Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When Push Comes To Shove It's A Matter Of Trust

I took a leap of faith when I accepted a job at my children's local elementary school this year.

Last year, when my youngest daughter started at this school she was in fifth grade. She has been receiving special education services since kindergarten and has been mostly mainstreamed. The inclusion was good for her knowledge in content areas such as social studies and science, but it was not good for her ability to read.

Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say next. It isn't a matter of me being anti-inclusion. In fact, I want my child to feel included as much as the next parent, but I also want her to know how to read. And she wasn't making progress. 

At the beginning of fifth grade, she was decoding text at a first grade level.  

This was bad. 

And when I say bad, I don't mean disappointing or mildly distressing. I mean really, really bad. Like my child won't be able to read the menu at restaurants bad. Or fill out a job application. Or read street signs. Or sing karaoke. Or do any basic functional thing that requires following written directions.

That would be crippling for her. It would stunt her growth. And I found the prospect terrifying!

But the fifth grade special education teacher at her new school saw that my daughter had only thirty minutes of reading remediation daily written into her IEP. Thirty minutes a day for a child who is four full years behind her typically developing peers in reading! 

That is utter nonsense.

Well... to make a long story short, this teacher did what needed to be done to help my daughter learn to read. She pulled her out of the general education classroom for several hours a week despite push back from superiors who wanted full inclusion. At home I was reading picture books with her, then drilling flashcards, then reading chapter books for a little longer every night.  

At school her instruction was systematic and phonics based. But at home her instruction was constructivist, relying primarily on memorization and repeated exposure to text. I have heard educators debate the merits of each approach in an attempt to decide which is better for emerging readers. I'm not going to debate the matter here. 

Needless to say, both approaches were necessary for my daughter to learn to read.

This year she is in sixth grade. She is no longer behind her peers and is an avid reader. The terror I once felt that she'd grow to be an illiterate adult is gone, but I'm well aware of how easy it would have been for her to fall through the cracks. 

And I'm grateful every day to that special education teacher.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Very Frustrated

I don't know what to write about today. At work, the children I provide support to were mostly reasonable. But too many adults were quick to make decisions without first looking at the data.

Is was very, very frustrating.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Underestimating The Price

Children's activities are expensive.

Just thought I'd put that out there.

I'm in the process of paying for a camp for my oldest son that's about $2000. The Tae Kwon Do place where I send my youngest son after school is over $400 a month, and I feel like there's not enough mac & cheese and hot dogs in the world to keep my budget afloat.

I want to give my kids what they need to succeed, but I'm scared I'm running out of money. It will be better this summer because I'll get a break from paying after school care. It will also be better in a year when my youngest son reaches middle school age. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but some days it looks endlessly far off. Like today.

What if the darkness in the tunnel grows so thick that I get lost?

What if there's another tunnel at the end of this one that never ends?

Does anyone else feel like this?

Please tell me it gets easier.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tears and Tenderness

This last week was a stressful one for me. I think that's pretty evident from the general tone of my blog and how it deals with issue after issue. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. Especially since I lead a life that revolves around the needs of children with disabilities.

I grew up with a learning disability that affected my life in multiple ways, the least of which was my ability to write. I'm not even going to go into the religious perfectionism of my house growing up and how adversely that affected me. Or the toxic environment of the marriage that I left. It took me many years to gain clarity and to get healthy enough to strike out on my own. 

The divorce was difficult for my children, but it was for them as much as it was for me. 

Now that I have primary physical custody of my beautiful sweet children--three high functioning on the autism spectrum and one with ADHD--I can provide the kind of nourishing, supportive environment they need. My full time job as a case manager for kids with disabilities in the public school system is a good fit due to all this background. But the stress does mount at times. 

My ex had the kids this weekend. I went to a writers group event on Saturday morning. And by the time I arrived at my boyfriend's apartment Saturday afternoon, I was such an emotional mess I melted into a puddle of tears. 

But my boyfriend made me a cup of tea and sat on the couch with me as I sobbed.

It was embarrassing.

I apologized. And then apologized some more.

"If you can't cry here, where can you cry?" he asked me. 

