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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Thousand Hail Marys (this entry is long)

Our Lady of Prompt Succor Hasten to Help Us
I distinctly remember my first night at home with Finbar when he was a newborn.  I was camping out in a separate bedroom with him, mattress on the floor, Bill snoring peacefully in the room next door. When Finbar awoke in the middle of the night and would not go back to sleep, I put on some Bach, cried from fatigue and began to pray umpteen Hail Marys for strength. At some point I must have fallen asleep, "Hail Mary full of Grace" hanging off my tongue, slumped over sitting up. I awoke to Finbar having rolled out of my arms and fallen asleep somewhere in the blankets, still breathing, thank God. I thanked God that we had both survived the night.  That began my new journey with God, as a parent, as someone who would finally unselfishly make sacrifices for the well-being of another.  Gone was the me, me, me mentality, praying always for what I wanted and needed.  Having a child  made me realise what a miracle life itself is, and that there can only be a greater Power who has created this miracle.  I felt closer to God that night, thanks to Finbar. I thanked Mother Mary for watching over us.  I would continue to repeat this prayer nightly, for several years.

Being raised Catholic, with a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, I continued to pray Hail Marys and sometimes rosaries almost every night in the months that followed.  A thousand Hail Marys, I always thought I must have prayed in those first few years of Finbar's life. The repetition of prayer was soothing and gave me hope as I ended many days with my head on the pillow tired, confused or upset from the day to day learning curve of being a new parent.  When would it get easier? I wondered. I prayed almost daily that it would.

At some point after Finbar was diagnosed, I realised that I had been praying so much because my life as a new parent was in fact a notch or two more stressful than others'.  I was not, as I often felt, crazy for stressing out about my infant child and then praying for relief from this stress at the end of my days.  There in fact WAS something not normal with my child and his relationship to me and others, and I had been feeling the stress of knowing that in my gut but not being able to explain it to anyone. Prayer was one of the only ways of relieving it. It was my source of strength and peace.

Sadly, as Finbar's situation worsened and with the new pressures of having a second baby who also had developmental problems, my once prayerful relationship with God and the Virgin Mary gradually turned to one of silent blasphemy and anger.  I would start to pray at night and then figure, "what's the point?"  I would lash out at God, "why am I being punished?"  I prayed to Mary to help me to be a better mother, to be more patient , more wise with my children, and that made me resentful because it seemed my prayers were never answered.  Crazy as it seems, in classic biblical style, my trials and tribulations with Finbar caused me to turn away from God and I became increasingly fearful of Him, fearing that I was being somehow punished for some past sins or tested for some unknown reason.  I thought, "I am being punished for not going to church every Sunday, or not doing enough charity work, for being too selfish, too mean to my husband, for not reading the Bible enough.."  I searched for reasons.

Bill and I had tried attending several churches over the years - Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Assemblies of God.....none felt like home, so we never kept it up.  Then when I tried to take Finbar to our parish Catholic church only to be let down by the Sunday school, I felt that God had abandoned my son, so I abandoned my faith in Him.

But God speaks to those who listen and pray, even if they are angry and lost.  And despite being angry, I did continue to pray at times, and eventually began to seek a closer relationship with Him again. I was desperate to be saved from my grief and pain in dealing with the loss of the dream of the perfect child.  And at some point, He sent me little messages and signs that He was still there.  A fish would die and so I would have to explain God and Heaven to Finbar, not an easy accomplishment given his incessant question asking.  I once had to throw a crazy nanny out of my home while Bill was out of town, and it was a scary confrontation. I was afraid she would come back to the house and I was alone with the kids.  I prayed and minutes later my father-in-law a true man of faith, showed up at my door. He had no reason to be there at that moment. He then provided comfort and advice to me for handling the situation.  His words and presence in that scary moment seemed God inspired and brought me peace. There were many other signs, but eventually, after several similar invitations had come my way, one of Finbar's special ed teachers invited us to attend her church.  She offered to help Finbar out in the Sunday School.  How ironic that Finbar's special needs should lead us back to church I thought.  How could we not try it?

