A family's story

Posts tagged ‘back to school’

One week down….several more to go

The boys finished their first week of school. In the grand scheme of things, they had a relatively good first week. Jake made it through without any meltdowns or shut downs. We did discover that he needs a more substantial snack in the morning to make it through to lunch, but that was easily rectified. Tate had a good sense of expectations, and it is a blessing that he has the same classroom and teacher this year. He has been able to rely on past experience to better understand what is expected of him in the classroom. Cole is my flexible little guy–he did great at a new preschool with a group of kiddos he didn’t know. He already has 3 new friends.

On the down-side, it was hot. The classrooms were muggy and stale. The hallways were oppressive. I don’t know how the teachers and kids made it through five days in that sweat-hole. Jake looked like he had showered when he got him, his hair was so drenched with sweat. Tate’s classroom has a window air-conditioning unit, but he still had to have lunch and specials in non-a/c rooms. The district did a good job of monitoring the kids and provided industrial fans and water stations and even juice pops on Friday as a refreshing treat. However, I suspect that little learning was accomplished in those 5 days. The heat broke, but the temps are supposed to be back in the high 80’s by the end of the week. Blargh. Just. Blargh.

I had been in constant communication with Tate’s teacher about his transition to the school year. Each day she remarked that he was doing great, and that he was even taking a lead with some of the classroom activities. He was ready to learn all week, and he even got to pick a prize for excellent behavior on Thursday. I held my breath. Taters was having a great start.  He was adjusting. And then, he wasn’t.

On Friday when I came to get him for therapy, his teacher was with him. First, he had just had an accident in the bathroom. He didn’t make it. That hasn’t happened in such a long time. And, then, well, he spit in a peer’s face during music. It was one of his friends from his self-contained classroom. Music is a very, very difficult “special” for Tate. It’s loosey-goosey. It’s noisy. It’s chaotic. Typical peers move around a lot, and not predictably, let alone the other kiddos from Tate’s classroom who push into that class. It’s generally an every-kid-for-himself type scenario. Tate loves music and singing. He does NOT love the chaos and lack of structure. Because of the atmosphere, it was hard to determine whether the spitting was provoked or if it was just Tate being unable to regulate himself.  We all agree that the heat on top of the long first week back on top of the chaos was the perfect storm for Tate to become dysregulated and behave unexpectedly. He did get a “red” mark in his behavior card, but hopefully it is a one-time occurrence.

Tate did express remorse over the spitting incident. He went up to his friend and genuinely apologized. When his teacher probed to see if Tate understood, she said that he really did seem to understand that spitting was not appropriate, and that if his friend was bothering him, there were other things Tate could have done. He now has some options on his visual schedule to choose if he is feeling bothered. I hope it helps.

On Wednesday we had Jake’s curriculum night– the one where the teacher goes over everything planned for the year. I totally fell in love with his teacher. She is in this profession for a reason..and it isn’t the money. It is obvious that she loves what she does, she loves her class, and she wants to teach more than just to the test. LOVE it. I am also super excited that she is all about student responsibility. It’s not her job, nor our job, as parents, to write assignments down, have the right materials, and get it turned it. Of course we guide and support our children, but, ultimately, it is THEIR responsibility to get their work done. This will be HUGE for Jake. I know that we’ll have to take his weaker executive functioning skills into account, but I know this is going to be a great way for him to gain more independence and grow. We’ll have a few bumps along the way, but I know he’ll come out on top.

I was all high on my “Jake’s-teacher-is-amazeballs” feeling when I spoke to Jake’s resource teacher. She brought me down. Way down. Jake is adjusting to fourth grade fairly well. He is in good spirits, is self-talking through some of the daily rough patches, and is eager to learn. Those are great. However, he is much more aware of how different he is. And we all know how much that feeling SUCKS. It just does.

