“Worst Kid Day Ever”

Some days are just not your day.

We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..

And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!!  “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)

Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.”  It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain.  After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.

Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).

Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.

At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).

The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.

But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.

You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.

You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.

You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.

But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.

You have amazing friends to encourage you.

And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).

I’m here right with you, buddy.

Always.

The Impossible Decision Regarding COVID Schooling

My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”

Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.

Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?

Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.

As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.

One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!

My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.

My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.

So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school.  We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.

Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.

The Impossibility of Pandemic Schooling

A week or so into the closing of schools for the COVID pandemic, the learning support coordinators for each of my three boys called to see how we were doing. Apparently they were required to see if any updates to the 504 or IEP plans needed to be made to handle the transition to remote learning. I couldn’t think of anything at the time.

Times have changed.

I have tried to help my boys meet their educational expectations. I have nagged and cajoled. I have praised and punished. I have hidden the gaming devices and TV remotes. I have yelled and screamed. I have cried …. and I have cried.

But it’s still a mess. My boys are not iPad learners. They are get your hands dirty learners. They are drop the rock into water to measure volume learners. They are sit with other kids in a classroom to motivate me learners. Their ADHD and learning styles are not meshing with a learn-at-home environment.

Text with teen

I warned my 7th grader one day that he was in jeopardy of failing yet another class….in a long procession of emails I receive every few days. His response was spot on: “I would be fine if I was in school.” He’s right. He was an A/B student. He was fine. “I know you would,” I understood. “I just don’t do well with this iPad sh$t.” I know, buddy. I know.

Super Tall Guy is expected to learn about Greek Gods and Goddesses from a series of Powerpoint slides. Not surprisingly he doesn’t care. I thought about the fact that had he been sitting in the classroom, he might have heard a tiny bit about a goddess or two as the teacher talked. He might have snickered to a buddy across the room about a particular characteristic of one of the gods. He and his friends might have joked about the lesson as they walked through the hallway to the next class. Something might have seeped in. But not if he’s sitting at home required to swipe through slides in just one more endless exhausting list of “things to do.”

Even the third grader commented the other day on our daily walk, “Mom, the iPad just doesn’t trigger my brain to learn.”

On a phone call at Easter, my sister-in-law noted that she’s been homeschooling her children for years, so this shutdown hasn’t really changed them at all. “But,” she acknowledged, “I have the whole curriculum supplied to me. I know what we’re trying to accomplish.” She is a teacher, an educator.  Me, on the other hand, looks at a list of what is due today or this week for multiple teachers, multiple subjects and multiple children. I don’t know “where” they are along the continuum of lessons.  The difference between home “education” and crisis online learning is huge.

We can do 10 minutes.

Mismatched to the very core of their brains’ ability to retain information, this remote learning expectation is also mismatched to the life of a working parent. Like school, my work also shifted to the home. My coffee house meetings are now draining Zoom calls. My simulation classes are now dry lectures that I’ve recorded onto Powerpoint. My comradery at the office is now gone. My brain is stressed about how to get work done because every 5 to 21 minutes, I’m interrupted to assume the role of teacher, short-order cook, Bingo number-caller, dog-walker, TV-fixer, argument-settler. My conscious bombards me with work that is not getting done. My email-response time is at least 3 days late. My to-do list is never-ending and just moves from one day to the next, from one week to the next. And one day a week, I work at our medical practice, so 20% of the week, I’m completely absent from my children. As I struggle to keep up with work, I just can’t even attempt to teach, especially as a single full-time working parent.

And I’m stressed by the sheer load of trying to understand life within the context of a rapidly transmissible, potentially deadly or life-changing virus. I’m worried about keeping my aging parents healthy. I’m worried about keeping my children healthy as we learn about unique inflammatory reactions in kids. I’m worried about the patients that I’m not seeing in the office although I go in for 10 hours one day a week to sit and make telemedicine calls. I’m worried about people around our community who are experiencing far more hardship and stress than I am. I’m worried about how much of this could have been prevented by a competent and coordinated government response at the beginning. This concept of allostatic load is certainly present in many people’s lives and for me leads to forgetting to do things, taking a long time to respond to emails or texts, and falling into complete exhaustion by the end of the day. I don’t want to clean the house or wash dishes, I just want to sit at the puzzle table or zone out on the couch.

