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Everybody Loves Raymond

I’m going to be a bragging Gabba and just say Raymond is brilliant!

Carly used to sing him ABCs as a lullaby, and he learned to write his letters by the time he was 2. At 3, he was reading fluently. Now, some people think we’re exaggerating and maybe he just knew sight words. No. We would hand the kid a menu, magazine, brochure, whatever, and he would read it. He needed help with some of the harder words, but the kid was good! We were worried about what he would do in kindergarten. How much of the day would he be expected to sit quietly and wait to be taught something he didn’t already know?

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond

His favorite show was “Letters.” The rest of us know it as Wheel of Fortune. He would clap and cheer when the wheel spun, then go around the room, shake everyone’s hand and say ‘gratulations at the end of every round. Carly discovered a show called “Signing Time,” and soon Raymond using the signs he knew while he spoke. Once he learned how to change the language setting on Carly’s phone or his tablet, he was following directions in Spanish, French, German, we’re not even sure of all the languages he uses. Of course, the directions are the same regardless of the language, but it was still crazy the he would change the language and know it was saying the same thing.

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He loves spelling so much, it’s all he would do on the soccer field. While the other kids were chasing the ball, he would be standing in the field, writing words in the air with his finger. Ball, sky, bird, grass…all the things he saw were words he could write. As far as soccer went, Raymond enjoyed the pre-game practice, and the team cheer – “1-2-3 PeeWee Pumpkins!” – but didn’t like being on the field to play. Carly and Joe spent the games trying to head off meltdowns, hoping he would take to it as he became familiar with the game. That didn’t happen.

As much as Raymond wasn’t crazy about soccer, he LOVES his family. Reta Jean is his best friend. Miss Riley isn’t much fun yet, but he likes to make her giggle and laugh. Joe recently signed him up for jiu jitsu, so the two of them get to roll around on the mats. His favorite family game to play, when he was younger, was going around the table and asking everybody, “What’s you favorite color (animal, food)?” If we answered incorrectly, he’d shake his head and give us the right answer. When the cousins come visit he enjoys playing with them and showing them around the farm. He likes his down time, though, so sometimes he likes to go to a quiet room and read or play with his tablet.

 

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Ray and the Girls

Feeding Critters

He likes cooking, art projects, playing outside, and feeding the pacas. He DOESN’T like the “hoosters.” We’ve tried to tell him most of the chickens are hens, and he really wants to be friends with them, but they scare him so badly, he can’t stand it.ray and pacas

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He also loves movies and superheroes. I’m Batman, Papa is Iron Man, Reta Jean is AntMan, and Raymond is Captain America, Wolverine, or Hulk, depending on his mood. Papa calls Raymond Santa Claus, and they discuss where the reindeer are parked when he comes over. If we aren’t superheroes, we’re Minions. I especially like to be King Kevin. More often than not, when Raymond is having a conversation, his end of it is movie quotes. The rest of us, with Carly’s help, figure out which movie he’s on so we can be part of what’s going on in his head.

Not only is Raymond AMAZING, we recently learned he has autism. As he’s gotten older, some of his behavior patterns started raising little red flags. Carly saw it way before the rest of us. It was so hard for her because how do you know if your child is struggling with something, or if you just need to be a better parent? Even Raymond’s pediatrician said he just had “some anxiety,” but it was not really anything to worry about. When a 3 year old has a meltdown when they’re told it’s time to stop doing something they’re having fun with, it’s seen as maybe being a little bratty. But, when I finally took 4-year-old Raymond to Reta Jean’s dance class, and he was SO excited to get to go, but had a total meltdown as soon as we walked into the studio, that was more concerning.

