A family's story

Party Like It’s 1994

The rumblings started during the Polar Vortex we had this winter. “Remember when we had those cold days in high school?” “They cancelled school during finals our senior year.” “Hey, are we having a reunion?” “Someone should get on that.” The rumblings turned into discussion. The discussion turned into planning, and lo and behold, my 20 year reunion is this Saturday.

Pardon me for a minute, but how it is possible? Wasn’t 1994 ten years ago? What’s this “20 year” baloney?! I’ve seen the memes on the Interwebz….”When someone says 10 years ago, you still think it’s 1992, 3, 4, etc.” I am incredibly guilty of that. I lost the decade of the ’00’s. Really. Guess that’s what getting married and starting a family does to a person.

To be honest, I was contemplating skipping the event. On one hand, thanks to Facebook, I am able to keep in touch with several people from that era of my life. I watch their families grow, admire their vacations, laugh at their overgrown zucchinis, and express heartfelt sadness when they experience a loss, whether it’s over a kid going into high school or over the death a parent or grandparent.

On the other hand, I get stuck in the inertia of the expectations that were set 20 years ago. I think about the fact that my 18-year-old self (and the 18-year-old selves of my classmates) would have been gobsmacked to find out that I am not some jet-setting business guru. She would be aghast that I wear sneakers with jeans and capris instead of a power suit downtown(and she’d be floored that most people don’t wear “power suits” to work anymore). She would probably fat-shame and wonder why I don’t exercise more and why my arms and mid-section are soft and flabby. In many ways, my 18-year-old self would see my 38-year-old self as weak and unaccomplished and unhappy. And I wondered, would my old classmates see the same thing?

As I fretted over it, I realized that my worries and concerns were superficial. Sure, on the outside I may not look all that impressive, but my 18-year-old self, and the others who I may run into on Saturday night, who knew me back then, but certainly don’t really know me well now, don’t know how I’ve come to the place where I am today.

I may not be a jet-setting business guru. I may not be “successful” in the sense of a high-paying job or title. But I am successful at what I am doing. The juggling of 3 boys, special needs, IEPs, therapies, extra-curriculars, and family fun is a full time job. Everyone gets what they need, is well-fed, well-cared for, and incredibly loved..and they know it. I run the household, pay bills, plan meals, and clean. I support a husband who works tirelessly outside the home so that I can work tirelessly inside of it. (And I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that working inside the home is whole helluva lot more difficult than working outside of it.) There’s no shame in being at home with my children. None. There’d be no shame in working outside of the home, either, but right now, our family needs me more here than a company or corporation would out there.

Heels and power suits have no place in my closet. I have, maybe, 3 pairs of heels. I RARELY wear them. I donated the last of my suits a few months ago. If I ever decide to go on an interview in the future, I will buy a suit that is current and not from 2003. I love my jeans and my capris and my sneakers. I am comfortable, and the “uniform” helps me do my job effectively. I may not look overly flashy on Saturday, but I will look like me, and that’s what it is all about.

I am a little heavier than I was in high school. Part of me wanted to use it as an excuse to avoid the reunion. Then I remembered…I was a little on the chubby side back then, too. The extra pounds I carry today come with the sedentary lifestyle of gathering information about autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, how to work with a school team to have an effective IEP, how to help a child cope with anxiety, and how to make a mean pasta sauce. They come from sitting on the floor with my kids to play Legos or Go Fish or cars. They come with shuffling kids from religious ed to therapy to soccer practice. They come from volunteering in the classroom and with PTO events that put me in the school and in front of the school staff. They come from sitting in hours-long IEP meetings and therapy waiting rooms or on bleachers to watch baseball or lacrosse. And, well, they do come from comforting myself with a cookie when the going gets tough.

The weak and flabby arms and tummy? Well, I should exercise more, and I am working on that, but honestly, these flabby arms and mid-section aren’t as weak or disgusting as they may appear. They have gently cradled babies as I fed them and bathed them. They have held an upset child who needs to know that he matters and is safe. They have provided a safe haven for a child from harm–or from bees. They have comforted a husband who is fed up with work. They have bathed and cared for an ill mother who is not able to do it herself. So yes, they may be flabby, but that is not to say that they aren’t strong.

