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The Holidays Arrive Like An Avalanche

So, I'm finally getting the November entry ready. (And it's still November! ...Almost.) We're not sick anymore - at least for the moment - but we've been extremely busy. As a result, I'm not entirely sure where to start on this entry.

We'd talked about having Theron tested for "communications and social difficulties". It turns out that there's an early childhood development center not far from us. So, we made an appointment and took him over there. It's a pretty comprehensive setting; we were interviewed by a child psychologist, a speech therapist, and... someone else. There was also a follow-up where they went to observe him at his school (and apparently they quite like his school; they said very nice things about it). To make a long story short, it's far too early for any sort of solid conclusion or diagnosis, but they think it's possible that he falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.

This caused my wife some stress. As she put it, "When the pediatrician and Theron's teachers felt there was a problem, I naively thought that we'd just go in, have him evaluated, and someone would tell me Theron had NO problems and then heap praise on me for having the world's greatest kid." She was, I think, discouraged by the need for further testing, and worried that she was a bad parent for not having noticed these... patterns? behaviors? Something like that.

I was much less concerned (and the Beautiful Woman seems to have recovered, too). Theron is very good in one-on-one interactions; it's just that when you put him in a group, he tends to do his own thing. And when he's concentrating on one thing, he tends to shut out everything else. Given that this pretty much mirrors my own childhood, I'm inclined to see it as unusual, but not abnormal. More to the point, the folks who did our initial evaluation indicated that they wanted to do a follow-up to see if he fell on the autism spectrum; they did not look us over and say, "My G-d, these people need help now!"

The main reason we're having him tested - or, at least, the main reason that I'm in favor having him tested - is because there's a high likelihood of Theron inheriting some sort of learning disability. (My father and brother are both intensely dyslexic; I am extremely dysgraphic. Strangely, all of us have rich and rewarding lives, despite these horrors.) So as far as I'm concerned, it's not so much a matter of finding out whether there are problems with our son, as making sure that A) we have strategies to help keep him in the best environment for him, B) that the educational system has enough information to work with him, and C) that we can help Theron develop coping strategies for areas where he might have trouble. If that means filling out some forms and getting some testing, so be it. (And if it means finding a private school and/or homeschooling, well, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.)

He's always going to be an odd kid (at least until he gets old enough to become an odd adult). He's bright, he's creative, he's active - all qualities that the Texas public school system is not well-designed to handle. Those are also qualities that are going to make him seem strange to a lot of his "peers*", and which are going to make a lot of his "peers" seem boring and/or incomprehensible to him. They are not, however, qualities that reflect poorly on him. So the point here is not figuring out how to "fix" his "problems", but rather how to get him through the educational system with a minimum of friction.

So all in all, I'm just not that disturbed by this. I'm saving my stress for something a bit more apocalyptic. Also, the early childhood development folks want to put Theron in their preschool program, which features small classes and a lot of help from developmental specialists of various sorts. It's part of our local ISD (Independent School District), so it's effectively free - and that's $300/month that we won't be paying next year.

In a startling bit of irony, Theron has apparently taken this testing as his cue to start interacting with other children. In the weeks since, he has started going up to other children on the playground and introducing himself. He also talks more to the kids and teacher at school. It's entirely possibly that if they re-evaluated him now, they wouldn't see any issues at all...

Being Thankful
Speaking of Theron's Mother's Day Out program (and of being a creative, unusual kid)... Apparently in the course of pre-Thanksgiving crafts, Theron made a handprint turkey. The idea is that you take your hand, dip it in paint, and put it down on a piece of paper. If you then draw a beak on the thumb, and legs at the bottom - and if you're more than a little flexible about anatomical details and you squint just right - it looks like a turkey.

At the bottom of this artwork, there was a sort of fill-in-the-blank: "I am thankful for _______." I can only assume that Theron's teacher asked my son what he was thankful for, because someone has filled it in with a neat, adult hand. It says, "I am thankful for a big monster who has big wings."

This has now been framed and hung on our wall.

Master of the Nerf Gun
I mentioned in the last entry** that Theron had asked for and received a Nerf gun. At the time, he was bringing it to me to "pull" - that is, to make it ready to fire by pulling out a little handle on the back. I was pretty sure, at the time, that he was strong enough to do it himself, and I was right.

Right after I posted that entry, he started pulling it himself. At first he would set it on the floor, grab the ring, and brace the gun with his feet. Now he just pulls with one hand. He's lost all three of the original darts, but we bought a pack of spares. Of the two spares we gave him, both are still around... for the moment.

