What made us ask?

The Princess asked awhile back what made us start having Little Man evaluated for autism. It’s all so ingrained in my mind….the horrific summer we had between his first and second grade years….the micro-managing, the meltdowns, the worry that maybe I just wasn’t being a good parent to him/not hard enough. I remember being SO offended when my sister, who is a para, suggested we have him evaluated.

That summer was so miserable. I was exhausted trying to keep him from falling apart and/or lashing out every  minute of every day. We knew to do countdowns before we left for anywhere or changed activities. We knew he didn’t like unexpected loud noises. We knew certain things kept him comforted. But I lived from minute-to-minute, never knowing what disaster would come next. By the time school started, we knew we were dealing with ADHD at the very least. I was in denial about anything else. At his parent/teacher conference six weeks into the school year, I asked his teacher what she thought. She legally couldn’t really say anything, but when I said we were considering having him evaluated, she just nodded her head and said she thought that was a good plan of action. We’d known her for a few years already – I was comfortable enough with her to be honest about my fears and concerns. She’d had enough time to get to know him in the classroom setting. We all knew something wasn’t quite the same as other kids for my Little.

When my sister made the suggestion, I immediately texted my BFF – who happens to have a daughter on the spectrum. She’d spent some time with Little Man over the years of our friendship, and knew the summer we’d experienced. She said to me, “You know, she might be right.” I had an A-Ha moment of epic proportions. Appointment with the pediatrician scheduled the next day, which earned us ADHD eval paperwork and a referral to a child psych specializing in ASD. Within a month,  we knew he was ADHD, hyper type, and autistic.

I cried the day we got his official diagnosis. In so many ways, it felt like a life-sentence. I didn’t know what to do, how we would manage, what life would look like now. Then another friend with a son on the spectrum reminded me that Little Man was still Little Man. A diagnosis hadn’t changed him from one day to the next. That diagnosis would just get him the help he needed, and it helped describe him, but it did not define him, nor us as a family. It is part of who he is, who we are, but it is not all.

There have been some pretty dark days since Diagnosis Day six years ago. Some of those days have left us scarred. And autism does not go away, ever. What started us down that road? Well, it was just a realization that he wasn’t just an immature youngest child who was behaviorally challenging to us…..a realization there was something more, something deeper, and that we all needed help.  It was the complete understanding there was something different about him, that we weren’t just horrible parents and he wasn’t just a horrible, misbehaving child. That “more” was the impetus. And so, here we are, six years later…..he’s still autistic, but he’s still my Little Man. Nothing about that has changed.

Oh yeah, IEP time

Little Man’s IEP normally falls the first week in December, smack in the middle of Nutcracker hell week, and right around the time of our wedding anniversary. The coordinator called me late in October, and asked if the week before Thanksgiving break would work. Uh, yep….way better than dealing with it/squeezing it in the midst of all the other madness. I somehow put it in the back of my mind, and it snuck up on me. Heck, this whole year has pretty much snuck up on me.

Sooooo….the Friday afternoon leading into the Thanksgiving break, and 1.5 hours before I was supposed to leave for dinner/drinks and the Sound of Music, I was sitting in the small conference room at Little Man’s school, with his team, for his annual IEP meeting. Joy.

We’d had our concerns this year. I believe I wrote about them earlier in the school year. But, as I’ve had happen at pretty much every single one of his IEP meetings, the team addressed any requests/issues we had before I had a chance to raise them. We are all on the same page, that of keeping him on the good, upward path he’s currently on, and getting him ready for high school. That conversation was a huge part of the meeting – what we need to do, what we need to be thinking about, the goals he has and how they’ll translate, what can be done to ease that transition.

He has two subject teachers this year, as well as a PE teacher, and then whomever is teaching the Elements class he chooses. That means he’s seeing at least four teachers a day. He is moving around from classroom to classroom, albeit in a much smaller setting than he’ll see in high school. I’ve met his teachers before – parent/teacher conferences were last month – but I didn’t really get a grasp of anything beyond his academics, and how much improved he is over last year overall, until the IEP meeting. They are both the perfect combination of compassion and understanding and the tough love he needs to show him the boundaries, limits, and push him a little bit. That was the big thing we were going to ask for – that they push him, get him to stay in the classroom as much as possible, keep him engaged in the lesson/group/activity as much as possible. They’ve already started doing that. He’s up to 99% as far as in-class time. Last year, I think he hovered at 65-75%. They don’t let him push the buttons he did last year to get his way. They’ve learned he will cry to escape a situation. They are both handling him brilliantly. I felt immensely relieved after talking with them and hearing from them in the meeting. They are both exactly what he needs this year.

