A family's story

Posts tagged ‘Parenting’

The Good Stuff

Last week Tate’s 5th grade class participated in their outdoor education field trip. It’s a 3-day, 2-night trip to a state park. While the students are there, they are learning teamwork, independence, resilience and accountability. I love that our district provides this opportunity for its students at this age. 10/11 year olds are so much more capable of this type of work than we give them credit for.

I was incredibly uneasy about how Tate would handle the rigors of the trip. The teachers do a phenomenal job preparing the students for the trip. They discuss manners, practice family-style lunch, view videos and learn about the schedules of their day. The trip is highly structured, but it is also in a foreign environment, has “outside” instructors, and they are out in the elements. We talked about the trip at home, too. I knew he was prepared, but yet, it was so NEW and DIFFERENT. Those two things, alone, can be a minefield for my kid.

After discussions with his team and other parents, Hubz and I decided that I’d go down to the area where the trip was taking place and stay with Tate overnight in a hotel. We cut his trip to 2 days and 1 night. He DID get to take the bus with his peers, and he participated in almost all of the activities each day he was there.

Tate handled the trip quite well. Yes, he had anxiety. Yes, he didn’t sleep for 3 nights prior to the trip. But, he did it. I’m grateful that the team allowed flexibility, because Tate did sleep quite well in the hotel, and I know if he had been in the group dorms, it would not have gone so well.

One of the activities that the students do is to do birdwatching. Tate is a natural. His keen eye and ability to see the thing that is out of place in a background lent itself well to this endeavor. In fact, he enjoyed it so much and did such a great job explaining the birds to his peers that his team decided to have him do birdwatching both days, and it was great! He also really enjoyed building a shelter out of branches, leaves and twigs. The heavy work was perfect OT for him.

Each day that I picked Tate up from the event, his teacher told me that he handled it well and reported a few struggles, but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that couldn’t be redirected. Also, Tate LOVED doing the table prep and bussing (they called it hopping). He was a pro, and even did a phenomenal job rinsing dishes in the kitchen.

To some, that might not seem like a big deal, but to anyone who has kids with differing abilities and neurodiversity, well, it was celebration time! If he can bus tables successfully at age 10, then what’s to say he can’t do that as an older teen? If he can follow “job” requirements and rules as a 5th grader, what’s to say he won’t be able to do that at age 18?

When we pulled out of the parking lot and headed home on his last day with his class, he thanked me for taking him. I thanked him for being a good sport. Then he told me to relax and turn the radio up. Adele was on and I was talking too much. My kiddo was brave. He was adventurous. He ate freaking turkey and mashed potatoes for dinner! The sky is the limit, my friends.

As we plod through the next few months of 5th grade and power through evaluations and testing, this experience gave me so much hope for what he’s going to be able to accomplish in middle school. He may not learn in a typical way, but he can and will learn. That much is for sure.

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The Struggle is Real

In preparation for his transition to middle school, the team and we decided that Tate should have his triennial evaluation with the team that knows him, as well as in an environment that isn’t foreign to him. We opened his domain this week. Now we wait…and my anxiety is spiking.

I am a mess as I start to dig deep to prepare for this transition. Yes, I know Jake is doing just fine in his environment. (Although I still worry about the social aspects for him.) However, Tate is a different child, with different needs and the struggle is real.

My greatest worry is that our district really doesn’t have a place for him. Not that he really has ever clearly fit into the slot that is available to him….but even more so now that we are barreling towards middle school, his needs and the way our district structures things don’t seem to mesh.

First of all, we are a 2 middle school district. Our “home” school has an instructional class and resource. Tate will likely not fit into either of those classes. The other middle school, waaaayyyyy across town has an instructional class that is cross-categorical and provides the students with a more targeted, easily accessible curriculum. I’m not sure if they have a life-skill component…but that might be good for him. My struggle is that there is no available information on any programming for next year.

Tate is capable of learning and doing work that is modified to account for his autism. The issue is that he just is not quite able to attend and sit still and ignore peer behavior. It ALL affects him. He hears the buzzing of the flourescent lights and cannot focus. He sees his friend flipping a pencil and he becomes entranced by the rhythm. Peers, who find work difficult, know that Tate will react and get off topic with just the utterance of a word. So they say, “Fart”quietly to Tate, and Tate is off and running with a script, a giggle, and off topic talk.

