Plinth Blog Special Needs Parenting

2Jun/190

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXVIII: Ikea

Alice's dresser has seen better days. The design wasn't particularly good and we've fixed several drawers, replaced knobs, repaired slides and so on, but it was at the end of it's useful life. E had put together a shopping list and was intending to mail order them, but since it was one of those "we don't have anything planned days" where Alice will get stir crazy at home, I took her to Ikea to go in search of those things. This was a decision with a certain amount of risk because while we had a list of things to find, Ikea is a big store and I knew going in that there had to be some wiggle room for shenanigans. Also, Alice knows full well that Ikea has a cafeteria and would be angling for food constantly unless I put the kibosh on that hard.

Let the shenanigans begin. Because I'm crafty, I planned that we would do this in two passes. On the first pass, we'd find and buy the heavy stuff and load it, then have lunch and get the lighter stuff. That worked pretty well. After we loaded the heavy stuff, Alice insisted on heading up through the maze. I was able to show her the secret door to get right to the cafeteria instead of having to wind through the whole store again.

Fortunately, Alice had no problem getting a salad since most of the rest of the food had gluten in it. It didn't stop her from angling for fries, but they're cooked in the same fryer as things with gluten and that affects her. We got the rest of our needs and headed home with a constructive day out in the bag. This is notable because Alice is most certainly a teenager and has had quite a set of super cranky days recently.

I should interject at this point that and bring up the myth of Cassandra. Cassandra was cursed to utter prophesies that were true but no one would ever believe them. I believe that this myth was created by a parent of a teenager. When Alice's behavior starts to go off kilter, I'll offer her a choice to correct with distasteful consequences if does not. Recently, she's been denying that the consequences will/can happen, yet they do every single time. I point out how the consequences happened last time and maybe she doesn't want them to happen again. Yet somehow my prophesies come true. Weird, huh?

The pieces that we bought were in the Askvoll line:

Which is a very unfortunate name if your articulation isn't that clear, like in Down syndrome. I tried to get her to put a lot of emphasis on the 'k' and not say it too loud in the store.

The surprising part was that Alice wanted to participate in putting them together. She was happy to put in dowel pins and sort out hardware.

She also liked hammering in the plastic pins.

And yes, she's got a grip that's choked up pretty high on that hammer. That's not important here. The important part was that she was quite happy to help constructively in nearly every step of the process, which is a very nice change from the usual adolescent crankiness.

Side note: why is your hammer pink? For starters, it's not my hammer; it belongs to my spouse. Second, she used to work in a manufacturing facility and needed tools to work on molds or machinery and in that environment, tools get ruined and lost, so she decided to make it perfectly clear that these tools were hers, so she painted the tools and the toolbox Barbie pink, and I think that's awesome.

 

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25Mar/191

How To Make a Captain Marvel Cake

My daughter turned 16 this past week and we planned a party at the movie theater with friends to go watch Captain Marvel. I decided to make Captain Marvel cakes for the party. We were expecting enough people to need more than one. In the words of Carl Sagan in Contact, "why make one when you can make two for twice the price?" This was also my first foray into using fondant, so I'll pass on what I learned.

Here is what you'll need:

Software:

  • 2 - 8 inch round cakes
  • 1 recipe of frosting for an 8 inch cake
  • 1 package each red and blue fondant and EITHER 1 package yellow OR 1 package white fondant and edible gold spray
  • Corn starch or confectioners sugar
  • Clamps or weights.

Hardware:

  • Parchment paper
  • Clamps or weights to hold it down
  • Rolling pin
  • Sharp paring knife
  • Ruler
  • 8 inch round cake pan
  • Piping bag and tips
  • Pencil
  • Scissors

First, make stencils. I traced the bottom of the round pan onto parchment and cut out a circle. Very carefully, fold it into eighths. Cut out a 3/8 pie wedge from the paper. Flatten and smooth both pieces. The 3/8 portion is for blue, the 5/8 for red. For the star, I looked at a movie picture and made a 4 pointed star using the ruler and then added 4 small points to it, then cut it out.

I read that fondant can be pretty sticky and it was recommended that you use a dusting of corn starch or confectioners sugar. I wanted to avoid the mess, so I put parchment down on my counter. I used clamps to hold the paper down. You could probably use weights, but I can't imagine that would work as well. Tape doesn't stick so well to parchment, so probably don't bother with this.

To work with fondant, I found that out of the package it was stiff, but softened up with hand kneading. Some references I read suggested using a rolling pin with spacers on the ends to help roll it out evenly. I just used my old reliable tapered pin and eye-balled the thickness. Roll out the red to about 1/8" thick and cut out 5/8 of a circle using the paring knife. I flipped it over (the bottom will be smoother) and set it aside. I repeated the process with the blue and the 3/8 circle. Place the red and blue together and adjust to make a clean circle.