5th grader “self-portrait” (We sorely miss the breadth and depth of Art class and all the “specials”)

I fully know that my children’s teachers are trying their best to convert from their plans for the final school quarter to an online platform. They are all truly amazing teachers and I grieve the fact that my boys no longer sit and listen to their wisdom. I also know that teachers are generally trained to be in front of a classroom of children and have little to no training in being an online teacher. It’s hard on them too and they need support.

I also struggle with trying to focus foremost on the boys’ emotional needs. I worry about how much to push them and how much to acknowledge that they are also stressed by this whole situation.

So many families I speak with have similar experiences. So many agree that they were holding together for the first few weeks and managing okay. But now it has all collapsed.

I guess now is the time to revisit that learning support plan for the boys (the 504s, the IEPs). Now is the time just give it a wash for this school year. Now is the time to think about what supports need to be in place and what changes need to occur in case schools have to be closed in the fall.

Shared by a friend.

Now is the time to be honest….that for my family ….remote learning is a traumatic check-list of failure and a complete lack of “learning.”

My hope is that the boys will catch up and not shutdown any love of learning. That they will indeed rebound. That they will have a most beautiful future learning to do the things they love.

And, thankfully there’s always the joy of the puppy…..

Waiting for a Home

It wears upon the soul to live in “transition,”  to be in a time of waiting. I have been doing that for so much of my life. You spend your school years just wanting so badly to grow up and have the “privileges” of being an adult. Then there’s the “step” of college to get to your career and your “life.” For me that was an extended prolonged journey of graduate school followed by medical school and a longer than usual residency program.

Finally, I thought. I have arrived. But at the same time, the kids started to arrive as well. And each one of them brought multiple “transitions” and waiting periods. Waiting for quarterly court hearings. Waiting for goal changes. Waiting for adoption. And just when it settles down, the boys are starting into preschool and kindergarten transitions. And a year and a half into what I thought would be their first stable school, we were asked to leave as the private school decided they didn’t have the “resources” needed to teach my eldest.

So, we bounced into a townhouse to move into a school district that welcomed the boys. Half of my packed belongings went to my parents’ house and half went to my sister’s garage (that’s where the Christmas tree and decorations, the bikes, the winter gear, etc sits waiting). Waiting. For the past 3 years we have been living in transition, waiting to find a house to call our own.

My boys have naturally made the best of their waiting. There’s a great community of friends here in the neighborhood. There’s a great diversity of cultures in this neighborhood. There’s good support. But they were so ready to move last year when we were a week away from closing on a house. It was a huge disappointment to lose the house, but that house also brought the stress of changing schools and new transitions.

Now, however, they are giddy with anticipation as we are now less than five weeks from closing on a house!! And this time, I have settled into keeping the boys in the same school system and the same elementary and middle school. It’s been rough for me mentally as I keep trying to find the “best” school for them. I find pros and cons to all the choices. Finally, I’ve decided to put the priority on stability, acknowledge that I won’t find perfection, but that it is time to settle down for the sake of the boys and myself.

And so, in this Advent season, as we expectantly “wait” to celebrate the birth of Christ, my family is also expectantly waiting and preparing for a new beginning.

 

 

Do Not Ignore the Soft Signs (of a future school drop-out)

Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.

The hardest, but most important, thing to me.

This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).

But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade?  A kid who is not connected is who.

Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!

This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.

So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?

I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”

Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.

Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.

He and his brothers hold my heart.

 

 

 

 

Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

Why I love summers!

I don’t know – I always had this idealized vision of “school” probably mostly with the thought that “wow, once they are in school, I won’t have to pay a HUGE child care bill every single week” anymore. Unless, of course, they are in a school district with half-day kindergarten and then you have another 9 months of child care bills for afternoon care! (Just to add some perspective, kid starts day care at 6 weeks of age and has a February birthday when he turns 5 and school starts in late August, so I’ve basically spent $65,052 in just child care. On one kid! Man, I could have been rich!!)

So, yes, as a single working mother I was thrilled with the concept of school. The children would be someplace. They would be learning. I wouldn’t be the only one responsible for whether they knew their colors or could multiply 6 times 7.

But let me tell you. School stinks! In the best sense of the word, that is.

