The difference of a year

There This time last year, I was just coming out of surgery. The morning I went in, I weighed in at 250. This was 30 lbs down from my highest. 

(Before pics are here http://adventureswithgretchen.blogspot.com/2013/11/before-pics.html?m=1 )

Today, I weighed in at 172. 108 down overall and 78 since I had gastric sleeve surgery 

There really aren't good mirrors for selfies in mama's house

Non-scale victories include:
Finishing a 5k

Taking a mountain hike wearing a medium-sized boy
And a fabulous day of roller coasters where I fit in all the seats 

Best of all, I feel like myself. I have my 'infinite, boundless Gretchen energy' back and can do all the things I want to 

And I get to do it while looking fabulous. 


And Now

Dixie seems to be Dixie. She came out of her stay with a few new insights, a desire to be home, a mild appreciation for her mother and a medication that turned her into a zombie.

Although her psychiatrist was on medical leave from surgery, she came into the office to see her. Spent an hour and a half talking to us about medications and options. 

Over the next few days, we weaned her off Abilify. Baby girl was so drugged on it that she'd nod off mid-conversation. Mid-word at times. I asked her to make Charlie a peanut butter sandwich while I was up on a ladder painting and it took her five tries to make a sandwich. Now, she's always been one to distract easily, but this was not because of a shiny object. She simply forgot what to do next and what she was doing in the first place. 

She had no sparkle. There was no Dixie in there. 

By the time she got off of that and upped an existing medication instead, she was just peachy. 

I had already planned a family trip to Corpus Christi, a solo trip to Chicago and church camp for the girls. It's summer. That's how we roll. After a lot of discussion, we decided to keep our plans. Corpus was amazing and fun. I'm in Chicago now. Dixie is at camp. 

And all seems to be well. 



Well, we have running water. That's an improvement. And Dowlan had already taken the day off work, so I wasn't quite as on my own as I could have been.

There are no weekday visiting hours, but she is allowed to call us later tonight. I have talked to the nurse, who got authorization for a medication adjustment. I asked how she was doing and was told she is okay, but lonely. She's the only child there right now and the children are kept apart from the adolescent and adult wards.

I kind of think that's a good thing. She had a week-long in-patient stay there when she was in the first grade and it was a little too fun. She liked the other kids. They played games, watched movies and did crafts during down times. She charmed all the adults during therapy sessions and everyone acted like no one could figure out why this adorable seven-year-old could possibly be there. The psychiatrist told me, upon check-out, that "This was like when your check engine light goes on, so you take your car to the mechanic and they keep it a few days and can't find anything wrong with it."

And, heroically, I did not punch him.

The mom who wrote this article explains quite well the personality of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is Dixie's primary diagnosis. Dixie's deep need to control everything extends to a need to control how people see her. A great deal of mental energy goes into keeping it all together while at school or whatever public places she spends time at. This expenditure of energy comes at great cost--when she gets home, it all unravels. Three years ago, it wasn't that nothing was wrong. RAD kids are charming, elusive, cunning, controlling and manipulative. She was just on the cusp of not being able to hold it together any longer when they sent her home.

When we checked her in yesterday, I expressed my concerns that last time was so ineffective. They've got a better psychiatrist on staff now and do things quite differently than before. It no longer seems like Camp Mental Health and I'm glad for that. If she can busy herself with making new friends and crafting pillows, she doesn't ever have to actually deal with herself. Group therapy in a group of one will have its drawbacks, but it will do her good to not be able to focus on the problems of others' while ignoring her own.

Amusingly enough, Dowlan and I are employing her her tactics as much as possible while she's there. Our house was originally a 2 bed/1 bath that, somewhere along the way, had a garage attached to it. Somewhere else along the way, they enclosed that garage to make one really big 11'x22' room. Thinking that was a bit silly for the bedroom, Dowlan and I made clever use of the space. We put a dresser and bookshelf back-to-back to divide the room into two sections. The side with the external door and closet became our bedroom and the other side became the childrens' playroom.

For four summers now, we've talked about 'someday building a real wall' with the idea of eventually turning that into Dixie's room. The girls have shared a room for 7.5 years now and we knew that wouldn't last forever. We've decided to go ahead and build that wall.

For one, Melody needs a break. Her space and life are too often disrupted. For two, we need Dixie closer to us at night. Too many of the destructive things she does happen in the middle of the night and we don't hear them from the other end of the house.

For three, I just need something to do. I can't handle the quiet she leaves behind.


was a horrible day.

We woke up the morning after two tornadoes hit our area. At 6:30 a.m, it was light enough to start using the chainsaw to get the tree off the roof and the large branch off the trampoline. Everyone pitched in and moved branches to the brush pile. No serious damage.

