July 31, 2014

Our Sticky Situation

Dear Walmart,

I am breaking up with you.  I never want to see you again.  I am so sorry, it is not your fault.


I have a love-hate relationship with Walmart.  Mostly hate.  It has nothing to do with Walmart and everything to do with Bridger.

Included in Bridger's list of challenges is some pretty hefty obsessive tendencies.  He fixates and will not let go of certain trains of thought.  Anyone who has met Bridger has probably been asked their name, where their house is, followed by Bridger inviting himself to their house 3 times in their first 2 minutes of a conversation.  The deluxe version of that conversation would include all those same questions about their mother.

His latest obsession of the last six months is Walmart.  He asks to go there no less than 80 times a day.  If there is something he doesn't want to do, he will only comply with the request if he is promised that he gets to go to Walmart.  If he is out of one of his foods, a renewed focus on going to Walmart will erupt to go restock.

His other new obsession is of ABC's books and stickers.  His answer to satisfying those fixations. . . you guessed it, go to Walmart.  This trip has been very taxing on Bridger. When things become taxing, his obsessions flare.  Stickers have gotten him through this trip. . . lots and lots of stickers.  After being on the road a month, you can imagine that the inside of our car is covered in stickers.  We are covered in stickers.  We pick them off each other every time we get out of the car. When I go in a convenience store or check in at a hotel, the cashier or front desk clerk will point out a little sticker stuck to my shoulder, or even my rear end.  Nice.

Just for fun, let's play a little game, called "I Spy the Sticker".   These are pictures I have taken that I later realized the subject is a victim of our sticky situation.  Can you spy the stickers here?

answer: bottom of his tail

Or here?

answer: on Lance's shoulder

This one is a little trickier. . . can you spy two stickers here?

answer: one on Bridger's clapping hands and the other is on the bass player's hand.  Bridger likes to share his stickers with everyone. It means he likes you.

Stickers and Walmart.  The other kids twitch at the very sound of those words.  Bridger can't let it go.

We have had to go to a lot of Walmarts along this road trip.  Parents of typical children would just advise us to say "no".  Bwah ha haa.  Easier said than done.  Noncompliance would equal hours of behavioral meltdowns of the severe variety.  As painful and disruptive as it is to our progress on the road, we have to stop at Walmart.  

We even have a Walmart Road Atlas that shows us where every Walmart along the interstate is.

When Bridger begins his chants about going to Walmart, that then turn into tantrums about going to Walmart, there is nothing we can do but exhaustively tell him to look out the window and tell me when he sees one to stop at.

This is what it looks like when I tell him to look out the window and to let me know when he sees a Walmart we can stop at. . .

Even still, he turns his little head and fixates on the thousands of miles of lifeless landscape looking for a Walmart.

Poor thing.  I just start laughing (a delirious kind of laughter) wondering what is going through his little head during those moments of hopeless watching.

When our atlas predicts one is coming up we have him look out the window and when those big blue letters pop out over the horizon - watch out!  The van starts rocking and Bridger starts screaming with more joy than 10 Christmases combined would have created.

bug guts of every variety

See that blue sign in the distance?  He does to.  Every time.  We have to distract him from the signage if we are approaching a Walmart that we don't intend on visiting.

But if we do have to stop, we have Operation Walmart down to a science.  Alan pulls up to the curb, I jump out, grab Bridger and throw him in a cart, do one quick lap around the interior grabbing a few packs of stickers as I go and run through the checkout and back into the car as I sadly watch the "arrival time" on our gps advance up by 11 minutes.  He is then satisfied. For 30 minutes.

After 33 days on the road, we have bought it all.  We have every ABC book and sticker pack Walmart offers.  I am not sure how we can get through the next couple days of driving.

When this is all over I don't think I will be able to step into a Walmart again.  Sorry Walmart, I am so over you.

Sing for your Supper

Every good western road trip needs a chuck wagon dinner.  We started out with a shoot out at the corral and then boarded the wagons for an evening of barbecue and entertainment under the big Idaho sky.