I thought that once I made up my mind to go back to church, that God would take care of the rest and make it easy.  I guess that was not his plan for me.  It was not easy to go back to church on a regular basis with the entire family.  At first, even Bill was not very enthusiastic about attending.  He had grown used to having Sundays for projects and for catching up on work.  The Sunday School teachers, while very willing to work with Finbar, were a bit anxious.  It was difficult for him to be in such a structured environment with a group of kids who had grown up in the church and knew each other and the Lord God very well.  We attended this church nearly weekly, trying to meet new people, hoping for a consistent Sunday School aide to appear, praying Finbar would adjust.  But while surrounded by so many young Christian families, it seemed nearly impossible to connect with any of them. No matter how I sliced and diced it, the fact that Finbar was not friends with any of their children was going to always hinder our progress in making friendships in this very nice but somewhat clicky church.  It wasn't anybody's fault, we were just, once again, on the fringe. 

During this time, we were looking at Kindergarten options for Finbar. I became convinced that it would be best if Finbar were schooled in a Christian environment with caring nurturing teachers who emphasized character and Christian ways, and who I trusted would be more tolerant of his differences. But with each visit to the many Christian private schools it became more apparent that if Finbar could barely cope in the Sunday School environment, with 15 devoutly Christian raised boys and girls and a Christian teacher, he certainly would not be able to handle the behavioral expectations of attending one of these schools with those same boys and girls.  Ah the fringe. It was heartbreaking to accept.  And even God it seemed could do nothing about it. I cried and cried and prayed and prayed.

Nevertheless, my faith and trust in God had been growing and I knew and believed and trusted that His plan for Finbar would emerge.  And it did. After going through many iterations and agonizing over his Kindergarten placement decision, one day, I just became peaceful and decided that our local elementary school would be the right place for him. He wanted to go there. He asked to go there. What bigger sign did I need really?  I knew that my commitment to raising my children in faith was now there, so Finbar would receive that Christian nurturing in a church somewhere, somehow.  I took a leap of faith.

And it has worked out. His experiences there thusfar, while not always easy, have far exceeded my hopes.  He is doing very well. He likes his school. He wants to go. He doesn't complain. His teacher is kind and caring,  as are the staff who support him. And they behave the same toward me.  I am finding the positive attitude in Finbar's school that I thought I would only find at the Christian schools. Upon reflection, I am now not even sure that he or I would have been met with the same support at any of those schools.  So perhaps God was watching out for us after all.  For it has been my experience that Christians, like any faith, can behave as a sort of  "club".   For some groups, you are either a Believer and behave as such 24/7 or you are not a true member of the church.  Well, we live on the fringe. We don't, we can't, belong to any clubs by nature of our situation.

So after a long vacation last summer, we decided not to return to the church we had been attending. It just did not feel right for us, especially for Finbar.  Going to church and finding fellowship with others simply should not have to be so hard. I knew that if God wanted us attending church somewhere that he would show us.  Long story short, out of the blue, a former preschool teacher of Finbar's offered to go to Sunday school with him. This was right as Kindergarten was starting.  I took this opportunity to attend a new church that I had been wanting to try.  Turns out that this church's Sunday School has "bible bucks" that the kids can earn for things like bringing their bibles, doing bible homework, etc. They can then purchase trinkets at the church when Sunday School is over. 'Nuf said. That was just the trick needed for Finbar to get motivated to behave and work at Sunday school. He can't wait to go each Sunday and earn his bucks. The Sunday School staff were only too welcoming, one teacher even insisted I attend the service even though we did not have an aide for Finbar that day.  God bless her for taking Finney on, I know that he was not easy that day for her.