Repeat the process again for the star. For the stripes, I rolled the fondant by hand into a long snake and then flattened it into a wide strip using the rolling pin. Using the ruler as a guide, I cut it into long narrow strips using a pizza wheel.

Before spraying with gold, I covered up the red and blue pieces with paper towel so they wouldn't get hit with over spray. Wilton is really stingy with the amount of gold per can, so be careful not to waste it.

At this point, put the two layers together and put a crumb coat of frosting on the cake. Put the red and blue pieces on the cake. With frosting in a piping bag and a fine tip, pipe a bead on either side of the seam of the red and blue sections (you can also apply the frosting with the thin handle of a teaspoon). I mitered the strips where they join, but that gets hidden by the star so as long as they pieces don't overlap, it doesn't really matter. Lay the strips over the seam and trim at the edge of the cake. I used scissors to trim. Finally lay down a bead of frosting where the star goes and place that. Note that the gold spray flakes if you handle the fondant too much, so try to be careful.

I this point, I finished the side of the cake and piped a bead around the top to hide the edge of the fondant.

Here's my daughter - she was very happy to see the final cakes.

Higher, further, faster!

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10Dec/180

Nutcracker Roundup

This is the second year now that Alice and I have done the Party Scene in the Nutcracker, put on by Pioneer Valley Ballet. It is a commitment that begins in October with weekly rehearsals and finishes up in early December, after a whirlwind week of dress rehearsals and 6 performances.

Last year, Alice was a party adult and did all the dances except for one. This year she did them all. What was surprising to me was how much she remembered from the previous year. The choreography came back to her faster than to some of the adults. As a teenage young woman, Alice and I butt heads constantly. This is typical and expected. The Nutcracker has been an oasis of something that she and I can enjoy together.

Dance and performance in general are things that Alice absolutely loves. Me? I'm an introvert, but I'm the kind of introvert that loves performance. I'm hardly a good dancer, but this is worth it to me.

To manage the performances, Alice and I follow a pretty decent schedule. We arrive at the call time, get our make up done, get our costumes on, and I put Alice's hairpiece on. We do our performance, then change back into street clothes, take off our make up and get the heck out of the theater for the hour and a half until the second show. It's nice to take a walk and go into stores with interesting things to look at so that Alice has a constructive focus. After the second show on Friday, Alice and I go out to a celebratory dinner. On Saturday, between show, we go to Herrell's and get some ice cream. On Sunday, we do our best to cope.

Before each show, we go up on stage a little bit early to unwind and take some selfies.

When we're done with the second show, we go down into the basement of the theater and do a unison fist pump saying, "Nailed it!" before cleaning to leave.

This year, Alice was more independent and definitely more mature. In the last show, she lost her hair piece and we discreetly left the stage and had Mary Anne, one of the directors quickly reattach it in the dark (I was without my glasses, so doing it myself was near impossible). It only took a little bit of consoling to assure Alice that, yes, we were going to go back on stage to do the turkey dance (the last dance in the party scene). Last year, I think she would have lost it and it wouldn't have happened. This year, she was much more flexible.

Beyond the performances and the growth in Alice, one of the things that I very much enjoy is the community of the people involved in the ballet company. Tom and Mary Anne, the directors, were incredibly patient and supportive of Alice. There are so many people in the show who know Alice and are genuinely happy to see her. When we go one stage, she gets compliments for how wonderful she looks. When she gets off stage, she gets compliments for how well she danced. She feels welcome and loved and accepted. Like I said: a member of the community. And I'm happy to share this with her as long as she wants to participate.

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27Nov/181

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXVII: Patience? What Patience?

On Sunday, I took Alice skating. She seemed interested and I like a good excuse to get her away from the TV.

Since she can't manage skates, we borrow a sled hockey sled from the rink. Hauling her out on the ice is a bit harrowing since the transition is tricky. I'm on the ice, skating backwards, hauling 130 pounds from a high friction surface to a low friction surface.

A woman seeing us remarked, "I wish I could have one of those!" I replied, "well, the price is pretty high" "Oh? How much?" "You have to have a stroke at birth." And then we skated off.

After a couple laps, I made a point of apologizing for being snippy. Some days I just don't have the patience.

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19Nov/181

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXVI: Breaking Patterns

Alice is absolutely a teenager. She wants more independence, intentionally ignores us, has yelling fits, and so on. Exactly what you would expect from many teens. The pattern is trying because her judgement about many things is just awful and a parent has to step in. It's trying for her. It's trying for us. I've been looking for ways to break patterns and see what happens.