It was a gorgeous evening and it was a welcome relief to get out of the van where Bridger had been screaming for the past couple hours and spread out on the beautiful Mountain River Ranch.

We are not singers.  That didn't matter.  We really had to sing for our supper.  The singing did Bridger in, so I had to excuse myself with him and not get my supper - or at least, not until he calmed down.

We enjoyed a dutch oven dinner while we took in some fun entertainment.  I was ready with the earphones, ipad and towel that I had at the rodeo, but Bridger didn't need it.  Mr. B was ready for a hoedown!  He was clapping in rhythm along with the banjo and bass and shouting excitedly when each song finished.  What a welcome relief - we ALL got to enjoy this one!  Even the 12 year old! When we do an activity that thoroughly amuses the 12 year old, Bridger, a little 5 year old and everything in between - then I declare we got our money's worth for sure.

You know why Evie's face is a little distant from the circumference of the hole here?  It is because she got her face stuck in it the first time.  Yeah, good times here.  Good times.

When the band finished their last song and we were waiting for our wagon ride home I met a couple of the entertainers - the fiddle and bass player.  They had been so kind to Bridger during our experience on the ranch and come to find out - they both have nephews with special needs.  It doesn't surprise me but goes to reinforce my experience that when you have a side of special in your life, you are changed.  It changes what you see, it changes how you interact with and treat people.  I enjoy lovely conversations with beautiful people that have been changed in this way.

We drove 30 minutes back to our hotel in the dark of night in a completely quiet van full of tired children.  That was a pretty wonderful part of the trip too.

July 30, 2014

Going on a Bear Hunt

Alan flew back out to make our family complete again.  The kids were all glad to see their dad! We packed up the car and we are heading back across the country!  The long journey home has commenced and we will zig zag our way across the country as we explore fun adventures along the way.

First stop:

Bear World!

I had bought the tickets to this adventure months prior and I couldn't wait to see the kids expressions when I told them that they were going to bottle feed baby bear cubs!

Alan and I tag teamed our way through this one, as Ty wasn't allowed in and the sun was too much for Bridger so one of us waited in the gift shop with Bridger and his buddy while the other served as photographer.

It was all I could do not to jump the fence and come pet the adorable little bear cubs as they fed them!

After the feeding came Eliza's favorite part -- the petting zoo.

She is her daddy's girl and has a love and fascination with wildlife.  She loves everything from venison jerky to her pink John Deere overalls - which she calls her "buck pants" because of the logo.

She was completely fascinated to get to actually touch the antlers still in velvet.

I thought that Bridger's little hand would like to touch the antler too so I held his little fingers hand over hand and let him feel the soft antler.  Bridger, whose face I could not see behind me, started giggling. The crowd that was watching as held his fingers out started laughing too.  I thought they were laughing at Bridger's expression to the feel of the antler. When the laughter got louder I turned around to see a deer that had wondered up to Bridger and started nibbling on his head and licking his face.  See that big ol' deer tongue lapping up the side of Bridger's head?  ew. My germaphobe self resisted the urge to throw up when I saw that and just laugh along with him. Yeah, he had  a long bath thick with suds that night.

After the petting zoo was Bridger's favorite part -- carnival rides.

He is a boy that loves everything in motion.  I got my workout carrying him around there and lifting him in and out of the rides.  I am grateful that Lance and Eva are strong and capable enough to watch over him on these rides so I don't have to squeeze my hips on the kiddie cars any more.  There was never a graceful way to get in and out of those.

After the rides came my favorite part - the drive-thru wildlife tour.

I could drive hours and days through Yellowstone and never see as many bears.  No zoom used.  These bears were close enough to touch.

We had quite a show as a big bruin approached the car ahead of us.  Curiously, he looked around the big red truck.  Then, he suddenly reached up and grabbed the side view mirror and began shaking the truck and bending the mirror.  The driver went from taking some amazing pictures of a bear close up to frantically trying to pull away before his side mirror was ripped off and paint clawed away. 