Let’s just start with homework. It’s not that I’m opposed to academicsschool bus (after all, I have a BS, MS, PhD and MD degree, and about 19 years of school/training after high school), it’s just that after 6 hours at school, I really do think the kids need some unstructured play time. And they need to do some sports or physical activity so that they develop a sense of feeling healthy. Why would we want to spend an hour or two doing homework? This is especially true for families with working parents who don’t get kids gathered up and home until 6:00pm or later and trying to get an average of 10 hours of sleep (for them, not me!) makes it hard to squeeze much else in.

Then there’s the “projects” which take up even more time, like making a poster or a diorama. Naturally, this involves the extra time burden of running to the store to round up supplies because in this tiny townhome, we’ve streamlined quite a bit.

And then there’s so many “volunteer” opportunities at the school, that it can get overwhelming. There’s such self-imposed guilt to be “present” in the school and see what the kids are doing and have them so excited to see Mom in the class as Mystery Reader (or maybe that was embarrassment) or Holiday Party volunteer (Just going to have to say no to that. Kids are noisy enough. Now give them sugar and excitement of a celebration and you’ve got chaos personified!). And of course, some of those holidays require significant time commitment, like the Halloween parade that begins at 1:30pm but if you’re not in the parking lot by noon, you’re not getting a spot. The Memorial Day program takes all morning – bring your fold-out camping chairs and come early to find space.

Let’s not forget about those fundraisers! What a joy to convince family and friends to buy some items so the kids can “win” a T-shirt which they refuse to wear anyway. How about saving those Box Tops (which also have to be cut to the exact shape of the rectangle)? You don’t want your kid to be the only one in homeroom not bringing them in and they would sure like to actually win the Box Top contest for the month!

Now consider that school ends at 3:20. That’s right 3:20. But when they hit middle school it’s  2:40. Interestingly, my job would like me to work until 5:00pm, which means now I get to figure out afterschool care. Which means I can pay for someone to watch my kids for 2-3 hours every day or beg Grandma. And please don’t forget about the before school care. When school doesn’t start until 9:00, it’s pretty hard to be at work at that time too!

This timing is a far cry from just dropping off at daycare whenever we all get ready in the morning and picking them up in the evening after I’ve stopped at the grocery store or run a few errands first. No, now with school there’s actually a specific start time and they expect you to pick up at a consistent time too. Really cramping my cram-a-lot-into-the-day lifestyle!

Even worse are the two-hour delays, the “no school” days or the unexpected cancelled days for snow!

School was looking really good until I realized how much more I have to juggle now that it’s back in session.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love school. I love that the boys are learning. I love that they are meeting new kids and forming new friendships. I love that they are learning to listen to other authority figures. I love that they have opportunities to learn the cello and “rugby basics” and art and science and handwriting and so much more. I love that they are in a good school district which cares about them and with teachers who want them to succeed. I love that they are doing well.

I’d just like to return to summer time …right about now.

Parenting Boys (and girls) 102: Starting School

Dear Mr/Mrs Teacher,

I truly expected to get this year off to a more organized start. Apparently not (and apparently I forgot to read last year’s post about how I was most certainly going to be better this year!).  Despite how it might appear, I want you to know that I highly value education for my child. After all, I am personally a “highly educated” individual with a BS in elementary education (no less) and a MS degree and a PhD and even an MD degree. Yet, despite all those initials trailing my name, I am unable to remember to check the homework folder on a daily basis. It’s a character flaw.

In the spirit of true confessions, I’m sorry to say that I have also not yet cut apart those addition and subtraction “flashcards” to begin practicing. I’m pretty sure that someday that card stock paper and a pair of scissors will be in the same vicinity and I’ll get to it. It just hasn’t been today or yesterday or the day before….

Also, we read for about 10 minutes every night (I mean, most nights, well, I mean on those nights that I’m not already falling asleep reading to the other brothers) and as it always feels like 20 minutes, I’m hoping that counts for our “daily” reading time.

I would also like some clarification of the terms “homework” and “please practice” that you clearly have ink stamps to use on their papers. “Homework,” I take it, is something that you definitely expect to be completed and returned the next day…in the ideal world. On the other hand, the “please practice” pages are something that can go into the ‘papers that I intend to deal with at some later point that is not tonight because the kid is already asleep‘ stack. Is that accurate?

