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Taking Control

We’ve come to realize that almost all of the recent craziness stems from our son’s obsessive need to control every piece of his own life.

Unfortunately, he’s too young.

We give him as much control as possible, whenever possible. Even when there isn’t technically a choice (as in, “get ready for bed”), he decides the order of operation.

He always chooses his own clothes (although I sometimes send him back with the directive “pick something that can be seen in public” when he tries to don a dirty, worn t-shirt for a trip to our favorite coffee shop, or to wear torn jeans to church).

“But these are my holey jeans. HOLY jeans.”

Sorry, no.

His in-home counselor (yep, she’s here about 10 hours a week) asked him what he wanted to control.

“What I eat” was at the top of the list.

This utterly confused me.

He orders his own food at restaurants off the kids’ menu. He makes his sandwich for lunch any way he likes. He chooses what to eat for breakfast. After he made his “what I want to control” list, I handed him a list of available food and gave him the opportunity to plan what the whole family would eat for a week.

He didn’t complete it, because…

What he really wants is to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants without anyone telling him “no.”

A few weeks ago, Hubby and I confronted him about his habit of taking or doing whatever he wanted without asking. He told us the reason he does this is his aversion to hearing the word

NO.

“If I don’t ask, you can’t say no.”

He’d prefer to experience a major consequence after the fact rather than hear “no.”

Being one of those individuals who tends to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, I understand a little. However, when I use this strategy, I’m looking for the quickest route to what I need, not for a reprimand. If there’s even a chance of a consequence, I check first. This kid just doesn’t care.

He’d also rather lie than tell the truth.

We’re not big on spanking, but sometimes, let’s be honest, we’re in a hurry and there isn’t latitude for a long discussion.

Right now, things are pretty crazy thanks to a move and an eviction (not our own, thank goodness; we kept our first little house as a rental and ended up with some tenants who were unbelievably inept at paying rent). On top of everything, Hubby ended up having a work trip the week of the move, so we decided to move everything a week early.

During the “quick, let’s get the stuff moved” effort, around 10 pm and on the third trip taking trailer loads to the new house, Hubby and I walked toward the truck and heard a banging noise. Really sounded like something hitting the side of my truck (yes, I drive a truck and no, I’m not a hillbilly).

We got to the other side of the truck in about 15 seconds. The boy was sitting, angel-like, in the back seat of the truck.

Hubby:  What was that?

Boy (smirking): What was what?

Hubby: The noise.

(Knowing his propensity for word games, we provide a minimum of information in our questioning, as he considers saying “no” to “did you take a cookie?” to be completely honest if the question we should have asked is, “did you take THREE cookies?”)

Boy (more smirking): I didn’t hear anything.

Hubby: I’m sure you heard it. Mama and I heard banging.

Boy: Maybe it was the hose?

Hubby: The hose?

Boy: Yes. You know…sometimes it bangs on things. Were you near the hose?

Hubby: *eyes narrow*

Me: The hose did not make the sound.

Boy: Oh, the banging sound…I think it came from over there. (Motions vaguely off behind the truck.)

Hubby: We don’t have time for games. It’s two hours to midnight and we’ve got two more loads to go. We’re exhausted. Just tell us. What were you banging on?

Boy: I wasn’t banging on anything.  (Emphasis on “banging” indicated we were involuntary participants in the Word Games game show, and the boy was our host.)

Hubby: Okay. I will count to ten. Tell me what made the noise, or I will spank you.

For those of you who gasp at corporal punishment, let me tell you…these spanks are not abuse; they’re few and far between and are just a swat on the behind. Maybe because they’re rare, immediately afterward he often acts as though we’ve pushed a reset button on his Behavioral Operating System, which was Hubby’s intended result. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if we should spank more often. My brother participated in at least one good spank session a day for years, and he’s turned out to be a fairly cool dude…but I digress.  

Hubby counted to ten, then popped him on the behind. The reset button was apparently not working that night, as the boy continued to smirk.

And then began to wail as though we’d thrashed him.

This kid has perfected the art of crying on command (the kind of cry that sounds like he’s broken a bone) and can turn it on and off at will. He knew the neighbors could hear. He thought we’d back down.

The counselor told us not to make allowances or remove him from a situation for a reprimand. He’ll think we’re too weak to give him a consequence in front of others, which leads to sometimes-uncomfortable scenes (sorry, mom). So, we let him scream.

Hubby suggested that maybe the boy should tell the truth. The boy insisted he had no idea what we meant by “noise.”

Hubby gave him another ten seconds. No dice. He gave another swat.

We went through this SEVEN TIMES.

