A family's story

A few years ago one of the parents at our school started a Kindergarten Parent Meeting on the second day of school. It is a place where the PTO board introduces itself, discusses volunteer opportunities, and talks about the various events that the PTO sponsors for students. Kindergarten parents meet, share their fears, worries, hopes, and ask a bunch of questions.

I decided to attend today, in hopes of meeting some new parents. Ironically, most of the parents in the room were parents of 2nd or 3rd or even 5th children, so I did know them already. Of the few fresh faces, all had students in the other morning class, but it was still nice to introduce myself and get a feel for the “newbies”. 

At the end of the event, the chairperson for the PTO Hospitality committee gave a speech about why PTO is more than just fundraising and volunteering. Her speech was moving, and very true. She highlighted some personal events and how it was amazing to see all of these people from her children’s school band together to help in a time of need. She said that a catastrophe, in one sense, became inspirational and positive, in another. She honed in on one thing–the community that she has built through her ties with the PTO.

The speech made me think of why *I* joined the PTO, or more accurately, why I have decided to volunteer my time with the PTO. I can come up with several points as to why I did become active…but it all comes down to that same thing: finding a community.

When Jake started kindergarten, I had 3 children 5 (almost 6) and under. My five year old gave me limited information about school, because he couldn’t communicate effectively. My three year old was in special-ed preschool (aka Early Childhood). I had a 2 month-old infant. I was isolated and spent most of my hours at home with my 3 boys. However, one of the things I did do from the very beginning was to volunteer to be the head room parent. 

The PTO runs the head room parent committee. I met with other moms who had kiddos in Jake’s class. Many of us were first timers at the school. We had similar questions. We were intimidated by the same teachers and events. We bumbled along together and laughed about how we were the blind leading the blind. It was through that very first experience that I realized that I could have a group of moms who I could relate to, and that I could spend time with talking about kid stuff and everything else in between. In talking with some of them, I had my first suspicions that Jake was less mature than his peers, and a little more socially awkward…and that was a good thing. It pushed me to look into the “why” behind it.

While I sometimes grumble about the time I spend at the school, I think it’s great to get out there and be visible. I get to have more interaction with the school staff, with the kids, and my own kids can see me there. They all know I’m vested in the school and activities. I get to work with the general ed kids, and I get to see what some of them are excited about and how they interact. It helps give me some perspective on what my boys may want to do, or what they may not. 

I am able to talk to parents and we find that more often than not, we all have similar hopes and worries. We all want our children to have an even-keeled day. We want our kids to be happy and to feel safe. We all hate it when our children struggle with some sort of anxiety, or if they have to deal with a not-so-nice peer. 

The best part seems to be that other parents watch out for my boys. Having kiddos who may be easy targets for bullies, or who may struggle to keep up with the whole puts one on edge and fills one with worry, at times. However, I love it when another parent can tell me that Tate did great and got all of his laps in during the walk-a-thon, or that Jake was laughing and giggling with a few of his other classmates at the book fair. More “little-moments-that-aren’t-so-little” are always appreciated!

Really, joining a PTO is important for everyone, but for me, it has been a life line. A life line to the students, to the staff, to the other parents. It has given me social connections, allowed me to find some great support for my children, and has given me hope that even if I’m not there, my boys have some other parents watching their backs. 

 

A Fresh Start

Today we started the 2014-15 school year. We packed the bags and laid out the clothes last night. Lunches were packed, and shoes set by the front door. We were ready for this new adventure. I think. I hope.

 

This year marks a milestone at the House of Hope. All three children are in elementary school. All three are in full-day school. And I will have time to myself. I think this will be good for all of us. I hope it will be.

Five years ago this day seemed as if it would never come. I remember the parents of older students, I nervously watched them navigate the throngs of kids and fellow parents with relative ease and aplomb. They were seemingly confident and went with the flow. I couldn’t imagine ever being one of them. And here I am…I methodically dropped off each of the boys this morning. I left Hubz in charge of Cole in his kindergarten line. I walked Jake over to the fifth grade section, and wished him well, gave him a hug and a kiss, and walked away knowing he was comfortable chatting with one of the boys from Cub Scouts. I walked Tate over to the side of the building where he will typically disembark from the bus. Unlike last year where he ran away and refused to join his class, he ran right up and started interacting with his classmates. I think this is a good start. I hope it is a good start.

Part of me thinks of this as an end of an era. I have no kids home with me during the day. No more naps. No more diapers. No more entertaining a child and coming up with ways to keep a child entertained for 10 minutes so I can just sit and gather my thoughts. I don’t have to potty-train anyone else, or finagle a nap into the schedule. I don’t have to rush off to preschool pick up or manage doctor appointments with a toddler. It’s going to be weird. And quiet. Oh, the quiet. I think it will be a good change. I hope it will be a good change.