I may not be running the rat race at a corporation. I may not have a corner office–or cube. I may not be slender and chiseled. I may not be wearing the latest business fashions. But I am happy. And I am content.I have my husband, who loves me more than words and is supportive of all I do. I have my boys, who are (and have) my heart. I have friends who understand and support me for who I am.

So, I am going to that reunion on Saturday. I’m going to stand tall (or well, as tall as I can at 5 foot nothing), hold my head up high, and march into that room to show my 18-year-old self, and anyone else for that matter, that I am proud of who I have become. I am successful. I am strong. And I am happy–especially in my jeans and sneakers!

Now What?

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I should probably start with a little background. Jake is an anxious kid. Looking back, he has always been anxious. He has always thrived with routine, predictability, and familiarity.

Back in 2012 when we were handed his ADHD diagnosis, the doctor noted his anxiety. It is likely a bi-product of his ADHD and speech/language disorder. He is aware that he is different from his peers. He is aware that he does not always understand what others are discussing, nor does he know quite how to respond. He knows that he doesn’t have a ton of friends (and of course, that breaks my heart).

When we went to a psychiatrist to help address Jake’s neurology, we had a choice. We could try focus medications to help with the attention deficit. We could try to address the anxiety through medication. Or we could do both. The psychiatrist and we decided that at age 8, the best choice was to try to address the focus and attention, and that if we could help Jake control that, then maybe we could mediate his anxiety.

For a while, that plan seemed to work. Midway through third grade we had some issues with Jake and his anxiety beast. That ugly, horrid thing was threatening Jake’s calm. It made him fearful, and a walking basket of nerves. He had breakdowns in the middle of the day, occasionally, and would shut down. We worked closely with the doctor, his team at school, and added a social group. It helped, and Jake was better able to cope.

In fourth grade, Jake was coping better with his anxiety and stress. He found a little group of friends who were good for him. He seemed to be settling into a good groove. We stopped doing social group. Then the bully incident occurred. He was a wreck. He was so anxious that he couldn’t function. He didn’t want to go to school. He would shut down and just robotically go through his day. He was thisclose to being put in a self-contained classroom.

We worked through the anxiety and the bully issue. He started to see a psychologist. We didn’t add any medications or change any other treatment. He really seemed to be utilizing his coping strategies successfully. The end of fourth grade was okay. He was happy to be done with the school year, and handled the transition fairly well to summer.

This summer, he has been participating in a social group “camp” one day a week with the psychologist. He is in a group of 10 boys who are very similar to him. He has been LOVING this camp. It is 4 hours every Tuesday night. They do music therapy, they do one hour with a trainer to get exercise, they do art therapy, and group. He looks forward to going every week.

Last night, the group did an anti-bully exercise. It was a great program on how to “bully-proof” themselves. Naturally, in doing this exercise, some of the old demons from the school year started to haunt Jake. The group segued into a discussion about school starting soon. Jake had a panic attack.

The psychologists pulled me aside to talk about what they saw, and what precipitated the attack. Turns out, episodes that I was convinced were probable asthma, have in fact, been panic attacks. I’ve been giving him allergy meds and made a doctor appointment. Sign me up for “Mom of the Year”. How did I not think that it was a panic attack?!

Anyway, the psychologists were glad that they were able to see how his panic looks, and they were able to walk him through a meditation routine and helped him find his calm. His psychologist recommended squeezing in an individual appointment before schools starts, so we can work on some coping strategies with her. He’ll also do the last 3 sessions of camp, and they’ll monitor him there, as well. The team also recommended talking to our psychiatrist about medication.

Now I feel dreadful. My kiddo is struggling, and I thought it was a different issue. I am so tired of it always being something else. I wish that I could ignore the problem and that it would go away. I wish that I could put him in sports and have it miraculously be this fabulous outlet for him that chases away the anxiety. I wish we could go gluten-free and have it “fix” everything. But no. It appears that we may have to try the medication route. *sigh*

I would take this from him if I could. I deal with mild anxiety, and it is a bear. It is awful to have that spinning out of control feeling, and to feel like you are always behind the eight ball. But, I can’t take it from him, and I can only help him work through it.

