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Aran's Graduation

The big day arrived--Aran's graduation!

Wherever Schools has three high schools, and all three of them hold their graduations at Eastern Michigan University down in Ypsilanti.  It started when the two high schools were outgrowing themselves and didn't have enough room for the graduates and their families to attend, so another venue was needed.  After the two schools were expanded and a third school added, the tradition of off-campus graduations continued.  So we all bundle down to Ypsilanti.

Braving difficult traffic and elbowing our way through crowds of people all intent on getting into (and out of) the same place at the same time, we managed to get Aran to the right door for graduates and we went into the arena, where we scored front row seats.  Aran's grandparents were there, along with Kala and his brothers and my brother Paul.  And me.

Because I'm faculty, I was offered the chance to award Aran his diploma, but I turned it down, partly because Aran said he didn't want me to do it and partly because I probably would have been crying as I did it.

Aran filed in with all the graduates (430 of them), and there were many photos of him.  The ceremony began.  It was broadcast on the jumob-tron TV above everyone's heads, so we were able to see the stage very well.  Many speeches, much music, more speeches.  And then the awarding of the diplomas.  With 430 students, it took a long, long time!  Aran received his diploma with aplomb and ta da!  He was a high school graduate!

Afterward, there was more struggling with traffic.  Aran got lost trying to find us after the ceremony, and it took the magic of cell phones to find him.  But we all met up at an Ypsilanti restaurant for supper.  I guessed (correctly, it turned out) that everyone would want to book back to Wherever for supper, where they knew the restaurants and had family favorites.  That meant the restaurants would be crowded and noisy up there.  But we lived in Ypsi for years and knew all the places to eat, and at 6:00 on a Saturday, they weren't crowded at all yet.  And, in fact, the Tower Inn wasn't at all crowded and was only five minutes away from the ceremony.

We took over a corner of the restaurant and swapped photos and stories of Aran and took yet more photos.  And then we finally drove home with our new graduate.


Aran and High School

Aran has finished high school.  Oh, there are a few i's and t's to dot and cross, but he's really finished.  He wrote his last final exam today, turned in his books, and attended graduation rehearsal.  Tomorrow he has to show up for a class he's already completed the final for and pick up his cap and gown.  Then he's all done except for walking down the aisle.

These things are always a long time when they happen, but so fast in retrospect.  Aran actually spent 16 years in school instead of the usual 13.  He started when he was two, freshly diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder.  He was barely able to walk, and toddled out to the bus clutching his bottle and a stuffed Barney doll.  The school had to put an aide on the bus to help him up the steps because he was too little to climb them on his own, and he could barely walk anyway.  Kala followed the bus to school for the first couple of days to make sure he and everyone else knew what was what.

The word "autism" wouldn't come until later.

After it did, I remember hours of play therapy in the basement family room, teaching him to talk to Bithu the monkey puppet and perform complex tasks, and I remember writing two books at the same time in order to pay for his medical bills because play therapy wasn't covered by insurance back then.  I remember tearing up when his supervising therapist said she saw no reason he couldn't enter a normal kindergarten the autumn after he turned five.

I watched him struggle with school, with its shouts and yells and unexpected noises and strange stimuli.  I sent him to school with ear protectors so he could retreat into silence when he needed it.

I attended over 40 IEPs for him.  I worked with wonderful, helpful teachers and dealt with stubborn, intractable ones.  I ended a professional relationship with one teacher who refused to follow the requirements laid out by Aran's IEP--when the problem continued, I finally had to threaten legal action if he didn't comply.  Our relationship didn't survive, and I found I didn't care in the slightest.  I swallowed more tears when teachers said they fought over who would get to have Aran in their classrooms because he was so sweet and kind.

I watched Aran change from school to school, either because he grew older or because we moved.  I worried when we moved to Wherever that kids who didn't know him well would make fun of him, and they did--until Aran had enough and socked a bully in the jaw and no one ever made fun of Aran again.

I missed his eighth grade graduation, where the students wildly applauded Aran and no other student when his name was called.

I saw him struggle in high school, and worked with him long and hard, trying to find ways to reach him about the newer, more difficult curriculum.

