Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Frisbee and a Picnic

While that soccer ball is always waiting in the yard for a swift kick, another item rests patiently in the grass close by.  

The frisbee.  

Who would get their two-year-old a frisbee?  Would you?

Well, I did not.  It happened by default.

Earlier this summer Braeden watched some kids playing in the Copper Harbor park.  One of the little girls came over and asked, "Braeden, do you want to come play with us?"

It was a precious moment for Mom.  My little boy was invited to join the group in the park for the first time.  Hooray!

They were all playing with a frisbee.  Braeden took his turn running after it and throwing it back to the kids.  They were having so much fun that I didn't even have to watch him like a hawk.  I got to chat with the other moms like a normal parent for once!

After the crowd scattered, we went back home.  Somehow we ended up with a frisbee.

This bright orange disc sat on my counter for a couple weeks.  Every time I saw it, I thought, "What are we going to do with a partially dog-chewed frisbee?"

One day it caught Brady P's eye.  "Eh!" he shouted pointing to the frisbee. 

"Do you want to play frisbee?" I asked him.

He put his hand on his head for a yes.

After a couple times throwing the frisbee in the yard, I realized that Brady P. was a frisbee-throwing machine.  He can throw it so well that adults can catch it.  And he loves throwing it so much, that we had to look up the sign for frisbee, so he can tell me when he wants to play.  It's definitely everyday.

I like it because it doesn't continue rolling into precarious places.

We'll play frisbee in the yard.  We'll bring it on our walks, so he can throw it, run after it, pick it up and throw it again (keeping the walk in motion).  He'll throw it in the bushes and I'll make him find it.  We'll bring it to parties, so he can show other kids how to play.

Brady P. sending it!

It always dawns on me how well he throws it when I watch other kids lob it, drop it or accidentally throw it backwards.  He's got good glide, aim and distance with that thing.  And he likes to practice different techniques.

Last weekend, we brought it to the U.P. Down Syndrome Association's summer picnic in Escanaba.  Yes, we drove 4 hours one way for a picnic, but those events are good for both of us.

So Braeden got to show the kids how to play frisbee.  His frisbee was so often in use that I wondered where it was half the time, but my heart smiled when I saw kids and parents tossing it around in a group.

It was a cool event.  The ice cream truck even came!  I have never seen a real live ice cream truck tinkling its music down the road, but there it was.  And the kids rushed right to it.

The ice cream truck!

Braeden was a big fan.  Okay, so was I.

I also enjoyed my time talking with the other parents.  It's a rare party that I get to attend where all the parents understand what I've been through with Braeden and even have their own heart-breaking, yet triumphant stories to share.  I believe it's healing for all parents of a child with unique needs and medical struggles to be able to share their stories and empathize.

After our hearts were warmed, I found the frisbee again.  Then we gave our good-bye hugs and drove back north.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Soccer Obsession

I try to pick up on the things that Braeden likes, so he can further explore them.  

He loved the horses in his books, so I took him to see horses.  Maybe he'll be a rancher someday.  He loved whacking sticks on various objects to hear the different sounds they make, so I made sure he had a couple types of drums around.  Maybe he'll be a drummer someday.

See what I mean?  The little things that a child expresses interest in may be their future career, so I try to let them all blossom.  Then they can choose later in life.

When we were in Arkansas last winter, Grammy and Grampy Wais sent Brady P. some cooler pajamas to wear on those hot nights.  One pair had four different kinds of sports balls all over them.  Each time he wore the pants, he would point to a soccer ball.

"Soccer ball," I told him.

He looked down his leg to find another one.  And another one.  And another one.

"Soccer ball.  Soccer ball.  Soccer ball," I repeated for each pointing.

I don't know if he liked the pattern of the soccer ball or what, but he never pointed to the baseball, football or basketball.  Ever.  And the soccer ball was incessant.

"Okay, Brady P.  I get it.  We'll get you a soccer ball," I told him.

So I bought my tiny son a soccer ball with the classic black and white pattern like the one on his pj pants.  Supposedly, my two-and-a-quarter year old son, who just learned to walk steadily a couple months prior, was going to learn how to kick a soccer ball.

When I put it in the cart, he gave me the owl face.  This face, where his eyes get big and his mouth turns into a little "o," means that he is the most excited he can be.

"Yes," I thought.  "He likes the soccer ball!"

Then we had to learn how to kick it.  

Brady P. had been chucking rocks and tossing balls for months before that, but never did we think about giving it a good kick.  Well, in soccer you're not supposed to use your hands, so it was time to learn how to kick.