So, we will start yet another chapter in this saga called parenting. I hope I have the strength for this next challenge.

Summer Time

ESY (Extended School Year) is over as of 11:45 today. I have mixed emotions about it. On one hand, I’m glad that my older two boys will have some non-school time. Everyone needs a break. On the other hand, the relaxed routine and “it’s-summer-so-there-aren’t-many-super-structured-activities” do not always sit well with kiddos who want predictable days.

Tate gets a break from school, but with his ABA, OT, and speech, he has a fairly regimented schedule. He gets down time, but he also will have a schedule. Jake, on the other hand, only has tutoring and his once-a-week camp. The other hours are unfilled and unstructured..and sometimes, I think he struggles with lack of structure more than Tate does.

Yesterday the boys and I made a list of our “must-do’s” for the 5 1/2 weeks before school is back in session. The list includes a visit to the local aquatic center, bowling, a movie night, camping in the backyard, and the zoo, again. I know we can get those in, because many are local and easily fit in around our scheduled programming.

Jake struggles, too, because with the language disorder component of his “shtuff”, he has trouble with the sense of time. When I say “weeks”, his brain processes “days”. When I say “months”, he thinks “weeks”. It’s such a struggle. His tutor is going to focus on that a bit more over the next few sessions, and will give him some visuals. When I pull out a calendar and give him a visual, he does pretty well, but he definitely needs some practice. It’s good for the other boys, too. (Ironically, this is a topic covered in one of Tate’s ABA programs this summer…so maybe they can help each other!!)

With all 3 boys home full time for 5 weeks, I know that we’ll have our share of arguments, yelling, and shouting. My hope is to get them outside, riding their bikes, running and chasing and playing. We do some school prep activities, as well, but I want them to get bored and just lay around reading or drawing..or in reality, whining about being bored…but that’s okay. That’s being a kid. And when they do, I’ll load them into the car and we’ll go get ice cream or a freezy-drink (slurpee) because, well, that’s what moms do in the summer.

Cheers to summer!!!

Just in case you were worried, we did survive the party extravaganza that was Cole’s 5th birthday! The whole thing went very well, considering that it was 90+ degrees and quite humid. The kids were troopers, and we were able to keep the cast of thousands (or, well, 30) outside! I will try to write an entire post encapsulating the birthday later…

I am sure that if you were a frequent visitor to my blog, you have noticed that my posts have been few and far between. Lately I haven’t been as inspired to write. I’m not sure if it is the busy-ness of raising three kids, the roller coaster that is life, or just trying to balance what I write about the boys.

I have read many blogs where the parent blogger has curtailed his or her posts because the kids are becoming REAL PEOPLE. Not that they weren’t real people in the past, but the kids are getting older, have opinions and desires, and do not necessarily want their lives shared on the Interwebz for any random person to read. To be honest, my boys don’t really understand what a blog is. Jake knows that I write stuff, but he calls it email. Tate has no clue, and Cole probably is here editing what I write about him. ;)

I am going to keep writing, as it is cathartic for me, and really, it allows me to get my thoughts out and share our world with others. If I can help one other person out there feel like they are not alone, then I’ve accomplished my purpose here.

A brief update on our lives is in order, too. Hubz is still commuting into the city. It’s odd not having him around every morning. I didn’t realize how much we connected during our morning chats over the paper and coffee. I really miss those random conversations..and I miss him. For now, though, this is what we have to do to keep our family running.

Jake is hanging in there. I am keeping him busy this summer. He has been attending Extended School Year. The class he is in focuses on math, reading, and writing. He needs to keep up with all of those skills to enter 5th grade on a confident note. He is also being tutored twice a week. Right now his tutor is “pre-teaching” the U.S. Colonies. In our district, 5th graders study the colonies in the beginning of the year. He is really enjoying it, and I know that this will build his confidence once school starts. Finally, he is attending a boys’ camp once a week for 4 hours. This camp is run by his psychologist and her partner. They do 45 minutes of exercise, an art therapy, a music therapy, and a group therapy. They end their evening with some relaxation and meditation. I can tell he is enjoying it. On the downside, the anxiety beast is rearing its ugly head around here…again. I wish he didn’t struggle with it so much.