The school’s OT brought Jake’s arsenal of tools into his classroom Tuesday during the time when Jake’s resource teacher pushes in for Reading. The entire freaking class was there. Jake froze. He started to tremble a bit when the OT tried to get him to stand up so she could put the chair cushion on his seat, and the slant-board on his desk for handwriting. (Quite honestly, Jake doesn’t need that damn thing. His printing is fine. Spacing is another story…we need to work on that.) I feel like she should have slapped a big ‘ol sticker on his forehead while she was at it. Ugh. Luckily, the resource teacher talked him into walking to get a drink, which he did, and that movement got him over the embarrassment. But, still. Oh. my. heart.

In general, though, Jake is loving fourth grade. I think he likes being one of the “big” kids. He relishes the role of being a role model. (He has oodles of experience as a big brother.) He likes the kids who sit in his desk “pod”. He has friends on the playground who don’t care about his seat cushion or slant board or the fact that he is in resource for more minutes than he is in the typical classroom. So, there are a lot of positives. (Oh, and Jake is going to start playing viola in the orchestra. He is very excited about it. Their first session is tomorrow. Oh, my ears. I am accepting recommendations for superb noise-cancelling headphones!!)

Oh, and not to leave out Cole…he is in the integrated preschool program. He’s a neurotypical child mixed in with other typical kiddos, as well as kiddos with IEPs, like Tate. He is LOVING preschool. His teacher told me that he’s a great role model, and that he is wonderful about including everyone. He has helped out kiddos who aren’t able to do some of the fine motor play, and he wants everyone to play on the playground outside. She said he’s the life of the party. Oh, she knows him well!

I hear all about his day from the moment Cole gets in the van until we pull up the driveway at home. He tells me about calendar time, about the songs they sing, about what projects they make, and the games he plays on the playground. I absolutely adore the window into his world. I cherish it more than words can say, because, well, I know the other side all too well. It’s a breath of fresh air to not have to wonder about what was done and how he feels about it.

One week down….and many more to go!

Another Chapter

We are on the cusp of another school year. As we prep and fret and wrestle that darn anxiety beast in these last precious summer days, I try to slow down, just a bit. I take stock of the boys, who they are, what they love, how they approach life in this moment. I scan them, I commit their looks/voices/phrases to memory. I feel much like I do at the end of a great book. I have fallen in love with the characters. I want to savor all of the best parts of the story. Part of me doesn’t want to move onto the sequel, just in case it isn’t as good as the prior story…but I know that the story isn’t over…and there’s the hope…the hope that the next one is EVEN BETTER than before.

Jake is going into fourth grade. FOURTH. In the blink of an eye, or so it seems, he has gone from that shy, sweet little boy with wide eyes and a crooked smile to a sweet, gangly big kid. He sounds older. He looks older. He is grappling with that awkwardness where he knows he doesn’t quite belong with the little kids any more, but he certainly isn’t quite ready for big kid situations, either. Being the oldest, he tends to hold back, just a bit, and linger in that little kid space. As a parent, I’m grateful that he’s still more interested in Phineas and Ferb than Facebook. He prefers Plants vs. Zombies over playing pranks. He’d rather go to the park than go to the mall.

As far as school is concerned, he is handling it relatively well. Aside from anxiety-driven need for regular reassurance about his classroom and school start date, he is excited. He is approaching fourth grade with an open mind and positive attitude. It helps tremendously that he was able to meet his teacher prior to the school year, has seen his fourth grade classroom, and knows he has the same resource teacher as last year. This year we are aiming for more independence. I know he has it in him. We just need to give him the right tools to foster its maturation.

Tate is going to be a second grader. I can’t quite fathom this fact. As much as my heart tries to insist that he’s still a wee little kid, my head verifies the reality. He’s growing up. He’s taller. He’s stockier. He’s using his routines to get through the day. He relies on his weekly schedule and can answer his own questions about “What do I have today?”. He’s found some scripts that work really well in pragmatic language. His vocabulary is blossoming. When we go out in public, he is more able to regulate himself. He is able to advocate for himself in many basic situations. Sometimes he surprises us and advocates for himself in complex ones, too. (Like when we were at IKEA last weekend and he told us the lights were hurting his eyes, and he needed to get out of there.)