I bickered with his special education teacher, Julie Clapp, and found ways we could work together and sent her flowers the day after Aran's final IEP, which made her cry, too.

I took a hundred pictures on prom night before he headed off with his friends--his friends!--and oh, I wish I could back to my past self and say how well it would turn out.

And there's only the ceremony, when I watch him go down the aisle.

That'll be the hardest part.


Wham! Pow! Ping! And Sing!

The remnants of the storms from Texas and Oklahoma swept through here today.  They expended the last of their energy and died, but not before dropping an ocean of rain, a hurricane of wind, and a truckload of hail.  I was driving home from work during the worst of it, and many people pulled over to wait it out--visibility was darned near zero.  Hail bounced and pinged off my hood.  Two trees had fallen over, partially blocking two different sections of road, and drivers from opposite directions took turns scootching around them.

I arrived home none the worse for the wear--the advantage of living only seven minutes from work--and I set all the houseplants and hanging baskets out on the sidewalk to get good and watered.  Some time later, it was still raining, and Maksim wandered in, drenched to the bone and singing as he came.  His voice is changing, which makes his singing interesting as it is, but here he was literally singing in the rain.

Prom Night, 2015

I got home from work at 3:00 and found Aran in his tuxedo.

"Hey, buddy!" I said, setting down my briefcase.  "How long have you been wearing that?"

"About an hour," he said.

He was totally ready to go.

There were a few details--cufflinks, button covers, suspenders, stuff he'd never dealt with before.  But when it was done, he was looking really good!

His grandparents arrived at 4:00.  They wanted to see him off, too.  His grandmother helped with the boutonnière, and we took more photos.  Nicole, his date, texted to say she was on her way.  They were going in a group of four total, and I didn't know if we were going to have the whole group over or just Nicole, but it would be fine either way.

Kala came over, too, and she arrived just in time.  Nicole and the other couple (Ashley and Seth) drove up minutes later.  Show time!

Aran showed perfect manners and made introductions all around.  It was nice to meet Nicole at last, as well as Ashley and Seth.  Their parents all came, too, for the photo op, so it was a lot of introductions.  Aran gave Nicole her corsage and kissed her hand, which everyone loved.  We took a few photos out front, then shifted to our back deck, which is very photogenic with its woodsy backdrop.  Hundreds and hundreds of photos followed, both serious and silly.  The men were handsome, the women were beautiful.

I posted the photos on my Facebook page:

And then it was time to leave.  They drove off, leaving the parents behind.

Time passed.

Aran eventually arrived back home, none the worse for the wear.  He'd had a wonderful time.  He said he danced quite a lot and everyone thought he was an amazing dancer, and he and Nicole had played the arcade and casino games, and there was a DJ and they'd had their picture taken.

And now the tuxedo is back in the rental bag, awaiting return.

Next up: graduation.

Prom Role-Play

Prom is this Thursday.  Aran needed to know what to do, so I set up a role-play for him.  The hapless Darwin was roped into playing Nicole, Aran's prom date.

Nicole is actually driving (Aran doesn't have his license), so a few things will be reversed.  She'll be picking him up, for example.  So I sent Darwin-as-Nicole out to the front porch and had him ring the bell to begin.  We went through Aran answering the door, introducing her to the family, giving her the corsage, complimenting her dress ("You can never tell her often enough that she looks nice," I told him), taking pictures, and escorting her to the car, where they pretended to drive to prom.  (Aran has a tendency to stride off on his own when he's ready to go somewhere, and I had to remind him that he could never abandon Nicole.  He has to keep her in mind.)

"You can say, 'I'll get the door' when you arrive," I told him, "even though she's driving. You get out and open the door for her."

I set a formal place setting at the table, and had Aran escort Nicole inside, get her seated (pulling out her chair for her), checking for the drinks station, asking if Nicole wanted something to drink, and going through a formal dinner with multiple courses.

After dinner, I had him ask Nicole what she wanted to do next.  "Would you like to dance?  Or get our picture taken?  Or play the casino games?" (The prom will have poker tables set up for prizes.)  And we went through how to do those things as well.