Our family watched in amazement then panicked as the bear came right up to our driver's side to do the same.  I let him get this close and then pulled away just before he jumped on his hind legs to grab my mirror too.  

Yipes! Too close for comfort. This mama bear had her fill.  Time to keep moving on down the road!

July 29, 2014

When In Rome. . .

When in Cowboyland, do as the Cowboys do.

I took my troop to their first rodeo.  I smiled as I debated whether to describe to them what happens at a rodeo, or watch their expressions as they unexpectedly watch a horse bucking crazy and thrashing a man around as he clings like a rag doll on its back with one hand.  I wondered if they would be horrified if I didn't warn them that a cute little cow will run out of the shoot as a cowboy pounces off of his horse and throws it down on the ground as fast as he can by grabbing his horns and twisting its legs out from under it by the neck.

Ahh, the excitement of a rodeo.  Sounds gruesomely PG-13 doesn't it?  Did I warn them? A little.  They just needed to watch first and when their eyes got wide enough I would step in and explain.

No trauma here -- they loved every bit of it!  That is, except for Bridger.  I knew it was going to be trouble when the announcer started off by having everyone pound their feet on the metal bleachers.  We nearly had to leave before we even made it to our seats.  

I thought I would document the "phases" of Bridger's first rodeo:

First we start out with him watching the horses while wearing the noise cancelling headphones to endure the sounds of the crowds and loud announcer.  Then we move onto headphones connected to his ipad - which is a sensory calming device for Bridger and gets him through hard situations.

Then visually experiences become to much so he wants his "cocoon" to shut out the outside world, while he still plays his ipad with the noise cancelling headphones so I cover him with a towel that I come prepared with from home.

Then he is near the all-out mega meltdown and I am trying to buy as much time as I can for the others before we have to abort mission.  So I pull out the wallet and buy the glowing sparkle sword thingy from the vendor walking around the arena.

The sword, in this case, bought me an extra 15 minutes before we had to leave.  We made it an hour and fifteen minutes total - leaving only 45 minutes early.  That's over half of the rodeo that we got to stay for -- nearly a record for us!

There is a lot to learn at a rodeo - beyond the skills and scores.  I learned that I am missing a critical element in my life.  I need a Pick Up Man.  You see, a cowboy is thrown and ricocheted violently back and forth from the bucking horse as his hand is tied to the saddle. When his 8 second ride time is over, a man on horseback will come galloping next to his wild horse as he unties his hand and clutches the waist of the rescuing cowboy who pulls him off of his wild horse to safety.  That rescuer is called a Pick Up Man.  I need me one of those.

I am on a wild ride and getting bucked and bounced pretty hard some days.  My hand is tied.  I need a Pick Up Man to get me off this crazy horse.  My 8 seconds are up.

It was a nice thought to chew on as I watched the rodeo.  Reality is, I am on this wild ride for a lifetime.  I'd better hang on tight. .  . and maybe treat myself to a cute pair of boots while I am at it.

July 25, 2014

Pass the Buck

Trying to make every day an adventure is a severe wallet bleed to say the least.  I have tried to alternate the grand adventures with some faux grand adventures and have been surprised how much fun we have had for about a dollar a head.

Our dollar days have included. . .

Ferris wheel fun.  Awesome mega outdoor sporting goods store here with a centerpiece of a massive Ferris wheel in the middle of the store.  $1 a ride - we may have done this more than once.

Pioneer Day Concert with my older girlies and grandma.  Free tickets, second row to see Santino Fontana, who is the voice of Hans in Frozen, sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Concert. Love me some good organ playin'.

Sodalicious.  A shop whose entire menu consists of nothing but soda and cookies.  Brilliant restaurant model.  Even more shocking is that it isn't the only shop like that in town. Soda mixology is a serious science out here apparently. My fav -- the "I'll Have What She's Having" which is a mix of 7up, blood orange, watermelon, cherry and strawberry.  It should really be served with a little umbrella on top.