The other part of me is looking at this as a fresh start. I can run errands more at my leisure. I can volunteer at the school during the day. I can have coffee and lunch with my fellow moms. I can write. I can attend an exercise class (ha ha). I can gather a little more of myself that I think was a little lost, a little forgotten, and treat her like she should be treated. I think I’ll like having some time to myself. I hope I will like having time to myself.

So, today marks an end of an era, a fresh start. Jake is a fifth grader. He’s one of the oldest kids at the school, and he loves that he has so many friends in his class. He is looking forward to his last year of elementary school. Tate is a third grader. He is excited about being reunited with his favorite aide, his friends, and his routine. Cole is thrilled to finally be a student at his brothers’ school. He’s tagged along to so many activities there, that he’s felt like he should be there for some time now. And now he can call it HIS school, too. I think we’re going to have a fantastic year. I hope we will, too!!

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Tate, Jake and Cole ready for a new school year!

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Our rag-tag bunch

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Oh, look! We can see all of their great smiles!

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Ready to get this party started!!! (I do wish Cole wasn’t carrying a Nerf gun around. Makes us look a little, um, unsavory.)

Stream of Consciousness

My brain is going a mile a minute these days. I was up at 4:30 this morning, and honestly, I’m still not tired because the adrenaline/anxiety is propelling me through my day. I cannot believe that my boys have T-minus 5 days until the first day of the 2014-15 (that looks so weird…doesn’t that look weird?!) school year.

I think I have a slight sense of how my boys’ brains work at this moment. I get through one task, only to be reminded of three others that need to get done as I’m working. I have a list about a yard long (that is NOT hyperbole), and I am trying to check everything off of it before 8:35 a.m. on Monday. Also, I start a task, get sidetracked, and forget where I was with the prior task. It.Is.Maddening!!!!

Tomorrow we go to the Meet the Teacher/Principal Day. Typically our teachers aren’t around, but this year is different. Due to the nature of the world we live in, our school was remodeled over the summer so that every outside visitor is funneled through the office. It is much safer. However, the school has been closed and off limits since June. Teachers were JUST allowed into their classrooms on Monday afternoon, a week prior to school starting. Crazy, right?!

So, my guess is that we’ll run into a few teachers while we are there. The kindergarten team will be in their rooms. Cole will bring his supplies into his classrooms and meet his teachers. That’s right. TeacherSSSS. He has one teacher for his “typical” morning class and a different one for the afternoon. Trying to get him to remember the names of each is proving to be a lesson in patience for me. Oy!

It is imperative for my boys to see the changes at the school. Their therapists are in different rooms. Jake’s orchestra classroom was moved. The music room was moved. The office and nurse’s office are in different places. It’s going to be chaos. Absolute chaos. Oh, and it will be a zillion degrees with no air conditioning. Ugh.

Which brings me to my next random thought. We have had a very mild summer. I am totally cool with that (ha, see what I did there…mild summer- cool, ahhh, I kill me). Of course, Mother Nature decides to turn on the oven to FULL FREAKIN’ BLAST the few days before school starts. It’s going to be hot, humid, and disgusting in our boys’ school. What the heck, Mother Nature?! What.The.Heck?!?!

I am also in the middle of labeling all of the school supplies. Good gravy, my children have a lot of supplies!!! I have 6 boxes of crayons, 4 boxes of markers, 3 boxes of colored pencils, 3 boxes of Ziploc bags, 5 boxes of Kleenex, 3 pairs of scissors (2 lefty, 1 pointed righty), 13 black pens, 6 red pens, 12 dry erase markers, 2 dry erase board erasers, 2 school supply boxes, one pencil pouch, 4 pink erasers, 3- 24 packs of pre-sharpened pencils (I bought Up & Up…Ticonderoga is riDONKulously expensive), 6 highlighers, one binder, 17 plastic folders (5 with prongs, 12 without), 8 wide-ruled one subject notebooks (in red, blue, yellow and green), a pack of paper plates, 20 glue sticks, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Oh, and I’m off to order 2 pairs of sneakers online because our Kohl’s didn’t have the boys’s sizes…and to order a few Primary Pencils. Because, according to the 16-year old at Target, “uhhhh, like, uhhh, noooooo one uses THOSE anymore.” Please, do tell that to the kindergarten team at our school. They are requiring them for Cole’s class. Gaah! Amazon, here I come!!!!