Long story short, he managed to pull things out of me I didn't even realize were causing angst, and then he talked me through it all. Everything. We walked into the bedroom and turned down the sheets, climbing into bed for a nice long nap together. 

There's something magical about falling asleep in the arms of someone you love. 

Nothing is more healing.


Friday, April 21, 2017

S is for Sense of Entitlement

This is the story of two elementary school teachers, each in charge of a classroom with twenty-four students; five identified with special needs, six English language learners, four kids with emotional regulation problems, and one boy with a pattern of non-compliance.

The first teacher (we'll call her Missy) kept her class quiet by waiting for them to stop speaking before she went on. She used planned ignoring to minimize problem behavior while offering verbal praise to children who followed directions. This worked, but it wasn't enough for the students who needed more focused behavioral support.

The second teacher (called Susan for the purpose of this post) managed her class by zeroing in on the children with problems: those who talked, those who whined, those out of their seats. When a problem behavior persisted, she employed sticker charts and rewards. This worked, but it also made the class louder and caused other problems.

I should probably clarify that Missy had a baby halfway through the year and Susan took over her class. I was a fly on the wall that got to witness this hullabaloo. 

Scratch that, I'd make a terrible fly! 

Let me tell you what I've learned from seeing two very different approaches. 

1.) Missy's approach is better for the class as a whole, but not ideal for the kids on the margins. That said, if she adds a few individualized incentives for a select few that should make her classroom management stronger.

2.) Giving rewards to children alone is not an adequate classroom management strategy. Supports like sticker charts work great when rewards are really and truly earned. But if you give out those rewards like candy on Halloween they lose the ability to motivate anyone.

Plus, there's real danger in doling out rewards if you do it wrong.

Like fostering in some children a sense of entitlement.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Running from Religious Trauma

I realize this post might be a bit controversial since religion is a beautiful and uplifting part of life for many, many people. And to be clear, I'm all for any belief system that promotes peace on earth and good will to men.

And women.

If this has been your experience with organized religion, then I'm happy for you. Unfortunately, the religion I grew up in was very conservative and not in the slightest inclusive. It was kinda like this.



Minus the tacky billboard and the fire, of course.

As a result of really believing and wanting to act out what I was taught, I made some rather foolish life decisions that were not in my best interest. Like choosing a college major I couldn't make much money from because I knew God wanted me to marry and stay home with my future kids.

Like getting hitched after a six-month courtship to a man I'd not once French kissed, because I was determined to hold onto my virginity until after the wedding ceremony.

Like staying with that man even when he treated me poorly in order to fulfill my life's purpose.

The religion of my youth fucked with my mind like you would not believe, which is why you'd think leaving it would be easy. But it was endlessly hard. After over thirty years of believing, I couldn't walk away without repercussions. I had a community that was gone over night. A meaning for my life that simply vanished. And then, about one year after I'd extricated myself... the dreams came: Sickness for me, pain for my children. Satan incarnate threatening death.

I still have the dreams, but they're getting less intense. My marriage was hard and traumatic. I had expected trauma dreams from that experience, but not from something so commonplace.

Religion.

Doesn't everybody have one?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Quitting Is Not An Option

My apologies to all the lovely people who have commented on my blog in the last few days for whom I've not had a chance to reciprocate. I'm trying to follow more blogs and discover more voices.

I want to swim in the bloggersphere, not to sink.

And if I had my way, I'd have all the time I want to read blogs and get to know more people through their writing. But I came home from work on Monday and Tuesday utterly exhausted.

A lot has happened in the last few years. Good and bad. My children are stabilized and that's good. I have a full time job... also good. My ex no longer has to pay alimony, which means I feel less connected to him. That is so incredibly good!

But what's not good is that my job (which I mostly love) can be extremely draining on some days. And I never know when. 

I'm a first year special education teacher. There are many things I had expected going into this profession, like the paperwork that everyone warned me about and the inability to please everyone. 

I knew the children would have challenges and that I didn't have a magic wand to make those challenges disappear, but I love people. And I work hard. 

Some days are just more difficult than others. 

I am gobsmacked by the unpredictable and dangerous behaviors some of the kiddos on my caseload attempt at least once or twice a week. 

