A family's story

Winter Doldrums

Ugh. January is such an ugly, gray bucket of suck. I feel like I’m allowed to say that because my birthday is in January, so I can badmouth this month because I kind of own it. I know, it’s not mine to own, but I pretend sometimes.

Last year, January was an unbelievably difficult time for our family. We had 4 emergency “cold” days that the school district called. We couldn’t get into a groove. Jake was struggling greatly due to a bully. We had the IEP meeting from hell, where they dropped a placement change bomb on us. Back then, it felt like we couldn’t get out of there.

Today, I am experiencing some winter doldrums. It’s been fairly cold here again. Last week the boys missed two days of school due to “extreme cold”. It wasn’t as bad as last year’s cold, but it was bad. We’re trying to get back into our groove after the let down of the holidays and so forth.

I have another birthday coming up. 2 weeks from today, actually. I always get a bit reflective and pensive around this time. What did I do with my life in the past year? What can I do better? How do I find my happy place? How do I stop losing my cool with the antics of three boys? How the hell am I already pushing 40?! When did that happen? I swear, there is a decade or so of my life that is floating around in the ether.

Instead of wallowing, I forced myself to drudge through the fog and the doldrums. As I exercised and ran a few errands, I began to sing and hum. It helped make me a bit more cheery. I came to a realization. I am in a better place than I was a year ago. We are in a better place than we were a year ago. I may have lost and gained the same 7 pounds all year (and now I need to lose them again), but I am healthier. I exercise more. I am making more real food. We have purged a bit of the stuff we have amassed in our 14+ years of marriage. We are supporting the boys and getting them through some of the rough patches. THEY are doing an exemplary job of using their tools and making them work for themselves in difficult situations. We aren’t letting the bastards keep us down!!!

And to top it off, in 10 days we are going to be in the “Happiest Place on Earth”. That is enough to pull anyone out of the winter doldrums. So, as I sit here and look outside at the gray skies and the snow-covered ground, and shiver as I sip on my green tea (a New Year’s Resolution….drink more healthy stuff!), and pull my sweater more tightly around my not-so-svelte middle, I know that in 10 short days I’ll be in the land of sun, fun, and all things Mickey!

Be gone, doldrums….

Happy New Year 2015

2015. Wow. How is it 2015?! Wasn’t it just 2009???

We rang in the New Year at 11:00 last night….hey, at least it was midnight on the East Coast!!!  Hubz and I enjoyed spending the night with the boys, eating appetizers and watching How To Train Your Dragon 2. The quiet and comfort of our own home was much needed as we start to wind down this winter break.

Speaking of break, we have managed to make it through most of winter break here in the House of Hope without too much melting down. The bickering and annoyances have been minimal, too…although, today they were high. I just kept telling myself, “Only 3 more days”!!!

I spent the time I used to fold laundry today contemplating this year’s resolutions. I’m a resolution or goal kinda gal. I may not keep them all, but I do try to change a few bad habits or begin some better ones. I always have the perennial quest to lose weight and get healthy. This year is no different. I have a list of resolutions…goals, if you will. My most important resolution this year is to find my happy. It’s not that I’m UN-happy, but I think I tend to get wrapped up in minutea and get stuck in my loops of people pleasing. That’s fine, but I need to make sure that I am happy and satisfied…if I can ensure that, then I think some of the angst I have been feeling will slip away.

A few of my other resolutions include:

-regular exercise

-better food choices/more balanced diet (I love vegetables and fruit…I need to remember to make those a part of every meal!)

-becoming more comfortable and familiar with the new Macbook Pro I got for Christmas

-taking more pictures of my family that include me and Hubz

-putting away the electronic distractions and having unplugged meals and family time

-writing more

-reading more

-trying to understand life from my boys’ perspectives rather than just relying on my own, when trying to give them tools for navigating the world

So, that’s my start for 2015. Hope you all had a marvelous holiday season and are ready for this new year, the new experiences, the new opportunities.