Oh, and on top of all of these tasks, I did my boys’ yearly letters to their team, wrote emails to the team, established Tate’s school/therapy schedule, and fought with transportation to get Cole on the bus, which he should be riding, because they left his bus schedule blank.

If you need me, I’ll be in the den labeling folders and such. If I don’t emerge in a week, send help!!

10 More Days

We have 10 days until the boys are back in school. Ten. More. Days. I’m barely holding on. I will not lie. I am honestly practicing my cartwheel for that first day of school. (Aaaad, I’ve just become my mother…)

Part of me wishes that I could be like the moms I see on Facebook who are lamenting the fact that school starts soon. They’re going to miss all of the fun and exciting adventures, the laid back mornings, the spontaneous fun. They love having their kids together under the same roof and going on vacation and road trips and amusement parks. The thing is, here, we just don’t have much of that.

We may have a few fun and exciting adventures, but those are not very spontaneous. We talk about them. We ready selves for them, and we make sure that we always have a Plan B.

Laid back mornings aren’t really a “thing” here, either. Now, the boys can lounge in their pj’s until 8:30, which is nice, but by 9 am, most mornings, Tate has his first session of ABA. The other two need to be dressed because we have therapists in the house. They need to eat and get their vitamins and their medications. They may get an extra tv show or two, but the morning isn’t necessarily laid back.

For my routine-craving boys, the predictability and familiarity of the school year schedule calls. They can’t wait to know that every Monday brings art and music. That every Tuesday brings P.E. and OT. And so on and so forth.

Vacation didn’t happen this year. It just…didn’t. I mean, we took a long weekend over the 4th of July to Hubz’s parents’ place that is not going to be their place much longer. But we didn’t go anywhere for an extended period of time. We didn’t visit a different state, or go to a water park, or swim in the ocean, or see the world’s largest ball of twine. With summer school and therapy and the risk of upsetting the precarious balance that life has for us right now, a vacation just didn’t make it into the picture. Hopefully next year.

Bickering is at an all-time high. No one can seem to get along any more. They are finding fault with everything. “He’s watching Scooby Doo with me.” “He took all of the green Legos.” “He is playing with the piece of chalk that I need for my picture.” “He walked into the family room.” It is enough to make me want to put on the noise-cancelling headphones and lock myself in the bathroom. Not that I’ve planned my escape or anything.

In any regard, we are trying to enjoy our last 10 days together before we embark on the new journey that 5th and 3rd grades and kindergarten will bring. However, I think all of us will be breathing a little easier once they are all inside the doors of their elementary school come 8:35 a.m. on August 25th!!!!

Itching with Anticipation

Tomorrow is our annual district residency event. I really do mean “event”. Every single year the families that have children in our unit district (grades k-12) have to prove that they live within the confines of our district boundaries. We need three, yes, THREE forms of proof that we live here. I think that we should get a bye once in a while. You know, like, if you’ve lived in the same house for 3 years, then the 4th year is a free pass-no-waiting-in-line, type of thing.

Anywho, tomorrow I will go wait in line with the other families in our district to show my three forms of proof. In exchange for proving that we live where we say we do, I will get our family packet. The packet includes the calendar, the handbook and student rights, and all that jazz. It also includes the very-much-coveted teacher assignments for the school year.

This is a little less anxiety-driven for me these days. Jake and Tate already know their teachers for this coming school year. Thankfully it is in Jake’s IEP that he needs to meet his teacher at the end of the school year. Tate’s teacher is set at the end of the school year, as well, since he is in the “instructional” or self-contained room.

Tomorrow I will find out Cole’s kindergarten teacher. Eeep! I know who the extended-day teacher is going to be, but I cannot wait to hear who he has for the morning “typical” kindergarten experience. Additionally, I will find out Tate’s general education, or “mainstream” teacher. This year this will have a bit more weight, as he will be pushing into the general education classroom for more minutes!!!! (Super exciting!)

We will also find out bus schedules and that type of thing. I cannot wait to see when the buses will come for Tate and Cole. In our district, if the family lives within a mile of the school, and does not have to cross a major intersection, bus service is not provided. We fit that bill, so Jake does not qualify for bus service. Tate rides the special ed buses, and Cole, as a kindergartener, also qualifies for free busing. Depending on the bus schedules, we may or may not have Cole ride the bus.

I feel a *wee* bit like a kid the night before Christmas. I cannot wait to see who my boys have, and to find out which kiddos are going to be in my boys’ classes! The district no longer publishes class lists, so we will have to play that email/facebook/text game of figuring it out. Fingers crossed that Jake isn’t in the same class as the bully from last year, and that we know a few of the kids in Tate’s mainstream class, and that Cole knows a face or two in his first class at our school!

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.

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