SensaCalm Weighted Blankets

When I was approached by my friend, Donna, to consider reviewing the weighted blankets she sells, I readily agreed. I’m not the habit of reviewing products or services on this site, but what she didn’t realize is that I have a 14 year old who really struggles to fall and stay asleep. He has a busy brain and will lay awake at night trying to quiet his thoughts. Even when he manages to fall asleep quickly, he often wakes up during the night and struggles to fall asleep all over again.

Granted, there are a lot of reasons this happens and there are many ways to treat it. Short of giving him sleep medication every night, I’ve tried a lot of things! Yet, I never considered a weighted blanket. Prior to researching SensaCalm, my knowledge of weighted blankets was that they were for kids with autism and/or ADHD who struggle with sleep. It didn’t occur to me that general insomnia and restlessness might be mitigated with a weighted blanket.

Similar to being swaddled like an infant, weighted blankets are said to trigger pressure points in the body and release serotonin, which has a calming effect. For those who wrestle with anxiety and have disrupted sleep as a result, I can see the benefits to using a weighted blanket at night.

When the blankets arrived the boys were immediately excited. They were heavier than I expected, but as soon as I’d unpacked them and laid them across Jeremy and Jackson’s bodies, they were giddy. They said it felt as if they were being hugged. They actually couldn’t wait to go to bed that night to see what it felt like to sleep under their new blankets.

The first night was a challenge! It took some getting used to, particularly since the blanket is not over-sized. They aren’t meant to cover the size of the bed but rather cover the size of your body. A couple of times their blankets fell to the ground, so they had to pull them back up and readjust.

However, that was the only hurdle. After a month of use, both boys say they are falling asleep more quickly and staying asleep more easily. They love feeling “hugged” by their blankets.

The twin-size, 13-pound blankets are made up of a grid of pockets with pellets inside as weight. Covering the blanket is a soft “cuddle” fleece that adds even more warmth and comfort.

The duvet is held in place by strategically-placed snaps. That’s handy for washing!

Ultimately the blankets are a success! And while the traditional weighted blankets aren’t travel-friendly, small lap-size blankets might do the trick.

Jackson + ESPN Encyclopedias

If you know Jackson, then you know he’s a ferocious reader. This fact alone is a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d type eight years ago when our toddler screamed instead of talked, or even six years ago when our four year old spoke gibberish. Early intervention and a couple of fabulous teachers in Amarillo, Texas, were life changers. (Thank you Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Kathy!)

Jackson learned to talk and eventually read, two skills in which he continues to excel. Add in his love of sports and ease at which he understands math and we may have a budding statistician in our midst. (One can hope and encourage!)

Two years ago, Jackson and I went to the library, a favorite hobby we share, and wandered to the back rows where the oversized books are shelved. There we found the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.

Mind blown. At least, for Jackson it was mind-blowing. It is a five-pound, 1600-page book of numbers and historical stories from every college football program in the country. We checked it out and he spent hours each day poring over the text. When it was time to return the book, we renewed it. This went on for a year.

Then last year, for his tenth birthday, I bought him his own copy. I also found the college basketball encyclopedia, giving him more than 3,500 pages of stats to memorize.

Yesterday, as I sat on the orange couch in my purple library, where he sits each day for school and to read, I noticed the basketball encyclopedia opened to the Virginia Military Institute. This is where he left off the day before.

Gosh. So boring, right? I mean. GEEZ.

But look at how loved those pages are? So worn and soft. He’s been reading these books for months and months, always sharing random facts that he learns, information from colleges I’ve never heard of, stats from fifty years ago or more. Last night we went on a walk while Jeremy was at soccer practice and he rattled off a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (and their subsequent stats), which I didn’t even realize he knew existed. 

I don’t get it, but I love that he loves it. I love that he’s fixated on the details because it shows a great capacity for interpreting information. I love that he takes these books anywhere he knows he’ll be bored, such as a waiting room or at church.

Jackson is my misunderstood child, the one with quirks and curious habits. He flaps his arms and snaps his fingers, and his brain gets stuck on something to the point of obsession. But, he’s sharp and bright. He’s affectionate and tender. His smile and laugh are infectious. He excels in ways I didn’t think were possible, which makes the ways he struggles easier to endure. I don’t know where Jackson will end up in life, but we’ll continue to nurture this interest he has. We’re nearly two years in, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Jackson turns 10

For Jackson’s birthday, we kept it simple but special. Three dear families joined us for a light dinner followed by cake and presents. The kids played, the adults talked, and Major was mostly well-behaved.

