I Got 250 New Mice Yesterday

Oh, yes I did.

I didn’t want to freak out the mice by putting all 250 in the cage at the same time, so I started with just one. The mice were understandably concerned about the interloper.

Oh, I can’t get anything past you, can I? You’re right. They aren’t actual mice. They are swag mice. Much as I like my real mice, my new swag mice are almost better.

They certainly don’t smell as bad.

Squeee!!!!! Or, should I say, Squeeeak!

When I said that Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah could get you anything in the form of swag, I wasn’t kidding.

But these mice aren’t just super awesome anatomically correct replicas of mice, oh no.

By “anatomically correct,” I mean, “they have feet.”

They are also key chains.

And measuring tapes.

And toys for your children.

Oh, yes. You are going to want one of these.

Sometimes You Don’t See It

Jack has spent the past month attending ESY (Extended School Year), which is basically half-day special ed summer school. I mean, at least I assumed he was attending ESY. I got a note from the teacher after the first week introducing herself and then I heard nothing else.

All I knew is that I put him on the bus in the morning and I got him off the bus in the afternoon when the only change in him or his belongings would be that his snack would be gone from his backpack. Other than the snack eating, he could have been panhandling on the side of the road for three hours a day for all I knew.

I do know that every morning, starting the very first day, he was excited to go to school.

 The first day. The ice pack is in case of bus barfing.

 Waiting for the bus the first day of school.

I do know that as the days wore on, if anything, he seemed more eager to get to school. He would run to the bus every morning and would always tell me that he had a good day when he got home, although it was difficult to get much more than that out of him.

He seemed to like school so much that this past Wednesday, while I’d originally planned to take him out of school for the day to take him to see some children’s theater, I decided to let him go to class instead because he’d missed it for two days due to school power outages.

Regardless of his obvious joy with school, I was a little irked. I had planned to get gift cards for his bus driver and aide as well as his ESY teacher and paraeducator. But after hearing nothing from the teacher for four weeks, I almost didn’t send the gift into school.

I’m so glad I did.

My phone rang today and because I didn’t recognize the number, I didn’t answer it. After my phone beeped to let me know that I had a message, I listened to it. I got a little worried when I heard the caller identify herself as Jack’s teacher, afraid that there had been some kind of problem.

It was exactly the opposite.

I’m so glad I didn’t answer that phone call because now I have this utterly sincere and emotional message from his teacher saved on my phone:

“I’m calling just to let you know that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Jackson this summer. I’ve learned a lot from him. I know he’s learned a lot from me. He’s very bright. Very, very smart. Extremely smart. I also want to call and thank you for the gift card. Really, your son has been a gift to me. He has taught me so much in these four weeks and I wasn’t expecting that and it was a very pleasant surprise. My paraeducator is also very thankful. If you’d like to talk to me in more detail, my cell number is…”

This afternoon, when Jack got home, his backpack was a little heavier than usual. I opened it to find his ESY-goal progress reports and a stack of papers. That stack of papers took my breath away.

Here are some of them:

The simple machines. I really didn’t think he was listening to me.

And on the other side of that one:

“In the summer I enjoy Camp Stimey because it is fun!”

Then I found several detailed photos of the Angry Birds iPhone game that he is obsessed with.

If you’ve played this game, you know how accurate this is.

Mixed in among his drawings were several math sheets focused on identifying, counting, and adding money. And this:

Notice that he erased the “son” that the teacher put on his name.
He cracks me up.

Based on the worksheets I found, Jack’s ESY class spent a lot of time on rhyming words. See how many rhyming words you can find in this drawing.

I found: bat, rat, cat, (second) cat, and a hat.

And then, this drawing of a child, obviously Jack, playing hockey.

I guess I should get on securing equipment for hockey season.

I was floored. I almost wept. I saw the great care and nurturing of creativity that his teacher gave to Jack this summer.

Not an hour later, Jack piped up with, “I want to go to the summer school I went to the last two years,” and then, “I AM A SECOND GRADER!”

