Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Meeting Santa

Santa made an appearance at our dear friend Nannette's Christmas party this weekend!

I loved how my kids were front and center when Santa came out! Theo said to me, "how does Santa know our names?" And I loved Melody running to show Santa her gift after she opened it. "Look, Santa!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

His First Letter to Santa

It's an image I'll always have burned in my memory. Theo in his sweatshirt and teddy bear pajama pants, sitting under the new Christmas tree he helped Joe bring home today...closing his eyes and imagining Christmas morning, so he can figure out what he wants to ask Santa for.

It's because we are in the middle of writing a letter to Santa. We're up to the part where Theo has to say what he wants. He knows the first thing right away--he wants a lower hook to hang his coat on, since all we have is the high hooks up in the closet that are out of his reach. So he asks Santa for a hanger. After that? What else do you want? "Mmmm..I'm not sure."

What kid doesn't have a list a mile long of things he wants? My kid. And so he sat and thought for a while, and each time finally came up with something to put on his list.

While of course I prodded Theo along and kept things going, I tried to keep the letter as organic as possible, based on what he was telling me. This letter is all him.

I loved him looking over the note and correcting handwriting errors, saying things like "Santa won't be able to read that."

I want to always remember this special experience. Thank you, blog.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Colorful Response

This happened months ago, but I just thought about it and it put a smile on my face.

We were out to dinner with Theo's friend Jasper, whose dad is an artist. Jasper told us that her daddy is a painter.

"My daddy is a painter, too," Theo said, proud and excited. I corrected him and told him no, his dad's a photographer.

"But he painted the wall in the kitchen purple! Remember, it was blue? You forgot?"

(I won't ruin the charm of this story by mentioning how we had to have a professional come in and fix the job.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ain't She Delicious...

Yesterday morning Melody had some peanut butter on toast.

When we went outside, I realized she had PB all around her mouth. I giggled and said "Come here and let me clean you up, Peanut Butter Face." I proceeded to wipe her down with a universal solvent (saliva).

We walked down the block, and half a block later, she suddenly broke down, wailing. In her hysterics, she let out a series of unintelligble words.

I told her to calm down and tell me in a nice-girl voice what she was trying to say.

"I don't want to be a peanut butter face," she pouted.

I love that it took her half a block to ponder the label and form an opinion about it.

Glad Someone's Paying Attention...

I was out grabbing pizza with the kids the other night and pulled a fourth chair to the table. Theo was puzzled and pointed out that there were only 3 of us. I was pretty dumbfounded.

Thanks, kid. Never too early to pick out nursing homes for mommy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Me Too Too

Melody's latest thing--If I respond to her comment with "me too," she says, "me too, too!"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Theo, What Are You?

If there were a lovebug aptitude test, Theo would score off the charts. He has achieved genius level with his ability to say things so sweet it's impossible to think the words are from a 7-year-old boy. An impromptu improvised song about his love for his little sister and her hugs and kisses, for example. His ability to cuddle, protect, and all-around send your heart a pitter-patter are at a level so high, his peers may never catch up.

But my Theo isn't a savant. He doesn't calculate complex numbers in seconds. He still can't add 5+3 without a number line. He can't compose music. After 10 months of piano lessons, he still struggles to plunk out Twinkle Twinkle. And he doesn't have a photographic memory, though his memory does surpass most kids his age, probably.

People who don't know about autism (and I surely would have raised my hand 5 years ago, so no judgment here) think of Rainman. An autistic savant. Someone who is genius but "weird."

But the truth is, obviously, that autism is a huge spectrum. Theo would be called high functioning, but with a below-average IQ (though I've never believed any of the IQ tests. I'm not in denial, I just know he  hasn't been tested properly because he doesn't respond well to that form of testing).

Temple Grandin, an Aspie (aspergers) woman who has basically revolutionized what we know about autism, says there are three types of thinkers:

These children often love art and building blocks, such as Legos. They get easily immersed in projects. Math concepts such as adding and subtracting need to be taught starting with concrete objects the child can touch. Drawing and other art skills should be encouraged. If a child only draws one thing, such as airplanes, encourage him to draw other related objects, such as the airport runways, or the hangers, or cars going to the airport. Broadening emerging skills helps the child to be more flexible in his thinking patterns. Keep in mind that verbal responses can take longer to form, as each request has to be translated from words to pictures before it can be processed, and then the response needs to be translated from pictures into words before it is spoken.

Patterns instead of pictures dominate the thinking processes of these children. Both music and math is a world of patterns, and children who think this way can have strong associative abilities. They like finding relationships between numbers or musical notes; some children may have savant-type calculation skills or be able to play a piece of music after hearing it just once. Musical talent often emerges without formal instruction. Many of these children can teach themselves if keyboards and other instruments are available.
These children love lists and numbers. Often they will memorize bus timetables and events in history. Interest areas often include history, geography, weather and sports statistics. Parents and teachers can use these interests and talents as motivation for learning less-interesting parts of academics. Some verbal logic thinkers are whizzes at learning many different foreign languages.

Theo definitely doesn't fit into two and three, so the visual thinker category seems closest -- though not perfect. I wonder if he really does think in pictures. His language is developing rapidly now, and little by little I get a clumsy idea of how his brain works. I am hopeful that he'll eventually find the words to express the machinations in detail, as lots of spectrum teens and adults do to support children in discussion boards, blogs, etc. It's an exciting thought.

By the way, if you haven't seen the movie Temple Grandin, see it immediately.

I'm hearing her speak at a conference tomorrow. She's the keynote at an Autism/Aspergers conference. I don't even pay $100 bucks to see people I like in concert, but the chance to see her speak was too incredible to pass up. I think one day it will be like saying you saw MLK or the like. Particularly exciting is that her mom will be speaking too; she will talk about what it was like to have a daughter with autism in the 50's, when doctors told mothers that they ruined their children by not giving them enough love.