Yesterday Tate found a Youtube video of flushing toilets. It’s one of his favorite pasttimes…watching toilets flush. Thankfully, with the wonder that is Youtube, he can watch toilets flush for hours without raising our water bill by hundreds!

Occasionally when he pulls up a video, I censor it due to language. He is often respectful of our decisions and follows our rules. Sometimes, he happens upon a video that I don’t want him to watch because I don’t want him to get any ideas. Like, oh, flushing random stuff down our toilet to see if it is a successful flush or not. Those Youtube yoohoos aren’t going to have to pay our plumbing bills and replace flooring and ceilings if something goes horribly wrong. So, while it’s a nice distraction for Tate, it does require some vigilance on our part.

Yesterday on the way home from school, he found a new toilet video. In the video, some teenagers (I know because I can tell from their voices and word choice.) were trying to flush a snake down the toilet. A.LIVE.SNAKE. I told Tate that he shouldn’t watch it. Too late. The image of a snake going partially down the drain, only to slither its way up out of the drain and out of the toilet onto the floor stuck with him. And me.

During his 2 hour ABA session yesterday, Tate went up to the bathroom no less than 6 times. He wasn’t even drinking water or anything. He just had that compulsion to make sure that no snakes were slithering out of our toilet. As the night went on, he would periodically announce that he had to use the bathroom…and really was just checking on the toilet for snakes. I did a mini-social story for him about how snakes are not in our toilet. We don’t have snakes. We will never have snakes. And we will never EVER flush snakes in a toilet.

He seemed to calm down, and was able to enjoy about an hour before bedtime with us without any compulsion to check the toilets. He even fell asleep relatively easily.

At 11:04 last night I heard him shuffling around the bathroom. Then I heard a flush. Mom-dar went on, and I flew out of bed. I asked Tate what he was doing. He grabbed a tissue and said he was blowing his nose. I told him I heard the toilet flush. He looked at me with big, round eyes. “Mommy, no snakes.” I assured him that there were no snakes. With that, he climbed into bed with us.

It took him a bit to settle down. About 10 minutes into his settling routine, he sat bolt-upright in bed. “Mommy!” “Yes, Tate?” “I’m scared of the snakes!” “Tate, there are no snakes. You are in bed with Mommy and Daddy, and you are super safe. We don’t have any snakes. I don’t like them either. We will never have snakes in our house, if I can help it. Please go to sleep.” He meekly uttered, “Okay.”

He started to go through his routine again. As he was patting my head gently, he dozed off to sleep. I wasn’t far behind him, but just enough that I marveled at our progress. He could tell me what was wrong. I was able to keep my calm enough to help him calm down to sleep and give him the assurance that he needed.

So, even though we have the hard places, I can find the hope…and the light. We both slept well until 6 this morning. I will chalk that up as a win for us.

I know I also haven’t written as much lately because, well, my boys are getting older, and I just don’t know how much I should share. I hear this sentiment echoed often through the blogosphere…I do hope that my boys know how much I love them and how much my writing is a catharsis for me.

I decided to write today because I am struggling to process through the events of this morning, and I just need to work out MY feelings.

Our school always does a breakfast for veterans. It is well done, and teaches the students about sacrifices that our veterans have made for our country. The third graders are responsible for putting together the event. Well, the teachers and a few of the third grade parents plan it. The kids make crafts and invite veterans and sit with the veterans during breakfast. The rest of us moms and dads volunteer and serve the veterans and kids, and help them in their endeavors.

We had prepped Tate for today. I did a little social story. His teacher sent home the songs that would be sung. I showed him pictures from the Veterans’ Breakfast that Jake’s class put on a couple years ago. He knew that I would be there helping out, and that my dad, Grandpa, would be there, too.

Tate started out just fine. He sat with his Grandpa and with some other students from the class that he pushes into. Then he started to look for me. I was out directing guests to the right location. One of the aides came to get me so that Tate could say hi to me. We walked in, and Tate ran up and gave me the biggest hug and hugest smile. We talked about how I was going to help, and how he had to go sit with Grandpa. He went back and sat with my dad.