Generally speaking, I believe in inclusion. But when a student is a flight risk, why is he in a general education classroom? He can leave whenever he darn well pleases, and then I have to call for backup to chase him down before he escapes the building. 

If this happens once or twice, I understand. Children make mistakes, they have moments. Certainly, if the escape is prompted by a meltdown, that's something to consider. But this has turned into a regular event. And this child doesn't have meltdowns. 

So anyway, getting back to the theme of this blog post,  I'm not a quitter. Nor do I plan on quitting in terms of keeping up with the comments on this blog. So if you've left a comment for me and have since given up on me coming around to visit your blog, please don't. 

I will take the time to read everyone's stuff. It just might take a bit longer than anticipated. 


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Praying for a Miracle: Moving On After Divorce Part IV

For those unfamiliar with the previous installments of this blog series, my oldest son almost jumped out of a four story window roughly a year after I left his father.

He was 12 at the time and the divorce was terribly hard for him to deal with.  That said, the suicide attempt wasn't because of the divorce per se. My son is high functioning on the autism spectrum and has always had meltdowns. The changes in his life made these meltdowns worse.

I told my ex about the suicide attempt on the same day it occurred in a face-to-face conversation in the man's living room. It didn't seem like something to casually tell a person over the phone. And since I always had the children with me, they were running around and playing in the large 4,000 square foot house he resided in, mostly oblivious to the conversation.

As I spoke, my ex stood there mostly silent, not betraying his thoughts except for the skeptical look that crossed his face every so often.

Then, without warning, he called our son over to talk about the crisis, speaking to him as if they were having a private conversation even though I was still in the room. "I understand why you did it," he said. "I also had a mother that didn't listen to me."

He went on to explain in great detail how his mother had repressed him in various ways, how she had hurt him growing up by not listening to him or caring enough. Oblivious to how this speech was affecting our son, my ex continued to badmouth his own mother. Every glance in my son's direction was painful, because as the older man spoke, the younger man's shoulders slumped. He looked at the floor, his countenance grew sad, and I could feel the despondency in him, the shrinking. It hurt to watch him wilt like a dying dandelion. And I was powerless to protect him, powerless to say anything without making matters worse.

On the car ride home, I tried to draw my son out, but he wouldn't talk to me. The suicide attempt may well have been a meltdown gone wrong as his doctors said, but now he was sinking into a depression for real. We were over halfway home when he finally spoke. "Mom," he said in a despondent voice. "Mom, I left (insert name of most beloved stuffed animal) at dad's house."

I'm going to call my son's favorite animal Fluffles, because it's just easier. If it helps to imagine him, Fluffles is a multi-colored stuffed tiger with lots of holes. He is well loved.

Let me recap.

"Mom, I left Fluffles at dad's house."

"It's okay. We'll go back and get him." I steered into the left turn lane and put on my signal.

My son audibly gasped.

"What's wrong, Sweetie?"

"You do care."

---------------

Below are links to this story from the beginning:

Moving On After Divorce
Navigating Troubled Times: Moving On After Divorce Part II
Outside, Inside, Upside Down: Moving On After Divorce Part III

Monday, April 17, 2017

Outside, Inside, Upside Down: Moving On After Divorce Part III

I don't believe in corporal punishment.

It's harmful, brutish, and teaches the wrong message to children--that violence can solve problems and that love can be equated with pain. I am passionate in my stance against disciplinary violence, even now. But in the nameless horror of watching my 12-year-old son almost jump from a four story window, my first impulse was to spank him hard.

Then I was crying.

Then I was calling his psychiatrist.

Then I was moving all his things into the room where I slept because I was never, ever going to let him out of my sight again. I called the apartment manager and asked if we could nail the windows shut. "It's against the fire code," I was told.

I drove him to the psychologist that he'd been working with for the past year. She said he wasn't suicidal, only impulsive. "People commit suicide as an impulse?" I asked.

"At least half. The impulsive ones are more likely to succeed because no one sees it coming."

I felt as if the air had been sucked out of my lungs. "How do I watch him every second of every single day?"