Temple will be speaking about her new book on social skills. Theo's lack finesse, but he sure has the heart. The other day he said, "You know what I'm imagining? I have lots of friends and I keep them forever."

There is still so much more to learn about the pictures in his head. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Annie, Week Three

When I picked him up at rehearsal, he was calm. This gave me the courage to approach the director and ask how it went. I told her how he's loving the experience, and she said, "Oh yes, the kids are loving..."

I expected her to say "it, too."

Instead, she said, "working with him."

I nearly fell over after what happened last week.

Relief! Happiness! Joy!

Guess there will be good days and not-so-good days. I can live with that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why, Whatever Do You Mean, Son?

So the other day Theo comes home to find Joe and me cleaning. He says "Ooh, are we having a party?"

Epic housewife fail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Annie, Week Two

Well, if I came off my last rehearsal pick-up on a high, today was the opposite. Last Tuesday when I peeked in, he was on his feet, part of an activity and fitting right in. Today, when I peered around the corner into the room, I saw all the kids in chairs learning a song, and Theo sitting there punching his head with his fist repeatedly.

This is a fairly new stim that has developed in the past few months, one that obviously Joe and I hate. I still don't know what triggers it--stress, nerves, anxiety, etc... Sometimes it looks like he's doing it out of sheer happiness. I guess I should be grateful that until now we've avoided the common autism stim of banging your head on the wall or floor, or other forms of self-injury. Theo's not injuring himself--not even close. He's just being silly.

I was happy, though, to see one of the teenage production assistants sitting next to him and working with him. Remember how I hoped someone would take a liking to him? I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but it seems like she has. It's her I spoke with after rehearsal and not the director. I'm too nervous to ask the director if he's being disruptive, because I'm afraid of getting an answer I don't want. And then I'm in the position where I have to decide if I do what's best for Theo (having him stick it out) or the rest of the kids (getting to enjoy their rehearsals without interruption).

The nice girl told me he was jittery and kept getting up, but that she sat with him and he sang. And that at snacktime he socialized with other kids. She seemed pretty positive about it.

So though I'm bummed, we all know there are good days and bad days with autism. Hopefully next week will go better. I realize he still has to get used to this. And he really, really loves it.

And I have to work on my own attitude. I keep hoping for things that will take time, if they happen at all. I shouldn't have expected him to tell me which girl is playing Annie so soon. I shouldn't have hoped for him to have an instant theatre buddy who would stick to his side during rehearsal. It's not fair to him for me to be anything but realistic, but it's also not fair to him if I underestimate him, so how do I know how to push him the right amount?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Our Day as Tourists in NYC

Sometimes it's fun to be a tourist in your own city.

First stop, Times Square Toys R Us.

Cue the Rocky theme music!

I won't tell you where we ate lunch, because it's too embarrassing. Coughcougholivegardencoughcough.

Then, the main event...Yo Gabba Gabba live at Radio City! The kids are huge fans of the show, and while of course we balked at the ticket prices, it seemed like a chance we couldn't pass up. Thanks to this prized video, I have no regrets.

Do you dig my Batman-inspired effects?

I remember looking over at Melody on Joe's lap, her face mesmerized by the lights and the characters on stage. Theo was her age when he saw Sesame St. live, and he had the same look in his eyes. And there he was, tall as can be, wearing the goofy cardboard glasses and dancing to the songs with the rest of the toddlers and preschoolers. I adored them both. It was one of those "want to freeze time" mommy moments.

And seeing Melody dance and sing in the theatre--wow! I'd been complaining to anyone who will listen that I have a daughter who doesn't like music. I would sing, and she would yell at me to stop. Now, just in the last few weeks or so, she suddenly has started to repeat bits and pieces of songs--I finally get to hear her singing voice! It's sweeter than I could have hoped for. Worth the wait.

And boy, does she dance. Just look at this video! And one of her biggest requests lately is to watch Dancing With the Stars. She has no tolerance for the judging portions and has me fast forward to the next dance. So far she'll dance to anything but the jive, it seems....

Next stop for them--Broadway. Well, in a couple of years. When they're older, and the prices drop. Shut up, let me have my fantasies.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Really Good Pick-up

Sharon has the day off today, so this morning I told Theo I'd be picking him up from school.

When I arrived, his teacher told me he was excellent today. That he was happy all day because I was picking him up. That sure erased the last trace of curmudgeon in me for having to take the city bus to get him. My little guy still thinks his mom hangs the moon.

Oh, and on the bus when I told him we were going home, Theo asked, "How does the bus know where to go?"

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Son is in a Musical

When I saw the flyer for Annie at the park, I froze. I was all at once thrilled and terrified. A theatre opportunity for Theo's age group, K-6, right here in Sunnyside? There was a part of me that was relieved when I looked at the flyer and saw we'd missed registration. I wouldn't have to bother asking myself if he could do this.

Then I got home and immediately regretted not taking down the info. So the next day I dragged my kids to the park in the rain and called the number on the flyer, leaving a voicemail. There was a website--I clicked thru on my Blackberry as the kids covered themselves in wet sand. I just couldn't wait. When I saw there was a fee to do the play, again the dual reactions came. It was both "GREAT! They'll take anyone if there's money involved" and "Ugh, so this is the state of kids' theatre education in Queens. They can't do it for free at school anymore, so we have to pay for it."

Theo's teacher knows I'm a drama nag. "Are you guys doing a play? Is there a drama after-school program? Is there a music class?" She was nice enough to put on an in-classroom play last year, and isn't sure if she can get permission to do it again this year, though she's going to try. PERMISSION! And Theo actually does have music this year, but the teacher is on maternity leave til January, so there are various subs til then.

