up under gigantic shade trees which have to date back well over 150 years —with volunteers serving up refreshing ice cream full of thick chunks of yummy peaches. Mmmmm…There were hayride tours of the orchards, a small petting zoo —kind of a rag-tag collection of family pets and farm animals —and a musician playing wonderful background music that you could sing along to. Perfect.

I don’t think words can do justice to the fun we had. Nik wanted to walk around holding onto one of our hands or he wanted to scoot along on the ground. Knowing how much Nik thinks he wants to eat versus how much he actually does (rather, DOESN’T) eat, I decided to see if Nik would deign to take a lick from my ice cream cone. He’s never really cared for ice cream before; it’s too cold and too wet for his liking.

Apparently, the secret is all in the cone! Not only did Nik enjoy the ice cream, he wanted to have his very own cone and “yelled” at me when I tried to share with him. He actually looked me in the eye, pushed my hand away and said “Ng, ng, ng, ng!” which is how he says “no.” Nik didn’t really want the whole cone, he just wanted the control. But the fact that he ate numerous bites —licks, really —of peach ice cream was pretty monumental. Especially because he sat on the ground next to me the whole time and even tried to feed me a time or two. New stuff. A big deal.

Ice cream finished, we wandered a bit and ran into some people we know including one of the para’s from summer school. She was pleased to see Nik; he actually acknowledged her presence and held her hand for a moment. It was a sweet moment for all of us.

From there, we found the petting zoo. Nik didn’t seem to really recognize that there were animals there; perhaps it is because he hasn’t had much exposure up to this point? There was a two-day old calf, some baby bunnies, a couple of pygmy goats, and a dog. An interesting collection to be sure, but it was just enough to captivate the smaller kids. Once Niksdad helped him pet the calf, Nik seemed to catch on a bit.

By lunchtime, it was clear that Nik was beginning to fade. We gathered up our dirty little ragamuffin —with his dusty shorts and his dirt-smeared face he looked like the most typical three and a half year old boy —and began to head to the car. When I heard the song that was paying, I had to stop and dance with Nik. How could I possibly resist the lure of “American Pie?” I scooped Nik up and whirled him around as I sang to him —and he looked me in the eyes, threw his little head back and laughed! The more I sang and whirled, the more he looked right at me, smiling and laughing and clapping his hands. I could have died on the spot and gone with a smile on my face!

Yes, definitely an occasion to be repeated every year!

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