"His psychiatrist can prescribe a drug for impulse control."

She was talking about Risperdal. His doctor had mentioned it several months before, but at the time we decided not to try the drug. It was an anti-psychotic. It has some pretty hardcore side effects-- weight gain, lethargy, tremors in the hands.

Back then I thought the risk was too great, but now I would do anything to keep history from repeating.

A suicide attempt changes everything.


Stay tuned for more...

---------------

Below are links to this story from the beginning:

Moving On After Divorce
Navigating Troubled Times: Moving On After Divorce Part II
Praying for a Miracle: Moving On After Divorce Part IV



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Navigating Troubled Times: Moving On After Divorce Part II

If you read the previous post, you will likely remember that I'm writing about moving on after divorce when you have a child in crisis. My oldest son (12 years old at the time I left his father) is on the autism spectrum. He is high functioning and change is extremely difficult for him.

During the separation the children and I moved from a 4,000 square foot house to a 1,200 square foot apartment on the 4th floor of an old cockroach infested apartment building on the wrong side of the tracks. There were two bedrooms and a small den.

I slept in the den.

The children shared the larger rooms.

Then my oldest son's meltdowns became more frequent and intense. He was breaking out into laughing fits, spitting on teachers, and attempting to run from school. My son had a therapist and a psychiatrist, but neither had immediate solutions to the problem. In an attempt to give my son a place to self-sooth, I changed the sleeping arrangements so he slept in the den.

This worked for awhile because the room had a large picture window overlooking the courtyard four stories down. It had objects he could use for self-soothing and a door he could close for privacy. Then, on a warm day after my two youngest children had gone to summer school, the unimaginable happened.

My oldest daughter (then 10 years old) had gotten upset over some household chores and threatened to run away. And my son became angry at his sister, then scared she would follow through on her threat. Instead of using his self-soothing strategies, my son started crying, then laughing. Soon he was knocking down objects in the living room. I told him to go calm down in his bedroom. Which he sorta did, but not really. I mean, he went to his room. But when he shut the door, a prickly cold feeling swept over me and I knew something was terribly wrong.

I called his name and there was no answer. I threw his door wide.

He had opened the window and kicked the screen to the ground. With one foot on the ledge and the other swinging out into the open air, he said, "That's it. Time to end this... now."

I wanted to scream. I wanted to rush over and pull him out of the window, to save my son by force, but the situation was too precarious. There was no time. Any physical contact would likely drive him over the edge, and all I could do was watch. Watch as his foot lifted higher into the sky.

Watch as he gripped the window ledge.

Watch as he swung his foot back inside and collapsed onto the bed, "I don't really wanna die," he whimpered.


Tomorrow, I will blog about the aftermath...

---------------

Below are links to this story from the beginning:

Moving On After Divorce
Outside, Inside, Upside Down: Moving On After Divorce Part III
Praying for a Miracle: Moving On After Divorce Part IV

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moving On After Divorce

I want to make one thing clear before I really delve into this topic. My ex and I have four kids together. We were married for a decade and a half. There's no such thing as a clean break after making that kind of commitment. It does not exist. All the books I read to help with parenting post-relationship (and there were A LOT) only did so much.

My ex showed our children Despicable Me and compared himself to the main character, making exaggerated noises of sadness whenever they were changing hands and it was my turn to take them.

"It's just like the scene where the kids are taken away," he told them, holding out his arms for a big hug before they piled into my car. This was invariably followed by long moments of silence on the road, mostly from my oldest son (12 years old at the time) who would make pointed statements while I was making dinner or helping with homework. Below are a few I heard all too often.

"Dad can't afford to buy us clothes. He's poor because of the divorce."

"Dad would be happy if you hadn't left."  

"Dad says you're the one who broke our family."

Since the number one rule of divorce is not to speak ill of the other parent, there was little I could say to my son without poisoning the well. So I mostly bit my tongue and listened, even when it hurt like hell. As mentioned in a previous post, my son is on the autism spectrum. So I can't really blame him for struggling with the change and believing  the words of his own father.

Change is hard for most typical children, but for a child on the spectrum... oh boy! 