I thought it would be a fun thing to do on a fresh Arkansas spring day.  But instead of having a kicking spree, I observed the workings of the neurological pathways of my child's brain.  Yes, it was a lesson in brain science right there in the driveway.

I told Brady P. to kick it.  To use his foot.  He knew what his foot was, but I watched as my words entered his ears.  I heard his wheels turning as he looked at his foot and the ball.  And I heard them spin as he tried to figure out how to move his foot toward the ball to make it move forward like I had demonstrated for him.

Wow.  That was a lot of processing for a little guy!

He didn't get it the first day.  Or the second.  Or the third.  But, for some reason, Brady P. was obsessed with the soccer ball.  When he saw it on the porch, he would point and shout, "Eh!"

So we tried and tried.

About a week later, he had it.  He could kick it, run after it and kick it again.  He could kick it with the right timing after I kicked it to him.  He was getting it!  Little Brady P., who pointed to a cartoon on his jammy pants, was kicking a soccer ball down the driveway.

I was so proud of him.

Once we got back to the Copper Country, and the weather warmed up a bit, we got the soccer ball out again.  He still loves that thing and enjoys working on his kicking skills.

Sprinting to the soccer ball

Look at him.  He even has the serious soccer face!

One evening, on our walk to throw rocks, we spotted a young man volleying a soccer ball to himself.  This guy was amazing.  He kicked it up, over his head, behind and side to side without letting it hit the ground.  Braeden plopped down in the middle of the road and watched him in awe.

Eventually the guy's ball hit the ground and rolled toward Brady P.  Brady P. stood up, ran after it and grabbed it in his arms.

"Can you kick it to the man?" I asked him.

He threw it to the man instead.  Perhaps he was massively humbled.

"He really liked watching you," I told the young man.

The man kicked it back to Braeden, and Braeden kicked it back to him.  After chatting a bit more, I noticed he had an accent.  Woah, what if that guy was a professional soccer player from a different country?

When Braeden got up to leave, he waved good-bye to the man.  "I think you made his day!" I told the man as we walked away.  "Thank you!"

"You're welcome!" he said as he waved to Braeden.  We should have gotten his autograph.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Berry Picker

Berry season in the Keweenaw is like no other berry season I have ever known.  It's not a tractor ride through the strawberry farm fields with the masses.  It's not filling buckets of lush raspberries from a tall domestic patch in a friend's yard.

It's all about timing, weather, solitude and knowing the best spots for "what-kind-of-berry-did-you-say?" wild berries.

Brady P. learned to pick thimbleberries this summer.  

What kind of berry?

(Stock photo from the internet)

They were pretty prolific this year.  The bilberries, my usual favorite to pick, took the year off, so thimbles it was.

No matter.  Braeden loved them.

One day, just as the season was ripening, Aaron, Braeden and I took a buggy ride through the campground to check their progress.  When we saw the pink jewels glistening in the evening sun, Aaron stopped the ATV, and we hopped off to pick a few.  That's when little man got his first taste for the season.

We would each pick a handful and take turns bringing them to Brady P.  Braeden would grab the whole pile of berries out of our hands like an eagle clawing an unsuspecting fish.  Then he shoved his dripping fistful into his mouth and chewed them up.

The berry grabbing face and talon

He enjoyed them, all right.

When we climbed back in to drive further, Braeden got mad.  He signed "More!  More!" with his little thumb poking into his palm and squealed at us.

"We're driving to find some more berries!" we tried to reason with a ravenous toddler.  We simply couldn't pick enough that day to satiate the little guy.

But he learned how to pick them on his own.

I've been a berry picker up here for 11 years; as long as I've lived here, I've been part of the craze.  I know the thrill of the whole process: the waiting, the finding, the picking, the sound they make in the bucket, the eating, the storing, etc.

To see my own flesh and blood recognize a thimbleberry bush, walk up to it, gently pick the ripe berry and eat it with delight made me so proud.  So proud.  Even prouder than the fact that he knows his shapes.

Brady P. the forager

Even though thimbleberry season is waning, I have a feeling that he'll remember them for next year.  On our daily walks, he'll stop in front of a thimbleberry bush, point, and shout, "Ah!" as if to tell me, "There are berries in that bush, Mama!"

Next year I will have some competition in the bushes, as most of the berries might end up in his mouth before they have a chance to plop in my bucket.  Good thing I have some height on him.  He can only reach the low ones.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Garden Hide-and-Seek

Grammy works in the gardens at the campground.  For first year gardens, they are producing quite nicely.  While she is busy watering, mulching and weeding, Brady P. and I go visit her.  And help if we can.