As he heads into second grade, I think this is the most comfortable that I have ever felt. His teacher is phenomenal. She is communicative. She truly wants to help her students learn–in their own way. He is familiar with the school. He knows many of the routines. He knows many staff members. He calls it “my school”. He has back-to-school anxiety, but it really is not nearly as significant as it has been in past years. We have a good plan in place for his educational and therapeutic needs.

And Cole. Cole blows my mind. So this is what a typical four year old is like. Wow. He makes my head spin, leaves me frustrated many days, and makes me feel like I still haven’t figured out this parenting gig. And that’s a very good thing. He is clever, adventurous, and willful. He is creative. He loves taking objects apart–just to figure out how they work. As spirited as he is, he also has the most amazing gentle side. He doesn’t like seeing others hurting or upset…and he is very loyal. Once you win him over, he’s got your back.

My “baby” (wait– he is NOT a baby, he’s a big boy!) starts Pre-K on August 26th. We switched preschools this year, and he will be attending the school district’s preschool program that combines the Early Childhood students with typically developing peers. We are familiar with most of the staff, after Tate’s stint there, and we couldn’t be more excited for Cole. He has so much to offer, and I am confident that the teachers will really challenge him and pull out that knowledge he has stored in that amazing mind of his. Also, he’s grown up with a special needs brother. He has been around special needs kids. He doesn’t see them as different. He sees them as kids. And he’s such a social butterfly, that he’ll enchant even the most socially-challenged kiddo. (He was amazing with Em’s daughter earlier this week.)

In nine days I will send all three of my kids onto their next adventure. Our next adventure. While I still savor the memories of the character development and story lines from our recently completed chapter, going into this next one, I have a good feeling that it will be just as great…maybe even a little better. And I can’t wait to get started.

This time of year is bittersweet

The Back-to-School season is one of my favorites. It always has been. I love the promise of a new school year, new lessons, new topics, fresh supplies, renewed friendships. I love the excitement. I love the shiny new folders and un-crinkled corners of notebooks. I love the bright wax of new crayons, and the shimmer of unused water color paint. I love the sales on pens and pencils, art supplies and baggies. I love it all.

The weather in the Midwest during this time of year is a treasure, as well. Nothing beats a crisp, cool morning. There is something to be said for the ability to step outside and inhale deeply…filling the lungs with this cool air and exhaling completely…it’s refreshing. Getting the little goosebumps on one’s arms and watching the hair stand on end. It’s a welcome respite from the heat and humidity. The afternoons warm up substantially. They are fit for picnics at the park, bike rides, and “Family Fun Day” at school. One must savor these days, as they are fleeting. In the evenings, one can wear shorts. Or jeans. Or throw on the over-sized sweatshirt that’s been waiting in the recesses of the closet. It is glorious.

In early adulthood, once I had finished my four years at school, I missed the excitement of back-to-school. I would roam the aisles of Target or Kohls and glance longingly at all of the promotional items. I would buy a notebook, or a set of pens–just so I could feel like I was a part of it. Once we had Jake, I started counting down each back-to-school season until I could go buy supplies and clothes and backpacks and all of the “fun” stuff for my children.

Our first year of back-to-school fun was in 2009. Jake was entering kindergarten, and Tate was attending the 3-year-old preschool in our district’s Early Childhood program. I got to buy backpacks, folders, crayons, pencils, and glue sticks. I remember standing, stymied, in the baggie aisle, searching for 2-gallon sized Ziploc bags. I remember my euphoria over finding said bags. (Hey, now, I was a newly-minted SAHM with an 8 week old, special needs 3 year-old, and 5.5 year old. I was due that much. ‘Kay?!) I would call my mom, and she would share my giddiness. She shared her memories of me and my sisters as we prepared for our first days of school. My mom was as much of a back-to-school junkie as I was, having been a teacher for 30-some years.