It looks like Jack really did learn something in the past four weeks. I learned something too, but my lesson came only today: Sometimes, even when you’re not seeing it, great things are happening.

Autism Unexpected: Summer Routines for Kids with Autism

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My autistic son, Jack, thrives on routine. As much as school can be difficult for him, he still needs the day-to-day ritual of getting up at the same time, heading out to school, then returning home after a structured day. Summer presents a challenge, with its long, unstructured days, often with nothing to do.

I am fortunate in that Jack qualifies for Extended School Year (ESY) services, which means that he gets to go to half-day school for all of July. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to keep him tethered to routine. Sadly, that school ends today.

It is hard to maintain routine without an external force that compels you to do so, but if your child is like mine, it can be very worth it. Having just emerged from two and a half days without power at my home due to the recent Maryland storm—which also meant no school for two days—I see how Jack’s behavior suffers when he is left at loose ends.

It’s not that he goes haywire, but he is just obviously thrown off. It was with palpable relief that I put Jack on the school bus again on Wednesday, once his school re-opened, and I could see that he was happy as well.

Now that school is over, I’m thinking of ways to help Jack stay in a routine for the next four weeks until school starts. One of my tactics is to keep the same restraints on TV and video game time that I keep during the school year. It is tempting during the summer to let my kids turn on the TV as early as noon, but my goal every day is to restrict them to the hours of 5 to 6:30 p.m., just like during the school year.

That leaves a lot of time to fill every day. For the past several summers, I have created my own home version of camp with different topics each week to keep my kids busy and to keep their minds working. This summer, we’ve covered topics as diverse as “Where does our food come from?” and simple machines.

Introducing a new theme each week keeps things interesting, but also maintains stability throughout the week. For our food week, we visited farms. Home Depot and the National Building Museum were our destinations for simple machine week.

Along with a planned outing every one or two days, I also plan circle time and desk work with simple worksheets and, often, YouTube videos about the subject at hand. Seeing how it is summer, I stay flexible and will let my kids’ interests lead how these sessions go, but I think it is so important for them to remember to sit and pay attention.

It is summer, after all, so in addition to outings and seat work, I also try to plan a semi-unstructured activity each day. Trips to the park, the library, our backyard inflatable pool, or playdates with friends provide enough structure to help Jack stay tethered, but are free enough that he gets to relax and be a kid.

Speaking of playdates, I use those to keep Jack’s social skills firing so that he remembers how to interact with kids who aren’t his brothers when he heads back to school in the fall. Inviting a child over without his or her parent is a fantastic opportunity for you to work with your child on specific social skills. Not to mention, you will earn another parent’s undying gratitude when you offer to take her child off of her hands for a few hours.

It’s not always easy to keep up the energy to keep things going over the summer. As a stay at home mom, I know that it is tempting to relax and just let the summer days unfold in front of me. However, I also know that those summer days, and the fall ones that follow, will be much improved if I keep my kids, and Jack in particular, busy and on a schedule.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on July 30, 2010.

BlogHer Ho!

Non-BlogHer attendees: Please ignore. Come back tomorrow. Or check out Sam, Quinn, and my trip to the the-ah-tah yesterday.

The pre-BlogHer flurry of posts has begun. Or continued. I’m not sure it ever stops. As far as I can tell,  all the BlogHer posts out there are of two types: tips and freak outs. While I’m not generally the person to offer tips about…anything, I figured why the hell not? I’ve been twice. I’ll share my (snicker) wisdom.

Here is what I have to say about the whole thing:

Tips for BlogHer!

1. Take $1 bills. Every time I go to a blogging event I forget to do this, especially because drinks are often free at such things. Here’s the thing though: tips aren’t. You will want to tip your bartenders. Loudly lamenting about your lack of anything but $20 bills in front of the dude who just made you a drink is way not slick.

2. No one will think you’re fat. Everyone will be too busy feeling insecure about the way they look to notice your flaws. So don’t worry. Except, wait. Now that you’re not insecure anymore, are you going to notice my fat? Dammit. I’ve Catch-22′ed myself.