In the same vein, is it okay to skip the night’s homework assignment if the 6-year-oldcrumpled is in the “I-will-crush-and-crumble-all-paper-in-my-sight” kind of mood? I doubt the morning will be any better, but I’ll try to get him reading Nan the Cat as soon as possible!

Just a couple more questions. When my son is on the list for “Star Student of the Week” for January 11th, is that something you expect me to keep track of or will you be providing some kind of reminder system post holiday chaos so that the poor guy isn’t identified as having “Loser Mother of the Year” for the week?

Also, I hope that you got the “mystery student” paper bag with 5 tiny objects that are somehow reflective of my son that I dropped off around lunch time on the day it was due? Maybe you might have given him a chance to show his bag that afternoon so he wouldn’t feel left out. (Oh, I guess that would defeat the purpose of guessing who it belonged to. Huh, just thought of that. Nevermind. On the other hand, will we get that bag back soon? We could use the hockey puck this weekend and I’m worried the crab leg to signify having been to the beach might increase in stench intensity soon. Just wondering.)

And finally, that Class Dojo app that now beeps incessantly on my smartphone dojo to inform me that the kiddo has yet again received a “ -1 for talking to neighbors” – will you be continuing that all year or is this just a first-month fad that we’re all going to get tired of PDQ? (My gram liked to use that for Pretty Darn Quick. I’m thinking Positively Definitely Quitting!).

I think that sums up my apologies and questions for now, day 10 of the new school year. It’s likely some continuing confusion might linger, but once I get the house unpacked and the kids’ sports schedules imprinted, we should start on a better trajectory.

Thank you for your patience and even more importantly, thank you for loving “education” so much that you passionately teach at least 20 energetic kids every day and gracefully cope with many more quirky parents. It’s a challenging job and a huge responsibility and I’m thankful that you are there to give my kid a hug when he needs it, a pat on the back when deserved, and a push in the right direction when necessary.

Please let me know if I can help in any way (other than the obvious stuff that I clearly should be doing and haven’t yet).

Yours gratefully,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only I was a stay-at-home mom…for the school.

Sometimes I wish I was a stay-at-home mom. I would get the Legos picked up off the floor. I would have the clothes actually put away in drawers. I wouldn’t get so wrapped up in trying to decide whether to crate the dog and keep the floors clean or chance it that maybe she won’t pee today while we’re gone.

And if I managed to get all this done during the day, I’d actually look forward to hugging the boys after school and sifting through their artwork and crumbs and broken pencils to find the one sheet of homework crammed into the torn folder in their backpack. I’d pull it out and gently guide them through a relaxing session of learning at our comfy “homework” snowman2station, reviewing their scattered errors on the week’s spelling or math test, finding the blue crayon to color in the weekends and yellow crayon for the weekdays of the calendar, and cutting out and pasting a photo of something beginning with the letter “N.”

Life would be so different if I was a stay-at-home mom.

It’s 4:17 pm. I leave a meeting at a local university. I’ve been in and out of the office all day. I’ve been trouble-shooting via email. I’ve been writing up grant ideas. I’ve been designing our new website. I’ve been answering phone calls. I’ve been learning how to merge scanned pages into a single PDF document. I’ve been shaking hands, smiling and thinking up grand ideas for collaboration during a two-hour meet-and-greet session. And I’ve been sweeping all that into the corners of my mind during the harrowing drive on snowy roads to get to the daycare center to gather the two youngest boys.

I rush through inches of snow in dress shoes to check on the driver of a car crash right  beside the center. I put up cones “borrowed” from the day care center to warn other drivers. I meet the parents of my middle kid’s new best friend. I commiserate on how not all day care centers are perfect. I find coats and back packs. I forget (again) to empty the papers from the boys’ mail slots which overflow until the teachers just hand them to me. I buckle the boys in with fingers numb from cold exposure and stubborn carseat buckles. I turn on track #8 so we can listen to it for the thousandth time. I breathe.