I see the math that my older son is doing in his instructional math class in 7th grade. I know what he did as a 6th grader in that class. Tate is so far behind even that material. There are too many problems on a page for him, too. He requires a lot more individualized instruction. The 15 or so kids in Jake’s math class would be too much for Tate. He does better in a smaller class size.

His hormones are starting to rev up. Whereas his older brother is more delayed in the onset of puberty and such, Tate is right on schedule. He is girl crazy, and his body is definitely maturing on schedule. When a cute girl about his age acknowledges him, he  isn’t sure how to handle this, so he gets flustered and starts shouting his version of swear words. We are working on this in therapy, but it is slow coming. I worry that in a self-contained environment, we are just prolonging this process…but I also can’t see how he’s going to function well in a more fully-integrated environment, either.

I put a lot of value into public schools and their programming. In general, our district has done a lot of good for him. However, I have a nagging feeling that we should also be checking out some other options for next year. Outside placement, perhaps. If he’s in district, do they have sensory rooms somewhere for him?

I read about other children on the spectrum who are fully integrated in the classrooms. They are writing paragraphs, they are answering multi-step problems, they are able to stay on task without constant prompting. Maybe Tate isn’t designed for a traditional school setting, or even a more traditional instructional setting.

Being a parent is about always wondering what else can be done to get one’s child where he needs to be. *sigh* Tate does so well in a highly structured, one-to-one setting where he is task-based and can literally check off his tasks to earn his break/reward/etc. Traditional school is not set up that way.

Thirteen.

I am the parent of a teenager. A legitimate, literal teenager. Jake turned 13 today at 3:21 am. Our path to the teen years has been full of love, new experiences, firsts for me as a parent, and adventures. Some adventures have been exciting and invigorating. Others have caused us both discomfort, but we’ve grown along the way.

As Jake grows and starts having more of his own private experiences, I have to let go. It is bittersweet. I don’t want to see him hurt, or upset, or failing…but I know that it’s my job as a parent to let him experience all of those things…because that ultimately is how we grow and figure out what we want from life.

I want to shield him from the pain of rejection, the angst of failure, the hurt of loss. And yet, when I look at my life, my experiences, it was in those terribly uncomfortable moments that I grew. It wasn’t easy. It caused my anxiety to flare, and yet, with my mom guiding me ever so gently with some advice, perhaps some nagging, and lots of love, she let me work through it. Often, I had a much better idea of what I wanted and needed in life once I was on the other side of the experience.

I know that the teen years are going to be challenging for both of us, and likely, in varying ways. I promise to be his shepherd, his beacon, to help get him through the storm. I hope he understands that. My actions are always inspired by concern, love, and the knowledge that independence is our endgame.

Happy 13th Birthday, my Jakey-P. I love you.

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An unsure first time mom with her bundle of joy. I feel as unsure as I look in this picture, as we embark on teendom.

The In-Between

The boys start school in 10 days. Another summer has blown past us. It has been an up and down summer, but a mostly enjoyable one. Soon, my boys will be in 7th, 5th and 2nd grade. Amazingly, when I started this blog, my oldest was a 2nd grader…and now, well, my baby is knocking on that door.

School supplies have been organized, and those that needed to be replaced are purchased. Folders are un-creased and crisp and shiny. Crayons still have a pristine tip. We have piles for each in the spare bedroom. Now, we wait.

The “In-Between” can be a bit anxiety producing, I am not going to lie. I am not sleeping great. The boys are each showing their anxiety in their own way. I won’t mire you down in the details, but let’s just say that the apples don’t fall far from the tree, here.

Each of them checks the master calendar daily. New items are being written in often. Jake is allowed to go walk his schedule any time from 9-3:30 on Thursday. Cole has a playdate for incoming 2nd graders another afternoon. Next week, the younger 2 have elementary school “Meet the Staff” day. As we tick off the list of supplies and have our last summer flings with friends, they get more and more aware that (said in a Ned Stark voice), “The School Year is coming.”

Summer isn’t always easy, with it’s relaxed schedules and routines, but in some ways, it is easier for me. No homework battles. No shuffling three children to and fro between various after school activities that range from soccer to religious education to therapists to scouts. And let’s not get into the freedom from IEP concerns.

Yes, we are firmly in the “In-between”, and right now, it’s a mix of emotion. Should I be bummed about the end of the summer? Should I be worried about the school year? Should I be writing summaries for the various teachers as they are new to my child(ren)? Did I remember to get all of the supplies? Did we do everything summer-related on our list? Did we do too much therapy this summer? Too little? Should we try to cram in another summer event?