I started to research theatre-related stuff for kids on the spectrum in NYC. Thought there would be a lot, but turns out, there isn't. At least not that I can find.

So when I thought about Annie, it just seemed like we had to go for it. I emailed Sofia, the director, and put "my son" in the subject line, knowing that these things can always use boys. Sneaky me.

Sure enough, she called and said she was so happy to see "son" in the subject line! There are about 25 kids in the show and only around 6 boys. She said I could bring him to her house to audition, and that most kids just sang Happy Birthday. I was in luck--the one song Theo really knows!

I spent the next few days teaching him the song "Tomorrow" just in case he could learn it before the audition, but as much as he liked the song, he couldn't memorize it. So Happy Birthday it was.

I was so jittery in Sofia's house. I had been working with Theo, and he promised me over and over again that he would sing using his nice voice. But then Sofia asked him to sing loud, like he was singing to the back of the room, and I knew he'd take that to mean, well, LOUD. He sang in his goofy voice and I asked him to sing nice, explaining to her that he has a goofy voice and a nice voice. She said "let's hear the goofy voice" and I immediately liked her and felt more comfortable. He sang "Happy Birthday dear Annie's mom." Despite all the prep, he still thought we were going to Annie's house. Luckily she got a kick out of it.

Then he sang Happy Birthday again, not as nice as he usually does but much nicer than the first time. She told me he has good pitch, and I was beaming! He actually really does have very good pitch, so I was thrilled that she noticed.

She asked if he could do a reading, and I said probably not, that he reads but is not quite on that level yet, and she said no problem, that they'd do a game instead. She got on the floor and told him to pretend she was a loud little kid and that he should tell her to be quiet. I was about to chime in that he should pretend she's Melody, but I managed to keep my mouth shut, since I was already coming off like an uber stage mom as it was.

He told her to be quiet. She asked why, and he said, "Because I said so." She asked him to say it in a mean voice, and he scrunched up his face and said in a meaner voice, "Be quiet." It was very cute. She asked Theo if he'd seen any plays, and he said "Beauty and the Beast." He meant the movie, but I kept my mouth shut, since the answer impressed her.

But then I knew it was in both of their best interest to get the truth out of the way up front. As I filled out the form, I casually mentioned that he has autism and that he is good at following choreography and direction. I couldn't believe how nervous I was. I couldn't focus on the registration form. As I filled it out, I actually couldn't remember my phone number. Sofia just said "okay" politely... I couldn't get a sense of her reaction. She could have been freaked out, or could have been happy to get the chance to work with a speical needs kid. If she felt either of these things, she sure kept a good poker face.

That night, I got an email with the cast list. There, toward the bottom:

Sound Effects Man: Theo Orecchio

What a thrill to see his name on a cast list! My son is in a musical. Must be what a football player feels like when his kid plays in his first game.

In the days leading up to Theo's first rehearsal, I showed him tons of clips from different versions of the show and movie on YouTube. He grew increasingly excited. "Will I be Annie today?" He thought he was Annie and that he was singing "Tomorrow." He didn't know any of the terms like character, director, rehearsal, etc...so we worked on that, too. As for "Tomorrow," I didn't bother correcting him since they do all sing that as the finale, which will satisfy him.

When we got to the first rehearsal yesterday, I hooked Theo up with a few kids I knew from the park (though he didn't recognize them). One boy his age is a kid Theo played with when they were both 1, at playgroup. His mom was kind enough to encourage Liam to make friends with Theo, even though I can tell from all the times at the park they've been together that he thinks Theo is weird.

I know that if the kids can grow to "get" Theo and be his friend, this can be a very positive experience for him and for them. But if they gang up to tease him when he doesn't quite follow as well, it'll break my heart. Actually, what I really hope is that the adults fall in love with him. If they do, the kids will have a better chance of following suit.

I was anxious the whole hour and 45 minutes yesterday during rehearsal. Heck, I had teared up just dropping him off. Just dropping him off! My level of emotion seemed ridiculous. When pick-up time came I peeked in and saw him pretending to be different statues along with the other kids. He was sort of in his own area, while the rest were clustered, but hey, he was doing it and looked like he was having a blast.

The director's assistant told me he was a good boy and they worked on character development that day. He and Liam did an improv game together.

When we left, Theo made my heart full: "I can't wait to be on stage in Annie every Tuesday until March." It was obvious he'd had a great time and was really excited. I asked him to tell me about the improv he did with Liam -- they pretended they were at the zoo. They saw monkeys and robots. Liam bought apples and Theo was the cashier. He showed me the sounds he made for the cash register.

So....so far, so good. I had only paid half the tuition ''just in case," but I think this will work out. Even if he's not the best, heck, there are kindergarteners in the show, so it's not like he'd be the only one off beat here and there. And I suspect he'll charm the audience as he did in his dance recital.

I know I've been throwing a lot of darts to see what sticks. There was ballet, tap, T-ball, and now piano and theatre. Some days are frustrating, but I can't quit on him. He deserves a mother who won't give up on him. The more he does now, the better shot he has at a high-functioning adult life. And I have a boy who surprises me on a regular basis with what he's capable of.

Did I mention my son is in a musical?!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Birthday Sympathy

I'm in love with Theo right now...yesterday was Joe's birthday, but he was sick and in bed most of the day. Theo cried when he learned daddy was sick in his birthday. Not a tantrum...just quiet tears. The concept of being sick on one's birthday was just so sad to him.

Also, in the morning, Theo had made a list of things to do that day:
Play different kinds of games

He was determined to adhere to that list. So we lit the candles on a cake that poor Joe couldn't eat, invented games that took minimal effort for Mr. Sick, and since I didn't have the kind of presents you open (I made a camera out of meatloaf), Theo drew a watch, a shirt,and movies, and presented those.

Theo asked for paper to make a card, too--that was a first. Usually I have to ask him to make someone a card.