We were putting together a shopping list today for a trip to Costco and rather than cue her on spelling, for one item, I said, "don't you have some in the fridge? Why don't you get that and copy it?" So she got up and grabbed one and transcribed it. I had to go get something from the basement and when I came back up she said, "Dad, dad-Pop Corners! And pointed to her list. She had noted that we were running low on Pop Corners (a gluten free snack she likes) and had copied it from the package without me there. We didn't really need more right then, but this was harmless so I praised her for thinking ahead and went with it.

In Costco, we made good on the list in short order, but it was getting to be a struggle because Costco has lots of snack items out on demo and Alice would eat them all given even half a chance. I instead to break that pattern and pointed out how quickly we were going through the list saying "Alice, we are KILLING IT!" which she loved and repeated with all her Alice exuberance. Other shoppers turned heads. So what? We were killing it.

Alice is really liking her high school program and there is an activity group called best buddies that she likes to do things with. They're doing an event called 'Friendsgiving' so Alice and I made a gluten-free cranberry ginger bread sticky cake to send in. I talked to her about it earlier in the day to ensure that's what she wanted and we made it together. She put ingredients into pans, stirred some things on the stove and did a lot of reading of the instructions. It should be delicious.

KILLED IT.

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26Aug/181

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXV: Literacy and Love Notes

One of the things that I enjoy about Alice is that she writes me notes when she's emotional. Putting your feelings into words is a great way to temper your emotions and to communicate them to someone else. Alice does this without prompting. I put them some of them aside to save for later.

Here are a couple of examples.

The words are "Dear daddy [unknown] now cook food by Alice". She wrote this on a day that we had cooked together and she enjoyed that and (I assume) wanted to ensure that we were going to do that more. Yay!

Not everything is positive like that, but I can still see the bright side of the situation.

It says, "Daddy by[e] no TV yes TV Alice"

This happened at a point when we were on vacation and Alice wanted to spend time in the hotel just watching little kid stuff on TV, hogging it from everyone else. I imposed appropriate sharing protocols and she was not happy with that and wrote me a note.

Circumstances notwithstanding, this is a fantastic implementation of literacy. Alice felt so strongly that she decided to take the time and effort to write me a note. This is the power of literacy at work and trust me when I say that I like this far better than what Alice has been doing recently, which is yelling at me to make sure I understand how she feels.

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12Aug/183

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXIV: I Think We Have This Down Pat

Alice and I went to Boston Comic Con today. This is our second con this year and the 4th in 2 years. Boston is about as far as I'd like to travel for an event without overnighting.

We had a professional photo done with Evangeline Lilly, who was a good sport and agreed to hold my shield for this shot.

We followed our usual pattern: reinforce expectations and go over the schedule to pick things to do and to see and then follow that plan, leaving room to be flexible as the day progressed.

We saw Brent Spiner again, who was still terrific and I thanked him for being so kind to Alice previously.

We also went to meet with Cary Elwes and got a picture taken with him. He was so incredibly kind and patient with Alice.

He was holding Alice's hands and called her an angel. Without missing a beat, Alice said, "You're hired!" Mr. Elwes busted up laughing and came out to give Alice a hug and tell her that she just made his day. I'm going to keep what he did for Alice after between us, but I will add that he is also incredibly generous. What a sweetheart!

One of the nice things about being a frequenter is that now we're starting to see people that we've seen before. I recognized at least 3 people and we'd seen before and we were recognized once.

We ran into Ask Kaylee Frye, who I'd seen on social media. I was so happy to meet her!

We also saw Lucky Grim (no picture), who last summer we saw running a panel on cosplay and on makeup. We thanked her for the encouragement.

Again, it was fun to see other takes on the Captain America universe.

Alice and I got stopped a few times for pictures. I had a few little kids come up to me, which was nice. Lots of fist bumps. I let a couple try to hold my shield.

Alice picked people that she wanted to take pictures with and nearly all were accommodating. By around 3:00, it was clear that she was flagging a bit, which was frustrating, because I really wanted to look around. We negotiated to another tour around the perimeter before calling it quits.

Once again, we spent part of the drive home cutting each other up, which was a nice end to the day.

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15Jul/185

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXIII: More ComicCon

Alice and I have gone to two comic cons together last year. Today we went to another, this time ConnectiCon in Hartford. This was nice because the drive wasn't too long. Alice and I decided that we were going to go as Captain America and Peggy Carter. Alice loves dressing up and so do I. Last time we were both Harley Quinn. This time, I decided to commit more to the CosPlay and colored my hair and got colored lenses to match Chris Evans better.

In the process, I discovered that one skill I don't have is putting in contact lenses. Fortunately, E helped out and put them in for me. She also did a great job on Alice's makeup and hair.

Like before, the trip involved a certain amount of preparation. We talked about how to ask people for pictures, how to handle when someone asks you for a picture, etc. When Alice goes somewhere, she likes to make it all about food, so we had discussions about that and that (it's about comics and costumes) and that we were going to do a lot of walking.