So we come in to take showers and there is no water. We don't know why. I call the guys who put the new well in last August. Asked if they could come out on Friday. They seemed more concerned than I did that waiting a day would mean our house would go without water for a day. I told them, "We went three weeks without water last fall and we are going camping this weekend, which is like voluntarily becoming hobos, so a day without water isn't too big of a deal. Besides, Friday is payday and I'm fairly certain you'd like to get paid."  He chuckled and said they'd put us on the schedule.

I drove Charlie to art camp and the damage all over town was shocking. Melody and I were coming home from church during the storm. While stopped at a light, the wind was whipping my van sideways. A few blocks ahead we saw what looked to me like lightning hitting a transformer. The series of white and blue explosions were surreal. If we weren't just a few blocks from home, we would have pulled over and found shelter.

At the beginning the storm, Dowlan went to go pick up a friend who normally walks home from work. His car was hit by a snowcone stand that had become airborne. So I spent part of my day yesterday driving up to his office to get his car and take it to be looked at. On the way, I got pulled over for an expired tag and got a ticket. I ended up sitting in a restaurant for over an hour waiting for the person who was going to 'be there soon' to come look at the car.

I got home and took a nap. It was one of those painful, restless naps where you're never quite unconscious.

Then it was time to pick Charlie up from art camp. Then it was time to take Dixie to see her therapist.

Dixie has been seeing the same therapist for pretty much the duration of the time we've lived here. So not-quite three years. She is pretty widely agreed upon as the best person in town to work with kids who have experienced trauma. In the last couple of sessions, the therapist has told me that she's hitting the limits of her expertise and we need to start looking into new options. These are all at least two hundred miles away.

Dixie's good times have been getting better and better while her bad times get worse and worse. A couple of recent extreme behaviors brought us to the conclusion that, if anything else happened on a similar scale, it was time for more in-patient therapy.

We didn't even make it home.

Guys, I don't know what's ahead for her. She's in in-patient care now. Depending on whether or not they can help her, we may be looking at longer-term residential programs in San Antonio or Austin.

Dowlan's got the day off, since we'd planned to leave for the mountains bright and early this morning. Now, camping and running water are the least of our worries. Hopefully, we will lose our hobo status later this morning. The car can be fixed. The tags and tickets dealt with. Everything else that I worry about in life seems so small now because my little girl isn't home.


The downside of 'charming'

We live in an 83-year-old stone farmhouse that we bought from the great-granddaughter of the man who built it. It has a half acre yard with a barn, fenced-in garden and well house. The floors are gorgeous old hardwoods and there are built-ins in nearly every room. 

It's absolutely charming. 

Except for this one tiny problem: the bathroom (singular)

There is one bathroom. It is 5'X7' and has no bathtub. When we first moved here, the kids were a little too little for showers, so we bought a 'bathtub from the lawn and garden section of Walmart. 

It is still in use. In fact, if we get any more rubber duckies, the whole thing will collapse. 

The other charming part is that this is the view through the glass in the front door of the house. 

See the toilet in that pic?

The only time the single bathroom has ever truly been problematic is that spring break when Dowlan was living and working in another city and Charlie flushed Melody's glasses down the toilet. For four days, we drove or walked the three blocks to a convenience store until my dad could come help me remove the toilet and get them out. 

Black Ninja is lucky, in that all she needs is a litter box. 

Yesterday, I managed to *not* drive by a 'Free Kittens' sign. Charlie looked each kitten carefully in the eyes and declared her 'the cutest one'

He also declared her a 'he' and is relentless on the subject. (I have hysterical tales about gender identification I need to get up here, stat)

The kitteh-of-questionable-gender-identity is seven weeks old and also quite charming. She is a fan of small spaces that involve perching. 

My friend Janet says that there are two types of kittehs: tree cats and bush cats. Ninja is mos def a tree cat. In fact,
On the way home from picking her out, she hid so successfully in the van that it took 45 minutes to find her. (Since my van was extraordinarily clean at the time, this was rather surprising. A week ago, you could have lost an NFL linebacker in there.)

In the process of hunting for her, Charlie stated, "When I named the kitty, I did not know it would really *be* a ninja."

Later that day, Charlie, Ninja and I walked to pick the girls up from volleyball/tennis camp. About half a block away, Dixie spotted her and broke into a run. 

Melody, upon returning home, declared that she needed to spend time with the other two kittehs of the household. "I think it's important that, when the new thing comes, that the old thing isn't forgotten and knows that it is still loved."

Considering we've pulled the 'Oooh, look! A new sibling!' trick on her twice now, I can see how she'd be sensitive to that particular need. 

I guess I should go rescue that not from those ducks now. 


After Pics

I promised afterpics here. We actually finished it mid-April, but I'm a lazy blogger. 

And figured progress pics would be needed. Here are my 'before' pics, from 54 lbs ago.

I'm now down to the size I was briefly in college, but haven't really been since high school. I feel great and am even running in a 5K later this month. This is about six months out from my 'before' pics and about five months post-surgery. We'll see what I look like in another 5-6 months!