There were so many emergency phone calls from his middle school, I couldn't have held down a job that year if I'd had one. "Ms Escaping, I need you to come up to the school; your son had a meltdown and pulled down his pants in the hall."

"Ms. Escaping, the fire alarm triggered your son into a meltdown. He spit on the teacher."

"Ms. Escaping, your son tried to run from the school. I feel bad about this call because we know it was a meltdown. He had no control. But we still need you to pick him up."

(Sigh) Are you noticing a theme here? My son has always had meltdowns, ever since he was a little tot, but back then the meltdowns were mostly just crying and screaming for a duration of 15 minutes or more. He didn't kick a hole in the wall until he was about 10. He didn't begin having laughing fits that we called being "loopy" until he was 11, and the laughing fits didn't turn into problems at school until I left his dad. 

In short, my son's meltdowns had become a source of extreme worry and concern. 

Everyone told me it was going to be hard when I left the marriage, but this? No one predicted this. Which brings me to the culmination of the manipulation/meltdown problem. You thought it couldn't get any worse, didn't you? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!  

My son now describes the culmination of this phase as, "The most awful moment of my life. " It isn't something he's proud of. In fact, I asked his permission before writing about this. But since this blogpost is getting a bit long, I'll have to finish this story on Monday.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Letting Go

Reading that title, you likely think this will be a beautiful and profound post about accepting your life and all the hardship it encompasses, but nothing could be further from the truth.

See these lilies?
























They are working damn hard to turn that sunlight into something beautiful, and the moment they let go is the moment they die. I don't wanna die. Do you? I want to live forever and ever. With cake. And beautiful music. And oodles of money. I'd have a closet full of purses, kick-ass boots, wall to wall shelves for a personal book collection that could rival the library of congress, and medical care would not be an issue, because I'd never get sick. 

On a personal note, my kids would be set for life. No more worrying about if they get good grades or are capable of supporting themselves. They would inherit gobs of money, just like Donald Trump. Who knows, maybe one of them will be the next President of the United States.

Let go of my unrealistic expectations?

Never!

Letting go is for chumps.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Screw This, Let's Go To Kauai!!

Two years ago, I bought this beautiful townhouse in a quiet neighborhood. And for the record,  I know what you're thinking, Who buys a townhouse when they can buy a real house? 

Well (sigh) I used to live in a "real" house. It was five bedrooms and 4,000 square feet with a two car garage on a quarter acre of land. Nice flat landscape with trees along the perimeter. Lovely property.  

Terrible memories.

It's a testament to how toxic my marriage was back then that I chose to move into a cramped cockroach infested apartment on the wrong side of the tracks with four anxiety-prone kids rather than live one more day in that house. 

The separation lasted a year. Then came the divorce.

After 18 months on the top floor of an apartment that too often smelled of cigarette smoke and urine, my kids and I were thrilled when we walked into the townhouse where we now live. It was February. Sunlight streamed in through the sliding glass doors off the eat-in kitchen. It had been snowing, but the coldness didn't stop the sun as I walked onto the deck and looked up. There was a tree, tall and majestic, spreading its branches wide against the chill blue sky. 

I fell in love. 

Perhaps that was irrational, but love doesn't have to makes sense. I closed on the house quickly over the next six weeks, moving the kid's beds over first while I slept on the floor.

Two years have since passed and in a poetic twist of fate, every time I flushed a toilet yesterday, water started bubbling up from the drain of the downstairs shower. The plumber came with a giant snake and a camera to find the problem. He told me tree roots had grown into a drainpipe and spent several minutes walking around the house in an attempt to find the nefarious culprit. 

It was the tree. The one I fell in love with. We will snake the pipe and eventually replace it, but that tree is part of our family now. I will not cut it down. 

And yet the title of this blog post is "Screw this, let's go to Kauai!"

I'd like to go to Kauai. I'd like to go kayaking in the ocean and swim with sea turtles, to relax on a white sand beach drinking cocktails under a big umbrella. To read all day. To write. And to have the freedom to pick up and move whenever I choose. 

But like the tree, I cannot do this.

I have roots.

Who I Am Doesn't Matter

I could be anyone for all you know. An exotic stranger. The person living next door. A monkey with the ability to type.