I adore how much both kids love birthdays, even when it's not theirs! Melody's rendition of Happy Birthday, the only song she will sing, had daddy temporarily healed.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Remember When We Worried He'd Never Do Pretend Play?

Kids pretending to make pizza:

Theo rolls out his imaginary dough and says "I'm putting flour on the board so it won't stick.*" Then he gets his Spiderman winter glove and puts it on to take his pizza out of the oven.

"Melody, be careful, it's hot. You don't want to get burned!"

*Aunt Pia, I think you get credit for this bit!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peanut Butter = Broken Heart

I asked Melody what she had for lunch at Sharon's house today.

"Sandwich! Peanut butter!"

I smiled, but my heart was in pieces. She used to call it "nutty." I knew this day would come, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Melody says O-tay. Like, really, actually says it. All this time I thought Buckwheat made it up.

I'll try to get it on tape.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

First Pun: A Big Deal in This Family

"That's not YO-gurt. That's MY-gurt."

Theo comes from a long line of pun-sters, particularly on the Nicodemi side. For better or worse, he's taken his place as part of this family. I look forward to the many groans we'll share.

Friday, July 09, 2010

I Want

Reconciling the tears of happiness and tears of grief caused by these two little words

When I met Joe, I told him we would raise our kids to be little Charlies. As in, the little boy from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Charlie's family was so poor that they saved  up all year to buy him a chocolate bar for his birthday. Bursting with gratitude, he begged his parents to share it with him. Of course, they refused. Instead, he made the chocolate bar last for weeks by unwrapping it every night and allowing himself only the smallest taste. He never wanted anything, as long as he had the love of his family.

My plan to have a Charlie of my own went out the window when Theo was diagnosed with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder) at 2. He didn't speak yet, so therapists came to my apartment 4 days a week to pry words out of him. The main focus was to get him to voice his needs with the words "I want."

After months of work, Theo eventually learned to say "I want ___" before his therapists would hand him the toy or puzzle piece he asked for. But outside of therapy, he never asked for anything. In school, he would sit there until someone offered him milk, even if the rest of the kids had already lined up for theirs. His cousins would beg for toys they saw in commercials or demand flashy cars in the toy store. Theo asked for nothing, content with whatever we gave him.

Forget about my notions of the selfless Charlie. I wanted Theo to want. If he'd asked me for every toy in the darn store, I'd have given them to him.

Now, at almost 7 years old, Theo has no problem voicing his desires. And his requests are usually so simple and sweet, I'm happy to honor them. A new kitchen stepstool for Christmas so he and Melody would no longer have to share one. A pack of Uno cards. A lollipop. If I do get the rare big request, like going ice skating, you can bet we're going ice skating.

And now I switch gears to discuss kid number two. I always dreamed of having a boy and a girl. When I learned I was having a girl, already having had my boy, I only had one more wish -- for her to be neurotypical (a crummy word, but that's what we say in the special needs world). I thought if I could have that, I wouldn't complain or ask for anything else. Wish granted. When Melody started talking, out poured our tears of joy and relief -- particularly when she began to say "I want."

And boy, does this terrible two-year-old want.
From the moment she rolls out of her bed (currently a mattress on the floor because she wants...to not be trapped in the crib) she climbs on top of me, grabs my face, and starts hurling demands. "Hey, mommy. I want milk. I want juice. I want water." (Yes, she really does want all three. At the same. time.) Sometimes, if I'm lucky, she'll throw in a "Good morning."  Then it's all whining, all the time, for the rest of the day, 'til she loses the fight against sleep.

I spend my precious little time with my daughter either giving in to her demands (after squeezing out a "please") or ignoring her while I let the tantrum run its course.

And I think about Charlie. Where is my Charlie?

I want candy!
I want ice cream!
I want to go that way. No, thaaaaat waaaaaaaay!

I want. I want. I want. Melody's sense of entitlement grates on me. At the height of my grogginess, and therefore my flair for drama, it makes me fear for her future. What if she becomes one of those obnoxious spoiled brats who make my single friends not want kids? What if such a monster is spawned from me? Me, to whom good manners, gratitude and humility are so important!

Then I remember the promise I made. I'd never take it for granted if Theo would just talk to me, or if Melody could just be a regular kid. He does, and she is. She really, really is. And I pull them in close -- my special boy and my beautiful brat -- to make a demand of my own.

"I want a hug."


Monday, July 05, 2010

Prince Theo and Princess Jasper Once Upon a Dream


After they watched Sleeping Beauty, Jasper turned to Theo and said, "How 'bout we dance together?" He happily agreed.

You'll see at the beginning he is trying to get down and groovy but is quickly schooled on a proper waltz.

Ignore the mess, they'd been playing for hours. :)

P.S. Those kisses are all him; I didn't tell him to do that!

"I've Never Loved Her More" Moment

Kids do cute things that tear at the heartstrings on a daily basis, but every so often there's that "I've never loved you more" moment. Melody gave me one of those yesterday.

We were out to breakfast as a family, a rare and special treat for us.

Suddenly, Melody covered her eyes with both her hands and sneezed. Eggs flew out of her mouth.

We burst out laughing. She covered. her eyes. to sneeze. Close, honey, close.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Melody is Two

This morning Melody had a laughing fit--her face turned red, her eyes squinted, and she produced squeals that I hadn't heard since babyhood. How I adored her. A simple game of "I love you" followed by tickling brought her to a level of happiness that only children know. An hour later, she was sitting on my lap and suddenly said "I love you" and started tickling me with her stubby little fingers. Taken aback at her genius, I reproduced the roaring laughter and she seemed to understand. As our eyes met, we shared the moment.
I love having a two-year-old.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Big Questions

Theo asked two questions I wasn't prepared to deal with in one week:

1. After 2 years of bathing together, Theo finally asked "How come Melody doesn't have a pee-pee?"

2. Where's daddy's daddy?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dreamland Musings

I'm so in love with my boy's mind, even his subconscious one.