3. Take business cards. I’ve always made mine myself with Quark, Photoshop, and an inkjet printer and they are just fine. Alternately, there are some fine online business card purveyors that offer rush shipping. This year I got lazy and decided to go with that option, minus the rush shipping. Some people (me) will hand out small items of swag. We are nerdy idiots. Ignore us.

4. Take some down time to get to know someone new. Really chat. Don’t just rush around and try to do everything. Don’t get so bogged down in telling everyone about your blog that you forget to make actual connections. Also, remember that probably not everyone will know who you are. In fact, it’s likely that most people won’t. At least that’s been my experience. There are a lot of bloggers at this conference. Don’t feel bad about that. Think of it as an opportunity to make a new friend or reader.

5. Try to go to panels. Lots of people just attend BlogHer to hang out with their buddies from across the country. This is a very valid reason for attending BlogHer. However, I LOVE sitting in a room and really getting to hear what some of my favorite bloggers have to say about a topic in detail.  I hear there’s a great panel on autism this year first thing on Friday! Also attend the community keynote. One of my roommates, Susan, will be speaking. Cheer for her. Also, you will be inspired. Furthermore, know that you can’t do everything. Pick and choose what you want to do, but be willing to change your plans.

6. It’s not about the swag. Swag is awesome. I love it. I really do. I’ll take it if you hand it to me. I’ll enjoy and appreciate it. But I tell myself before any blogging event that I go to that if I don’t get swag—even awesome swag that I was “supposed” to get—it’s okay, because the reason I went was to meet people and hang out with friends anyway. You will remember making a new blogging buddy a year later, but you will probably not remember whatever was in the swag bag at the party you met her at.

7. Everyone says to take Advil. I say take Pepto Bismol. Last year, I had to buy a $10 box of it in the hotel gift shop for my gastrointestinal…discomfort. Come to think of it, take both. Or come see me. I’ll have them.

8. Seriously. Comfy shoes. And, really, wear whatever you want. Maybe not a stained t-shirt and ripped shorts, but if you look fairly tidy, you’ll be appropriate. Don’t pack everything in your closet.

9. Ignore the drama. There’s always drama. Don’t worry about it. We’re not there to rip each other down. We’re there to support each other. Live and let live, I say. Don’t let people looking for problems ruin your weekend.

10. Come up with an elevator pitch, even if it is as lame as “I write a humor blog about autism.” And, seriously, if that is what you come up with, prepare for some strange looks. But even that is better than 10 minutes into my first BlogHer when someone asked me (literally, in an elevator) what I wrote about and I didn’t have a good answer, but mumbled on and on.

11. If you see me say hi. Please. I want to meet you. If you’re a reader of my blog, I super extra special want to meet you.

As long as I’m trying to be everything to everyone, I might as well go with my freak out post as well. Although I don’t really freak out about BlogHer. I’m really just excited. I was freaked out before BlogHer ’08, but then I walked into the hotel and met Erika Jurney at the front desk and she was awesome to me and all was well.

Both years I’ve been, I’ve walked into my room and been a little bit like, well, what now? Make sure you have someone’s cell phone number. Call them and make them meet you in the lobby. Tag along wherever they are going. They will be happy to have you. I almost guarantee it. Alternately, take your laptop and go sit in the lobby. Look up and smile a lot. Oh, wait. That sounds a lot like Tip #12.

Okay, so instead of a freak out post, I’ll update my things you should know about Stimey before you meet her at BlogHer post. Most things from my original post are probably still pretty much true. I’ve updated the list a little bit although parts of it are verbatim from my pre-BlogHer 2008 post.

Things you should know about Stimey before BlogHer!

1. I’m a nervous laugher and may guffaw inappropriately. If you start telling a story and I laugh waaaaaay before the punchline, just assume that I can see the funny coming in advance. I may also laugh even if I don’t get the joke, just so I can fit in.

2. I will say, “That’s so funny,” a lot. Every once in a while I will switch it up with, “That’s hilarious.” I also say “dude” more than is really necessary. I will either curse more or less than you expect me too. I hope to not do so when I am speaking at my panel.