Make a wish

The thing most of you might not grasp about Jackson is that he doesn’t fully understand the reciprocity of friendship. Relationships in general are hard for him. He doesn’t understand inference or sarcasm; he doesn’t know when someone is being genuine or fake. He doesn’t always know how to relay his own emotions effectively. Jackson takes everything and everyone at face value, which means he lacks discernment in almost every area.

Big 10 helmetsAnd yet, he is happy, happy, happy most the time. Blissful oblivion is a real thing. Jackson is always the first to smile and hug someone and be a friend, whatever that means in his world.

Jimmy's football cards

We work on it with him – trying to teach him what it means to care about someone, how to show love and receive love, and always be ready to forgive. Jackson has a temper, a rage that can be disconcerting at times, but we’ve come to understand that it’s because he’s always on high alert. Temperament-wise, Jackson hovers at a 9, so it doesn’t take much to reach 10 and then tumble right over the edge.

Four square

In the above photo our guests were playing a game they created while Jackson sat on the concrete to sort his miniature football helmets. He was content not to be included because sorting the helmets was far more interesting than interacting with everyone else.

The same goes for reading sports encyclopedias.

Encyclopedias and helmets

And yet, he loves these people. He gets excited to see them. He misses them when it’s been a while. Jackson craves real connection just like the rest of us, though he processes it and perceives it in a unique way. I am grateful to have folks in the fold who understand him.

At ten years old, Jackson is a gem. He puts a smile on my face everyday with his optimism, his infectious laugh, and his love for life. I tell him all the time, “You are exactly the one I wanted.”

Happy Jack at 10

Happy Tenth Birthday, Jack Rabbit. We love you loads.

(Sidebar: Major never looks at the camera. What a turd.)

Major won't look at the camera

Backstage at the Orange and White Game

A few weeks ago, an opportunity was presented to us for Jackson to meet the University of Tennessee, Knoxville statisticians – the guys who keep track of every yard, every punt, every point for the home football games – a career possibility that Chuck and I have encouraged for Jackson. He’s an excellent math student and has an unquenchable passion for sports. When Jackson realized that a real person was responsible for those recording numbers, all those tiny details that he loves to read and memorize, he latched on to the idea of becoming a statistician.

So, did he want to meet the UT Vols statistician? ABSOLUTELY YES.

Better still, would you like to meet him at the Orange and White Game and sit in the press box and learn all about being a statistician?

There were no words, just one huge smile and eyes that welled with tears. A definite YES. 

Fan Day 2016

Charles Child has been keeping the Vols’ stats for three decades, and in recent years he’s been joined by his son, Brian, and son-in-law, David. We met them a couple of hours before kick-off to get a tour of the press box and the field.

Going on the field

Two brace faces on the field

SEC Pylon

Press box at Neyland

We watched the players practice and saw what the stands look like from the ground level. The stadium wasn’t full like it normally is on game day, but it was still impressive.

Time to practice

College footballs

Peyton Manning hall

We met Tim Priest, the familiar voice of the Vol Radio Network and former Tennessee player coached by Doug Dickey.

Tim Priest

We ate lunch and enjoyed ice cream and took our seats in the press box as Charles, Brian, and David readied themselves for the game. They were generous to give the boys plenty of media guides and record sheets – piles of information for Jackson to study.

Jack in the press box

Jeremy and I aren’t stats people, but we enjoyed the special treatment nonetheless.

Jeremy in the press box

Members of the U.S. Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, kicked off the game by landing on the field. It was beautiful! (Here’s a video.)

Navy Seals

Steve Spurrier received the Neyland Award, a short ceremony that received both cheers and jeers. (More cheers, though.)

Steve Spurrier

Then my favorite – Smokey – took the field and the game was officially on the clock.

Smokey and the gang

They team was split into orange and white, but there were a handful of players in gray. Why? Because gray meant “Do Not Touch.”

Gray is no touch

Of course, it wasn’t a regular game but rather a scrimmage. A “let’s show them how we’re doing” sort of game. The view from the press box was great.