Another big part of the conversation was getting him to participate in the IEP process. In high school, he is expected to be part of the meetings. They want full buy-in from him on his goals and needs. To get that, he needs to give input. Now, Little Man HATES hearing conversations about his differences, deficiencies, needs. He goes into meltdown, or lashes out, or shuts down completely. We’ve made a plan that next year, he has to come to the meeting with one goal for himself, and one question about high school, the IEP process, etc. Once he’s participated in that much of the meeting, he will be allowed to leave the room. We do know his limits.

Here’s my thing: as much as we’ve been thinking about prepping him for high school, his team has been thinking about prepping him for high school. It is a huge part of the conversation. I was SO relieved to understand they are  on the same page in this regard. They care about him, the whole him, not just the academic him. They know him, what makes him tick, what helps motivate him and keep him on track.

Let’s just wrap it by saying the meeting went really well. I feel they are not just HIS team, but my team as well, that we are indeed working together to give Little Man the best education in the best environment for him. Bonus – the IEP meeting is done before Thanksgiving and all the madness December brings around here. AND I was one time to leave for the show.

Dug Himself a Hole

The theme of “Parenting Teenagers is REALLY Hard” has been done here at the Herd pretty consistently lately. That’s because parenting teenagers is REALLY hard, and, well, this place here helps me process everything. Thanks for hanging in there with us.

I’ve had this layer of sadness hanging over me today, sadness and anxiety.  We had a meeting at the high school yesterday with Big Man, all his teachers, and his guidance counselor. Yes, it’s reached that point. We want to help him. We need to help him. He needed to hear it from more than his parents. It was an hour of  hearing what a good, well-liked student he is, but a student who doesn’t do homework. He’s an intelligent but dumb teenage  boy. Does that make sense?

We were given stacks of missing assignments in every class but one. Deadlines were extended, concessions made. Every teacher wants to help him reach his potential. But  he has a huge hole to dig himself out of. HUGE! (Did you just hear Trump in your head? I did). I looked at that stack this morning, and was overwhelmed for him. He spent three hours doing homework last night, because goodness knows he has to keep up with his current work, tests, and quizzes, as well as hammer down the long list of missing assignments.

We had to look at everything, all the work needing to be completed, what the deadlines are, when tests are coming up, and develop a plan of attack. This kid will essentially have no life outside of academia for the next couple of months. Do I feel bad for him? Yes, but at the same time, he put himself here.

I think he’s learned a valuable lesson he will carry with him the rest of his life.  The lesson is this: even when you think it isn’t necessary, you still have to do the work. That applies to school, to work, to life in general. Do. The. Work. You can’t slide by on being a good test-taker, the fact you easily retain information you hear in the classroom, nor the fact you’re charming and people like you. Do the work.

He heard a lot of good things yesterday too. It wasn’t all doom and gloom. He knows we and his teachers aren’t out to get him, that we’re all here to support him and help him be successful. It’s been a really rough couple of months, but again, I’m kind of glad we’ve gone through this now, when he’s home under our roof and radar, when we can take action on his behalf, reach out to his teachers and support staff, rather than years from now when he’s in college and we have no hope of knowing until it’s entirely too late he needs help.

That sadness – I think it comes from being overwhelmed, from having to teach your precious sixteen year old a very tough lesson, from knowing he’s capable of entirely more than he’s been showing. Add to that, he has an appointment with a specialist this afternoon for yet another medical issue, and me just being tired, makes for an emotional momma. We’ll get there. We’ll get through. Life lessons are tough on everyone.

Getting to use it

I have a degree in English Literature.  I also went to a school wherein if you were majoring in English Lit, it was assumed you’d be headed to their teacher program post-graduation, so the degree came with heavy grammar and writing requirements.  Well, I didn’t go into the teaching program. I’d never planned on it. I went into the insurance industry instead.  For years, I didn’t use my degree one whit, unless you count writing claim reports, transcribing investigative interviews, or writing compelling requests for settlement authorization.

Six or seven years ago, we formed a book club amongst our group of friends.  I had part of my learning process back, and loved it. I’ve also volunteered in the kids’ classrooms, helping with reading groups and, when Big Man was in fourth grade, writing. But nothing over the last twenty-plus years (geez, I’m giving huge clues how old I really am!),  I haven’t really used my degree. Oh, I write here, and that counts, but you know what I mean.