Tate is doing pretty well. He’s also in Extended School Year. There is one more week of that left. He is also doing several sessions of ABA. We have worked closely with our BCBA to come up with some good programs for him this summer. He is learning to ride a bike. He is practicing sports skills like soccer and baseball and basketball. He is working on curtailing his electronics addiction while at the dinner table. And he’s working on conversation skills. He is busy and happy, and gets to play with the hose each day.

We did decide to try a new medication. He is on his 3rd week of Intuniv. This medication is supposed to help with his impulse control. It works in conjunction with his focus medication. I have noticed that he is slowing down a bit and thinking the process of reading and math through more thoroughly. However, he’s been very mumble-y lately, and I worry that it could be a side-effect.

Cole, oh, Cole….he is officially 5 now. He’s doing a kindergarten kick-off that our district runs for incoming kindergarteners. He enjoys it–especially socially. I already have been informed that he has a girlfriend. EEEK! This child does not skip a beat! He is also gripping his pencil better than he had been, and is writing his name much more clearly than he was just 6 weeks ago. He is full of spice and vinegar. He and I have butted heads more than a few times.

He is also going to start OT soon. His PT and I were talking, and I mentioned a few concerns that I had about sensory issues and about his writing. An OT in the therapy center did an evaluation, and sure enough, Cole qualifies for one hour of OT a week. Awesome. Just once I’d like to have an eval done where they say, “Nope, he’s all good.” Dang. I’m a little sad, but mostly hopeful that he will get some help with his weak areas, and that we won’t be in OT for a long period of time. I’m also freaking out about how to squeeze this in during the school year with 3 kids in school full time.

I’m doing okay. I’m tired. A lot. The kids’ sleep patterns have been random and spotty this summer. I’m anxious. I wonder how I’m going to fit in all of their various therapies and extracurricular activities once school starts. I’m trying to enjoy the boys for who they are and what they enjoy…and I am REALLY, REALLY trying to let go of my insecurities…my fears…my self-consciousness.

As always, we are a work in progress…and we’ll get there. Just like this blog.

Go Big or Go….crazy?!

Cole’s 5th birthday is on Saturday. Since December 26th, he has been talking about when he turns five on June twenty-eighth. He wanted to have a party. A Lego-Dude party. A Lego-Dude party with all of his people. 

As I planned the invites, I wondered if I needed to prune the invite list. He wanted his class to come. There were 11 other children in his class. He wanted the neighbor children he plays with to be there, too. Of course, he wanted his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Considering that this is the last year we would be able to do a family/friend party, we figured why the heck not. Throwing caution to the wind, I invited them all…figuring that with it being the end of June, less than a week before the 4th of July, we’d have low turn out. I wanted Cole to have a great 5th birthday. We celebrated in style for both of his brothers’ 5th birthdays, so I didn’t want him to have anything less.

Less couldn’t be a more incorrect word. This party has exploded into ridiculousness. It is going to be epic. I just pray that it will be epic in terms of “proportions” and not in terms of “fail”. We have only received two definitive “no” replies. Two. Oh, my dear God, I am going to have 40+ people at my house on Saturday. I should be cleaning, shopping, prepping, etc. Instead?? I think I’m going to spend today in the corner in the fetal position.

As I sit in my fetal position, I am planning on doing every anti-rain dance I can think of, paying homage to mother nature and all of her glory, sending prayers to God up above, and whatever else comes to mind to keep the weather decent enough to have this party outside. As of today, the extended forecast calls for upper 80’s, high humidity, and the possibility of thunderstorms. Seriously, hold me.

The upside is that this is not my first rodeo. I have planned parties. I have run room parties. I have hatched a plan…. I’ll have enough parents and older kids around to help me do a “station” party. We will have a Lego-tower-building station, a design your goody bag station, and a water balloon toss station. Tate’s buddy from special needs soccer has his black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do, and has offered to come show the kids how to break boards. He is great with kids…and the price is right–free. (Well, I’ll tip him very well, that’s for sure…)We’ll wrangle the cats, erm, kids, let them channel their inner-Ninjago’s, and have some fun. Finally, we’ll have an old-school whack-it-with-a-big-stick pinata filled with peanut/tree-nut free candy. This can work, right? Right?! Lie to me, if you must….