When prom ended, we went through how to leave--escorting Nicole to the door and to the car, driving home, thanking her for the evening, and so on.

Then we went through it again.

The second time through, Aran showed beautiful manners.  He'll be a fine escort at prom!


A Promise, with Hooters

You don't break a promise to someone with autism.

When Aran was eight years old, he was in the car with Melva and Roger, his Granny and Popa.  They drove past a Hooters restaurant, and Aran, intrigued by the owl, pointed and asked what it was.

"Er . . . that's a restaurant," Granny said.

"I want to eat there," Aran said.

"I'll take you there when you turn eighteen," chuckled Popa.

Time passed . . .

About a week ago, Aran announced that Popa was taking him to Hooters.  This brought my head around.  "Huh?"

"Yeah.  He said he would take me to Hooters when I turned eighteen, and I'm eighteen on Wednesday."

"Oh," I said, a little confused.  This was the first I'd heard of this, and Roger isn't the type of guy who hangs out at Hooters, let alone offers to take his teenaged grandson there.  I got hold of Roger and Melva, who had already heard from Aran about the issue, and Melva relayed the story.

"Ten YEARS ago?" I spluttered.

"Has he ever mentioned this to you?" Melva asked.

"Not even once."

"He was really insistent that Popa had promised to take him," she said.

Huh.  So when Aran was eight, Roger made an off-hand remark, and now . . . well, guess where Aran and his grandfather are right at this moment.**

Dearie, dearie me.

**Actually, the Hooters that used to be relatively near us closed down several years ago, and the closest one is now an hour's drive away.  Fortunately, if that's the right word, a similar establishment called The Tilted Kilt opened in its place, and Aran deemed this an acceptable substitute.  The mind boggles at what they'll do when Popa tells them Aran has just turned eighteen.


Beltaine 2015

Five years ago, my house in Ypsilanti had a huge back yard, and I built an altar in it.  The altar was constructed from a pile of shale, bricks, and other flat rocks to create a rough half-moon shape.  A big chunk of shale made a roof.  Because the back and sides were made of stacked stone, there were lots of nooks and crannies for candles, incense, offering bowls, small statues, and other thingies.  My big Goddess statue sat in the center of it all.  It was a lovely altar.  But when we lost the house, the half-ton of stone was too much for us to move, so it had to stay behind.

The house I moved into was a townhouse with a postage-stamp courtyard back yard that I shared with the neighbors.  I couldn't do much of an outdoor altar.  In fact, when I created a tiny one, the lawn service hired by the landlord tended to knock my altar materials over and even break them.  The outdoor altar was mostly the Goddess statue, a few offering bowls, and my Green Man sundial tucked in among some bushes.  It did the job, but I missed my other altar.

Now I live in a house with a nice back yard.  We moved into it during the fall, however, and there was so much to do that there was no time for creating an altar until winter arrived, and it was too late.

This year I decided building an altar would be a perfect Beltaine activity.  The boys, for once, seemed interested, and we set to work.

Since I have a truck, hauling stone would be easy enough.  We went to a hardware store with a gardening center and did considerable searching.  I almost bought a couple boxes of stone you're meant to glue to the exterior of your house, but then I found some better stuff--bricks and flat stones that were better shaped for our purposes and much cheaper.

The boys and I loaded them up, along with three irregularly shaped terra-cotta flagstones to use as the base.  I also got two bags of red mulch.

While we were there, we also picked out a new grill.  The old one was simply dead.  Rusted through at the bottom, no real flame control.  Dead and dead.  The new one is way better and should last at least 15 years.  And we got a cover for it.

At home, we unloaded.  In the back yard we'd already found an rough oval created by the previous owner.  It was set off by a a boundary of buried bricks and was in the perfect location under the trees out back.  We cleared out the stray plants and built the altar.  The boys liked this.  It was like big puzzle.  Maksim accidentally dropped one of the big flagstones and it broke in two, but this turned out to work better--we used the two pieces to flank the remaining piece to form a much better base.  The third flagstone became the roof.