This kid is determined. So are we. (And to be clear, it’s not about “winning” the argument. If we don’t find resolution to this ongoing battle, this kid is going to grow up into a lying, manipulating adult…and I refuse to do that to my future daughter-in-law.)

Finally, with an immediate and somewhat creepy change in demeanor (from screaming banshee to calm and collected), the boy said, “The noise was me. I was banging my shoes to get the dirt off.”

Um, what?

Now, to be clear, he never said what he was banging them ON (it sounded like my truck), so in his mind he was still in control of that piece of the truth, but whatever. At that point, we were so tired, we didn’t have the energy to pursue it.

We asked why he didn’t just say so in the first place.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

This has been an ongoing battle, once again for control.

He is determined to have control of everything, including the truth.

He believes we can’t MAKE him tell the truth.

It’s true. We can’t.

For the last year, we’ve tried everything we can think of to help him realize that telling the truth is best, including giving him NO consequence when he tells the truth about something he’s done.

We started this mind-bending and counter-intuitive technique because he constantly says he lies to stay out of trouble. However, he’s only in trouble if he lies, so this reason no longer makes sense.

Literally. NO consequence.

(Of course, if he did something really awful, we’d have to make an exception, but we’ve stuck with this so far.)

Me: “Did you eat the entire package of cookies and stuff the trash behind the refrigerator?”

Boy: “Yep.”

Me: “Since you told the truth, I won’t give you a consequence. However, don’t do it again.”

Ridiculous? You bet.

And yet.

He STILL lies compulsively about almost everything.

This year has been exhausting on both mental and emotional planes. We spend hours every day trying to train character.

Popular parenting advice says, “pick your battles!” but popular parenting doesn’t have this kid. We can’t pick battles, because if he wins one, he’s twenty times worse the next time.

Counselors say, “give control of everything you can!” and so we have. But for him, it’s not good enough until he can do ANYTHING he wants. I’m not even kidding; this is an open conversation we have at regular intervals, and he consistently states he does not want anyone else telling him what to do AT ALL.

Recently, he’s upped the ante; he wants to control where he lives and WHETHER he lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy Meets Osmosis, Part 1

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brändemo

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brandemo

 

Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.

He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.

We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”

However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.

A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.

Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.

I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.

Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.

As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,

What do I have?

Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”

He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”

 

 

Continued

Beautiful Monkey-Butt

Today, I opened our son’s door to find a winter wonderland.

He’s been more impulsive of late; we aren’t sure yet what’s going on.

Last night at Boy Scouts, his sometimes-nemesis-sometimes-partner-in-crime asked for water. Our boy complied with the request by dumping water on the kid’s head.

When Hubby asked him why he thought it was a good idea, he shrugged.

I didn’t think it was a good idea. I just thought of it, so I did it.

Reasons for his choices remain elusive, apparently even to him.

“I wanted to do it at the time but now I see it was a bad choice,” or “I don’t know why I did it,” are frequent answers when we question him after the fact.

His befuddlement appears legitimate.

Since Dad passed away, wild swings of his behavior have become the norm. One moment, he’s explaining detailed reasons for the failure of a World War II campaign. The next, he’s walking from the kitchen to the living room to deposit orange peels behind the couch because the trash can (in the kitchen) was too far away.

After he gets in trouble, he’s almost perfect for hours and incredibly logical about accepting consequences for his behavior. He’ll work with diligent focus on math, chores, apology notes or other remedial requirements.

If only he’d act as though he’d been in trouble BEFORE getting in trouble, he’d almost never be in trouble.

So.

Back to the beautiful snowy landscape.

In his room.

I opened the bedroom door to deposit some of his belongings and stopped, sniffing in amazement.

My young man’s bedroom actually smelled…not like his bedroom usually stinks smells.

Then I turned on the light.

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The pictures don’t even begin to accurately portray the amount of powder on EVERY SURFACE of his room.

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This summer, before Scout camp, I bought him a container of Anti Monkey Butt powder (yes, it’s really a thing) as recommended by the troop leaders. It resided in the top drawer of his dresser for almost an entire year.

And then.

This morning, it called his name. 

He said he just wanted to see what everything would look like with powder all over it.

Thought it might be pretty.

Turns out, it definitely smelled pretty.

It was EVERYwhere.

I can imagine his delight as the plastic can puffed white flakes into the air. He probably danced through the clouds as they fell (a theory supported by the powder Hubby brushed off the kid’s shirt this morning).

As usual, he attempted no argument when I handed down the sentence: vacuum and wipe every surface, shake bedding over the porch rail, put all belongings in their proper places.