3. I will blush a lot. Don’t worry, you haven’t embarrassed me. My body seems to think I am embarrassed more than I really am. So my rampant blushing means that my body thinks I should be embarrassed. I find that the blushing embarrasses me more than almost anything else in my life. In truth, I don’t take myself very seriously, so it’s difficult to cause shame or embarrassment in me.

4. I may abruptly interrupt your conversation. I may just as abruptly wander off during a conversation. My social skills aren’t quite up to par and sometimes I feel a little scattered at BlogHer.

5. It’s quite possible that I will attach myself to you and you will be all, why the hell is Stimey following me around? Feel free to say, “Hey, I’m going to run to my room/the bathroom/the bar/that empty table over there. I’ll see you later.” I won’t be offended.

6. If you’re talking to me and want my super awesome, super secret swag and I haven’t offered you said swag, just go ahead and ask for the swag.

7. I’m not as insane or as funny as I may seem on my blog. In fact, I’m kind of boring. Although I am wildly inconsistent, so sometimes that unintentionally comes across as insane or funny. If you don’t find my blog funny, then I will be exactly as funny as I seem on my blog.

8. I may come up to you very excited to meet you and then not have a clue what to say. Feel free to step in and lead the conversation.

9. Guaranteed I will not recognize you or remember who you are for more than five minutes. I will have difficulty remembering your blog even if I read it every day. I may meet you and then forget you by face, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t adore you. It means that you are an actual real life person who forgot to wear her name tag.

10. If you are not going, I will miss you.

There you go. Now you are fully prepared. You’re welcome.

Fifty-Seven Hours. Not That I Was Counting or Anything.

If you follow me on Twitter, you are aware that my power finally came back on last night at 12:30 in the morning. If you follow me on Twitter, you are also aware that I am a whiny, whiny person. I very much did not care for being without power. 

I am a person who is very happy to be living in the twenty-first century with lights, television, and all of the assorted little red, blue, and green lights that tell me that my electronics are humming along and all is right with the world.

That candle up there? Staring at it for two and a half days got really, really old.

Thank God for my iPhone, is all I can say. It let me complain away on twitter for all FIFTY-SEVEN HOURS that we didn’t have power. Here’s how it all went down.

My family was out while I was working at home. Per usual, I had my TweetDeck open to keep me company. At some point, I saw some local chatter about thunderstorms, and not just thunderstorms, but extreme thunderstorms. I glanced outside and saw that the sky was darkening. Then…

Then this alarming tweet came up. Naturally, I immediately retweeted it, not wanting to be the only one FREAKED OUT!

Shortly after that, the power went out for good.

Sitting on my couch, wondering what to do, I suddenly noticed that I was not clean. My first instinct was to jump into the shower, as I really had nothing else to do. But something seemed…off about that idea, so I checked with twitter.

One person told me to go ahead and then about ten of y’all yelled words at me in capital letters, many of those words being “NO” and “ELECTROCUTION.” So I decided to wait.

Evidenced by the shortage of whiny tweets, it seems that the first day of our power outage was not too bad. Oh, wait. I know why isn’t wasn’t too bad. I went out to dinner in Virginia.

Day Two started to get a little bit wearying, however. Local power company, Pepco, was everywhere and nowhere.

That Pepco truck was going somewhere else.

Then our food started to go. Alex had bought bags of ice, which lengthened the rotting time of our groceries, but inevitably we started to throw things away.

That vodka is the only refrigerated item that we didn’t have to throw out.

Later that night, reading by candlelight (I know. Now I’m EXACTLY like Abraham Lincoln.), words started to fail me.

Except for the word “fuck.” That word held up.

I was hopeful that I would wake up to power the next morning. No such luck.

It was around this time that Alex and I started to say things like, “Dude, this sucks,” and “This is the worst ever.” Alex’s experience might have been even worse than mine due to the fact that he stayed home from work Monday and Tuesday because he was sick. This might have been the worst timing for a sinus infection ever.

Sam had a little respite when he went to a buddy’s house for a sleepover. I’m sure our house was a dank, depressing place to come home to.

