A family's story

Catching Up

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. The boys started school. Hubz left for another business trip to China. My PTO involvements are starting to ramp up. And we opened Tate’s domain last week because he is eligible for his 3-year evaluation. 

As for school, it was a relatively smooth start, considering all of the changes and upheaval. There was a new main office to walk through and new therapist offices to familiarize themselves with. Tate’s teacher is on maternity leave. He’s pushing into the mainstream classroom for morning announcements and the pledge. Jake is in 5th grade–his last year of elementary school. He has a new resource teacher for part of his classwork. Cole is attending full day kindergarten, and he’s EXHAUSTED at the end of the day…but you know what? We prepped them well. After initial anxiety all three boys are settling into a routine. 

Our district also adopted new math and literacy curricula this year in order to align with the Common Core more directly. That could be an entire post in and of itself. Maybe one day when I have more time. Let’s just say I’m not sold.

Hubz left for China the day after Labor Day. I handled the Curriculum Nights and the first go-rounds with homework without his backup. Let’s just say there was shouting and some tears…and they were all mine. My poor boys. My anxiety is apparent, and I try not to take it out on them, but you know, I can only do so much. We’re getting through it, but man, it’s tough. I really do not know how single parents do this every.single.day. They have my utmost admiration. They really do.

I somehow volunteered to co-chair our school’s walk-a-thon. It’s one of our biggest fund-raisers. So I’d better not muck it up! I took it on thinking that we’d found volunteers for the Red Ribbon Week initiative that I had been co-chairing, but no, it was a new parent who wanted to “shadow” someone. Sooooo, I’m still running that. Of course both are in October, so in addition to everything else, I’m planning these events. I guess I don’t have to worry about what to do with my “free” time these days. 

And, finally, Tate is up for his 3 year evaluation. So much emotion and anxiety go with that. I know he’s on his own trajectory, and I’M okay with that..but it doesn’t mean that the district is. Ya know?? I about threw up when I heard during Cole’s kindergarten curriculum night that they now expect kindergarteners (5 and 6 year olds, that is) to be reading at a level D in Fountas and Pinnell guided reading by the end of the year. Tate, a third grader, is just past that. *sigh* I try not to let that get to me..but dammit, it does. 

I dutifully filled out my BASC-2 rating scales and background history–again–and now, I wait. I know the teachers have to do their part. Luckily they are doing a full-re-evaluation. I know that he will show how much he’s developed and progressed. He’s come such a long way since 2011. And yet, for all of that, I know he’s not at an expected level. And that has its own set of concerns. 

I had my parent interview yesterday with the social worker. She wanted to know my concerns. Ummmm, where to start. Tate is deliciously quirky and marches to the beat of his own drum. He’s reaching that awkward time in school where more and more of his peers note his differences. They see him expressing excitement and anxiety with flapping hands or a little stomp dance. They hear his echolalia and his scripts. To them, they don’t have anything to do with the current topic or situation. To Tate, and to those of us who know Tate, well, we know they have EVERYTHING to do with the way Tate processes the world. Sadly, some kids aren’t always so empathetic (funny, right, we talk about how autistic kids lack empathy or theory of mind, but really, I think it’s an individual thing, not an autistic thing). He’s an easy target for bullying. I have already heard him cry because he knew his peers (his instructional classroom peers!) were laughing at him. 

There’s the concern that we aren’t doing enough. That we’re doing too much. That we aren’t letting him gain independence. That we’re expecting way too much from him. Is he in the right placement? Should he be in a specialized program? Should we let him have exposure to “typical” peers…whatever that may be? That balance…oh, therein lies the rub.

I’m concerned. Oh, I’m concerned….but, I also know that we have to make choices…and then we fine-tune. If something isn’t working, we just adjust. We accommodate. We modify. We work.

So, that’s our life, in a nutshell, right now. We work. We worry. We prep. We adjust. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

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!

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