None of us immediately thought of autism as we watched Raymond having a harder and harder time. He is very verbal and loves interacting with people. I think, as most of us understand autism, those two things alone would eliminate a diagnosis of autism. Here’s where the diagnosis came from: In hindsight, the accelerated reading skills could have been a sign, but who ever thinks, “My kid is too smart, there must be a problem.” We also learned about “scripting.” Children with autism often work from scripts. Playing “Letters,” asking questions he knows the answers to, and speaking in movie quotes are all forms of scripting. When you really start paying attention, Raymond will answer questions, let you know if he wants or needs anything, but really doesn’t have a spontaneous conversation. I mean, it’s cute when your grandson comes to your house and says, “Hi, Gabba! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by.” (Think about that one for a minute.) He can tell you anything about any of the superheroes, as is very typical in autism. He has his facts down and loves to share them with everyone. And then there’s the meltdowns and becoming totally overwhelmed when there is too much going on.

With Carly’s guidance we’ve all learned how to best help Raymond. It’s a whole thought-shift, understanding his behavior is caused by his autism, and is not him acting out deliberately. If he’s going to be doing something new, we make sure we tell him everything we possibly can about what’s going to happen. We’ll even practice a script with him, so he knows how he’s supposed to interact. We make sure we don’t switch activities without giving him a warning. Usually, we can tell him we’re going to do something different in 5 minutes and he does pretty well. When Raymond says, “I don’t feel well. It’s time to go home. I need to go home now,” we have learned he’s warning us a meltdown is highly likely. He’s had enough. By giving him a book or his tablet and letting him take a rest, away from everybody, a meltdown can often be avoided. Joe is great when it comes to meltdown duty. He can take Raymond into his room, sit down with him, and get him breathing and calm.

One show that has been a HUGE help is “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” It’s a cartoon, based on Mr. Rogers, and deals with all sorts of social situations. For a kid who depends on scripts, a script with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers is a really good thing. We’ve all learned phrases like, “That was fun, but now it’s done,” or “choose one more thing.” My personal favorite is, “When you’re angry and want to roar, take a deep breath and count to 4.”

I got permission from Carly before writing this because a diagnosis of autism isn’t one a lot of people are comfortable sharing. Because Raymond’s autism comes across as very different from what many people would recognize, we hope to help and educate others. Carly and Joe took Ray to school for evaluation before being able to get him in to see a behavioral specialist. We know he will need a very specialized program in school, and the teachers have told us they’re up to the task. The diagnosis will allow Raymond to learn how to do school, without getting in trouble for the occasional meltdown. It will also allow the school to learn how Raymond communicates, without assuming he’s being a stinker when he answers all questions with a quote. For reading, he will need to be in a 1st or even 2nd grade class. His math scores put him right at grade level.

Every professional who has met with Raymond has the highest praise for Carly, and so do we. Without any professional input, she taught Raymond how to self-regulate and control his anxiety. She made sure the rest of us understood what we could do to help Raymond navigate his world. She has been willing to learn, try new things, adapt, and pave the way for Raymond to be successful. We’ve all done our best to step up, but she has been the driving force.

We’re so excited to see what Raymond will accomplish. He’s such a sweet, smart, cool little kid. Autism is something all of us will need to learn more about, in order to assist and advocate for Raymond. As he gets older he’ll understand we’re all with him on his journey, and I have all the confidence in the world that Carly will keep us on the right path.

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Gabba and Papa’s Wonderland Fort

Since the kids moved up here, I’ve been working on making their little corner of our world extra magical. They’re big enough to pretend now, which makes everything that much more fun. Every time they come now, I try to have added something a little different. And they always notice. You can see the tree fort from the house, so the first thing the kids see is our new pinwheel garden. When there’s just a little breeze, it looks so pretty!

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We started with our little troll bridge, and added extra straw bales. I still want to add more to make it even more climbable, jumpable and giggly.

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Reta Jean loves to rearrange all the “santas”. They’re garden gnomes, but I’m not going to tell. She also likes the fairies. When she’s playing with them, it’s like she’s in her own little fairyland and I love it! It makes me so happy to see her pretending.