It is difficult to describe the comfort one feels when finding a church that feels peaceful and accepting, not club-like.  Come as you are. Bring your child with autism, we'll do what we can for you.  That is what we needed and that is what we have found in this church and its teachings.  I hang onto every word from the Pastor. And God speaks to me through him. And He is healing me, week by week with His Word. And He is healing my son's spirit too. "I am going to live forever because I believe in Jesus Christ", Finbar says.  In Finbar's black and white world, it is written (in the Bible), therefore it is.

Esau greets Jacob with 400 men and open arms
And now I get to my real point I guess for writing.  A few Sundays ago, I was prompted to blog about this entire journey of faith by a particular Bible passage that our Pastor preached on. It is Genesis 32: 4-22.  It is the story of how Jacob and Esau, two brothers and sons of Isaac made peace with each other. In short, Jacob had deceived his father and received from him a special blessing meant for Esau. Fearful of Esau's revenge, Jacob fled far away for the better part of his life. Miserable the whole time away, and never once trusting in or turning to God for help, finally one day Jacob gives in and prays to God for the first time because he wants to go home as God has commanded him to do " me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau."  For Esau was sending 400 men to meet Jacob.  Even though Jacob prayed to God for help, he still insisted on taking matters into his own hands, sending ahead three sets of slaves with gifts and offerings for Esau, hoping to appease his once angry brother and not trusting that the Lord would save him. 

The message was that sometimes when we are angry and distant with God like Jacob, and do not accept his plans for us, He needs to send the fear of  400 men into our hearts in order for us to get down on our knees and pray and trust that He will save us. And even then, we still contiue to insist on trying to fix things ourselves as Jacob did, rather than trusting in His promise to us.  I realised that with Finbar, I had been like Jacob. Angry and turning away, not trusting. And even when I prayed to be saved from my fears, I still tried to handle and fix it all myself.  Finally, I realise, and with this passage He was telling me, I cannot fix it all myself.  But it is OK, because God will.

I am sure that had I read this passage any other time, it would have simply been another biblical account in the long chain of them. But that day in church I knew that God was speaking to me of my journey with Finbar and what it meant for my ever growing faith in Him and in myself.  This passage also directed me to Psalm 34:19 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.". Perhaps I had to have my selfish, inward turning spirit crushed to be saved from myself.  All I know is that God is with me, on the fringe, on the roller coaster, and yes, in those Christian clubs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Roller Coaster of Autism

This is a pretty good semblance of the autism roller coaster. The loops make you feel a little crazy and disoriented.

The heavy and dense scaffolding is a great analogy for the amount of work and energy it takes to climb uphill when dealing with autism.
I have been on this journey for 5 years and I still haven't grown comfortable riding the roller coaster of autism with my son.  I've been hanging on while climbing the hills, getting to the top bursting with excitement at Finbar's progress, with him next to me and both of us grinning ear to ear, relishing the view from the top - only to then realize that what goes up must go down and that we are heading very fast toward the bottom and it looks like we are going to soon hit hard ground.  Fear takes over and I cling to Finney.  But then, just as we are about to crash, back uphill we go, or, we take a wild unexpected turn.   Sometimes I get to the point where I think that it's fun to go round and round, up and down, scared and enjoying the rush simultaneously; but sometimes I wish that I could just get off and be done with the ride. Just go buy Finney an ice cream and find myself a nice bench to sit on for a while.  I suppose that this is not too different an analogy than what basic child-rearing of neurotypical kids feels like to many. I just think that the hills are the biggest, the falls the fastest and the turns most furious on the autism child-rearing roller coaster. The autism roller coaster also has a lot of backwards upside down loops too :0  The kind that make you nervous and leave you a bit disoriented after you do them.