Orange and White

Orange and White at Neyland

Smokey in the checkerboard

It wasn’t just about the perks. We learned all about how serious the statistician’s work is, how folks from ESPN hover over them on game days to get all the numbers to all the stations. Though the stats wind up computerized, they keep official records the old-fashioned way – pencil and paper.

Stats sheet

While the game is going, all excitement and frustration is tabled. They are record-keeping, not rooting. Aside from high-level math, this is the hurdle Jackson will have to jump. He kept mostly quiet during the scrimmage, but that wouldn’t be the case in a real game. This is the kid who asked to leave the Tennessee-Arkansas game early last year because he was getting too emotional and knew he was going to blow.

Statisticians

On the way home on Saturday, Jackson said that the whole experience had been a dream come true. He didn’t stop smiling the entire day, and while most of us wouldn’t care about the mounds of stats and records, Jackson has been reading them at length and regurgitating random facts like revelations.

So many times I’ve looked at the face of this sweet child and wondered, “Where will you end up? Where will you go? What will you do?” Perhaps those questions got answered on Saturday.

Our Basketball Star

Jackson is playing Upward Basketball this season. Not only is his team doing very well and he’s enjoying himself, but he’s done a great job handling the wide range of emotions involved with playing team sports. So far, so good.

(He’s the kiddo in the dark red shoes in the foreground.)

Upward basketball

Competition is hard for any kid, but for Jackson, whose emotions swing fast on a long pendulum, the high of winning and the low of losing keeps his temperament bubbling at the surface.

Defense

One of the best ways it’s been explained to me is this: We all operate at different emotional levels from one to ten. When we’re calm and chill, we’re around a two or three. Some of us need lots of stress (good or bad) to push us to a five, seven, nine, etc. Some of us don’t need very much at all to lose our temper. Some of us who are more high-strung may operate all the time around a five or six, always waiting for something to happen and living in the tension of thinking doom is right around the corner. Some of us are so cool and collected that we hardly ever reach a ten.

For Jackson, he functions at a nine almost all the time. Good or bad, happy or sad, his emotions are always RIGHT THERE.

That is Jackson with the ball – No. 11 – shooting.

He shoots

He scored, by the way. He’s scored a couple of times so far this season and it’s given Chuck and I the greatest joy to see him succeed in that way.

But more so, we’ve been so pleased to see how he’s interacted with his teammates, how he’s handled a loss (lots of tears, but he managed!), and how eager he’s been to try harder.

Upward has been good for him because the program is designed to encourage the best parts of team sports – camaraderie, good sportsmanship, effort, and everyone gets the same amount of play time regardless of skill.

They won this particular game, as you can tell by his face. So far this season they are 3-1.

He scores

Sometimes I think back to how Jackson was at one and a half years old, the first time I considered that something might be different about him. Then at two, when he screamed and thrashed and couldn’t communicate with us. By three he’d established self-soothing habits and was enrolled in early intervention to help him learn how to talk.

By four we could finally understand him and by five he was learning how to read. Even then, with so much progress, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up – and frankly I still don’t know. How can we ever really know where our children will land after we’ve done all we can for them?

Jackson is smart, so loving, and eager to make a happy moment with others. Upward has been great for him, so I see him playing more sports with them in the future.

They win

Blog Challenge Day 11: Most proud moment

First of all, HOW BOUT THEM VOLS!

So, what’s my most proud moment? 

Let’s go with my most recent, and it happens to be connected to Tennessee Football.

If you know Jackson in real life, then you know how unique he is. Super affectionate, friendly to everyone, and a big time football fan across the board. He loves Tennessee and the Packers (because I’m a good mother), but he loves watching the game no matter who’s playing.

Jackson and Phil Fulmer

The problem occurs when he gets over-excited. One of the things the psychologist explained to us during his evaluations is that Jackson operates at a nine pretty much all the time, on a scale of one to ten. Those of us who are high strung start our day at a five or six, while others who have a calmer disposition hover at a two or three on a regular basis. As conflicts arise, we slowly inch to ten, each reaching that breaking point when we all lose our minds.

Because he struggles with impulse control, living each day at a nine can be really stressful – good or bad. When the Vols are winning, he’s jumping up and down, snapping, clapping, shifting here and there, repeating stats and obsessing over numbers. When the Vols are losing, he’s crying, tossing himself on the ground, sayings things he does not mean.

impulse control autismIt takes a daily reminding – no, hourly – that he needs to recognize his own level of frustration and make the decision to calm down or change his situation (leave the room, change the channel, walk away, etc.) Because when he Reaches 10, it gets ugly.