So, I will sit here, and enjoy my coffee, and contemplate the “In-between”…for soon, we will be fully entrenched in another school year…

I am “here”.

I saw that a friend from high school got published on Scary Mommy. Her post was brave. It was powerful. It inspired me to write again–thanks, Jeanine! (You can sneak a peak here: http://www.scarymommy.com/dear-college-boys-in-the-school-bookstore/)

Oh, my poor, neglected blog. I don’t come here as often as I used to. Raising 3 boys, maintaining a steady level of chaos and balance, volunteering and experiencing life as a family do that. I’m an almost 40-year-old stay-at-home mom to a middle schooler, a fourth grader and a first grader. I don’t even know how I got “here”, but “here” I am.

Just to keep everyone abreast of the boys’ lives, they are doing well. We have our bumps, but overall, they are growing and learning and finding their way. Jake is navigating middle school. Tate is embracing his status as “the oldest Hope boy” so well at the elementary school. And Cole is just so damn typical. Seriously. I love it and want to rip my hair out at the same time.

Anyway, getting back to being “here”. I have three boys in school full time. Six years ago my plan was to be back in the workforce by now, earning a paycheck, and having a career. Then, well, life happened. So, I scrapped my original plan, and Hubz and I moved ahead with a new one. I’m living the life of a mom whose work lies within the confines of being a parent and probably the only non-ADHD member of the home, so at least one of us has some good executive functioning skills!

If anyone thinks that I “just” stay at home, well, don’t I wish!!! With my “free” time, I volunteer at the elementary school. I am able to help in Cole’s class with literacy stations and with teacher projects. I’m able to run PTO events and assist my friends with their endeavors at the school, as well. I’m even able to have lunch, on occasion, with other moms whom work flexible schedules or are still at home, themselves. Additionally, I run errands, grocery shop, shuttle kids and their friends to therapy, practices and games, and I still manage to find time to grab a latte most days!

I have a sixth grader. In our district, sixth grade is in a middle school. His schedule reminds me of my high school schedule. It’s likely as demanding as my life was in ninth grade, although, I never had to contend with ADHD nor learning difficulties. And yet, my kid is still kicking butt! I am so proud of the maturity with which he is handling this new phase in his life. I, on the other hand, feel as insecure as I did when I was 12. I mean, 10 different teachers, 10 periods, homework every night, gaah!!!

I have a fourth grader. He’s also going to be 10 in six months. How is my Tater “going on 10”?! I remember “going on 10”. I love watching his expanding experiences. He’s learning so much. And he’s doing it rather successfully. I’m not sure if I would have been able to handle as much as he has to handle every day, and he does it with few complaints, and often, with a smile and a giggle.

I have a first grader. Scratch that. My BABY is a first grader. I can’t even. This is the one that tends to blow my mind. Wasn’t Jake just my trailblazing first grader?! It’s amazing to see how much has changed in just 5 years. The curriculum is more rigorous. The demands are high. And my little Cole is doing first grade like.a.boss. Not that I would think he would handle it any other way, as he’s always taken on experiences and tasks that are clearly above his age level. But he is. And he makes me so proud every day as he learns to make the choices that are right, but not always easy.

I am almost forty. For serious. In three and a half months I join the “Fabulous at 40” club. I have some friends that are already reaching this milestone birthday. How did we get here?! I remember the year MY mom turned 40. It was a big joke about how old she was. I really never understood it until it started to happen to me, but holy cow, I completely feel no older than 25, and many times, in terms of being awkward or unsure of myself, I still feel 15. My birth certificate and driver’s license beg to differ, however. Guess I’ll just keep on practicing “fake it ’til I make it”.

I have been working on being healthy and taking care of myself. When I peaked the scales this summer, I realized that I can’t continue to gain weight every year. I no longer felt comfortable in my skin, and I was achy and exhausted all of the time. The diet of cheese, bread, and ice cream (which I really, really, REALLY wish I could sustain) was catching up to me. I took charge. I work out five days a week. I eat relatively healthily most days. I have cut out most processed carbs. I have reduced my cheese intake. I feel so much better. My knees don’t hurt when I sit down. My back isn’t achy every night. My jeans fit again. And, AND, I went in a belt notch. Wooohooooo!