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There’s also a set of farm critters, including a farmer, a barn and a tractor. Charlie screwed together some boards into corners. This way the kids can make them into anything they want. Today they were a big barn. They’ve also been boxes and a stage. We’ll see what they come up with next.106

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Raymond prefers to run, jump, throw and swing sticks at things. There’s plenty of room for him to do just that.

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Everything is more fun if you can dress up while you play. We have dinosaur hats, fairy wings, butterfly antennae, and superhero capes. There are also pinwheels and recorders. (The Dollar Store has become my new favorite place. I can get all kinds of stuff for the kids, and not have to worry about them breaking things or getting them dirty.)

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There are several different balls to play with, too. Of course, Reta Jean has to take the one Raymond is playing with, and the chase is on!

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The fairies and gnomes stay outside, but the rest of the toys go in and out in a basket. The basket is almost as big as Raymond, but he and Reta Jean will pick it up and haul it outside when it’s time to play. The other day, Carly brought them up while I was at the airport picking up Charlie. As soon as I walked through the door, there was no hello, no hugs and kisses. I got, “Come on, Gabba! Let’s go to the troll bridge and play!” It was chilly and almost dark, but they weren’t taking no for an answer. Raymond grabbed the basket and the two of them waited at the back door until I could catch up. I really couldn’t ask for anything more!

Charlie and I provide the playground, but the kids provide the magic. Watching them love what we’ve worked to create is absolutely heartwarming. There is still work to be done. Who knows what fun things we’ll find? As long as the kids keep coming, and breaking out with their giant smiles. As long as I keep getting squeals of delight and Raymond telling me, “Gabba, this is fantastic!” As long as there are kids in our life who believe in magic, we’ll keep working to make a magical place for them to grow.

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Toddler Tuesday – Spring!

Oh, my gosh! We’re having so much fun here at Redmon Woods! The sun is shining most days, the grass and flowers are growing, and Raymond and Reta Jean are, too!

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Last year we played under the tree fort, but it was a big job just running herd on the kids. This year, they’re old enough to play and have fun, without us having to worry quite as much about them taking off in opposite directions.

Charlie and I have been hauling in straw bales to use like giant Legos. We started with a simple “troll bridge,” and it’s gradually growing.

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It’s fun to sit on, but it’s even more fun to jump off!

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Papa even likes playing under the tree. I think he was being the troll.

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Raymond started off jumping off the low bale, but in no time he was being a daredevil and taking off from the top.

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Reta Jean tries to jump, too. She did it once on her own, and once with Mommy and brother.

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But most of the time she hangs on and drops down.

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We moved the fairy accessories under the tree, and Reta Jean likes playing with them. She worked very hard to set it up just like she wants it. There is no better dollhouse than a giant old tree!

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Raymond helped with the toys a little bit, but he was more interested in being a king. He’s defending the kingdom from vicious invaders.

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We can also pretend to go fishing, or just dance in the sun speckles.

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When their imaginations get tired, there are always animals to hang out with. Socks doesn’t play much, but he likes to be around the kids.

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 I think Reta Jean will always love the chickens best, but we never know where we’re going to find them. She found them in the alpacas’ hay tub.

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With all the playing, everybody needs to take some time to relax, watch the clouds, and play with the bugs.

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We’re so lucky to have these happy little people in our lives. They take all the fun we’re having, and add just enough giggles to make all the magic come to life.

Toddler Tuesday – 10/21/14

I get teased sometimes for getting excited “like a kid” about things. Whenever I spend time with Raymond and Reta Jean, I’m reminded that none of us see things quite like kids do. The best we can do is try, and hope to come close. This is what we did this week.

I got to babysit a few days while Carly covered Tori’s shift at work. Yep, that’s McDonald’s for dinner one night, and pancakes another. Gabba tries to follow rules, but it didn’t happen this week. Besides, breakfast for dinner is cool. We also ran up and down the hall, played super-hero, ate marshmallows, and watched Letters! (That’s what the kids call Wheel of Fortune.)