Dollar movie theater.  Even Bridger sat through it.  Or, should I say, paid attention to it.  I still had the full body wrestle going on with him as he insisted on switching from his chair to my lap, then movie seat, back to lap, lap facing forward then backward, then back to chair. . . repeat, all throughout the movie.  All of that dizzying movement was interjected by a few throws of his rainbow stick that he had to hold the entire movie which makes for some strenuous lunges to pick that up as I held him.  Some lucky throws allowed me to still be in reach of picking it up with my toes.  I got mad toe skills.

More splash pads.  We can't get enough.  Most accessible thing there is here in Utah.

Bean Science Museum.  Really, it should more appropriately be called the Museum of Taxidermy art.  Oh, how we are such Smithsonian snobs.  But you can't complain when it is free, right? Kids breezed through it in less than 20 minutes.  The crack up here was not from a kid - but from Ty.  His nose was going hard and he was practically tiptoeing through the museum.  He was so nervous.  I guess dead stuffed variations of all of your animal kingdom friends does not make for a comfortable setting!  I thought he was about to throw up when I made him pose in front of a half dozen taxidermied lions.  Isn't his body language just oozing through this photo?

Service!  Service always can come cheap and is available anywhere you go!  Lance spent the afternoon hanging posters advertising a charity event for the Now I Can foundation and giving their therapy toys a good cleaning.

Free slurpees on 7/11 consumed on a picturesque drive through the canyon.  Away from people, away from noise . . . ahhhh.

All of the money we saved in our Dollar Days o' Fun helped to pay for our maaaaasive van repair we had out here, followed by the ac going out.  Hundred degree heat and no ac in the van does not a happy mom make.  $1 snow cones served as our onboard ac system just to make it through the day.  Ugh. just focusing on the fun. . . just focusing on the fun. . . Van is back, fully operational and I am so glad we worked out those kinks before we hit the long and winding road home in a couple days.  A couple days!!!  Did you hear that?  We are coming to the end of our month of adventure.  I am ecstatic to see the finish line, but I am still enjoying the run!

July 24, 2014

Oh Yes, You Will!

If Bridger was an only child, we would probably let him bask in the safety of his wheelchair and remain in the comfort of home.  We would let him live his life a little more protected, a little less exciting - because, frankly, the pursuit of excitement is exhausting with him and he is generally content with his home turf.

But because we have four other children that need stimulation, that need adventure, that need a childhood. . . Bridger gets pushed beyond his special bubble and into adventures that would otherwise be considered unthinkable for a child like him.

Even Bridger thinks many of those adventures are unthinkable and, consequently, protests every step of the way.  He lets us know in no uncertain terms that he does NOT want to do whatever the activity is.

My answer, "Oh yes, you will!"

Small Print: The only regret I have ever had in forcing my will on him was when I took him on the Tower of Terror as a 2 year old because the ride attendant said it was just like a bouncing trampoline ride.  Ummm, no, it wasn't.  Left that with the "Horrible Mom" stamp on my forehead.  Yeah, we can forget about that one now.

We just had another such protest from Bridger.  Our vacation trail took us to Park City to ride the Alpine Coaster down the mountain.  The sun was extremely piercing and the line was long.  We hiked up the mountain to ask if there was some shade we could place Bridger in as the rest of us waited in line for our turn so he wouldn't seize in this intense sun. The gum chomping coaster attendant said a curt, "No."  I stared at her, then stared at the shade of the building on the other side of the rope right behind her.  Hmm.  I believe that if I was someplace else, any non-gum smacking Joe Schmo would have heard 'seizure' and 'shade please' in the same sentence and been a little more accommodating.  But. . . it was not to be, so Jordain walked with Bridger all the way down the mountain and had someone help her carry him in his chair over the impassable terrain of rocks to obtain a spot of shade.  She stayed there with him while the others and I waited in line for an hour and then she pushed him and his heavy chair back up the steep trail when it was our turn to ride.  I was so glad I had her or else we would have had to leave.