Home – gather up and take out trash and recycling. Move the clothes from washer to dryer and start the next never-ending load of soiled torn boy clothes (and just spray a couple of those stained white items – who ever bought white!?!). Take the dog out and beg her to pee because my ears and legs are frozen standing here with you. Open and close the fridge looking for left-overs. Open and close the cupboard doors looking for something mildly nutritional. Greet the second-grader dropped off by my mother who helps with after-school care. Warm up the chocolate milks. Monitor the math homework of the eldest child. Stop countless battles over Legos, time with the dog, who broke the train set, flashlights, Spy Gear goggles, books, basketballs, stuffed animals. You name it – it’s scattered on my floor and ammunition for whichever kid doesn’t have it in his hands at the moment.

Bathtime. Pajamas. Mama’s glass of wine.

Book reading. Teeth brushing. Really – put the pull-up on!

Settle down. Stop joking around.

Be quiet

Lay still.

By the time the oldest and youngest are asleep (and I awake from my mini-nap on their bed), I find the kindergartener wrapped in his special “blue blanket” sacked out in front of the space heater. I sigh. Lifting him gently and tucking him into bed, I kiss his forehead and pat the dog who cuddles in beside him.

Quiet.

For a moment.

I’m sorry, dear kindergarten teacher. Thank you for your kind email this morning. Yes, I know that homework at age five “is important to set a good foundation to carry through in the upper grades”….but I just didn’t get to it last night.

Forgive me.

And yet, this single working mother of three wild, delightfully rambunctious boys is going to do better today. I think…..

Uncovering the mind

Give me a Hemoglobin A1c of 7.5, and I’ll tell you you have diabetes. Give me an EKG with ST elevations and I’m sending you off to the emergency room. Give me a boy who is active, bouncy, grumpy, defiant, aggressive, combative, sweet, sensitive, fearful, shy, and tender all rolled into one and I have no idea what to do.

  • Give me almost daily phone calls from the principal of the prior school.
  • Give me constant reports from family members about his difficult behavior.
  • Give me sleepless nights and buckets of tears and I keep trying to figure him out.

What happens inside the brain is a mystery. Thousands of neurons firing. Thousands of connections being made. Thousands of signals to control the body, the emotions, the thoughts, the dreams. And yet, this Super Tall Guy just seems to “be wired” a bit differently. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and hundreds of blogs and articles on the internet. We’ve done months of counseling (which seemed to help mainly me!). A whole battery of assessments years ago. Time outs. Time together. Removal of privileges. Rewards. Grounding. Behavioral charts. Taking away toys and gadgets. You name it, and yet he remains a mystery – spontaneous, impulsive, defensive….challenging, oh so challenging to parent.

“Definitely ADHD,” she said as we sat in the small conference room at the neuropsychology office for the “feedback” session. “All the testing points to it and believe me, it took a tremendous amount of effort on my part just to get him to focus and complete the tasks in the evaluation.” Uncovering the brain….

“He also has dysgraphia, a learning disability making it hard for him to express himself in writing. And a difficulty with fine motor control plays into all of this as well. Any questions?”

You know how you can sit there blank and not have any questions at all? Nope. Not really. Will definitely google this later.

Ah yes, a question – “So….what do we do?”

  • Medication
  • Learning support at the school
  • Occupational therapy

I’ve been wary of the diagnosis for years now. Is the rise in the number of kids with ADHD a true picture of the burden, or is it another clear case of trying to fit kids into a mold that’s just not right for them? Is there something we should be doing differently or is this just the way it is for some kids? For my boy, he just never met criteria each time we filled out questionnaires before, and yet on more in-depth testing it pops out.

I can’t deny it really. He is impulsive. He interrupts. He bounces off the couch. He punches his brother and then acknowledges that the bump was likely an accident as the little one walked by. He is a zombie in front of a TV set as the rapid-fire stimulation of Transformer Rescue Bots engages his neurons. He hates spelling words. His handwriting is awful. He plays with Legos but his 5-year-old brother can construct them more easily.

You want to label the kid rude, aggressive, immature. Maybe it’s a lack of consistent parenting. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s a lack of motivation. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe his brain is different.

Quote from "The Giving Tree" ~ Shel Silverstein

Quote from “The Giving Tree” ~ Shel Silverstein

Tomorrow we meet with the psychiatrist. Tomorrow we talk about calming down the brain with medication. My stomach tenses. I wasn’t ready to discuss medication at age 4 or 5, but now? But now, we might need just a little more help….

uncovering the mind of my son….