We also put flat square bricks down at each of the four directions and put an offering stone at the front of the altar.  Then we set out the sundial and brought out the Goddess statue.  We spread mulch around the two sides to make it look nice and to keep the weed growth down, then brought out votive candles to tuck into the corners and shelves.

It looked wonderful!

We were tired and grubby, so the dedication ritual was short and sweet.  We cleansed the area and blessed it and welcomed summer.

But it didn't quite end there.

Today Darwin and I were doing other yard things.  I realized that the altar was facing into the wind, and that the roof was too short--the Goddess statue would still get rained on when wind blew into the altar.  The statue is concrete and does get worn by water.  We needed a bigger roof to jut farther outward.

We went to a different hardware store and found a bigger flagstone.  Cool!  I also came across bags of pea gravel.  I liked the way it looked, and decided to get a bag to cover the bare earth between the two mulched areas.

Back home, I swapped out the roof piece.  The Goddess is better sheltered now.  Then I spread the stones around and in front of her. It really sharpened it up.  Awesome!  I spent considerable time just looking at it and admiring how it came out.

Here's a photo, though this is before the new roof and the stone were added.  A good Beltaine!



M*A*S*H* is now out on DVD. I got the first disc from Netflix.

Couldn't even get through the first episode.

The show hasn't aged well.  I found Hawkeye annoying rather than funny or poignant--funny, perhaps, twenty or thirty years ago, but not now.  The show was heavily sexist and even misogynistic. Sure, you expect a certain amount of that from a show set in the 50s and filimed in the 80s, but when they did the montage of Hawkeye stalking a nurse he likes by hiding in her tent, in her duffel bag, in her locker, and even going after her in the shower, and she accepts this with a sigh and a shake of her head rather than a butcher knife, I became disgusted.  Major Houlihan was actually looking like a voice of reason, calling Hawkeye out on his bad behavior, but she's portrayed as a shrill harpy--and also a slut.  In fact, all the women are on the show to smooch it up or sleep with the men.  The stupid-ass laugh track, a staple of sit-coms from the period and accepted back then, grated on my nerves.  And when the main plot of the pilot settled into raffling off a nurse as a fundraiser, I had to stop watching.

I know the show got better as it went on.  I know that once Colonel Potter showed up and they got rid of dull, wimpy Blake, the show picks up and that once Frank Burns goes away and Winchester shows up the show improves further, but there are so many other shows to watch, and I realized this is one I don't really need to revisit.

The Final IEP

Today we held Aran's final IEP.  Present was also his new social worker, the one who'll oversee his case in the post-high school world.

There will be more meetings about Aran, of course, but it was odd that, after 16 years twice- and thrice-yearly meetings, I would no longer be attending Aran's IEPs.

Aran is on track to graduate with a 3.2 GPA.  He will probably attend the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, though he might go to Oakland Community College.  OCC, I just learned at the IEP, has a new apprenticeship program in horticulture, and Aran has expressed interest in working with plants.

His other goals include creating a personal budget, becoming more experienced at planning and shopping for meals, learning how to handle money more closely, and speaking up when he needs something.

His teachers and his school counselor had nothing but praise for his hard work and his positive attitude.  They all said they don't want to see him graduate because it means they'll be losing him.

Another step toward the final walk of graduation!


The Monster

The truck arrived at last.  It takes two people to deliver a vehicle, since someone has to take the driver of the delivered vehicle back home, so two teenaged boys showed up on my doorstep.  (I think they were barely old enough to drive!)  I tipped them, and they seemed shocked.  Doesn't anyone tip delivery guys anymore?

At any rate, the arrival of the truck necessitated some enthusiastic driving about the neighborhood.  Maksim loved the truck.  Aran was only mildly interested, mostly because he was afraid I would make him drive it, and he found the idea intimidating.

I haven't owned a truck in, well, ever.  I grew up driving a truck, but never owned one as an adult.  And this one is bigger than the truck I drove when I was young.  Whoo!  It's a monster to park, and I don't look forward to parallel parking it one day! But it handles wonderfully, and it handles Michigan potholes very well.  And now I can toss a bike in the back and go!