It remains one of his favorite toys, and I think that's at least as much because it makes a little red light as because it fires Nerf darts. Theron has been very good about his targeting, too - he aims at our bellies, and he doesn't shoot the cats. I did have to take the gun away once, after he shot me in the face, but that seems to have been enough of a lesson.

Preparing for a Brother
My wife and I are expecting another baby. He's due in April, and he'll be named John Roland (and he'll be called Roland until he says differently). Unless, of course, the ultrasound tech turns out to be completely delusional, and he's a girl; in which case she'll be named Anna Allston.

We are trying to prepare Theron for the new arrival, but so far the results are mixed. It's a little hard to demonstrate when the baby's still hiding in Mommy's tummy. So we talk about how the baby is coming, and Theron agrees that there's a baby coming. The Beautiful Woman explains that the baby in her tummy is a boy, and Theron replies that the baby in his tummy is a girl. On another occasion, my wife explains that the baby in her tummy is "this big" (about as long as her palm), and Theron responds by saying, "No, the baby is this big," while holding his arms out as wide as he can.

On the other hand, Theron has also told us that the baby isn't going to be his brother; it's going to be his friend. I'm taking that as a good sign.

Other People's Birthdays
My father and my sister-in-law have their birthdays within a week of each other, so naturally we have one combined party for both of them. This actually went over rather well, except for one small difficulty: Theron was sick. Again.

He was, fortunately, fairly content to lay on the couch at my parents' house and watch Wall-e on the television. That meant leaving the TV on during dinner, but okay, sure, fine, whatever.

Unfortunately, he also didn't want to eat. And if Theron doesn't eat, he gets really, really cranky. (I'd blame my wife's genetics for this, but if we're being honest he gets it from both sides.) And, of course, the hungrier he got, the worse his tummy felt, and the less he felt like eating.

Then my brother saved the day. He managed - I don't know how - to get a couple of pieces of steak into the boy's mouth. Then he suggested that we try some applesauce. Once Theron had eaten a decent-sized bowl of applesauce, I was able to feed him some steak (in applesauce) and then some more steak (by itself).

Applesauce pretty well got us through the next week.

The End of the Meat Sticks
While he was sick, Theron refused to eat any meat sticks. This would have been something of a tragedy, since he's been eating them before bed for, well, about two years now. So, when he started eating them again, I was pretty pleased.

Also, I have a fall-back plan. When Theron finally does decide that he won't eat any more meat sticks, I'm going to move him onto hot dogs.

Yes, that's almost exactly the same thing.

When the Beautiful Woman and I first got married, we made a rule about holidays. We would not try to visit every single family member on any given holiday. Instead, we would alternate.

This has turned out to be one of our better decisions.

Thanksgiving this year occupied a four day weekend. (The holiday itself was on Thursday, and I had Friday off as well.) On Thursday, we went and had Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. Theron fell asleep in the car on the way down, and was unconscious for most of the meal. He wasn't any too thrilled about waking back up, either. (He gets that from me.) After the meal - which was wonderful - the Beautiful Woman went off to take a nap, and was out for several hours. My father and I took Theron down to the park, which he very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, we got back just in time for the rest of the crew to head off to a movie, and we had to take Theron home about the same time that the movie was ending. As a result, we didn't get as much socializing done as everyone might have liked; though what we did manage was fun.

The Zoo
On Friday, we went to the Dallas Zoo. This was partly to catch up with Theron's friend Christopher and his parents. We hadn't seen them in almost three months, owing to busy schedules and periodic (sometimes overlapping) sicknesses.

We took the DART Rail down to the zoo. It took about an hour, but the boys loved it (plus, we didn't have to pay for parking). Once inside the zoo, we went and explored their children's area, then stopped for a picnic lunch. After lunch, we swung up past the giraffes to the albino alligators, then down past the anteaters, porcupines, and elephants and across to the other half of the zoo: Africa. This side was set up as a sort of nature trail, and we passed gorillas and a bird habitat and eventually stopped at the meerkat enclosure - just in time to watch one of the zookeepers make the meerkats zip around, stand up, and generally look very well trained.

Theron took advantage of the day to run, jump, climb, look at animals, crawl through tunnels, renew his acquaintance with Christopher, and generally have a very good time. The day after Thanksgiving is a great time to visit the zoo (or anywhere else that isn't a store); it wasn't crowded at all, and we had a great time. Christopher fell asleep in his stroller on the train back, while Theron stayed awake until after dinner. Then he crashed, and slept for about twelve hours. I was jealous; I seem to be losing my ability to sleep like that.