Charlie, upon learning that Dixie used his Darth Vader marker to color her toenails, issued the following punishment.

"Daddy, you have to ground her from everything, except eating or drinking, for the rest of her life. Unless I tell her to," he declares.

Dixie begins gasping and gestures to her mouth. Dowlan, after half a minute, figures it out and asks if Dixie can breathe.

"Yes," he says. Relieved, she lets out her air.

"What about going to school?"  She's hopeful about this one.

"You're grounded from NOT going to school, from NOT cleaning, and from NOT doing what mommy says and from doing anything else, unless I give you permission."

I need to take a page from his book when it comes to the thoroughness of punishments.


Autism talk

This morning is our town's Autism Walk. We didn't put together Team Charlie because we were supposed to be camping with the Cub Scouts. Due to a series of unfortunate events surrounding, primarily, my inability to be organized with paperwork and registration, we are now doing laundry instead of walking OR camping.


Instead, we had some spontaneous Autism Talk instead of an Autism Walk. Charlie brought up the subject like this:

C: I am one of the smartest people in the world.
G: I agree. You are one of the top seven billion minds on the planet.
C: That number is too big. God is the smartest person on the planet, then people with autism come next.

After Charlie left the room, the girls were talking about how they have the best little brother possible.

In the last year, he has figured out that he has autism. We never sat down and told him, but he picked up on the idea somewhere. I asked him what he thought it meant and his logic was something like this:

C: I am awesome. And I have autism. So autism must be another word for awesome.

He's also made comments like, "I have trouble controlling my anger, because I have autism. It means it is hard for me to not explode and be really mad."

Earlier in the year, his teacher had the 2nd graders write an autobiography. His went something like this:

I was born. I really don't remember much after that. When I was three, I learned to talk. I have autism. Now I am seven, and I am writing my autobiography.

Bathroom Talk

Charlie just came out of the bathroom announcing, "Download complete."

Apparently, it's toilet humor day. We have a new dual-flush toilet with two buttons. they symbols are one water drop for a lower-volume flush and two buttons for the higher-volume flush.

Melody just ran out of the bathroom, looking worried. "Mom, I just pushed the one-drop button for a two-drop load."

"Did everything go down?"

She nodded.

"Then don't worry about it."

Sigh of relief. Back to her Legos.


Charlie Theology

Charlie is on a mission to get baptized, "Before I turn to the evil side."

Because, as you well know, this is inevitable. One of the trickier parts of being a seven year old boy, really, that impending slide towards darkness.

There is one problem, though. "I am just a little guy and the baptizin' water is deep and I would drown before I got finished."

His solution? To drink 2 nutrition/protein shakes a day so he can grow quickly, before it is too late.


So today, in the McDonald's drive-thru, Charlie is offended by the offering of Spiderman toys for boys and instead opts for the Paul Frank designed little journal that is pink and purple and decorated with a sock monkey.

Charlie had decided earlier in the day that he needs a scrapbook for the pictures he draws of pigs and had made a rough attempt at stapling some pages together after school. The timing of receiving this treasure could not have been more perfect. After much analysis of Paul Frank's inexplicable penchant for sock monkey art, that he did indeed got paid for making it and that his name emblazoned upon it is a sign of designership and not ownership, Charlie determines that the notebook will work for his scrapbook and declares that he will write in it in pen so that it can last forever and be an ancient treasure.

"Yes, Charlie," I agree. "It will be an ancient treasure someday."

"Someday? What day?"

"Some day in the future, a thousand years from now, it will be an ancient treasure. But it has to be 'ancient' before it can be an 'ancient treasure'."

"So, what day will that be?" he demands.

"Um, March 9th, 2114."

Don't mock my math here. I'm driving and tired.

"Twenty-ONE fourteen? Shouldn't that be, errr, twenty-fourteen?"

"Yeah, but it will be a thousand years in the future. March 9, 2014 has already happened." I realize my error. "Wait, make that 3014. There was a place value error there."

Charlie starts to talk about what a cherished document his ancient treasure will be and his voice begins to break with sadness. "Even the sock monkey is sad about this."

None of us can figure out why Charlie is sad, until Dixie finally touches upon the idea that Charlie will not be able to take it to heaven with him ("There is not enough overlap," he explains) and this makes him sad.

Dixie offers, "If you die before me, I'll make sure to put it in the box with your body."

Charlie declares to me, "I'm probably going to die not long after you die, because there will be no one to remind me to go to the store for food and so I probably won't live very long after you."

After a few minutes spent vowing to make sure that all the people who know Charlie know that this sacred and future ancient document need to go to heaven with him, he realizes that his body doesn't go to heaven just his soul.

He makes us promise to tape it to his soul when he dies.

Melody starts to comment that this could take a lot of tape and perhaps also get messy, so I shoot her the look of death.

"We are taping it to his soul when he dies," I insist. "Don't give him any more ideas. Just tape."