We’ll end the day with cake, ice cream and juice and each kid will get some pinata candy and a lego-mini-fig head pop to take home. (I’m sure I’ll end up on the Pinterest Fail blog with the marshmallow mini-fig head pops I’m going to try to whip up.)

I’ll post this week with updates. In the meantime, send good ju-ju, prayers, thoughts, our way. And if you’re in our neck of the woods, stop on by…at this point, the more the merrier!!! 

P.S. We also have a quite spot picked out for Tate where he can retreat to get away from the chaos and noise. My brother-in-law, Uncle J, is amazing with Tate, and I know he will be more than happy to help me out when it all becomes too much. Oh, and I have a quiet room planned for any other kiddos who just can’t do the party any more. You may find me there by the time it is all said and done…

On Monday when I got home from running a few errands while the boys were at summer school, the answering machine (yes, we still have one of those) indicated that we had a message. I pressed play. 

“Hi, this is Mrs. Elementary School Principal, and I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about Cole’s Kindergarten screening. Please give me a call back at [principal's office number] to discuss at your earliest convenience. Thank you!

I knew what it meant. In our district, if your child struggles with a certain percentage of the kindergarten screening questions, they qualify for extended day kindergarten. I had my suspicions about Cole. He is on target with math…but the alphabet and words, well, he really just doesn’t care. I have dug deep into my mommy bucket and tried numerous suggestions, but he just doesn’t care. He plays along for a bit, and then he tires of it and wrestles out of any learning activity. My heart sank, and a little pit formed in my stomach.

I called the principal and she was very pleasant. She said that his screening indicated that he was an “at risk” child in terms of reading and literacy. He also, apparently, had trouble following directions. Now, I know Cole…and he may have had a little trouble…but more likely, he just didn’t want to do the requested task, so, well, he didn’t. He is lagging with letter recognition, phonetic awareness, and ability to write letters. I know all of this, it was indicated on his preschool year end report. It doesn’t make it any easier.

I know that Cole is capable and intelligent. Cole’s interests currently lie in other areas. Letters, words, and reading on his own don’t carry much interest for him. He’d rather do a puzzle or put blocks together or create patterns. He would rather rough and tumble play with his brothers or play make-believe with his friends than sit and learn about the alphabet and which letter makes which sound.

Cole is the most intuitive person I have ever met. Seriously. The way he makes connections between concepts is almost frightening to me. He sees patterns that even I have trouble discerning. He is a puzzle master, a Lego genius. He can assemble sets that his brothers still struggle to build. He has a decent vocabulary, loves being read to, and can add and knows his numbers up to 30. 

Cole is also incredibly social. He can read social situations very well, he knows how to label emotions and feelings, and often expresses himself without trouble. He can be kind and caring, and he is assertive when he needs to be. 

This program will give him a boost to get him where he needs to be, even if it isn’t a straight, “typical” path. I am feeling torn, though. It’s a little demoralizing as a parent to hear for a third time that you kid isn’t quite up to snuff with his like-age peers. I know I should only worry about Cole and getting him what he needs, but I can’t help but let those familiar parenting insecurities creep in, and my inner-adolescent wonders what other parents must think of me. 

But, I know Cole will be okay. He’s very young for his class. He has a late June birthday (should have even been August). He has some growing to do, yet. I’ll just spend this summer working on his alphabet and increasing his phonics abilities..and hopefully get him to recognize some sight words. He will benefit from the increased exposure to literacy preparation and writing. And next school year, he will make progress and gains when he is immersed in this extended day program.

My other dilemma, of course, is wondering what I should do to fill all of that free time, come August! With Tate’s therapy, I know that I won’t be able to work full time, or really even part-time, yet, but hmm….I may need to check out some freelance opportunities…or get our house organized for once….or put some of those Pinterest ideas to work. Suggestions are welcome!