 Theo: "I had a funny dream. I was stuck on the roof."
 Me: "Why were you stuck on the roof?
Theo: "I was trying to put the S in Sun."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sorry and I'll Miss You

This week, Melody turned up the sweetness. (Who'd have thought that was possible?)

We went to dinner with Grandma Popcorn and Melody was climbing on the booth. Grandma told her she was worried she might get hurt. Melody said "sorry!" for the first time. Grandma, Joe and I all looked at each other--did she really just say that??

When daddy left for work this morning, Melody waved "Bye daddy! I'll miss you!" Again, for the first time. You should have seen Joe's face.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Weaning Puts the Action in Distraction

Operation: Wean
Day 4

The morning was a tad rough for my Smelly yesterday. She was cranky and wanted her de-crankifier. But she got over it soon enough.

Then Sharon had her all day while I worked. When she dropped the kids back home, lots of kids came over for a little April Fools party/contest (all the guests brought food that looked like something else). After everyone left, it was time for bath and bed.

So there was little time for her to remember she wanted to nurse. Today she'll be equally distracted.

It must be harder for stay-at-home moms to wean when their babies/toddlers are around them all day, smelling mommy.

Guess It's Laundry Day

"Mommy, you have to put underwear in the drawer. I can't wear pants without underwear!"

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Nursing Gives Way to New Forms of Affection

Operation: Wean
Day 3

Every time Melody asked for "alk alk alk" I offered a hug and kiss instead. I also offered a drink or something to eat. She usually accepted one of those things.

So last night I was lying on the floor doing ab crunches with the FitTV channel, and Melody came over to lift my shirt so she could get a fix. I told her no, and what she said next surprised and delighted me: "Kiss?"

I crunched up and kissed her. Went back down. Crunched back up and kissed her again. Went back down. At this point she was laughing and understanding the game, so we kept at it--I got a workout and we both got kisses!

Since weaning I've been getting more hugs and cuddles in general. Before, any time she was close to me, she wanted to nurse. I'm looking forward to getting more of this type of affection. I looooooooooooooooove hugs from my girl!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Reality is Sinking In: I Really Have Stopped Nursing

Operation: Wean
Day 2

Yesterday was much easier than Monday. Despite all the ice cream justifications I spouted out, I didn't even need to bring in sweet reinforcements. She accepted cereal and pasta and other drinks when I refused to nurse.

She still hasn't understood the concept of "No more boobies." She just hears "No boobies now." So she's rejected over and over again. That's the hard part. But she is at least starting to accept it more quickly, with fewer cries if any.

So wow, I haven't nursed in more than 2 days!

I've noticed just how much I really used to breastfeed, because yesterday every time she woke up or came close to me my instinct was to pull my shirt up. I had to remind myself not to do it!

In case you're wondering how much physical pain I must be in, the answer is none. I tried to wean while on a business trip in September, so I've already gone through the pain of days' worth of engorgement. When I returned from my trip, I didn't have the heart to refuse her like I planned, so we rebuilt a small supply of milk. Not enough to cause me discomfort now.

Monday, March 29, 2010

When Attempting to Wean, Have Chocolate on Hand

Operation: Wean
Day 1

Why am I finally weaning?
  • Melody is about to be 22 months
  • She claws at me constantly. I have scratches on my chest from her pulling down my shirt.
  • She does said clawing in public--on subways, buses, in restaurants
  • She is not in it for the milk. Long after she drains me she wants to suck for comfort, making me a human pacifier.
  • I'm going on 3 trips for work in the next 2 months. It will be hard enough on her and Joe as it is, so if I can remove the "mommy can give Melody something daddy can't" factor I hope it will be easier on both of them in the long run.

Theo stopped nursing on his own at 9 months, so I've never weaned before. I did, however, have to wean him off the bottle at 2 years and 3 months. He was very addicted. I told Joe we were going to throw away all his bottles and stop cold turkey. It would be a hard few days but we'd just have to deal with it and then it will be over. Joe had his doubts but went along with it.

Turned out to be not so bad. Our secret weapon was ice cream. To ease his howling for the bottle, we gave him his favorite dessert. After a couple of days, he forgot all about the bottle. (Happily, Melody never really took to a bottle so it's one less thing to wean her off of. And we didn't use a pacifier with either kid.)

My strategy is the same now. Have treats at the ready when the screams come.

I'm not so much weaning as stopping cold turkey. Gradually and increasingly cutting down on feedings is the most common method of weaning. Turns out that trying to cut down on feedings wasn't in either of my kids' DNA. This method of replacing boob with ice cream would undoubtedly be unpopular with many mothers, but I remain unapologetic. If I can soften the blow of this cruelty, great!

I knew the mornings would be the hardest. When she wakes up, the first thing we do every day is lay on my bed and nurse. And nurse and nurse. This morning, at 6:30 AM, I stuck her in the high chair with ice cream and Nick Jr. on TV.

When she was finished, she lay on the couch with me tugging my shirt. I was prepared--I'm wearing a turtleneck, which I plan to wear for as long as I need to during this process. Melody begged for milk.

"Alk! Alk! Aaaaalk!"

At this point I took my mother's advice and had a conversation with her, as mom had done with Elliot. "No more boobies. You're a big girl now. Let's hug. Can we hug?" WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

I offered her a cup of warm milk and she refused. But all her wailing made her thirsty, so she eventually grabbed the cup and drank. After a few sips she tossed the cup in protest.

Later in the morning she wanted to nurse, so I made her hot chocolate. That kept her happy for a bit.