So what brings me to this analogy?  Well, just days after Finbar's fabulous turning 6 parties that brought along several days of more mature behavior (see previous post for an account of the view from the top of the roller coaster), we are headed downhill once again and I feel myself lifting off my seat, clinging to the safety bar for dear life and I don't like it.  We started going downhill when we took Finbar skiing at a local mountain over the holidays.  We've taken Finbar skiing about four times now, and we cling to the idea and satisfaction that skiing is truly an activity which both motivates and regulates Finbar.  Therefore we have decided to make it a priority each year to make several ski trips with him in the hopes of instilling all the confidence, motivation and fun that comes with learning a lifetime sport. 

  Alas, I should have known.  Going skiing to a place we had never been before during peak holiday season is not the ideal environment for Finbar to ski or vacation in.  I mean I absolutely shun big crowds, always have, for vacations. Why would I expect my autistic sensory overloaded child to like it?  Suffice to say that once again I was reminded that "environment" is key to success for Finbar. And putting him in an overpacked, understaffed, unorganised ski school is NOT, I repeat NOT, the environment for him.  In my optimism about his good attitude of late, I set him and us up for failure, ignoring my instincts and putting him into a group lesson on one of the busiest days of the week. I mean, "duh Jen".  I did not know whether to laugh or cry as we watched from afar as Finbar berated his ski coach over and over again for not taking him on the chairlift immediately. He kept pointing at the chairlift and yelling at the guy.   He has skied from the chairlift the last few lessons that he had. There was no way in his mind that he is doing a "magic carpet" again.  Bill and I walked away, clinging to my cell phone which we just new would ring any minute with the ski school saying "please come pick him up and take your money back".  I sucked down a beer at the overcrowded bar and tried to relax.  Well, the long and short of it is that he made it through the lesson.  When I asked him how it went, he said that he liked it but not the coach.  When I pressed him why not, his reply was, "Uh, I don't wanna say. Because then we'll get into a long conversation about it, so I don't wanna talk about it."  OK I can read between the lines.  'Nuf said, I thought, consoling myself that he had at least made it through the entire 3 hour lesson.
Finbar heading straight toward a kid, fully expecting this kid to move.
  The next day, Bill decided to ski with Finbar and see if he could make progress. It was painful. Finbar skied well, but it was painful for Bill, so out of sorts was Finbar the entire day, yelling and barking at Bill the entire time.  So much for father-son quality time.  Then the 3rd day we went sledding. Us, and some 1,000 Los Angeles residents went sledding together (the ski mountain is close to LA).  Well, did I mention that Finbar does not do well in crowds LOL?  After chewing  out about 25 people for getting in his way and two time-out trips back to the car, we packed it up and drove back to Santa Barbara, a bit beaten down, and I, anxious about the start of school and what that would look like with him behaving this way. Fearful of hitting the ground.
"Uh, can you move PULEEZ?? Hey, why aren't you listening to me?!? MOVE!!
 The first week back to school Finbar was near perfect - whaaaa?? Then I remembered "environment" is key. School is structured, predictable, comfortable, familiar. Negotiating space on an unknown sledding hill with hundreds of people - not comfortable and familiar. We were heading up the hill again :)

So when during this week of calm, I was reminded by a mom friend that Finbar was invited to her daughter's kids-only birthday party (this is the mom of "K" in previous blogs) I felt a little unsure, but mostly confident and hopeful that Finbar could behave on his own at this party. After all, he had been an angel at school that week and he was well, "6".

When I picked him up from the party I asked the Dad how it went.  I was met with a little hesitation on his part and so I proffered in a hopeful but heart sinking way, "mixed reviews?".  "Yeah uh, well he had a little trouble.....he peed in our backyard."   (OK Jen, keep it together).  "Oh, God, sorry. Uh, he does that sometimes, can blame his dad for that heh heh (sorry Bill I didn't know what to say, ugh)....Did he know where the bathroom was? I told him to make sure he knew where the bathroom was before he came over".   To which the Dad replied "yeah, he knew where it was. The thing is that he peed right by the tent, like practically on it".   (OK, now I can go home and slit my wrists).  "Oh, OK, I'll have to talk to him about it...Thanks for taking him on anyway. heh heh."   Silence. 