Braeden likes to help by throwing his ball into the plants.  He throws it right into the broccoli patch.  He chucks it right through the rows of corn.  He sinks it deep into the kale plants.

And then he has to find it.

When his ball is too hidden for him to find, he will interrupt our chores by pressing his palms together, moving them up and down and grunting "uh, uh."  His sign for "help."

"I will help you Braeden," I volunteer, so Grammy can keep moving along.  "You threw the ball in the broccoli!" I tell him.  "Let's find it."

He stands next to me as I pull the leaves back and look under the plants.  "Baa-aall, where aaaare you?" I sing as I duck under the foliage.

I want Braeden to know we are looking through the broccoli.  And when he throws it in the corn, I want him to know it's in the corn.  No matter which vegetable the ball lands in, Grammy and I tell him the name of it.  The chances of him memorizing all the plants by fall is minimal, but I think it's a great opportunity for him to learn where his food comes from.

Brady P. takes his ball throwing seriously

Soon enough we find his ball.  "Here it is, Brady P!" I shout to him.  "Now stay on the path."  

The path.

The only way we can allow him to stay in the garden at all is because he learned what the path is.  Now it took laps of Grammy and me marching through the garden with him on our heels to learn what the path was.  "Marching on the path," we sing to whatever nursery rhyme was stuck in our heads that day.

And he walks right behind us on the dirt path.  That way, when he goes to find his ball in the corn, we can yell, "Stay on the path!" and he looks down, and finds a path to the corn.  It's fun to make a game out of it.  Sometimes we zigzag through like a maze, and I ask him where he thinks the path goes from a certain spot.  He can usually find one.

Grammy reminding him where the path is

He certainly likes the challenge of learning, and he loves that ball.  Uh oh, where did it go this time?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rainy Day Genius

Yesterday it rained for part of the afternoon.  One of those hallelujah soakers that top off a gorgeous week of sunny and 70's with no bugs right before the humidity rises to a sweltering heat.  You know, that one or two days of hot and muggy per summer that we get here next to Lake Superior.

Luckily, Brady P., Grammy Linda and I already sat out on the shore to throw rocks.  We were certainly sun-kissed when we returned home for the little man's nap.

He passed right out.  Another hallelujah moment.

On rainy days, we have to get creative.  Luckily, Brady P. is easily entertained with books, puzzles, music and animals.  He is, quite honestly, a nerd when it comes to books.  If it's just the two of us, and I am performing my household duties, I'll notice that things are a little quiet.  That's when a mom worries.  Then I'll franticly look to where I saw him last, and find him sitting down with a book in his lap, flipping through the pages like he's studying for a test.  I just chuckle to myself.  That little nerd.

When it comes to puzzles, he's a genius.  We may as well get rid of all the puzzles that have the back board matching the piece that goes on top of it.  Way too easy.  He need ages 3+ puzzles, and he is not three years old yet.  

One puzzle that I am particularly amazed by is the shape puzzle.  I could type up a detailed analysis of how impressive his skills are with this puzzle, but you probably wouldn't believe me, so here is a video.

Well, that was most of the puzzle.  I don't even know if I would have the attention span to complete it while listening to my dry tone.  He has completed it many times, however, and that was take number seven for the day.

So you may or may not be amazed that a two-and-three-quarters year old boy with Down syndrome can do a puzzle like that. He actually conquered it last winter.  But do you know why he is so smart?  Because somebody believes in him.  I believe in him.  His whole family, all his friends and our community believes in him.  He defies the odds in many aspects of his life, and this is certainly one of those aspects.

A month before this video was taken, I had Braeden show his Early On coordinator (a program that helps give parents and children with extra needs the tools for success during ages birth to three) the shape puzzle.  I asked her, "Can we show off for you?"

"Please do," she answered.  When I pulled out the shape puzzle and dumped out the pieces, she added, "Now, you know this puzzle is for ages three to four."

"Okay," I shrugged.  Then I asked Brady P. to find the blue trapezoid.  When he picked it up and put it in, she about tipped over!

"Wow, Amanda," she gasped.  "I figured he could put the pieces in, but I never expected him to know the shapes!"

Bam.  Brady P. knows his shapes.

He knows a lot of things.  Though he is still working on speaking, he can point to the numbers 1-10 if you ask.  He can point to many letters of the alphabet correctly.  He can pick out just about any animal in the world.  He knows big from little, happy from sad and up from down.  He can recognize and show me about thirty signs in order to communicate.  He is just starting to understand the concept of colors.

And even sweeter than all the numbers and shapes in the world, he knows when somebody needs a hug, and he gives them one, making their day better.