Now, as I type, she's happily munching on strawberries and ham and eggs (made with the delicious ham Joe's mom made for Palm Sunday! She sent us home with leftovers). So it hasn't been so bad. She cries, yes, but then she gets over it. I wasn't sure if she'd spend all morning whimpering, or worse, screaming. But she's fine.

How long will this take, I wonder? When will she really, truly stop asking for the breast? And when will she forget about it entirely?

In case you think I have a blase attitude about weaning, guess again. This is as hard on me as it is for my little girl. I shudder when I think:

I will never nurse again.

I put both my children to my breast the instant they were born. It has been a beautiful, special part of my bond with them.

It's Melody's greatest comfort when she gets a bruise or is sleepy. It's the one thing I can do for her that no one else can. It's ours, and no one could take it from us. Except me. It's a bittersweet ending.

I do worry that I'm choosing the time I'm ready to stop instead of when she's ready. My best comfort is knowing she won't really ever be. Addicted as she is, she'd have just as much trouble with this a year from now.

Joe has been very supportive--he has always said I should stop when I am ready. I know other dads pressure their wives to stop once the baby is "too old," so they can get what's rightfully theirs returned to them.

Boobs, when this is all over, you won't look as you once did. But I'll try to love you anyway. You may be closer to the ground, but you brought my children closer to my heart. You nourished my babies; you did what nature meant for you to do. How can I be mad at you for that?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bronx Zoo

Our trip to the zoo this weekend was in a word--perfect.

When Theo was Melody's age we'd take him to the zoo, hoping that this time he would notice the animals. But he rarely did. It was like they didn't even exist. We always left a little sad.

But in the past year, Theo started loving the zoo! He especially likes the polar bears and penguins. It was a thrill to watch him walk around on Saturday with his hat and his map--he looked like a little safari man.

Melody was enthralled by the giraffes. She giggled at the monkeys. But most of all, she loved the simple ducks that you'd see at a pond. She gazed at them for a long time.

As you can imagine, they charmed the heck out of the 7 train passengers on the way home. They really, really adore each other.

Click here to see the rest of the zoo album.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Note to My Daughter

Dear Melody,

I know one day you will no longer call broccoli "gocky" and grapes "apes." When that day comes, I will be sad.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where's the Shooting Thing?

Another proud parenting moment--Theo asked me where the shooting thing is. He was talking about the nerf gun he got for Xmas, which I hid and he recently found. I love that he doesn't even know the word gun!

More recent cute-isms that I posted to Facebook but should really mention here:

  • Theo wants Aunt Gloria Nicodemi to come over so he can make her avatar on the Wii. (A mii.) He wanted to know if he could put a baby inside.

  • Melody just handed me my pants from the laundry and said "get dressed."

Balancing Hard Work and Expectations

Joe and I walked away from our meeting with Ms. Fredericks today feeling great! She was all smiles talking about Theo, telling us we should be very proud. And we got the impression that she really likes Theo. I know it's hard to imagine anyone not liking him, but that's the sweet Theo you know. In school last year he had bad behavior issues and I could tell his teacher just plain didn't like him and didn't want him there. It's very hard for a parent to see someone feel that way about their baby.

The Report
Now, I was that kid who was unhappy with a 99 on a test. I held myself to ridiculous standards. I'm not sure why, because my parents sure didn't. They always had to tell me to ease up on myself, force me to stay home when I was sick because I wanted to go to school  (not becuase I liked it, but so I wouldn't miss something important) and sleep more and study less. It was definitely somewhat of a role reversal. I think I owe my attitude to the need to compete with my two best friends who are geniuses and scored 100s in their sleep.

All the stress I gave myself in school was unnecessary and not something I want for my children. But how can a perfectionist hold her children to lower standards than she held herself?

Maybe autism was the kick in the teeth I needed.

First graders are given standardized tests in NYC now. Makes you wanna cry, no? We received those results today. Theo was on grade level with math, and on the cusp of grade level with reading. My heart sank when I saw his below-average reading scores, but only briefly. I reminded myself this wasn't a standardized test for special needs kids--it was for all first graders. It wouldn't be fair to hold him to the same standards as everyone else.

Nor would it be fair to teach Theo that it's OK for him to expect less of himself and use autism as a crutch. We are still learning the careful balance needed between making him work hard but forgiving himself for taking longer to catch on.

But it's his mom who struggles, to tell the truth. I get frustrated during homework. I start yelling at him. Yesterday I made him cry because he wasn't telling me the right answer in math. I know that makes me sound like a monster, but he wasn't trying.  He was just naming random numbers as answers. I usually know the difference between him being uncooperative and legitimately struggling. Still, when I saw the tears I hugged him and told him this work was hard and he was doing a great job and would get it soon. I reminded myself that I had to get my act together as much as he does.

Luckily his wonderful sitter Sharon and his best friend Reina (she's 8) are the ones who help him with homework on most days, and he is much more cooperative with them.

Back to the parent-teacher conference. Ms. Fredericks has been giving him lots of prizes lately for good behavior. While he has trouble transitioning between activities, he's socializng much better with the other kids. He works beautifully with Ashley, who is calm. She keeps him with the calm kids because they bring out the best in him.

She was very impressed with his growing vocabulary, as are we. She showed us the "on demand" story the kids had to write where the kid writes a 3-page story with 3 illustrations with zero help from the teachers. His story was great! Really nicely written, most words spelled correctly--and adorable drawings of him sledding.

The principal randomly walked in the room during the meeting and gave us a big smile and thumbs up to indicate how well Theo was doing. I smiled through my teeth and repressed the urge to say "aren't you glad we didn't take him out of this school last year like you clearly hoped we would?"

Ms. Fredericks also remarked on the great change in Theo ever since we took him off the gluten-free casein-free diet. He was just so happy to eat what the rest of the kids were eating! Remember my post about the important social component often ignored when this diet is discussed? She used to buy him gluten-free cookies (which I didn't even know--so sweet!) to help make him feel like he fit in, but he always knew they weren't the same as the other kids' snacks. She says he's an overall happier kid in school now.

