Friday, June 1, 2012

Elli's prayers

There aren't words in the English language to describe how much I love my Elli.  There is something uniquely special about children with cognitive disabilities such as autism.  She is easily my biggest challenge, and she is also easily amongst my greatest sources of joy.  I love her with all my heart.

Elli's language abilities are hard to explain.  She definitely knows a lot of words and many times uses them correctly-- usually when she wants something.  "I want treat please" is uttered probably 100 times a day.  She has her unique way of saying (or more commonly, yelling) it-- the words tend to run together and are in her own "Elli tone."  But we have learned to understand her quite well.  Most of the things she says are phrases that we've really worked on teaching her or that she has heard repeatedly, such as phrases that she hears her toys say.  In other words, she doesn't have a lot of spontaneous language where she expresses what is going on inside her head.  She is amazing at memorization and if she's in just the right mood, might wow you with an entire scripture that she has heard-- there are several that she knows word for word.  But having a conversation with her is at a VERY basic level.  It usually goes something like, "Elli, what do you want?"  "I want drink please." 

One of Elli's most common "words" is "Yeah, ok," with no break between the words.  This evolved from her first saying "yes" very clearly, to us teaching her to change it to "yes, please,"  then her changing it to, "Yes, please ok," (this after hearing us say "ok" after she said "yes, please,") and then her getting very lazy and changing it to a one word, "yeah-ok."  Her teachers have adopted this phrase and often answer each other with "yeah-ok" which we all find very humorous.

A few months ago, Elli started responding to a certain way of saying prayers.  In the past, we would say a phrase and if she were in the right mood (which was rarely) she might repeat it.  Once in awhile, she would say her "own" prayer, which was just phrases she had heard over and over.  It might go like this:  We would start by saying, "Dear Heavenly Father..." and wait for 20 seconds or so.  Then she might say, "Thank you for this day.  Please help us to have a good sleep.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."  Most often this wasn't said very clearly, but we understood it.

Now Elli will "fill in the blanks."  I will say, "Dear Heavenly Father.  Thank you for...."  and after a few minutes, she will say something.  We used to have to prod her with ideas, but she soon began doing it on her own.  The things she would list were ALWAYS food items.  A common prayer would be:

Me:  "Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for..."

Elli:  "Tootsie rolls."

Me:   "Thank you for tootsie rolls.  Thank you for..."

Elli:  "Pumpkin pie."

Me:  "Thank you for pumpkin pie.  Thank you for..."

Elli:  "Bananas and peanut butter."

And so on.  A few weeks ago, I noticed that Elli was not always just listing random foods that she liked, but was actually listing the things she had eaten that day.  Then one night, she listed "cat piano" (one of her favorite toys.)  I was so excited that she was thinking of things other than food!  Though she still usually listed just food, in the last couple of weeks she would sometimes insert other items.

Last night, Elli said the sweetest prayer.  The very first "fill in the blank" was "home."  My heart just swelled!  I can't even tell you what a sweet thing it was to get inside her little head and know that she could be grateful for home and express it.  The next thing she listed was "Grandma and Grandpa's house."  Again, so darling!  After listing a few food items, she then said, "Penny."  Penny is the name of her teacher at school.  She followed that with "Paula" who is one of the aides.  This was the first time that Elli has listed a person in her prayers.  It was such a special, wonderful thing!  I was so excited to share that with Penny and Paula today, especially because it was her last day of school.  I thought that was a pretty good end-of-year present for her teachers, and they did too!!!

Tonight, my parents are in town.  They came to watch some baseball-- fun times!  As I tucked Elli in tonight, she added "Grandma" and "Grandpa" to her list.  Penny and Paula were still included (probably at least 4 times each).  One of these days she's going to say "Mommy"-- I just know it!  (;

I should also add that she listed some rather random phrases, such as "don't hit yourself!"  (LOL) and "You're so funny Elli!"  I'm pretty sure that's the first time ever that "Thank you for don't hit yourself," has been uttered in a prayer, and I'm also pretty sure that it made her Father in Heaven smile.  (:

I love you, dear Elli Mei.


Planting a Garden

We moved into our current home in September of 2007.  When we moved in there was a nice little garden plot that the previous owners had planted.  We were able to reap the benefits of their work that first fall, and we really quite enjoyed it.  We had never planted a garden before, but we have done so every year since then.  Two weeks ago was the day this year.  We were on a pretty tight time schedule that day and Christi was VERY sick, so I relied heavily on the older kids.  Taylor and Parker weeded the plot while I took Lexi, Elli and Sophi to Home Depot to get the seeds and starts that we needed along with some garden soil.  Once we got back Taylor and Xander helped me till the ground and add the new soil.  We all worked together to plant.  Parker planted a row of carrots on his own and worked with Lexi to plant a row of spinach.  Taylor planted radishes by himself, peas with Jesi and onions with Xander.  Graci , Xander and Jesi planted beets.  I worked with several of the kids to plant our tomato starts along with a couple of pepper plants and some basil.

Although it's a fair amount of work each year (and it would likely cost less money to just buy the produce at the store:), planting a garden has been a really rewarding experience for our family over the years.  The kids LOVE the fresh vegetables each summer and fall.  And it teaches good lessons about the value of work and the law of the harvest.  They all enjoy being a part of the planning process, deciding what will be planted.  Plus, we keep it small enough that they're not weeding all summer long:)

As a side note, the reason we were so rushed that day was because we had been invited to a cookout at the home of an old friend of mine.  As I mentioned above, Christi was under the weather.  So I took all the kids to the cookout by myself.  It went unbelievably well!  Without any prompting from me, the older kids really took it upon themselves to help me out since mom wasn't there.  They were so polite, so helpful with their younger siblings, and so good to volunteer help with clean up after the meal was done.  I was a proud papa!