That brings us to the Tennessee-Arkansas game last Saturday. We found cheap seats online and went as a family. It was a risk, considering how Tennessee has played this season. I was mildly worried about Chuck’s blood pressure, but I was mostly worried about Jackson Reaching 10. And in a crowd of 102,000 fans, how would we handle Jackson Reaching 10?

Throughout each quarter, I had to gently remind Jackson, It’s not a big deal, It’s okay, Calm down, Sit down, It’s okay, It’s not a big deal. But then we reached the fourth quarter and it wasn’t looking good. I could read Jackson’s face quite clearly. If Tennessee did not pull out all the stops, Arkansas was going to win and Jackson was going to melt down. I half-watched the game and half-watched his face.

Tennessee fumbled. The game was going downhill fast. Jackson spun around to me and said boldly, “I NEED TO LEAVE.”

Calmly, I turned to Chuck, who’d driven separately, and said, “Jackson needs to leave.” Then the two stood up, grabbed hands, and left the stadium. Jackson diffused along the way.

While Jeremy and I finished watching the pitifully poor game, I sat proudly. Tennessee was losing to a team that they should have beat, but Jackson totally won that night. He recognized his temper and MADE THE DECISION on HIS OWN to walk away. It was a big move. It was ginormous. To date, it was one of my proudest moments as a mother: Jackson crested the rim of Reaching 10 and decided on his own to turn back. 

That’s baptized?

Baptism in the reformed tradition is a sacrament that publicly announces our belonging to God. Many, but not all, choose infant baptism as a means of acknowledging the promises of God and subsequently promising that our efforts as a church body will always direct the child to Christ. (For more on this, click here.)

We are currently raising our boys in a church that celebrates baptism differently from how we were taught (or more specifically, how I was taught). In a previous life, I considered baptism valid only if the recipient of the sacrament made the decision himself. That is, someone had to verbally say the words – to repeat the script, of sorts – and personally choose to be baptized. Infant baptism eluded me. How could a baby choose to be a follower of Christ? How could a baby make a public statement?

I understand the significance and validity of that theology. It makes sense. Someone chooses to follow Christ, therefore someone chooses to make that decision public through baptism. I get it. I was baptized under that theology and so was Jeremy.

That being said, I’ve come to a place where I recognize, respect, and believe that infant baptism is just as valid, just as special, and just as meaningful as any other form of baptism. It’s a sacrament rooted in promise and proclamation. Why not place your baby before the church and God and everyone and promise to tend to her body and soul and, as a collective, proclaim the child as God’s? I totally get it. I’m down with it. God is way bigger than all the ways we try to box Him in. 

By the way, have you ever seen a baby baptized? I tear up every time.

This brings me to Jackson. He is not baptized, nor has he really inquired about it. If you ask him about God and Jesus and the Bible, he gets a little fuzzy. In Sunday School he draws pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs. He takes communion with us, but the meaning of it isn’t something he can explain on his own. (He did tell me once that the grape juice we drink for the Lord’s Supper is his second favorite drink, the first being Sprite.)

On Sunday we celebrated an infant’s baptism, and as our pastor sprinkled the water over the child’s bald little head, Jackson leans over to me and whispers, “That’s baptized?”

I nod, he nods, then he goes back to reading his book about the San Fransisco 49ers.

A flood of questions fill my head. What if he’s never baptized? What if he’s never able to explain the holy triune or know that celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a precious, commemorative, sacred act that connects us directly to Christ? What if my tender-hearted animal lover reads too many Old Testament passages about burnt offerings and can’t deal?

What if Jackson never gets it?  

There’s a lot of stuff Jackson gets, by the way. He’s a stellar student. He’s so sharp academically that I’m working hard to make sure I get enough curriculum to last him through next April. He’s emotionally vulnerable and very sensitive to when others are hurt. His selective memory is incredible (football stats, anyone?) and he totally knew that Vision was going to make an appearance in the second Avengers movie long before it was announced.

Ant man

But spiritually, I wonder.

What I’m not worried about is God’s claim on Jackson. That’s covered. My worry lies in the reciprocation.