Wow, that was a pretty fast loop de loop :0

Then we had a birthday party this week for my father-in-law's 75th birthday.  It is never easy to plan family gatherings in a way that works with Finbar's issues.  And because he very often behaves near normal around family, it is hard to convince them that he has real issues when it comes to events like this.  This particular event, against my instinct and volition, occurred on a school night.  I just had a feeling that this would not be a good thing for Finney.  The party got him particularly amped up after a fairly calm week.  He was difficult to get to bed, even though it was late. He ate chocolate cake and ice cream. I big diet no-no, but I caved.  I braced myself with the roller coaster safety bar as I left him thrashing himself to sleep in his room that night, hoping the morning would ring in peacefully. 

The walk to school the next day was fine.  After school, he freaked out and we took another wild unexpected turn on the roller coaster. Verbal tics, little screams and outbursts nearly every minute.  Lots of very loud talking. Non-responsive to questions and statements. Anger. VERY AUTISTIC BEHAVIOR.  At one point he just collapsed in tears crying out "I hate my life, you people are crazy, this life is crazy, I hate this place, I hate this family. I am going to go away and move somewhere else".  Uh, did he just hit the ground hard cuz it feels like I did!?!  That night (last night) his babysitter told me that he was making those verbal utterances constantly while she put him to bed. She left his room and listened at the door. She said he was doing that until he finally fell asleep. It's been several days and still the tics.  He says he can't control them.

The roller coaster.  I don't remember buying a ticket to this ride, can we get off now??? Finbar needs a non-dairy ice cream...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Six Series

Finbar turned 6 on December 28.  I can't believe he is SIX. Gone are the preschool days and kiddie ways.  He is "elementary school aged".  Only fitting that I should recap and comment on the birthday festivities and his reaction to turning 6. All done in true quirky Finbar fashion.
Digital 6, Regular 6, Digital 6

3+3 = 6, even if it is written backwards

The day started with the amazing and amusing "Six Series".  When Finbar woke up on Dec. 28, he, unprompted in any way, proceeded to draw 6 works of art on the roll paper on his art easel. All were variations on the theme of "six".  My favorite was a drawing of 3 sixes in a row - a "digital six", a "regular six" and another "digital six".  The digital sixes were of course made with straight lines as you would see on a digital clock.  Digital numbers and clocks are a smaller obsession of Finbar's.  He loves to do math with the time ("in one more minute it will be 7:01, that's seven O one") and reverse the numbers when telling time ("it is now eight-O-seven...just kidding it's really seven-O-eight).    Another drawing was of  "3+3" (circled) = 6.  The threes were reverse written and so it took a few minutes to figure it out.  And a third which I really liked were a bunch of sixes drawn inside of one another - it looked like those spirals used to hypnotize people.  When he had finished he proudly called me over to announce that he had done a "six series" and took me through each one.What is so pleasing to me is that, if you have been reading this blog, you will know that art, writing and drawing have never been Finbar's forte. This is changing evidently with the introduction of the easel and inspiring subjects, such as turning 6, which prompt him to express himself.

And that is how his 6th birthday began, just a few hours before his long-in-the-planning birthday party started. Finbar in previous birthday years had little interest in inviting other children to his birthday party, much less remembering their names. After several years of strained birthday party planning on my part, and finally last year not even planning one for him (sadly, Finbar had not been invited to a single preschool birthday party as he had no friends), this year was nothing short of a birthday blast - a Zodo's bowling blast.  For once, Finbar seemed to have a clear idea of the NAMES of the kids he wanted to invite and the list of birthday party invitees was too long, or at least longer than my budget allowed. But then I thought of the puny cupcake party at the park I threw together for him last year at the last minute (at the urging of sympathetic mom friends) and decided the sky's the limit. My boy has FRIENDS (at least HE thinks they are his friends)! And he KNOWS THEIR NAMES.  And he has FAVORITE PEOPLE that he wants to bowl with ("G" and "K"). He even invited a BOY to go bowling with him a couple of weeks before his birthday and expressed excitement at inviting this boy , whom he had previously ignored for 3 years of playgroup dates and whose name he could never remember, to his party.  PROGRESS. SOCIAL PROGRESS FINALLY.