He even put the sheets back on his bed without asking me for help—and I didn’t even tell him to do that.

Unbelievable.

Tomorrow, his in-home counselor will help us try to work with him through his thought process. I’m just hoping we can find a solution, because right now it feels like every time we turn around it’s “something else.”

So far, most of his urges have led to largely harmless actions, but we just never know what he’s going to do next.

It’s like he’s suddenly five. Or maybe three.

He carries chunks of concrete into the bathroom, hides yogurt wrappers and banana peels in his room (doubly odd since we reinforce that he can have healthy food any time he wants it), climbs things, wanders off, misbehaves at school hoping for a suspension (because then he can come home) and basically does whatever pops into his head.

A friend told me that when his spectrum son edged into puberty, his Autism went from minor inconvenience to a full-blown life-alteration. We’re not sure if this regression is due to the Autism, due to the grief, due to a need for a change in medication, or…

We just don’t know. And it’s frustrating. 

But, on the bright side—the side to which I cling in desperation—the pattern of the powder was very pretty

And even better: his room no longer smells like a baboon’s derriere. 

 

Lying

This could be me writing, except we only have two. It was so true to life I had to stop reading twice. *Breeeeeeeeaaaatthewhooooosaaaahhhhh*

Check it out:

https://traumamamadrama.com/2015/06/crazy-lying-enough-to-drive-you-crazy/

X-Files and Erik Erikson

During college, a bunch of us gathered around the ancient donated television every week to watch Mulder and Scully try to catch each other—I mean, try to catch aliens. Anyone who watched the show knows the tag line…

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Photo Credit: Snailystitches

Unfortunately, wanting to believe is not the same as having the ability to trust.

Our boy has had a rough time, both at home and at school, since Dad passed away.

His Asperger’s (don’t tell me Asperger’s is not a thing…it’s a thing, DSM-V be darned) daily rears its head with tics and social ineptitude and difficulty communicating. Our ten-year-old is impulsive beyond belief and often behaves like a five-year-old. A five year old with moments of clarity in which he communicates like a forty-five-year-old…

 

Children who have missed certain phases of life may regress, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Remembering a college psych research paper on Erik Erikson, I found an article by Claudia Fletcher on the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) website. The site itself is very basic but presents excellent information.

The information isn’t new to me, but sometimes I need a refresher…and the best way to learn is sharing with others.

If your kid appears to suddenly lose his mind, perhaps he’s experiencing a missed stage. (Or, alternately, he’s simply lost his mind.)

Stage One: The First 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust;
Basic Strengths: Drive and Hope

“[E]mphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care…[using] visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we…[can] trust that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. …[I]f our needs are not met, we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a [general] mistrust of the world.”1

Our kids did not have any of the above in their first eighteen months. Both have low self-esteem, and our boy in particular has an ingrained mistrust of every human he knows.

Research has shown us how important it is for children to attach. Even so, in the first year after placement, we new parents still make the mistake of dwelling on behaviors instead of attachment. Things can change if we view a newly placed children of any age as a newborn:

  • Expectations. Can a newborn give back emotionally? Do chores like everyone else? Know how to have a reciprocal relationship? Of course not. Neither do older kids in a new family.

  • Response. If expectation changes, so does the response. Instead of thinking a child is refusing to comply, assume she is unable to complete the task. This nurturing, teaching approach often nets better results whether a child is being oppositional or is truly incapable.

  • Realizations. Until a child is attached, behavior will not change. If the child cannot bond with anyone, why would he want to please anyone? Too often adoptive parents expect compliance outside the context of a relationship. Without that relationship, however, a child has no incentive to behave better.

Our kids are not newly placed (we’ve had them over five years now) but our girl has not attached appropriately due to Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although our boy seems to have attached fairly well to us, he often seems unable to control his impulses.

To help children attach, learn to gently correct behaviors without over-reacting. Picture yourself as a new husband or wife trying to please the other and be genuinely attractive and worth attaching to. Long lists of rules and consequences that require consistent behavior management should not be the focus of this first stage.

As much as possible, create good feelings for the child whenever you are around. Use lots of laughter, pop a Hershey’s kiss in her mouth when she sustains eye contact, and give as much affection as she will allow. When the child misbehaves, stay calm and point out that the behavior is not appropriate while redirecting her to a new activity with you by her side. Actions and reactions like these promote bonding between parents and children.

Honestly. A Hershey’s Kiss, really? Not for either of mine, especially him…sugar sends him over the edge (yes, I’ve read the articles proclaiming that any perceived reaction to sugar is all in my head…and deemed those articles inaccurate per my in-person observation). 