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Reta Jean can’t wait to get the the pacas and hens. She’s my farm buddy and likes to help with chores. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, but she was trying to eat grass like Tajo. We convinced her to just feed him some hay. Finding eggs is always exciting, and she’s even learning to set them GENTLY in the basket instead of just dropping them in.1017141335-1  1017141341

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While Reta Jean was helping with the animals, Raymond was off with Auntie Tori, picking flowers.

1017141344cThere are all kinds of crawly critters this time of year. Sometimes it takes toddlers to remind us how cool it is just to watch them and touch them.

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Raking up leaves is fun when there are happy faces just waiting to jump into the piles. Carly must have raked them up 5 times. They’re still a mess around the yard, but we were having too much fun to actually haul them away.

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Reta Jean loves following Brother.

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There’s one game left this season, and Raymond is finally getting the hang of soccer. He still likes to stop and watch the birds, or pick the grass, but he stays in the game. Reta Jean is too young to join the team, but she’ll totally be ready next year.

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And no week would be complete without breakfast at Steve’s. Raymond has figured out how to roll his tongue. I think I’m the only person on the planet who can’t do that. Maybe Reta Jean won’t be able to, either.

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Raymond was practicing writing words on the menu. He can’t just write cat or dog. Nope. Our Raymond writes Xray Fish. Two years until kindergarten. His teachers are going to have their hands full.

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Have a great week!

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Breakfast at Steve’s

When you live in the same small town forever, you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. Some people find this annoying, I found it comforting. Same checkers at the grocery store, same parents on the pool deck, same staff at our favorite restaurants.10402095_738445949552145_6835165190414361763_n

We knew moving to a new town, we’d have to make an effort to find “our places” and carve out a new life with new routines.  We tried a few different restaurants before Steve’s American Café and Grill opened a few months after we arrived in town. It quickly became our favorite. (Its location even has a small-town description: In the red barn, next to the Shell station, on Hwy 2)Papa and Ray

Most everything at Steve’s is made from scratch, on-site. Good ol’ American comfort food! Bearcat Burgers named for the local high school, chicken biscuit pie, mac & cheese, and meatloaf. (I’ve never even been a meatloaf fan, and I LOVE Steve’s meatloaf.) Whenever we have out-of-town guests, we make a point of taking them to Steve’s.RJ

As good as their lunch and dinner are, it’s breakfast at Steve’s that has become our routine. Every weekend, unless we absolutely can’t make it, we’re there. Carly and Joe have also let us make it part of Raymond and Reta Jean’s routine. Saturday is the first day of the week the kids mastered. If anybody says “Saturday,” they respond with “Eggs and pancakes!” Guess what they always get. 0914140928a

The kids are too young to realize it, yet, but they’re so lucky to be part of the Steve’s family. They’re always greeted with enthusiasm and smiles. Sharon, the owner, will always take a minute to dance and giggle with Reta Jean. Raymond gets hugs from the manager, Jen, who also lets him check out her sparkly jewelry. I think everyone who works there knows most of our order, without asking. Charlie usually likes to try out the new specials, so they have to check with him. There are other morning regulars, who make a point of saying hello to us and the babies. 09141409150914140906

When people are happy to see the kids, it makes me proud of them, and of their parents. Carly and Joe know it’s their job to raise their kids to be able to function in society. That means they’re not allowed to be brats, but they are allowed to be kids.

To some, it may seem like a simple breakfast. To me, as a mother, grandmother, and former teacher, it’s so much more.  They’re learning they can count on Gabba and Papa to have fun. They’re learning how to interact with adults, both friends and strangers. They’re learning restaurant manners in a place where it’s also OK to be toddlers. They’re learning that they’re likable and people want to be around them. They’re learning shapes, colors, letters, numbers, counting and reading. Most importantly, they’re learning to be part of a community.

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond