Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

Advertisements

Why I love summers!

I don’t know – I always had this idealized vision of “school” probably mostly with the thought that “wow, once they are in school, I won’t have to pay a HUGE child care bill every single week” anymore. Unless, of course, they are in a school district with half-day kindergarten and then you have another 9 months of child care bills for afternoon care! (Just to add some perspective, kid starts day care at 6 weeks of age and has a February birthday when he turns 5 and school starts in late August, so I’ve basically spent $65,052 in just child care. On one kid! Man, I could have been rich!!)

So, yes, as a single working mother I was thrilled with the concept of school. The children would be someplace. They would be learning. I wouldn’t be the only one responsible for whether they knew their colors or could multiply 6 times 7.

But let me tell you. School stinks! In the best sense of the word, that is.

Let’s just start with homework. It’s not that I’m opposed to academicsschool bus (after all, I have a BS, MS, PhD and MD degree, and about 19 years of school/training after high school), it’s just that after 6 hours at school, I really do think the kids need some unstructured play time. And they need to do some sports or physical activity so that they develop a sense of feeling healthy. Why would we want to spend an hour or two doing homework? This is especially true for families with working parents who don’t get kids gathered up and home until 6:00pm or later and trying to get an average of 10 hours of sleep (for them, not me!) makes it hard to squeeze much else in.

Then there’s the “projects” which take up even more time, like making a poster or a diorama. Naturally, this involves the extra time burden of running to the store to round up supplies because in this tiny townhome, we’ve streamlined quite a bit.

And then there’s so many “volunteer” opportunities at the school, that it can get overwhelming. There’s such self-imposed guilt to be “present” in the school and see what the kids are doing and have them so excited to see Mom in the class as Mystery Reader (or maybe that was embarrassment) or Holiday Party volunteer (Just going to have to say no to that. Kids are noisy enough. Now give them sugar and excitement of a celebration and you’ve got chaos personified!). And of course, some of those holidays require significant time commitment, like the Halloween parade that begins at 1:30pm but if you’re not in the parking lot by noon, you’re not getting a spot. The Memorial Day program takes all morning – bring your fold-out camping chairs and come early to find space.

Let’s not forget about those fundraisers! What a joy to convince family and friends to buy some items so the kids can “win” a T-shirt which they refuse to wear anyway. How about saving those Box Tops (which also have to be cut to the exact shape of the rectangle)? You don’t want your kid to be the only one in homeroom not bringing them in and they would sure like to actually win the Box Top contest for the month!

Now consider that school ends at 3:20. That’s right 3:20. But when they hit middle school it’s  2:40. Interestingly, my job would like me to work until 5:00pm, which means now I get to figure out afterschool care. Which means I can pay for someone to watch my kids for 2-3 hours every day or beg Grandma. And please don’t forget about the before school care. When school doesn’t start until 9:00, it’s pretty hard to be at work at that time too!

This timing is a far cry from just dropping off at daycare whenever we all get ready in the morning and picking them up in the evening after I’ve stopped at the grocery store or run a few errands first. No, now with school there’s actually a specific start time and they expect you to pick up at a consistent time too. Really cramping my cram-a-lot-into-the-day lifestyle!

Even worse are the two-hour delays, the “no school” days or the unexpected cancelled days for snow!

School was looking really good until I realized how much more I have to juggle now that it’s back in session.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love school. I love that the boys are learning. I love that they are meeting new kids and forming new friendships. I love that they are learning to listen to other authority figures. I love that they have opportunities to learn the cello and “rugby basics” and art and science and handwriting and so much more. I love that they are in a good school district which cares about them and with teachers who want them to succeed. I love that they are doing well.

I’d just like to return to summer time …right about now.

Parenting Boys (and girls) 102: Starting School

Dear Mr/Mrs Teacher,

I truly expected to get this year off to a more organized start. Apparently not (and apparently I forgot to read last year’s post about how I was most certainly going to be better this year!).  Despite how it might appear, I want you to know that I highly value education for my child. After all, I am personally a “highly educated” individual with a BS in elementary education (no less) and a MS degree and a PhD and even an MD degree. Yet, despite all those initials trailing my name, I am unable to remember to check the homework folder on a daily basis. It’s a character flaw.

In the spirit of true confessions, I’m sorry to say that I have also not yet cut apart those addition and subtraction “flashcards” to begin practicing. I’m pretty sure that someday that card stock paper and a pair of scissors will be in the same vicinity and I’ll get to it. It just hasn’t been today or yesterday or the day before….

Also, we read for about 10 minutes every night (I mean, most nights, well, I mean on those nights that I’m not already falling asleep reading to the other brothers) and as it always feels like 20 minutes, I’m hoping that counts for our “daily” reading time.

I would also like some clarification of the terms “homework” and “please practice” that you clearly have ink stamps to use on their papers. “Homework,” I take it, is something that you definitely expect to be completed and returned the next day…in the ideal world. On the other hand, the “please practice” pages are something that can go into the ‘papers that I intend to deal with at some later point that is not tonight because the kid is already asleep‘ stack. Is that accurate?

In the same vein, is it okay to skip the night’s homework assignment if the 6-year-oldcrumpled is in the “I-will-crush-and-crumble-all-paper-in-my-sight” kind of mood? I doubt the morning will be any better, but I’ll try to get him reading Nan the Cat as soon as possible!

Just a couple more questions. When my son is on the list for “Star Student of the Week” for January 11th, is that something you expect me to keep track of or will you be providing some kind of reminder system post holiday chaos so that the poor guy isn’t identified as having “Loser Mother of the Year” for the week?

Also, I hope that you got the “mystery student” paper bag with 5 tiny objects that are somehow reflective of my son that I dropped off around lunch time on the day it was due? Maybe you might have given him a chance to show his bag that afternoon so he wouldn’t feel left out. (Oh, I guess that would defeat the purpose of guessing who it belonged to. Huh, just thought of that. Nevermind. On the other hand, will we get that bag back soon? We could use the hockey puck this weekend and I’m worried the crab leg to signify having been to the beach might increase in stench intensity soon. Just wondering.)

And finally, that Class Dojo app that now beeps incessantly on my smartphone dojo to inform me that the kiddo has yet again received a “ -1 for talking to neighbors” – will you be continuing that all year or is this just a first-month fad that we’re all going to get tired of PDQ? (My gram liked to use that for Pretty Darn Quick. I’m thinking Positively Definitely Quitting!).

I think that sums up my apologies and questions for now, day 10 of the new school year. It’s likely some continuing confusion might linger, but once I get the house unpacked and the kids’ sports schedules imprinted, we should start on a better trajectory.

Thank you for your patience and even more importantly, thank you for loving “education” so much that you passionately teach at least 20 energetic kids every day and gracefully cope with many more quirky parents. It’s a challenging job and a huge responsibility and I’m thankful that you are there to give my kid a hug when he needs it, a pat on the back when deserved, and a push in the right direction when necessary.

Please let me know if I can help in any way (other than the obvious stuff that I clearly should be doing and haven’t yet).

Yours gratefully,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only I was a stay-at-home mom…for the school.

Sometimes I wish I was a stay-at-home mom. I would get the Legos picked up off the floor. I would have the clothes actually put away in drawers. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to crate the dog and keep the floors clean or chance it that maybe she won’t pee today while we’re gone.

And if I managed to get all this done during the day, I’d actually look forward to hugging the boys after school and sifting through their artwork and crumbs and broken pencils to find the one sheet of homework crammed into the torn folder in their backpack. I’d pull it out and gently guide them through a relaxing session of learning at our comfy “homework” snowman2station, reviewing their scattered errors on the week’s spelling or math test, finding the blue crayon to color in the weekends and yellow crayon for the weekdays of the calendar, and cutting out and pasting a photo of something beginning with the letter “N.”

Life would be so different if I was a stay-at-home mom.

It’s 4:17 pm. I leave a meeting at a local university. I’ve been in and out of the office all day. I’ve been trouble-shooting via email. I’ve been writing up grant ideas. I’ve been designing our new website. I’ve been answering phone calls. I’ve been learning how to merge scanned pages into a single PDF document. I’ve been shaking hands, smiling and thinking up grand ideas for collaboration during a two-hour meet-and-greet session. And I’ve been sweeping all that into the corners of my mind during the harrowing drive on snowy roads to get to the daycare center to gather the two youngest boys.

I rush through inches of snow in dress shoes to check on the driver of a car crash right  beside the center. I put up cones “borrowed” from the day care center to warn other drivers. I meet the parents of my middle kid’s new best friend. I commiserate on how not all day care centers are perfect. I find coats and back packs. I forget (again) to empty the papers from the boys’ mail slots which overflow until the teachers just hand them to me. I buckle the boys in with fingers numb from cold exposure and stubborn carseat buckles. I turn on track #8 so we can listen to it for the thousandth time. I breathe.

Home – gather up and take out trash and recycling. Move the clothes from washer to dryer and start the next never-ending load of soiled torn boy clothes (and just spray a couple of those stained white items – who ever bought white!?!). Take the dog out and beg her to pee because my ears and legs are frozen standing here with you. Open and close the fridge looking for left-overs. Open and close the cupboard doors looking for something mildly nutritional. Greet the second-grader dropped off by my mother who helps with after-school care. Warm up the chocolate milks. Monitor the math homework of the eldest child. Stop countless battles over Legos, time with the dog, who broke the train set, flashlights, Spy Gear goggles, books, basketballs, stuffed animals. You name it – it’s scattered on my floor and ammunition for whichever kid doesn’t have it in his hands at the moment.

Bathtime. Pajamas. Mama’s glass of wine.

Book reading. Teeth brushing. Really – put the pull-up on!

Settle down. Stop joking around.

Be quiet

Lay still.

By the time the oldest and youngest are asleep (and I awake from my mini-nap on their bed), I find the kindergartener wrapped in his special “blue blanket” sacked out in front of the space heater. I sigh. Lifting him gently and tucking him into bed, I kiss his forehead and pat the dog who cuddles in beside him.

Quiet.

For a moment.

I’m sorry, dear kindergarten teacher. Thank you for your kind email this morning. Yes, I know that homework at age five “is important to set a good foundation to carry through in the upper grades”….but I just didn’t get to it last night.

Forgive me.

And yet, this single working mother of three wild, delightfully rambunctious boys is going to do better today. I think…..

Uncovering the mind

Give me a Hemoglobin A1c of 7.5, and I’ll tell you you have diabetes. Give me an EKG with ST elevations and I’m sending you off to the emergency room. Give me a boy who is active, bouncy, grumpy, defiant, aggressive, combative, sweet, sensitive, fearful, shy, and tender all rolled into one and I have no idea what to do.

  • Give me almost daily phone calls from the principal of the prior school.
  • Give me constant reports from family members about his difficult behavior.
  • Give me sleepless nights and buckets of tears and I keep trying to figure him out.

What happens inside the brain is a mystery. Thousands of neurons firing. Thousands of connections being made. Thousands of signals to control the body, the emotions, the thoughts, the dreams. And yet, this Super Tall Guy just seems to “be wired” a bit differently. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and hundreds of blogs and articles on the internet. We’ve done months of counseling (which seemed to help mainly me!). A whole battery of assessments years ago. Time outs. Time together. Removal of privileges. Rewards. Grounding. Behavioral charts. Taking away toys and gadgets. You name it, and yet he remains a mystery – spontaneous, impulsive, defensive….challenging, oh so challenging to parent.

“Definitely ADHD,” she said as we sat in the small conference room at the neuropsychology office for the “feedback” session. “All the testing points to it and believe me, it took a tremendous amount of effort on my part just to get him to focus and complete the tasks in the evaluation.” Uncovering the brain….

“He also has dysgraphia, a learning disability making it hard for him to express himself in writing. And a difficulty with fine motor control plays into all of this as well. Any questions?”

You know how you can sit there blank and not have any questions at all? Nope. Not really. Will definitely google this later.

Ah yes, a question – “So….what do we do?”

  • Medication
  • Learning support at the school
  • Occupational therapy

I’ve been wary of the diagnosis for years now. Is the rise in the number of kids with ADHD a true picture of the burden, or is it another clear case of trying to fit kids into a mold that’s just not right for them? Is there something we should be doing differently or is this just the way it is for some kids? For my boy, he just never met criteria each time we filled out questionnaires before, and yet on more in-depth testing it pops out.

I can’t deny it really. He is impulsive. He interrupts. He bounces off the couch. He punches his brother and then acknowledges that the bump was likely an accident as the little one walked by. He is a zombie in front of a TV set as the rapid-fire stimulation of Transformer Rescue Bots engages his neurons. He hates spelling words. His handwriting is awful. He plays with Legos but his 5-year-old brother can construct them more easily.

You want to label the kid rude, aggressive, immature. Maybe it’s a lack of consistent parenting. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s a lack of motivation. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe his brain is different.

Quote from "The Giving Tree" ~ Shel Silverstein

Quote from “The Giving Tree” ~ Shel Silverstein

Tomorrow we meet with the psychiatrist. Tomorrow we talk about calming down the brain with medication. My stomach tenses. I wasn’t ready to discuss medication at age 4 or 5, but now? But now, we might need just a little more help….

uncovering the mind of my son….

 

Changes in the New Year!

The moment my sister carried out her son’s small vault, the tears welled. I didn’t expect to be crying. But it had been four very long and stressful weeks –  eldest son “let go” from his school, looking for a new school for the 3 boys, looking for new house in the right neighborhood to get to the “right” school that can handle “behavioral” problems. The stress gave way. I had visions of the boys not seeing each other anymore. Of Mr. Ornery never becoming a great gymnast because he doesn’t have The Flipper to keep encouraging him (I know – insane). It felt like the beginning of the end – such a huge change in the status quo, years in the making.

It wasn’t about the gymnastics – it was about a change in the boys’ relationships. It was about a change in the adult relationships. In the true sense of the phrase, I am a “single mom.” But I rarely think about it that way – because I have such a beautiful family. In essence, it has been more like two parents with five boys…..and incredibly supportive grandparents (incredibly supportive)! We have been one big (and mostly) happy family.

But suddenly, the “singleness” hit and I was afraid and so sad. It was the day after Christmas. My sister was making good use of “vacation” time to get the move done. Friends came over to carry out the couch. My father spent countless hours putting together a dining room table and chairs. My mother flitted around doing everything and anything.  I, however, was frozen in denial, dipping into sadness, punctuated by jealously (why do you get to move into the sparkling clean cute townhome with a master bedroom and your own private bathroom that likely won’t have “tinkles” on the toilet seat and gobs of kids’’Sparkle Fun’ toothpaste lining the sink?!?), sprinkled with shock at all the rapid changes.

Verklempt.

“It will be good to have some quiet,” she said. I nodded. It’s impossible to explain to anyone the mind-numbing, energy-zapping level of NOISE and motion that exists within the walls of this house with 5 boys ages 3 to 8. Super Tall Guy likes to poke at kids to get a response. The Flipper and Mr. Ornery either swing from the pull-up bar or set up gymnastics floor routines through the living room/parlour area. Mr. Trouble exists as a constant threat to everyone approaching his Ninja Warrior Nunchucks or swinging light saber. The Little Guy doesn’t know he’s little as he excitedly tackles Super Tall Guy to the ground and wrestled around while the dog squeals and hides when moving bodies collide into hers. It’s nonstop. It’s pandemonium. In an effort to survive,  I proclaimed the Holidays to be unlimited “screen time” (or there’d be no sense in calling it a “holiday” for anyone!).

A little bit of quiet. The truth is – it’s probably what we all need. A chance to let the boys develop a little bit of themselves as an individual instead of constantly in relationship to or in reaction to another child. A chance for my sister and I to figure out a little bit more about how we can parent our own children without all the clutter and chaos of who hit who? Who’s tattling on whom? Who’s fault is it really? Who’s toy was it first? (Like you even cared about that Nerf gun anyway…. until The Little Guy picked it up!)