Heehee-- I told Theo I was proud of him because his teacher said he was doing well in math, reading, and writing. He asked, "What about lunch and snack?" as if those were subjects too!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Three Generations of a Rocking Chair and Dolls

I always loved the little rocking chair in Aunt Don's apartment. During our last visit, it occurred to me to bring it out for Melody, along with three dolls that belonged to my cousin Jo when she was a little girl.

Melody didn't exactle handle the dolls with care, but she sure did look cute on the chair!

Now Jo, Melody and I have all sat on that little rocking chair that Aunt Don says Uncle Charlie brought home for Jo.

Update: Jo read this and said
"Hi darlin....this is great. It was very emotional for me to see Melody in that chair. It was around 1952 that my Dad brought it home so that I could sit in front of our first TV and watch Howdy Doody!! I still love it."

Friday, February 26, 2010

As If I Didn't Know!

I couldn't find the doll Theo was looking for, so he showed me a picture he drew of her and said very seriously, "This is what she looks like."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Valentine's Day Smile

Last July, we decided that in order to get some sleep around here, we were going to let Melody start crying herself to sleep. CIO (crying it out, a common method used by parents) usually just lasts for a month, and the baby usually adjusts.

But months later, Melody was still crying herself to sleep. She wasn't scared--she was just crying out of protest, every single night. But that 5-10 minutes of crying in exchange for a full night's sleep were worth it to us. She learned to sleep through the night, which was better for the whole family.

Still, I was sad to be deprived of one of the sweetest joys of bedtime--tucking in your child, kissing her good night, and singing her a lullaby. Whenever I tried to sing to her, she screamed, knowing that meant the next step was my leaving the room.

About a month ago, kind of by accident, we started putting the kids to bed in their room at the same time. Prior to that, we would put Melody down first and put Theo on our bed or the couch, and transfer the sleeping boy to his bed once Melody was finally asleep. But one day she lay on his bed and put the blanket over herself. Once we put her in her crib, she started to yell at us. But the lightbulb went off...hmm, if she sees Theo get tucked in, maybe she'll go to sleep more readily.

That didn't happen at first. She continued to cry when put in her crib. We felt guilty making him lie in bed listening to her cry, but within ten minutes they were both asleep and so we stuck to the plan. Once we bought him a nightlight, he no longer complained. He said he wasn't scared anymore.

Then, a miracle happened a couple of weeks ago. After watching me tuck Theo into bed, Melody lay down in her crib, put her head on her pillow, and pulled her blanket over her. WOW! It seemed too good to be true.

For the past week, she has been going to sleep with no tears every night. Not only that, but she's been going to bed smiling. She even says "Good night, EO. Good night, mommy. Good night, daddy," as we leave the room.

On Valentine's Day I put her in her crib and I sang her a lullaby. She shot me with a grin so big I'm surprised it didn't burn right through me. Thanks for the VDay gift, my little love.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Starring Theo as Baby Bear

Since the minute Theo flew out of the womb (practically literally), I dreamt about seeing him in his theatrical debut. What's cuter than a kid in a bad schoool play? And it didn't get any badder than this.

This one kid broke down into tears, hysterical tears, because his mom wasn't there. Everyone agreed to wait for her to start the play, but by 9:30 (a half-hour after showtime) she still hadn't come so they started. The poor kid was so sad he wouldn't say his lines. The play ended with her entering the room and him running to her shouting MOMMY!

The teacher asked if we'd mind watching the play a second time--and that's what they did! You should have seen the kid's face when read his lines that time. He was beaming. I was so happy! Actually, you can see. Look at 4:09 on the video, there he is.

As for Theo, he was the most excited kid there. He couldn't stop smiling before it started! (photo:right) He said his lines with a high pitched voice the first time and it was hard to hear him (Joe thinks he was trying to be Baby Bear...so does Grandma...I'm not sure. I'll ask the teacher). UPDATE: Theo WAS told to use the high voice! Which officially makes him the best actor in the class!
If you would like to see the first version, I posted it here. 
Theo waits "offstage" to re-enter. Could he be any more excited?
This photo is my favorite. He's accusing Goldilocks "Someone's been sleeping on my bed, and there she is!"
Pretty funny that Baby Bear was taller than Papa and Mama

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Melody takes me aback every day with new words that come out of her perfect pink mouth. She repeats everything. Like a little sponge, she takes it all in.

Our favorite thing right now is "Yeaaah."
Are you hungry? "Unree. Yeaaah."
Want to go play with Theo? "Eo. Yeaaaah."

Though we also adore her raspy little "No."
Can I have a hug? "No ug" she says, with a fierce head-shaking.
A lady in the pizzeria says hi. Say hi to the lady, Melody! "No hi."

But don't be mistaken--this toddler doesn't lack affection! In fact, she's currently the Queen of kisses. Her newest thing is grabbing my face before planting one on, which kills me. When she gets into kissing mode, she insists on taking turns kissing all of us, over and over. She also offers big hugs, which get me emotional every time.

I know all moms love getting hugs and kisses from their toddlers. But they can't possibly know how lucky they are if they haven't experienced a toddler who can't kiss and hug. I know it's taboo to compare kids, but this blog is about full frontal honesty--and Theo did not kiss and hug at 2. It's OK for me to talk about this. We all know what a mushball he is now. But at the time, I didn't know if he'd ever kiss or hug or say I love you. I was still waiting to hear "Mommy."

Which is why I get that little extra heartstring tug when I open the door and hear Melody shout "Mommyyyyyy!" All moms feel lucky, but I get that extra pang with each kiss.