Boys on Alligator

Alligator Is Eating My Head

Spider-boy II

Down the Tunnel!

The Tunnel Has Bubbles!

Gingerbread Madness
Saturday was more or less quiet, but we made up for that on Sunday. Let me throw in some background before I explain:

My wife and I first met back in college (though we didn't date, and it's frankly miraculous that we ended up together at all). Despite our best efforts, the college occasionally tracks us down. Usually they just want money, but sometime they come up with something really cool.

Sunday's activity fell into the latter category: the local alumni association had a gingerbread house for us to decorate. ("Us" in this case included myself, Theron, the Beautiful Woman, and her parents.) The project involved a great deal of icing, candy canes, gum drops, pretzels (for the fence) and even a little pond with some gummy frogs. Theron had a good time - we all did, actually - and did a lot of the decorating. He has a good eye for a three-year old, and he only ate a few of the decorations.

Afterwards, we went home and more or less collapsed.

Building the Gingerbread House
(Daddy is in disguise)

The Gingerbread House Completed
(Theron placed most of the big decorations)

Other Developments
Skipping back to just before Halloween - I hope you'll pardon the temporal disruption - Theron participated in a little Halloween performance at his Mother's Day Out program. During the show, one of the little girls held his hand and basically refused to let go. I'm not sure I can really do it justice, so I'm just going to show you the video:

(Theron is in the red pirate shirt.)

Around the same time, Theron went through a brief stage - about three days, I think - where he was willing to eat dinner only if he stole it from our utensils while it was en route to our mouths. Funny as that was, I'm extremely happy that he's gone back to eating normally.

And, as a final comment on his development, he has started asking to play Star Wars: Battlefront. He likes the droideka, which he calls a ball robot. ("The ball robot turned into a spider robot. Now the spider robot has a bubble.") He also likes the jet trooper, though he has trouble double-tapping the button to make it fly. Overall, in fact, he's not very good at the game. His main talents seem to be:

  1. Rolling his droideka into the water and drowning (I don't know how robots can drown, but they do)
  2. Flying his jet trooper off the edge of the platform and falling to his death; and
  3. Running aimless off the battlefield, until the automatic self-destruct effect kills him.

Strangely, this makes Theron just about as useful as most of the other clones/robots/etc. on the field, which are controlled by the computer's addlepated A.I. So he wouldn't be bad to play with (and he likes playing with one of us - usually me - in split screen mode) except for one very, very annoying habit: anytime I get in a tank, he decides that that looks like fun. Since he's supposed to be the one having fun, I must be holding his controller. So we end up swapping controllers just about any time I manage to pilot a vehicle that might conceivably be used to turn the tide of battle.

Oh, and he seems convinced that the "Victory" screen actually means that we "missed", i.e. lost. I've explained, but he either doesn't believe me or just refuses to accept it. Possibly he thinks that if we were winning, we wouldn't have to stop fighting that battle, a view that many of our politicians seem to share.

The Holidays Loom
We're now officially into the Christmas Season (about which I have written more here), and life is likely to be busy until, I dunno, sometime in May. I'll probably update again sometime between Christmas and New Year's Eve, but in the meantime here are some pictures and videos to hold you:

Frog Rider I: Dallas Arboretum

Frog Rider II: Splashing the Water

Frog Rider III: Between the Frogs

Frog Rider IV: Wet Barbarian

Frog Rider V: The Second Outfit
(Soon to become wet as well)

Shadows are fun and fascinating

Playground Climbing I

Playground Climbing II

Climbing Outside The Pipe

Boy's Height in Penguins
(Dallas Zoo)

Climbing the Cannon
(Thanksgiving Day)

Holding Hands on Halloween

Introducing the Daddy-Cam

Hiding in his shirt

Parking Lot Races

Out of the Tunnel!
(Bounce House Place)

Hopping On Rocks
(Dallas Zoo Children's Area)

* ...A term which I detest. I spent a fair amount of my youth hearing about "peer pressure" and "peer relations" and frankly, I didn't consider most people my age to be anything like peers. As a friend noted: "And once he becomes an adult, no one will expect him to have things in common with other people just because they're approximately the same age."

** Well, next to last, anyway. The post-Halloween entry has some cute pictures, but it's only two paragraphs long. It doesn't really count.