It’s likely a really good thing for everyone to have a little more space. And, as my sister reminded me, it will just be a temporary time until we can figure out the next step. And, I still have the Thai house guest here at “the Big House” for another month, so I still have back-up help and am not completely “single” :).

It’s just been some crazy stressful few weeks. I’m super proud of my sister for just jumping in and getting everything together to create a new home for herself and the boys. And we’ve tried not to visit too much as New Yearthose walls are too flimsy for my boisterous boys (but come summer….when she can walk to the community’s swimming pool….she might need to adopt a few more little men!).

The schedule is going to be a lot to juggle as the three older boys begin in a new school in the morning. And there are going to be a great many kinks and glitches to iron out. But I have a terrific family and much hope in this New Year of New Beginnings!

 

 

 

 

Sacrifices of the Second Sibling (or third or fourth or fifth)

Mr. Ornery dances around the kitchen floor. “I love my teacher. I love Miss P,” bubbles out over and over again. I sigh inside, knowing that the week, the season, of Miss P is coming to an end. Sometimes I let him dance. Sometimes I remind him that he’ll be leaving Miss P’s class and his friends. Sometimes I let him sit in the sadness of “I don’t want to leave Miss P” as he falls asleep at night.

Four months ago he left the day care center where he went almost every single weekday of the year since he was 6 months old. He entered a new school – new “authority figures,” new friends, new routines, new expectations. And believe me – it took him a LONG time to adjust. But he did. Because he’s strong, he’s bubbly, he’s the class clown, and he’s just so darn cute! – the girls swoon already, he asks “if you’re in love do you kiss a girl?,” and the little fairies gather around him when he enters a room.

But four weeks ago, I was asked to “transition” my eldest, Super Tall Guy, out of the school. He didn’t “fit,” they didn’t want to work with him anymore, they had a symphony “orchestra” to coordinate, he was an electric guitar. Mr. Ornery is the bystander. The one who gets uprooted almost before he has his feet under him. Just as he’s coming into his glory. Just as he’s figuring out who he is and who he’s becoming.

Star Student of the Week

Star Student of the Week

I mean, when you are 5 – what is huge in your life?  Your family – though he often says he needs to find a new one (you know, one that won’t ask him to pick up his clothes or put his dishes away). And his school. That’s it – that’s where life is when you’re five. And his world is about to be completely and totally changed….on behalf of the needs of a sibling.

So part of me hurts on behalf of Mr. Ornery, knowing that he is happy where he is and I have to make the decision to move him. In the larger scheme of life, I know there are many times a parent has to make decisions that dramatically alter their children’s lives – moves to new cities/houses/schools, arrival of new siblings (Super Tall Guy is still not too thrilled that boy #3 arrived and stayed), addition of a pet or loss of a pet. The list goes on. There are also more dramatic times of when the needs and happiness of siblings are affected by other sibling needs, especially if one sibling has chronic health problems. We had a small window of that when Super Tall Guy had to return to the hospital after his tonsillectomy and I thought about how unsettling it was for the younger boys to watch us rush out of the house late at night and not be home the next day. I am so thankful that our kids are generally healthy, yet having multiple kids does lead to multiple unpredictable situations.

The good thing is that the boys are young and they’re resilient. And they’re resilient because they are loved and they know they are loved and they still have a great support group around them. They have family, they have friends, they have neighbors, and a new church family. They are also resilient because they have had prior experiences of shifts in schedules and environments and have made it through them. They will likely handle this transition to a new school better than I am going through it.

Super Tall Guy’s teacher told me that she talked to him on his last day of school and explained that finding the right school was like trying on shoes. Sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before you find the right one. Well, we’ve tried four of them already – Montessori, daycare center kindergarten, cyber school kindergarten, and private

Frustrated second grader

Frustrated second grader

Christian school. We’re moving into the public school system – the one school that will not say, “I’m sorry, your child doesn’t fit here,” but that says, “All children fit here.” That’s where the boys need to be – where they will “fit” and thrive and grow.

It will be a big change for both boys, but hopefully it will be their last big change — at least for a few months 🙂 and I have high hopes for them that this New Year will bring some great new joys and friendships and happiness.