But hey, guess who's teaching her to be such a good linguist and skilled affectionado--her big brother. Which makes me really, really lucky.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Proud Mama Bear

This stage mom considers Theo the male lead in his class' reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. He's Baby Bear. So while Papa and Mama just say someone's been eating my porridge, sitting in my chair, and sleeping in my bed, Theo gets those lines PLUS the qualifiers--And ate it all up! And broke it! And there she is! So that makes him the lead, right? Right?

Can't wait to see him in his first role on Friday. He has his lines memorized, as well as all the lines of his classmates. But he may be very shy and quiet when the time comes. Either way, we couldn't be more excited if he was about to open Hamlet in London!

Confirmed: The Tooth Fairy Came

Mean mom woke up her sleeping boy hoping to capture a rare moment on tape--the discovery of what's under the pillow.

What's cuter than a groggy kid?

I think Theo didn't open the envelope right away because he already knew what was in there, since it's always the same thing. Just knowing the envelope was there was enough for him. I adore the double take he did when he remembered it was morning and realized what that meant, and made a dive under the pillow.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Cute and Cute Collide


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Waiting For the Toof Fairy

When Melody and I got home from a playdate last night, Theo greeted us at the door with a dangling tooth. He told me about several failed attempts to pull it out--Joe tried ye olde string method, but the tooth wasn't ready. The poor guy was so disappointed! He was uncomfortable, sure, but more than anything he wanted his visit from the Tooth Fairy.

He got out paper and a pencil, sat down and began writing. I was half paying attention, helping him spell the words he didn't know while doing other things. It wasn't until he finished his first drawing that I realized the brilliance he had produced.

I ran to Joe to show him the picture and we cracked up! I think it's the best picture he's drawn yet. Hilarious! And how much do I love him for spelling words as he hears them...I didn't have the heart to correct "toof."

But wait, he wasn't done. He sat back down and created his next masterpiece, him lying in bed, complete with the lollipop under the pillow. He told me "the magic turns the tooth into a lollipop." I was impressed that he drew the Tooth Fairy horizontally to indicate that she was flying. That may not seem like a big deal, but for him it was. He almost always draws all his people the same way.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Starring: Theo in Another Blog!

Logan's mom Jenn used a great photo of Theo getting a skating lesson in her blog entry about Logan's birthday party. This is a great blog about parenting and special needs, you might wanna check it out:


Friday, January 15, 2010

Ice, Ice, My Baby

When Theo's friend Logan invited him to his birthday party, I tried to think of other birthday parties Theo had been invited to. I could probably count them on one hand. Theo went from 0 to 2 friends last year. Both of the friends he found, Logan and Reina (who will get a blog post of her own) seemed to need him, too. No kid ever needed Theo before. So here he was, invited to a party--not because a kid was inviting everyone in his class or a cousin was obligated to include him--Logan genuinely liked Theo and wanted him at his party! And the best part--it was an ice skating party.

Do you recall our first and only attempt at ice skating last year? We had incredible fun, but Theo was unable to hold his own on the ice. I was curious to see how he'd do--a year later, his vocabulary and verbal comprehension were stronger--skills that seemed like they would matter to skating. One thing NOT better was Theo's balance. And so we would see. But I knew either way, we'd have a great time.

When we walked in, Logan's enthusiastic "Hi, Theo!" was music to my ears. His mom, Jenn, was good enough to pay for the kids to all have a 30 min coaching session. The kids learned how to fall properly, and then they hit the ice. I liked this rink because it provided helmets, something that Theo really needed! I'm pretty sure he took a couple of headers.

I automatically went into apologetic mode with the coaches when Theo did not get it right away. In fact, he was downright uncooperative at first and wouldn't stop giggling as he fell over and over. But pretty soon he was moving little distances on his own and two of the coaches were actually impressed! Coaches who teach beginners every day, impressed with Theo's progress on the ice? I felt great, and Theo felt great.

As the day went on, his confidence grew. A couple of times he went from one wall to the other entirely on his own! As many times as he fell, he never stopped smiling. I think both of us could have skated all day! Unfortunately, the rink closed early for hockey.

He never really skated skated--more like skillfully walked across the ice. But that's what kids are taught to do at first--hold their knees and march. We're going back this weekend and I plan to keep taking him, because I had as much fun as he did! I love skating! (But oops, one of the coaches corrected ME, telling me to bend my knees.) I really think he'll get it if we keep at it, and this will be wonderful therapy for his balance issues.

As far as the party went, thankfully gluten wasn't an issue. Theo gleefully chowed down on pizza and birthday cake, and loved singing to Logan. He didn't socialize with the other kids much, but he was clearly happy to be part of the festivities.

Email From Teach

This put a smile on my face this morning. I know it will do the same for you!

Mrs. Orecchio,

Happy New Year to you as well. Theo is doing great. He has been spending less and less time on the computer*. He is starting to be able to control himself a little better. In math, he only has to be shown how to do the problem once and he is able to complete the rest on his own. I am glad that he is happy about coming to school.

Thank you,
Ms. Fredericks

*They use the computer to calm Theo down when he gets nutty

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Top 11 Reasons All Cats Have Autism

  • They throw a fit if there's a change in their routine. You don't want to be around a cat who's mad that dinner is late.
  • They can spend hours fixated on a light bulb, staring out the window, or playing with a ball.
  • Social anxiety
  • Fear of loud noises
  • They prefer flipping the pages of books to actually reading them
  • They exist in their own world (if you're lucky, you are a guest)
  • They act out when overstimulated
  • They don't mean to misbehave
  • Some are the height of innocence and accept affection from any stranger, while others refuse to be touched
  • Once you win them over, you will never know a more rewarding relationship
  • Their vision of the world is much more beautiful and brilliant. They know a purity in life that the rest of us can't begin to understand...but because we love them, we'll continue to try.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!