They Belong

Last night I was feverishly putting the finishing touches on some teacher gifts for the boys’ “village”. I had 18, yes, EIGHTEEN, fantastic people to write thank you’s to, buy gifts for, and thank for a job well done.

As I was shaking a hand cramp out from using a hole punch to do some gift card magic (I NEED to stay off Pinterest), I saw a notification on my phone that Jean, who blogs at Stimeyland, had written a new post. I decided to take a wee little break from my sweatshop (seriously, I did say “feverishly”) and read her post. My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. It was as if I had ripped a scab off of a fresh wound. You can read the post here. (And if you’re not well acquainted with her blog, I suggest you read some more…she writes some great stuff.)

Her son, and a couple of other kiddos who are in a segregated classroom because their learning styles are a smidge different from the average John Q. Student, were not included on a 5th grade “graduate” bulletin board. It took NINE weeks to get said kiddos on the board. And this was only after one of the other moms had raised her voice and then, in an act of awesomeness, took a picture of the three excluded kids and posted that sucker on the board.

Just this week, we experienced something similar…and you know what, it hurts. The boys’ last day of school is today. Earlier in the week, the boys got their long-awaited yearbooks. I know, I know…yearbooks in elementary school….but they are really well done, and this year we could personalize 2 pages for our children. So, of course, I had to buy TWO yearbooks. Clever, PTO, clever!!!

The first thing Tate did when he got home from school was rip the yearbook from his folder. He shredded the plastic off of that sucker faster than I could say, “hang on!”. Looking at pictures of his friends is highly motivating for him. It always has been. He opened to the front 2 pages that I personalized. He carefully looked at each picture. The impulsivity that we usually see was gone. He was calm. He was smiling–from ear to ear. He was touching each picture of him and his classmates. He was in his happy place.

After perusing his personalized pictures, Tate wanted to see his class picture. Who wouldn’t? Now, I don’t know if all districts are like this, but in ours, the self-contained classrooms do not get their own pictures in the school year book. Privacy and all that jazz. (I, personally, don’t care, but I get it…) Tate went to the general education class that he pushes into. There he found his beaming face from September. He also found the 3 other kiddos who push into that classroom with him. He wanted to know where his other friends were. I told him to turn to the next page.

We turned the page…. And the 4 other children from his classroom were not in there!!!!! Three of them made the candid photos on the other side of the spread, but there are 4 children in second grade who did.not.get.into.the.yearbook. I kept looking. I checked Jake’s yearbook. They weren’t in there either. It was totally an oversight..and NO ONE CAUGHT IT. And insult to injury?! The group photo from a class party (every class has one group photo on the candid page) doesn’t include the 4 kiddos, either. Tate’s class does…but this one didn’t. (I was not on the Yearbook committee…but I have now offered my services as a proofreader and copy editor…I kind of did that before I decided to quit my outside job.)

I am hurt. We’re all about “inclusion”, and yet, it is very clear that sometimes, we don’t belong. Do you know how that feels? Chances are that everyone does…and it really stinks. I know it was human error and oversight..but seriously…FOUR SECOND GRADERS WERE LEFT OUT OF THE  YEARBOOK..and that’s not right. They belong, dammit. They belong, they are a part of that school, and they should be in that yearbook. They spend 10 months, give or take, with these other children. They eat lunch beside them. They play dodgeball in gym with them. Some even participate in science or math with them. And to leave them out of the yearbook is total, utter, garbage.

I also sent a letter to the Yearbook chair to let her know. I copied Tate’s fantastic teacher. Know what? She was never asked to review the yearbook. Not once. And you know what? She would have caught this and made sure it was fixed…because she knows. She knows how fantastic each and every one of these kids are..and the special qualities that they bring to the table, so to speak.

There was an apology issued. The yearbook chair sent an email out to the teachers, and copied me on it. Tate’s teacher asked if she would send an apology to the families affected, and the yearbook chair did that too. The apology helps…and I am now a sitting member on the yearbook committee, so that should help…but for right now? It is fresh and it stings.

Simply: They belong. We need to be respectful of all of our school community. Every.single.one.

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