The entire time waiting, and during both times wheeling up and down the mountain, plus the whole time he was watching his siblings load up and right up until the very moment I placed his little bum on that toboggan with me, he was emphatically saying, "I NO go on da swide!"

I pushed him past that moment and told him how it is going to be [my way].  Then came the moment that happens EVERY time -- the moment he realizes that he is having a whole heap of fun.

Our little sled was pulled on the track up the mountain - which Bridger thought was the thrill of the ride and was singing "weeeeee" all the way up.  When we reached the summit, the toboggan was released and we went flying, and I mean fffflyING, all the way down.  As we approached the 30+mph mark, there was a flash from my ultra-cautious, hyper-controlling self which wasn't sure of the appropriateness of this adventure for Bridger, but his excited screams at the top of his lungs of words I couldn't make out was evidence to the contrary.  He was having the time of his life.  He was living an adventure that many like him never get to.  

Many people comment as to how challenging it must be to have 5 children when one of them has significant disabilities.  You're not kidding.  There is not an adjective to describe the magnitude of the challenge.  Many people also comment as to the incredible affect that Bridger has on the life of the others.  Yes, indeedy.  He has molded them into them most incredible people already.  But, what needs to be pointed out and what I want to pay tribute to is the amazing life that they have given Bridger. Because of them, he is having adventures and experiences that he would not have otherwise had.  Because of their need to live, he is living too.

Don't you think his face is telling you just that?

July 23, 2014

Curiosity Seekers

We said goodbye to our sweet Jordain and kept the renewed energy flowing from the weekend by making our next adventure to the Museum of Natural Curiosity.

I love taking the children places they have never been, where they have no idea what to expect and their fun expressions show that. Visiting the unknown also could also come with  a bucket load of disasters too.  The smoothest way to bring Bridger somewhere is to have previously scouted out the venue to get a feel of the terrain, potential obstacles and hazards.  So for our introductory visit to this museum we went sans Bridger - initially.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Children's museums.  I love places that are hands on, rules off and let my kids be kids as I get to be an onlooker to their fun.  As soon as I could see past the insanely out of proportion adult to child ratio (but, who am I to judge - guilty!) I could see that this was a really cool place!

Lance thoroughly impressed me with his ability to yank the tablecloth out from under a set table and not lose even a single piece of silverware.  I was videoing his first attempt, ready to see plates flying.  The place settings remained on the bare table undisturbed.  He was so consistent in each of his efforts I think I am willing to let him try it at home -- just not with our fine china.

No better way to get wiggles out than to have Sadie and Eliza make a little pedal power.

Evie's ponytail never recovered from the awesome 75mph wind tunnel.

No Children's museum is complete without some form of water.  Eliza was cooking up something - I have no idea what, but it required 6 galoshes filled up repeatedly from her pvc pipe configuration.

The kids all agreed that their brother needed to see this place too, so after the other children enjoyed it for a few hours, we drove back to Bridger's physical therapy office to pick him up when he finished and took him back to the museum with us for a few more hours.

Bridger showed off his new strength by holding his own at the sand table.

Look ma - no hands!!  (I was super proud)

By far his favorite was the fan blown scarf.  It would take all of his coordination to catch it.

Once caught, he couldn't wait to throw it to the sky once again.

While the little ones kept playing the older three took their special tickets over to the canopy course to face their fears.  Or at least they faced my fears - heights!

They harnessed up and walked through a host of obstacles high above our heads.

We finished up our visit outside getting soaked out at the splash pad and water features. When I called all of the kids over to me to announce that it was time to leave, Bridger's immediate sentiment summed it up when he said, "Mom, I had a such a great great time!"

It was a loud, crazy, exhausting all day experience.  But when you have that sweet face roll up to you and say that, followed by similar expressions from the other four children, it makes it all worth it!