Things went downhill from there.

All told, my kids did pretty well without power. They were a little whiny and a little put out, but I’d say that they held it together even better than Alex and I did. Although there was one night when Quinn woke up in the middle of the night, yelled, “Is the power on?” and then went back to sleep.

They found ways to keep themselves busy though.

They were Sam’s kittens. He’d made pens for them.

It was around this time that Alex and my whining started to get more vehement. Bickering over who got to use the iPhone and whether we needed to take it back out to the car to charge it intensified.

Clearly we needed to get out of the house. Well, most of us did.

Don’t worry. We went back for him.

By the time we got home, it seemed like everyone else in the world had their power back. Alex kept obsessively checking the Pepco stats on number of customers without power and informing me that our little club was becoming more exclusive. “Only 100,000!” “Now only 74,000!” “61,000!”

Me: “That doesn’t make me feel better.”

We finally got through to the line that was supposed to tell us when the power would be on.

I didn’t believe them, but I hoped. 11:28…11:29…11:30…11:31…11:44…11:53…12:00…12:01…

I tried sleeping in my upstairs bedroom, but it was too hot. I tried sleeping on the couch, but it was too hot. I finally wedged myself into Sam’s (occupied) bed because it was the only bed close to an open window.

Then, at 12:30 in the morning…

I just laid there for a minute. I was so happy. I know there are so many worse things in the world than not having power for a couple of days. Of course, it was only once the power came back on that I could recognize that. For now, I am very grateful for light and air conditioning and internet access.

Now I will shut up about the whole thing. Promise.

The End Is Nigh

So really. Enough already. First the Snowpocalypse, then an earthquake in DC, not to mention the collapse of the Tiki Hut. Now a TORNADO in Maryland?

There was, like, a 20-minute storm here yesterday that has wreaked havoc like you wouldn’t believe.

All was well and then all of a sudden there were tornado warnings all over twitter and suddenly there was torrential rain and thunder and my dog trying to crawl under my desk, which was fine, except my legs were already there.

Shortly after that, the power went out, causing the dog to paw frantically at my lap and then, weirdly, at one particular atlas shelved under an end table.

“What’s that, Cassidy? There’s trouble in the Gulf Coast?”

Alex and my kids were out in the storm, which was mildly concerning, considering I was getting email alerts that included phrases such as “life threatening” and “lie flat in a ditch.”

Quinn had to be rescued from the birthday party he was attending, at which the moonbounces had all deflated and where bits of the building’s roof were laying outside on the sidewalk, according to Alex, who did the rescuing.

He went into the building to find all the kids huddled in a circle in the center of the room. Suffice it to say, that birthday kid will no doubt remember the day as the worst birthday party ever.

Sitting home by myself, abruptly cut off from the copious amounts of work I have to do, I was left to do nothing but read, try to pet my manic dog, and ask twitter if it’s okay to shower during a tornado warning.

Answer: an emphatic no.

Thanks for saving me from electrocution, twitter!

We still don’t have power and likely won’t for a while. The power company is referring to the outages as a potential “multi-day event,” which is a pretty dispiriting thing to hear for those of us forced to blog from our cell phones.

Thank God it’s not still 100 degrees out–it’s only 90.

You may not see me here for a while, although cross your fingers that you do, because that means that my power will be back.

So, think of me when you’re sleeping in your air conditioned homes, surfing the Internet with your actual Internet access, and eating your unspoiled food from your cold refrigerators.

Seriously, people. The sky is falling.

A Gerbil For You

I feel a little bit like my blog has been neglecting the visiting gerbils. Rest assured, I still think they are adorable, even though they now have little mice rivals.

I particularly like that the gerbils spend most of their time cuddled together. One tends to use the other as a pillow. I wonder if the same guy is always the rester and the other is always the restee because in no way can I tell them apart.

I also like that they chew through cardboard immediately when you put it in their cage. Because that, I believe, is what rodents should do. Take notice, mice.

Here is one of the gerbils in a pose that I found particularly adorable and thereby worthy of taking 25 photos of:

Carry on.