On our boys’ first day of school in August 2009, it rained. Just like it had rained on MY first day of kindergarten several years before. It was nostalgic. We took numerous pictures. Hubz stayed home and helped out with the boys. Tate’s backpack was so heavy that it toppled him backwards. We laughed. We smiled. We had so much hope. As Jake climbed the stairs of that ginormous yellow bus, we waved and wished him well…and then sighed with relief when he found a seat and waved back. We then got Tate on his special ed bus. Hubz had to lift him up the stairs, as poor Tate’s legs were too short, and he was too uncoordinated to maneuver them by himself. Once they were at school, Hubz and I looked at each other and high-fived. We did it!!

Hubz uploaded several pictures to Facebook for the families to see. Immediately my mom and Hubz’s parents commented on the cuteness. We had several friends with kindergarteners that year, so we all spent the morning ooh-ing and aah-ing over each child’s “First Day” pictures. It was a terrific re-introduction into back-to-school season!

    

Back-to-school 2010 is a blur. Looking back, I truly do not remember much of it. I know I somehow managed to get my boys’ their supplies. We got them new outfits for the first day. They made it to school on that first day…Jake started on a Tuesday. I think. See, my mom was in the hospital because she had a fairly substantial seizure. It was a side effect of her stroke…which was a side effect of her pancreatic cancer. I was torn between two worlds. One with my boys, where the future was bright and full of promise, and one with my ailing mother, who was in the twilight of her time here on Earth, where the future meant the inevitable…

On the first day of school that year, Jake had a half day, but Tate had a meet-and-greet. We walked Jake to school, and then I took Tate to his classroom. Feeding off of my anxiety with everything going on with my mom already, plus back-to-school anxiety was an awful cocktail for my beautiful boy. He barely made it in the door of his classroom. He began to stim with some play food items (asparagus, if I recall, as they were “stick” like). I did my best to give a run-down of the chaos that was our life, and the teacher nodded sympathetically. She said she’d help Tate along..and would fill the social worker in on the family situation. I thanked her profusely, and we attempted to get Tate to stand still for a picture. The picture that they were going to use on all of his items: locker, seat, job chart, etc. When we got that picture at the end of the school year, I could see the motion lines around his little body. Oh, Tater…

Once we got Tate to school the following day, Hubz uploaded our newest batch of back-to-school pictures onto Facebook. We’re all smiling…but we look hollow. Fragile. Or maybe that’s how I think we look, knowing what was going on in our lives at that time. That night, while at the hospital with my mom, I showed her the pictures of her “boyos”. (Ok, I am tearing up, just typing this…oh, how my mom loved her “boyos”.) She smiled her crooked post-stroke smile. She let out a little chuckle, one that sounded like “her”. Then she sighed. That night, my mom told me that she felt badly about taking so much of my time. Despite my protests that I wanted to be there, she simply nodded and said that it was time for me to be there for my boys. I said I could do both. We both knew, though, that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing for the long-term. I left the hospital in tears. That weekend, which was Labor Day, I sent a message to my boys’ teachers….letting them know how dire my mom’s situation had become..and explaining why my boys may be distracted or anxious. It was not the best way to start the school year….and in many ways, I think it’s self-preservation that keeps me from remembering, fully, that back-to-school season.

    

Last year, 2011, was stressful, but ok. The boys were ready for school. I got to go supply shopping–and enjoyed it again. They helped me choose a new shirt for their first day. Tate ultimately refused to wear his, but at least he was part of the process. We walked Jake to school on the first day. That was becoming our newest tradition. The boys were excited, and Jake was a bit nervous. As we waited in the lines before the kids went into the school, Hubz had to take Tate away from the action. The hustle and bustle was too much. Luckily he founds solace next to the bike racks, where he spun his scooter tires round and round…immediately calming him down.