Thankfully, we belong to a church body who is really great about teaching kids about God in kid language. Jackson is a rising fourth grader and that means he’ll graduate to a new group that uses The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter as a conduit. It may be that Jackson continues to draw pictures of superheroes and Josh Dobbs while everyone else draws Aslan and Hedwig. He may not get the symbolism or draw parallels. He may love it or he may get bored. Sometimes his Sunday morning mood is dependent on whether or not Tennessee won its football game on Saturday.

Still, we press on, because whether or not Jackson ever stands before a congregation and says the words, or whether or not he speaks them quietly to himself, he is a loved, cherished, irreplaceable child of God, and that’s the kind of promise that doesn’t break. 

Diagnosis: ADHD and ASD

If you know us in real life, you know that our youngest son, Jackson, is a unique fella. He’s happy, giggly, and thinks the best of everyone. He’s sharp, affectionate, and a ferocious reader. In his dreams, he is a superhero.

He’s also in a world of his own, so much that Chuck and I decided that we needed some outside help with adjusting our parenting style. A handful of evaluations later, the psychologist confirmed what we already knew. Jackson has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is on the Autism Spectrum – both mild but “clinically significant.”

Jack in Jacksonville

To be clear, this diagnosis is not upsetting. We’ve known from the very beginning that this kiddo is one of a kind. Along the way he’s had early intervention and other accommodations to keep him flourishing. We think carefully before involving him in one activity or another and take the extra step to make sure he’s safe in places where he’s not necessarily paying attention (large crowds, parking lots…). However, in the last year or so there have been areas of Jackson’s behavior that leave us baffled. We simply don’t know how to respond, such as when he’s physically attacked someone, going from Happy Jack to Hulk Mode in a nanosecond because his impulsivity took charge. We know he’s overwhelmed in certain situations but we’re not always sure how handle the come-down.

Jackson's birthday loot

So we sought help. As I explained to the psychologist during the consultation, I’m not looking for labels. Beyond this post, it’s likely I won’t mention them again. All kids are unique, some more than others, and we all have to do our best with the resources we have. For us, that means modeling appropriate social interactions and enhancing predictability in certain areas of daily living. It means keeping our cool and remembering that Jackson is already functioning at a high stress level.

Arrows up

We have a 30-page report detailing Jackson’s evaluation results along with recommendations on how to help him, which is exactly what I was looking for. Now we have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of Jackson’s brain. Sure, he snaps his fingers and flaps his arms and has an emotional outburst now and again, but he’s also extraordinarily creative and unfailingly affectionate. He wants to jump in with other kids, even if he doesn’t fully understand how to interact with them. His heart is big, and so are his efforts.

Jack Loves WALL-E

I suppose that’s all there is to say on the matter, so I’ll end this post with the haiku Jackson wrote this morning:

Ultron has come down
but the Avengers are here
they will save us all.

Iron Man in second grade

Jackson Speaks

For a while it seemed like I’d never be able to say that, type that, or believe that, but I’m here to tell you that this child has found his voice. You would never know that Jackson spent his entire second year on earth in a state of perpetual screaming.

Today, he spent a considerable amount of time saying, “OH MY GOSH!” to everything. OH MY GOSH, a car! OH MY GOSH, a bird! OH MY GOSH, I peed!

He tells me he loves me without prompting and asks where HIS people are all the time (Where’s my Jeremy? Where’s my Hank? Where’s my Uniqua?) He also tells me when he doesn’t like something, when he DOES like something, going as far as to tell me, “Good dinner, Mom.” He says Good Morning and Good Night and all of those cordial things, but also says Please and Thank You and Your Welcome with very little reminding. Just a little while ago he noticed a scab on his leg and said, “OH MY GOSH! What’s WRONG with me?” I told him he had a boo-boo and he looked at me as if he’d been robbed of perfect health. “A BOO-BOO? OH MY GOSH!”

 

He’s a happy boy and full of words. For the first time EVER in his life, I asked told him to stop talking the other day in the car because he WOULD NOT TAKE A BREATH. I caught myself the instant those words came out of my mouth and felt guilty for asking such a thing. Like I said, there was a time not very long ago when all I wanted to hear were the simple things a toddler says and not the screaming Jack used to communicate. Holy mother of pearl. The screaming was unbearable.

So after I told him to be quiet, he sweetly asked, “Why, Mommy? Why?”

“Oh, nevermind, Jack,” I replied. “What do you want to talk about?”