Finbar's cake topper looked like this
Most exciting for Finbar though, was the fact that he would get a real bowling pin from Zodo's for all his friends to sign, which they did.  A true souvenir of his first meaningful peer relationships and a significant social milestone for him.  And as such, I got really excited about planning the party.  Finbar decided that his cake should be a space theme. No problem.  I went on ebay and ordered a space shuttle edible icing cake topper that said "Happy 6th Birthday Captain Finbar".  I then scoured the internet for weeks searching for goody bag items such as space shuttle erasers, rocket ship pencils, and sticker solar systems.  I made some "outta sight" goody bags. By the time the event was over, 14 kids, plus Finbar's Irish second cousins and aunts/uncles and a handful of parents had bowled, eaten gluten free dairy free chocolate cake (no one knew that it was GF/DF made by yours truly) and I had in my enthusiasm purchased about $30 worth of arcade tokens to hand out to all the kiddos who were high on sugar and trinket collecting and enjoying the freedom of the bowling alley environment without parental supervision.  Finbar even felt comfortable enough to ask his friends to sing his Happy Birthday song a special way that he preferred, which they did. The kids had a blast and so did I.  Finney had only one momentary meltdown, a true record for him at a 3 hour group event.  I honestly don't know how I will top it next year.

That evening, a second GF/DF chocolate cake, this time topped with a figurine man bowling, was served up to close family at home.  Finbar took it all and stride and remained regulated for the most part. 

Turning 6 has flipped an unexpected light switch on in Finbar.  I guess in his black and white world, being six versus 5 is significant and now that he turned six, certain things should happen in his mind. I suppose I had been unknowingly reinforcing this in his head every time I said "When you turn 6, I will not help you get dressed anymore" or "when your turn six you will have to (fill in the blank)".     The importance of turning six to Finney was perhaps best demonstrated in his comment to his teacher upon returning to school, "Finally, I am no longer an ODD number, I am FINALLY an even number".   So suddenly he goes poop and wipes his butt in requested privacy.  Suddenly he makes his own pink lemonade, even getting a step stool to reach the cups he wants - "now that I am six I can make my own drinks".  Suddenly he is keen to dress himself (without argument) "because that is what you do when you are six".  And the list of things he will do now that he is six seems to grow every week.    Tonight for example, after a rough, hyperactive entrance to the pizza restaurant, Finbar sat at the table, quietly and without prompting colored the menu that they give kids, mostly coloring in the lines, played the games on the kids menu, watched the movie on the wide screen tv above when he was done with that, and calmly sat, waited for and then ate his entire meal.  He even accepted without argument that he could not have root beer.

 Whaaaaat???  If this is what the first few days of being six looks like, bring on the rest of this year! So long back-talking, tantrum throwing, angry, irritable, argumentative 5 yr old. Helllooooo Six Series :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Defending Pluto (again)

Pluto and its moon Charon
There is in fact an organisation dedicated to saving Pluto's planetary status. I am thinking of ordering Finbar a t-shirt off their website.
I mean to get round to summing up the holidays and their impact (yikes) w/r/t Finbar.  However, I must first record here an update (see previous postings on Pluto) on planet  Pluto's (make that "dwarf planet") stark defense by a certain future astronaut named Finbar.  I am convinced that Finbar is convinced that he can truly save Pluto and restore it's planetary status, for he talks about it with regularity.  I have visions of him sitting out in the middle of the desert when he is 35yrs old with the world's largest telescope, steadfastly plotting every speck of Pluto that might restore its status. I see him going to Washington D.C. to lobby on its behalf - no doubt his current skills at NOT taking "no" for an answer will serve him well.  I am pleased and amused that he feels so strongly and passionately about something, as very few things truly motivate him to act. 