Hubz and I will be celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary in a month. FIFTEEN YEARS. How the heck did that happen? Weren’t we just planning our wedding? We have grown up together, he and I. We’ve learned a thing, or ten, about commitment, love, communication, parenting, home ownership, sump pumps, purchasing a HOUSE, finding a good doctor, finding a second opinion, navigating school-aged children, navigating IEPs, coping with loss. We may not be as young (or as thin) as we used to be, but we are definitely still as in love. I don’t mean that as a cheesy statement. I really mean it. I know that he’s got my back. He knows I’ve got his. We’ve worked on so much together..and our lives are so intertwined. I love that. Neither of us would be the person we are today if it weren’t for the other.

When I started this blog, I used it as a way to process through Tate’s autism diagnosis and all that goes with that. Back then, I was trying to find a way to figure out what autism meant to our family, what it meant for Tate, and I felt the need to share everything with the world as a way to process through it. Today, autism is still a part of our lives, but I am not able to share everything. I know what MY experience with raising a son with autism is like, but I know that for all of the similarities, there are so many differences. I also know that if anyone has a question about autism, they are likely much better served by asking someone who is autistic, rather than a mom of an autistic kid. I mean, I have experiences AS A PARENT that I am happy to share, but I can’t tell anyone what it’s like to be autistic. I’ll leave that to many others…including Tate, whom says, “it is what I do.”

Often, I still find myself “between hope and a hard place”. Sometimes that hard place comes from a parenting moment, or watching my children navigate their worlds, and sometimes it comes from my being pulled into umpteen different directions. I am going to try to write more. I MISS that. But my writing may often focus on topics not autism related. Sometimes the topics may not even be parenting-related. But they will be Lisa-life-related, and THAT is my expertise.

Out-Pinterested!!!

Last week, Cole’s teacher celebrated her birthday. Typically, the head room parent spearheads an effort to get a card signed for the teacher. Considering that kindergarteners have 2.5 hours a day in class, I decided to send an email to the parents in Cole’s class encouraging everyone to MAKE a card for the fabulous Mrs. Kinder. I also told the parents that I’d buy some flowers or a plant for our children’s beloved teacher.

The afternoon class’s head room mom had emailed me about the birthday. She asked if we should go in on something together, or what our class was planning. I told her our plans. She said that their class was doing the same. Great!

Mrs. Kinder’s birthday was on Thursday. Friday, Cole came home with a thank you note typed up from the teacher. My jaw dropped. First, I will wholeheartedly admit that I am competitive and can be Type A. I like to win. I do. Second, this sealed the deal for me that the Mommy Wars are SO VERY REAL.

Mrs. Kinder’s note expressed her gratitude to both classes for showering her with attention. She thanked the parents and students for their cards and for the gifts. She listed the gifts. I knew what our class had given her. I thought that maybe some parents had gone all out. I felt a little sheepish that our class had *just* given her an orchid and balloon.

Over the long weekend I had some time to chat with a fellow parent. Her son is in the afternoon class, and we had a play date. She showed me the picture of the gifts that the afternoon class had given to Mrs. Kinder. Holy moly!!

Apparently the wife of the co-head room dad got her Pinterest on last week. They presented Mrs. Kinder with a basket of flowers….the flowers had the face of each one of the afternoon class’s students. She artfully arranged them, with pipe cleaners, foam grass, etc. In the basket, she included not one, not two, but three gift cards to Mrs. Kinder’s favorite stores. To top it off, she sent in gluten free, peanut/tree nut free cupcakes for the class to eat to celebrate.

The competitor in me was angry. I lost. I totally, unequivocally, lost this one. The little orchid, while a beautiful token of appreciation, could in no way, shape or form be as great as that. It isn’t sentimental. It isn’t personal. Dang!

This is how Mommy Wars are formed. It didn’t help that the mom with whom I was chatting was beaming and talking about how Mrs. Kinder said that the flower arrangement would be on her shelves when these kids are 5th graders. In Head-Room-Parent-Land, ‘dem is fighting words!!!!!

There are a lot of things I could do. I could scour Pinterest to find the perfect End of the Year extravaganza. I could whine. I could call in my troops of other competitive mommies and get something rolling. I could blog about the injustices of it all. But I won’t. Instead, I will admit that the other mom did a bang-up job on this birthday gift. She is clearly talented and spent loads of her free time on this one. Kudos to her.

I hope Cole’s teacher knows that our class is incredibly appreciative of her, and that we do wish her the happiest of birthdays.

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. 

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