Big Man is in ninth grade. He’s taking Honors English. He’s reading things I read my Freshman year, and then some. But it gave me a new confidence to be able to work with him on a paper, to help him with definitions in the book they’re currently reading, to help him work out themes and support his ideas/thoughts.

The kids are used to going to their dad for help with math and science questions. They haven’t really needed much help from me other than asking me how to spell stuff, or if they  had put commas in all the right places. Big Man has looked at me with new eyes in recent months, and it feels good. I’m good at something, and I can help him. Strangely, that’s made me feel like I matter more than for just doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning. I’m getting to use all those awesome things I learned way back when, and that’s kinda cool.

Friday Favorites #13

First off, isn’t it great I missed a week awhile back and didn’t have Friday Favorites #13 on Friday the 13th? I’m not much of a superstitious person, but that would be a bit much even for me. Second, today, well this whole entire week actually, has been insane. The open tabs at the top of my screen number in the 20’s right now.  If I accidentally include a link to the ballet trunks my daughter needs for Nutcracker, you’ll know why, and I apologize in advance. Third, I learned today that taking a dog and a cat to the vet at the same time – even with the cat secured in a carrier – is a lot like taking three kids to have their Holiday portraits done. STRESSED!!! And sopping with sweat by the time we were done. Doesn’t help it’s 82 degrees on November 20th.

What are all my American blogging friends doing for Thanksgiving? Can I just tell you how excited I am to not set a 5:45am alarm for a week? My joy over that is exceeded only by that of not dealing with dropoff or pickup lines for nine days. And the dance studio is closed all week, outside of a corps rehearsal for Nutcracker on Monday  morning, and her usual class/rehearsal marathon tomorrow. I get to see my Daddy, which makes me one very happy girl.  And the kids and I -maybe Spouse too, if he’s so inclined – will go see the last Hunger Games movie, which has become a Thanksgiving tradition for us over the last few years. Anyone seen it yet? Is it good? Please, please, please, let it be good!

But I digress……

Lots of good reads out there today. I was trying to read and select quickly, but my feed kept loading with new posts. So today’s list is a little long. Take a gander at a few at least. They’re worth it.

  1.  A Momma’s View shared probably one of the most amazing messages to come out of last week’s attacks in Paris. Would that we all could be a little more like this man who has lost so much, but refuses to give the terrorists what they want most, our fear and hatred.
  2. OM at Harsh Reality frequently gives bloggers the opportunity to share their links. He’s an awesome encourager of writers, and he’s great at networking. He responds quickly to comments. And he’s just a great guy in general. Go read, and share your link! It’s an easy way to connect with other bloggers. His blog reviews are spot on as well.
  3. Matt on Not-Wordpress posted a gorgeous photo, especially if you’re a fan of libraries and books. This looks like my personal heaven.
  4. Another photo caught my attention today, this one at The Daily Blabber.  I love turtles! And this feels a lot like my life in that dropoff loop.
  5. If you don’t like peanut butter and chocolate together, I’m afraid we can’t be friends. This recipe posted on Be Like Water looks incredible. I’ll be trying this out, for sure. Oh, those pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes I pointed out last week…..ahhhhh…..ambrosia.
  6. Please, please go read My Least Favorite Child Today, particularly if you need something lighthearted and hilarious. I had Irish twins, I can’t imagine what having twins is like. He brings it home. And there’s just something about dad’s writing about their kids.
  7. Holley at  Chasing Destino shared Chapter 1. I am intrigued. Why is she in the boat? Who’s blood is it? I WANT MORE Holley!!!!
  8. Mr. Mum is a stay-at-home dad. Maybe I relate because I’m a stay-at-home mom (which is a huge oxymoron, because I’m almost never actually “at home”).  Anyhoooo…he wrote today about his life these days, and how his “job” probably isn’t anything like his younger self imagined. I go through this a lot. Can you relate? Are you what you thought you’d be when you grew up?
  9. Geoff at TanGental writes some amazing stuff. His short story this morning…just wow. Have  you stayed in touch with people who were such a huge part of your life way back when? Do you know their hardships? Their accomplishments? And do we really see people when we see them?
  10. Fisticuffs and Shenanigans showed supreme self-awareness with this post this morning. Teachers are awesome, just sayin.
  11. I did not know that the Macy’s in Union Square in San Francisco did their Holiday windows with rescue pets up for adoption. If I didn’t already have a herd, I’d probably head up there.  Cute Overload is spreading awareness.
  12. Jacqueline at a cooking pot and twistedtales was talking Bond this morning, James Bond…and Bond girls. Who’s your favorite Bond, and if you could be a Bond girl, which would it be?
  13. And who doesn’t love golden/English golden retriever pups, or jewels? Here’s your double-dose of Cute Overload for the week. Aren’t those faces just precious?