Alright, maybe not a monkey.

But it doesn't matter. Picture this: I'm sitting in an armchair next to a bay window as the sun rises. It's early spring and there are green buds on the trees. My nine-year-old son is lying on the couch reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The room is a mess--a toy helicopter lies in the middle of the coffee table, a box of tissues, stacks of books, a remote control droid beside a bottle of Prozak, work papers, junk mail, a stuffed dog next to a paperclip bent out of shape. 

Oh look... a metaphor for my life ;P.

I should really do some dusting. And laundry. If my parenting was measured by the state of my living room, I'd get sent to bad parent prison. Instead I'm relaxing. My youngest is curled up with his book and laughing. He brings the story over to show me the funny illustration of a boy trapped in a dream he can't escape.

My son likes books. He reads.

Did I mention he has dyslexia?

Last year I was terrified he'd never have moments like this. We read together ever night, even when the books were a bit too hard.

    

My reasoning: if I exposed him to enough words something would click. I printed out Fry sight words and made flashcards we went over daily. We read picture books and Curious George. Street signs. Labels at the grocery store. Everything.

Read, read, read, read, read. 

My son's abilities accelerated like a car going from five to ten miles per hour, it sped to twenty, thirty... then we reached a hill and could go no faster. The car stalled. The boy plateaued at a reading level one year behind his classmates. Worse, he hated reading.

We had the school retest him over the summer. His primary disability category changed from autism to a specific learning disability. 

The dyslexia was unmistakable.  

This year his special education teacher has been using a systematic phonics-based method for instruction, and he's making progress in reading once again. His spelling has improved. Writing is getting easier. As he puts Diary of a Wimpy Kid down on the arm of the living room couch, I ask him if he likes to read. 

"Yeah," he says. "I like reading now."

"What do you like about it?" 

"It's VERY funny." He picks up a plush ender dragon, black with purple eyes and gray-trimmed wings. He hugs it to his chest. "Can I use the computer now?" 
  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

When Reality Sinks In

I am average--5'6" with a medium build, slightly ruddy skin tone, my hair neither brown nor blond. My IQ hovers somewhere between 109 and 115. In high school I got mostly Bs and a handful of As. In college I signed up for an 8 am class my first semester and almost failed it.

8 am is too early when you're an 18-year-old college freshman.

I say this as a non-partying type, by-the-way. I don't have a tattoo. I don't smoke. I've never tried weed. I got my ears pierced at 20, lost my virginity a few hours after my wedding ceremony at 23, and had my first drink at 37. Needless to say, I am not an early bloomer.

I'm not even an on-time bloomer.

The one thing I excel at is reaching my milestones waaaaay late. Which brings me back to this blog and why I've created it. My name isn't Andy. I'm not a man. And while I aspire to be a writer published by a traditional press someday, the most I can call myself is a hobbyist at this point. A few self published books and a blog does not a professional author make.

Nope.

There are other things (and people) that make me proud. Like my four children. Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you about their perfect grades or the flawless strokes they demonstrate in swimming.

They aren't into sports. They don't speak French or play the violin.

They don't earn straight As.

But they survive. They work. My oldest is on the autism spectrum. Homework is hard for him because he doesn't always remember to turn in what he finishes. He spaces tests and gets lost in the halls. He's triggered by noises: fire alarms, police sirens, the crack of thunder. Yet, he'll walk into a storm to catch the bus. He knows himself. He has courage.

What could he possibly do to make me more proud?

I'm not a professional writer, or musician, or entrepreneur. There are a million things I want to do with my life that may never happen. A million dreams that fall from the sky like confetti that must be left to sit while I cook dinner, or do laundry, or write lesson plans for school. A million story ideas that no one will ever read. And yet I'm proud of my children.

Each one has a disability that means reaching milestones late. Each one is creative. Each one is kind. The world may never know how hard they work to achieve a state of average, but I will.

I will know.

And I will be proud.

When Reality Sinks In

I am average--5'6" with a medium build, slightly ruddy skin tone, my hair neither brown nor blond. My IQ hovers somewhere between 1...