One of the most significant pieces of this stage in understanding hurt children is Erikson’s definition of hope: “enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes.”2 Recognizing that many children who enter care do not believe they can get what they want provides insight into their little hearts. With no hope and no belief in their own abilities, they are victims in a dim dark world. And, according to Erikson’s theory, the only way they can develop the ego quality of hope is to attach to another person.

This last bit hit me hardest.

Too often, our son can’t quite believe in hope.

He wants to believe but is certain that eventually the adults in his life will fail him—as they always did in the past. Birth parents, social workers, extended biological family members, foster carers…all eventually abandoned him, left him or outright abused him.

A few weeks after Dad died, our boy told me outright,

Sometimes I still can’t believe that you and Daddy won’t get rid of me. I want to trust you but…trusting is hard.

 

He wants to believe.

We just have to find a way to help him get there.

 

 

 

I’m Going In…Part 2

I didn’t get what I wanted last week.

(Click on the “last week” link to go back to Part 1.)

I marched into the meeting armed with a thick file of psychological testing, neurological testing, notes I’ve taken through the last five years and a box of thirty-odd adoptive parenting books. I wanted to show the team we’ve done due diligence and our homework. Our daughter’s in-home therapist accompanied me.

A few days prior to the meeting, one of the lead therapists in the assessment company spent several hours on the phone learning about our situation. I’m sure she’s also thinking of the financial gain of a new client but she seemed very dedicated to helping our girl get what she needs. She even offered to join the meeting by phone. However, the night before the meeting she called to let me know the community services rep told her not to call. I thought it was a little strange; using every resource seemed like a good move to me, but I figured this wasn’t the rep’s first rodeo. She must have her reasons.

As the meeting started, I explained our situation, laid out the path we’ve taken to try to find answers and explained why we feel having an assessment (which is a large expense) would be helpful for our daughter. Several companies nationwide in the U.S. provide the service; some appear to have better results than others and many are very far away. This company is our closest option and has received great feedback from former clients.

The meeting facilitator asked for additional information about the company. I began handing out the company brochures as the community service rep spoke up. “Unfortunately, no one from the company was available to join us for this meeting, so we don’t have additional information.”

Wait, what?!

Mid-reach over the big oak table with a brochure, I locked eyes with the rep.

“Actually, she was available. She called me last night stating that you told her not to call in.”

The rep flushed, then said, “Well. Yes. I did. I have to say, the behavior discussed here is nothing like the sweet young lady who sat in my office.”

For half an hour. She saw my daughter for thirty minutes. She thought I was making this up?

The facilitator’s eyes flicked back and forth between us, possibly concerned I’d jump across the table.

I gritted my teeth and

sat down on my inner WWF wrestler* alter-ego,

who really wanted to pound the rep.

*Her name is Tai-Chi-Mama and she wears a cape. 

Our girl’s therapist told the group she’s familiar with the program and thinks this partnership would be very helpful. Unfortunately, she was a young newcomer and many of the team members were…seasoned. Although they were mildly interested, her words held no sway with the group.

Another team member spoke up just then, explaining that she’s seen excellent results from the assessment with some of her own young clients. I’m not sure why she didn’t say anything earlier; maybe she was waiting to see if I needed help. Her testimony turned the tide from good-luck-getting-that-approved to we’re interested but not sold. 

I still didn’t get what I wanted.

The facilitator told me I’d need to go back to our adoption district and request the funding in a process that can take up to two months (color me not thrilled) by going through the social work team (double not thrilled).

When we adopted, the head social worker in the original district was horrible and the director wasn’t much better. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve probably seen a few of those painful posts. Telling me I’d need to work with them again was tantamount to directing me to attempt firewalking.

I left the meeting somewhat discouraged. Thankfully, the meeting facilitator offered to call ahead to the social worker. Since the request came from the team, the social worker couldn’t completely shut me down.

Let’s stop here for a quick sing-along: 
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

Today, I got what I needed.

The social worker called. She said,

We’ve had trouble building trust with a lot of our older families because of what happened in the past with other social workers. I want to let you know that things are very different now. I’m here to help you and I want to get your daughter what she needs. I’ve sent you information about the process and some paperwork to get it started. Oh, and let me tell you about a few other resources that may be helpful…

Several of the options she suggested weren’t even on my radar. And to think, if we’d been approved in the beginning, I would have never talked with her.

Sometimes, we think we aren’t getting what we want.

Maybe we aren’t.

And maybe, just maybe, not getting what we want is…good.

Meet & Greet…Hypervigilant Style

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“Ooooooh, you were right. I DO like her!”                                                                                “Dude. I said you could MEET her. Hands off.”