At first, everything was just fine. The veterans mingled with the children. We parents walked around, offering refills of juice, coffee, water, and fruit and pastries. Tate happily sat by my dad and talked to him. He started to stim with a spoon. He came up to find me. I assured him that all was well, even though I could hear the voices getting louder, and the commotion started to increase.

Tate sat beautifully through a VFW representative’s speech. He kept stimming, but he was seated. Then, people started to move around. Parent volunteers started to roam the aisles to get pictures of their kids with their invited veterans, or pictures of them with their child. Tate is in a no picture phase, so I knew that when I asked he would politely turn me down. “No thanks, Mommy.” I snuck in a few but they weren’t the greatest quality.

The noise in the gym started to increase. The screech of the chairs. The talking over one another. Peals of laughter. Shrieks of delight. Little by little the noise increased as the time dragged on. It started getting warmer in the gym, too. Some adults took off their sweaters or their vests. Some removed jackets. The third graders were starting to roam around and find their friends.

During this time Tate got up and posed for a picture with some of his classmates. He really struggled to do it, because, like I said, he is in a no picture phase. But his beloved girl classmates were asking him to join them, so he did. Then they were starting to get silly and do girly things. It was clear that Tate was no longer a part of their interaction. I asked Tate to sit down. He did, begrudgingly. He wanted to be with his girls.

One of the girls told him he couldn’t sit by them, because he isn’t in that classroom. He got flustered. He really struggles when it comes to handling his emotions of disappointment or embarrassment. He was so disappointed. He threw a spoon in her general direction. When I asked him to calm down, he said, “sorry, mommy”. I tried to explain that the girls were with their class, and wanted to be together..and that he could come talk to the boys. He didn’t want any of that.

Then, well, one of his beloved girls came back to him and asked why he was yelling at his mom. He lost it. He pawed at her. I pulled him aside and asked him to calm down. He laid on the floor. One of his aides came by and we got him into the hall, the hallway where it should have been quiet, but unfortunately, the 2nd grade was getting their coats to go outside for gym class. He wasn’t getting his quiet escape, so he asked to go back in the gym.

As we entered the gym, the girls came by him again. This time, he hit at his beloved girl a little harder. I was gobsmacked. I reacted, maybe not as I should have, but I told him he needed to calm down and keep his hands to himself. I directed him to his seat. I forced him to sit down. He started to call me stupid. Then he threw another utensil in his beloved girl’s direction. One of the regular ed teachers tried to step in and reprimanded him. That did no good. He started to fake wail. He was losing his shtuff.

His teacher came to the rescue. As he was whining out of frustration, she walked up calmly and asked if he’d like to go do a break in the classroom. He said no. He stood up and called his beloved girl stupid again. Tate’s teacher knew he didn’t mean it…she knew that he was just frustrated…and embarrassed…and overloaded. So she told him that he had a choice. He could do a break in her classroom or go get a drink of water so he could calm down. He chose the classroom, and they were off.

As they exited the gym, the third graders lined up to sing their songs for the veterans. Tate SHOULD have been there. THe singing is his favorite part. He LOVES music. He’d been practicing all month. But it wasn’t meant to be. He was content to be in the quiet classroom where he could bounce on the trampoline for a few and not have all the overwhelming noise and commotion.

As Tate found his calm in the classroom, my heart broke. It’s not fair. Something as “simple” as an hour-long breakfast with other third graders and veterans was just too much. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. Instead, I watched other children sing and sway and pledge their allegiance to the flag. My dad watched other people’s grandkids belt out “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”.

In those moments, I wondered, are the gaps getting too big? Is Tate being properly served by being in a general school setting at various times during the day? The other children his age are maturing at a faster rate. They are able to do so much more independently. They are able to perform songs as complicated as “The Star Spangled Banner” and can last an hour in a large group of people. Tate tried. He gave it his all. But in the end, it was too much. And is this gap fair to him?

And I find myself back in the hard place…wondering if we are doing the right thing. Wondering if we are keeping him in a general school setting because it’s more comfortable for us…is it what’s best for him?

And that internal struggle as a parent begins over again…

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.)

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