This morning at 6:55am Finbar came in my bed to inform me, rather to ask me to guess, what he dreamed last night.   One eye open, I mumbled a guess and not being able to contain himself with the good news, he proudly and loudly announced that he had rescued Pluto in his dream.  He had gone out to the "tiny blue planet" and brought it back to Earth because it fits inside of earth. He then made some reference to the two planets being cozy and then he informed me that Earth and Pluto were the only planets with one moon, so it was OK to bring it to Earth (I am still searching for exact rationale in that explanation).   As I listened to him relate his feelings about the whole experience, which were so real and rewarding to him, I realised that he truly views this planet as a friend, an ally, to be protected and cared for. 

Later in the morning as he was relating his dream to his brother Declan, he was inspired again. First he came to me with a pencil gray rendition of "Ploodo", as he wrote it,  and it's moon, and asked me to guess what it was. When I guessed correctly by "sounding out" the name, he marched over to the art easel that crazy Aunt Zanny sent him for Christmas (more on that later), rolled down some paper and drew "Pluto in the Night". The scene included a very small sun ("teeny tiny because it is so far away") and a bunch of other twinkling stars drawn using a pretty blue pastel crayon. All the while going on about dwarf planets, moons, etc. I marvelled at this perfect storm of learning and expression. It is what teachers and textbooks on teaching refer to - you can excite a child to learn (and in this case teach others) if you combine a subject about which they are passionate with an outlet to express themselves and their knowledge. 

Clearly if you have been following this blog you would know that all things outerspace and of the universe, particularly the defenseless underdog dwarf planet Pluto, are of great importance to Finbar.  If you just take this instance, he did several things which, taught as separate skills, are hard to extract from him:

- creative yet accurate drawing
- phonetic spelling
- teaching others about science
- taking a stance and arguing a case (for Pluto's inclusion as a planet)
- empathy and caring (for Pluto)

For his recent birthday, Finbar received 2 sets of model space figurines, you know, the little plastic figurines that come in a long plastic tube. There were various versions of astronaut suits, rockets, space stations, satellites, capsules, etc.  When he got those I thought, well nice, but he has little imagination and so hardly ever takes inanimate objects like that and creates a story to play with them a la Fisher Price Little People.

Spaceship One has already made one successful test flight a few months ago
Well, add to the list today another check on the learning chart - imaginative play, yes, using those space figurines. The whole Pluto thing inspired him and as I type he still is flying from planet to planet around the house in his spacecraft. And when today he saw in his Big Book of Spacecraft (which, being inspired he pulled out to read) the photo of the man (Burt Rutan) who invented the replacement rocket ship for the space shuttle (Finbar is deeply affected and concerned about the retirement of the Space Shuttle program), he plainly stated that it wasn't fair that THAT man got to invent the new rocket because he, Finbar, had intended on doing so. Then he paused and said, "oh yeah, I forgot, I have to go to school and learn and blah blah blah first in order to do that.".  To which I pointed out that this man had become a test pilot and learned to design aircraft.  Finbar said that he could do that later on in life. I like instilling goals like this in my son at every opportunity I get.

To those with ordinary children who play imaginatively all the time (like my second son) and by age 6 are quite self entertaining (unlike Finbar), playing with pirate ships, legos, and figurines, this little story may seem banal.  But for the parent of a child who has trouble self entertaining with toys in a creative, imaginative and productive way, this is progress.  I really must try and must make sure that his teachers try, to reach and educate Finbar in ways that are meaningful to him.  What a challenge, but what a fascinating challenge it will be.