Photo by Peter Nijenhuis

**We’re up to $35; see below!

We’ve all seen (and occasionally participated in) a Meet & Greet post. You know, “drop your link in the comments and maybe someone will click.”

Instead of posting a hit-or-miss link, let’s change it up. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: 

1. Describe your blog in nine words or less.

2. Paste a link to a post you’re proud of writing. Bonus points for adoption, mental health or parenting themes*, but it can be anything.

*With your link, please note the post theme, e.g., “Adoption,” “Mental Health,” “Parenting,” “My Happy Place,” “Honey Badgers are Misunderstood,” etc.

3. Reblog this to increase the number of participants. For every comment below, I’ll donate a dollar* to Compassion International, a fabulous organization committed to child development and rescuing kids from poverty.

*If the comment number rises beyond my ability to personally donate, I commit to raising the money. 

4. Click at least two links and read the posts.

Have fun!  And ignore the lemur. Feel free to hug.

#share4adoption

Once again, Wendy’s and the super-fabulous Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are raising money to help kids stuck in foster care.

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Photo Casey Alexander

Grab a drink, show some heart (with your hand!) and post a pic tagged with #share4adoption. Wendy’s will donate five bucks every time. SWEET.

 

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Photo Casey Alexander

 

Should I be Concerned?

So, I bought a huge box of chalk and let the kids loose on the concrete.

She created hopscotch and flowers.

Here’s his enchanting contribution to our parking area:

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Photo by Hubby Alexander

I noticed an arrow which led to his masterpiece. I followed it around the nose of my vehicle to the passenger side. There I found a note in chalk.

“This is what your boy does when no one is watching.”

#kidsarecreepy #slightlyconcerned

He probably just meant, “I draw pictures,” but paired with the thing under my tire…we might hold out on that driver’s license….

Tell us your creepy kid story!

 

Five Years Ago Today

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Photo by Courtney

Five.

Five years ago today was also a Wednesday.

I remember that Wednesday, sharp and clear as a photograph.

I remember the warm, golden sunlight of a late Autumn afternoon streaming through the leaves, pulling them from the branches.

I remember the soft, caressing breeze teasing through my hair, wrapping through and past our little group.

I remember the strong hug as my friend, also a foster mom, dropped the kids at our back door.

I remember her fierce whisper. “You’re going to be a GREAT mom.”

I remember the tears stinging my eyes and the concerned little faces gazing up at me.

“Why are you crying?”

“Are you sad?”

It was their first introduction to what we call “happy tears.”

I remember the incessant chatter, the celebration of having “my own room in my favorite color” and the wonder of suddenly being “the four of us.”

My memories are colored by everything I knew in my heart to be true. From the moment we met, they belonged to us. I harbored no doubt. 

Funny, how shared memories of the same instant can be so different. 

In their perception, we were just another foster home. The seventh, to be exact, in just over two years. To them, we were nothing more than adults who would eventually give up and request their removal. A couple of unknown aliens.

My friend provided respite care for them twice and was kind enough to let us spend time with the kids, knowing we were in process with social services. The children were unaware but every time they saw us before our placement, they begged us to come let them live with us, especially after visiting our home. Looking back, I see all the signs of attachment deficiency. At the time, we thought it was a sign.

Meant to be.

In reality, they were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere other than their current foster home with the ten-year-old monster who threatened to kill them in their sleep.

Their attachment was so disrupted, they’d have willingly followed anyone who offered them cupcakes or soda.

Today, on the way to an appointment (car rides are the best discussion times), we reminisced. The children remembered the terror. The confusion. The adaptation to an unknown environment and new adult caregivers.

“I kept screaming because everything was new and it all hurt. Even taking a shower. That’s why I liked baths. I’m used to the shower now.” My daughter stated this with nonchalance. Old news, the months of screaming.

I cringed and gritted my teeth, thanking God we never have to endure that again.

“I don’t know why he screamed all the time,” she said, with a preteen eye-roll she’s beginning to perfect. “I only screamed when I didn’t want to do something. He just screamed for hours. For no reason.”

Her description was accurate.

I waited for his verbal retaliation. None came. I wished for the millionth time that science fiction memory-wipes were real. That we could erase the trauma.

“Can we go ride roller coasters again next summer?” His incongruous question signaled he’d had enough.

She wasn’t done.

“We had a lot of bad people before we came to you. I think today is something to celebrate.”

I agreed, and at the mention of celebrating, he rejoined the conversation.

“Can we get pizza?”

Absolutely. 

***

If you like, read a more detailed description of our first day, written two years ago. The napkin bit is sort of gross…sorry. 

 

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