Once we got Jake safely off to school, Hubz stayed home with Cole, and I took Tate to his kindergarten classroom. We met his fantabulous teacher…she was a quintessential kindy teacher. She had a gleaming smile, and a gentle soul. She was young and energetic. Tate warmed up to her immediately. He let the aide take his picture for the job board and his locker. He checked out the various areas of the classroom, stopping at the computer table. He wanted to play. When I said no, he started to whine, but thanks to his fantabulous teacher, he stopped melting. She let him type on the keyboard for 5 minutes. He was in heaven.

By the time we were done, it was time to get Jake from school. We stopped and picked him and our neighbor up from their first day of second grade. They were excited. Smiles were plentiful, and the energy was contagious. We were back on a back-to-school high. As usual, Hubz uploaded our Back to School pictures. The school year was off to a good start…and I was able to exhale.

 

In two days, we will do this again. For the first time in 3 years, I feel confident. I am excited. I have high hopes for the 2012-13 school year. I look back to where we were at the prior back-to-school seasons, and we are prepared.

Summer- Phase III

The boys and I have almost made it through our 12-week long summer. Phases I and II went quite well. Phase III has been rough. The boys are tired of each other. They are tired of the seeming lack of routine. They are tired of me constantly “pestering” them to stop watching tv and use their imaginations. I’m tired of the yelling, screaming, wrestling, and clutter.

One of the reasons that Phase III has been brutal is that it was “do or die” time for Cole to be potty trained. I got his preschool packet in the mail on August 3. At that point, he was not intent upon going on the potty, and I wasn’t totally forcing the issue. That packet was my wake-up call. I HAD to have him ready for preschool in a month. Those are 5 glorious hours that I’ve never had to myself each week. I refuse to give them up because a certain head-strong 3 year old has decided not to expel waste into a toilet. The first week was awful. Puddles everywhere. Soiled underpants. Tears…mostly mine. At one point, he smacked me because he didn’t want to go on the potty and I was sitting in the bathroom with him. I told him that he could choose not to go on the potty, and preschool could choose not to let him participate. He is so excited about preschool that this thought sent ripples through him. Suddenly, he was much more enthusiastic about going on the potty.

Last week, we had mostly mastered toileting for urination. The other one…not so much. That is, until Jake took Cole into the bathroom and laid down the law that big kids don’t poop in their pants. He helped Cole get onto the potty, then gave him a big bear hug as Cole tried. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, but that worked. Cole got over his discomfort with the sensation. He has gone on the potty every day since, and has eliminated his waste  IN THE TOILET!!!! We had one accident, but that was minor. OH-MY-GOSH-I-THINK-HE’S-GOT-IT!!!!

Today we were cleaning up Cole’s room. As I was rifling through the books, determining which to keep and which to give away, Cole came in and shouted about going poop. I didn’t look up, but groaned. I just figured he meant that he wasn’t paying attention and had an accident. We had JUST been in the bathroom, but he refused to try to go.

Ohhh-kaaay…I’ll come change you. 

No Mommy….in the potty. Look!

There it was. Yessss!!!!!! I know that we are by no means “home free”…but this process has been relatively quick, compared to others. It’s amazing what the right motivation will do!

Another reason that Phase III has been rough is that Jake is trying to absorb as much “down time” as possible in the 2 and a half weeks between day camp and school. He fights playing outside. He fights doing math or reading exercises. He fights playing with his toys. He acted as if I was going to torture him when I asked if he wanted to try to ride his bike outside. So, yeah, I’m exhausted by his refusals to do anything but watch tv.

Phase III has been a bit of a bummer for all of us. It’s the winding down of the summer. It’s the realization that so very soon we will be on a tight schedule, running from school to therapy to extra-curriculars. I have to pack lunches at night, get outfits ready for the next day, and wake up when my alarm clock blares at me each morning at 6 am. The kids are bummed out that they aren’t allowed to sleep in the basement any more, aren’t allowed to sit in pj’s, and are being asked to help choose which clothes to keep for the new school year. I think we are mostly ready for the next Phase–School Year 2012-13!

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