In getting ready, Alice burst one of the seams in her skirt--a minor crisis--but while E put on her makeup, I made a quick run to the sewing machine and patched it up. One thing different this time around was that in the past, I've worn a backpack. This time Alice wore a purse and we put snacks, seltzer, and a few other things in there for her to carry.

 

We headed out and we talked over all those points again. We got there a little early. The parking was easy and the line to get in wasn't too long.

From there, everything was pretty smooth. We attended some sessions, walked floor, and took a lot of pictures.

I loved this costume - the details aren't visible from here, but her costume was a Tard-IT, a mashup between a Tardis and It. Nice.

There were a lot of people in costume, which was nice. We also saw a number of different takes on Captain America and the Captain America universe, so of course we took pictures.

I don't know about this Loki dude, though. He seemed kind of shifty.

There were also some really funny things that happened. Alice liked a Deadpool statue that we saw and decided to pose just like it. Why? I don't know. Still funny.

It was nice getting compliments on our costumes and the people wanted to take a picture of Alice. There was one woman, for example, who said that she "collected Peggy Carters" and wanted to get a picture of Alice.

Once again, it was a terrific day. I tried to make sure that Alice had a fair amount of agency in making decisions for what we were going to do. At the end of a very long day, Alice was flagging and I suggested that we go home. "No! No dad!" At this point, I could have asserted, but instead I turned it around and asked her what she wanted to do at this point. She said she wanted to look at more people in costumes, so that's what we did and then she suggested going home.

We had a nice trip home cutting up over songs on the radio.

And because things like this don't happen in isolation, I want to thank people who helped me decide to pursue this with Alice:

CosplayParents - this is a wonderful couple who do fantastic cosplay. I love their work. Follow their twitter account - it's worth it.

Adam Savage - always an inspiration for making things and cosplays that are huge in scale.

A woman at Boston Comic Con last year who ran a panel on inclusive cosplay - she said simply, "if you have a pulse, you can cosplay"

Chris Evans - thanks for creating a character that's fun to do. One of my favorite things about being this character is to call men "son" and to call other Captains America "cap".

And of course, E who has been incredibly supportive of this.

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5Jul/180

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXII: Cooking and Stroke Rehabilitation

For the past 7 years or so, we've enrolled Alice in a camp that is dedicated to helping kids who have had strokes and other similar brain injuries by putting their "better" arm into a cast and then providing intensive physical and occupational therapies. The camp lasts 3 weeks and Alice loves it.

The camp is called LARC (Lefty and Righty Camp), but Alice calls it "elbow camp" which is fine. The camp is 100 miles away from us, so E and I make arrangements every year for how we handle going back and forth. I try to reinforce some of the things that she does at home by encouraging two handed activities and giving Alice gentle nudges to work both hands.

Here is Alice stripping some collard greens that we put into soup. Her right hand was perfect at holding onto the stem while she pulled the leafy bits off.

This morning, Alice and I made cheesecake using Alton Brown's recipe. We started by breaking up gluten free graham crackers before putting them into a food processor. She was using her weaker hand to stabilize the sour cream tub when scooped it out. This particular measuring cup was perfect for some hand-over-hand work. It's made for viscous ingredients. Alice held the transparent part with her good hand, and I helped her push the yellow part with her weaker hand. Nice. I also helped her hand-over-hand to gently agitate the pan to get bubbles out of the batter. And of course, there is a reward waiting for you at the end.

Our farm share provided us with a pint of sour cherries, and I had some sweet cherries and cherry jam so I made a simple cherry coulis to put over the top.

It's certainly not easy to do this. Alice has been very willful in the past few months and that makes it even more challenging to work with her constructively. Still, today's cooking experience was pretty good as far as working with her goes.

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15Jun/181

Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXXXI: Oh, She’s a Teen

There's no doubt that Alice is 15. Yes, there are a number of her behaviors that are not age appropriate, but there are a lot that are. For example, she will ask permission for something and then if she doesn't like the answer tries to go ahead with what she wanted anyway. And then she'll dig in her heels and still try. Again. And Again. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of, "Remember Alice, it's a school day so you don't get TV, right?" "Oh yeah, daddy! You right. You Right!" Sometimes it's not so simple.

Recently, Alice has been taking to demanding attention close to bedtime. It's been frustrating because she's been ultra persistent. I've taken to candy coating my response and being firm about it.

"Daddy - there's a fly in my room."

"Is it bigger than you?"

"No."

"Then don't worry about it. Good night! I love you."

"But daddy there's a-"

"Good night! I love you."

"But daddy I can't go to sleep. There's a-"

"Good night! I love you."

"Ahhhh!"

"Good night! I love you."

"Stop saying that!"

"Good night! I love you."

"FINE!"

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