Crackers!!! That was 13 links on Friday Favorites #13. Now I’m REALLY glad #13 wasn’t last week on Friday the 13th. Creepy!!

Happy Friday!

I don’t dance

When people find out the Princess is a dancer, they generally ask if I danced growing up. I didn’t dance. I did swimming, gymnastics, cheerleading, and music. I think I remember taking a tiny tots ballet class for a hot minute when I was about three. But I wasn’t a dancer.  I put the Princess in dance because I desperately needed to balance all the boy going on in the house. She started with that Saturday morning ballet/tap/tumbling class. She was three. I didn’t know how long it would last. But after every recital and subsequent summer break, she answered in the affirmative to going back to class.

In those early years, the parents sat outside, literally. We could see the kids, but we were on the other side of the door. It was better that way, easier for the teacher and TA to corral the little heathens ballerinas. And it was mostly for fun, so there wasn’t pressure to have pointed toes, straight legs, perfect hands/arms.

When she decided to quit soccer and focus on dance, we both got a bit more serious. She would look to me for correction sometimes, or to be sure I thought she was doing something right. But after about a year of that, I decided I needed to go back outside the glass again. I’m her mom, not her instructor or director.  And I didn’t dance, especially at the level she’s achieved. These days, even if I stay during class time, I don’t watch. I definitely don’t correct her at all. That’s not my job. That’s what I pay her teachers to do. They know what they’re doing. I’m just the mom, part of the audience. I am the enabler…I drive her to and from. I pay for her classes, private lessons, recitals, shows, and costumes. I bake for the bake sales. I make and sell dance grams at recitals. But for the rest, this is her gig. During class, she is theirs to correct, instruct, encourage, help develop.

Nowadays, if and when I watch, it is as a proud momma. I love to see her dance. But I try not to even look to see if her feet are pointed, her arms are right, her legs are straight, if she’s falling out of her turns, and I definitely don’t talk about any of those things with her, especially during class. That’s not my place. That’s not my job. My job is to love her, to encourage her, to support her, to help her achieve her goals and dreams. I can’t tell you how many times, when I do look up and watch, I am nearly moved to tears. I could only wish to be able to do what she does, and do it so beautifully. She doesn’t need me to pretend I know what I’m talking about, tell her how to fix things. She needs me to love her. And that’s totally easy.
Edited to add: Trust me when I say, I am not perfect with this. There are days I’m watching through the glass and find myself mouthing at her, “Point your feet!”  It’s a work in progress. But I just remind myself, she has teachers. I just need to be her mom. 

Friday Favorites, #3

Just how did it get to be late Friday afternoon, and I’ve essentially accomplished nearly nothing all day? I did manage to walk three miles this morning, and take a shower (I know those within my vicinity are super happy about that). I also took lunch to the Princess for the first Parents’ Day at Lunch this school year. Other than that, the day has escaped me. I’m currently attempting to motivate myself to join the Princess in the kitchen to bake stuff for the fundraiser at the dance studio tomorrow. Anyone want to bake some brownies or cookies for me?

I have spent the last 90 minutes reading posts to come up with my Friday Favorites. They’re across the board today.  The little Syrian boy who washed up on the beach is an image that is there whenever I’ve closed my eyes today. Then there’s the autism stuff, cuz, well, that’s our reality. I threw in some poetry for good measure. And who doesn’t need puppies on a Friday afternoon?

#FridayFavorites for today are:

  1. Chasing Destino and her Paris Wish List. I want to go to Paris and take romantic selfies. Plus, cheese and wine. Need I say more?
  2. mummuddlingthrough gave words to my thoughts on the refugee crisis, as did
  3. Suzie Speaks
  4. As usual, Opinionated Man at A Good Blog is Hard to Find made me laugh, because my FitBit often tells me the same thing.
  5. Square Peg in a Round Hole had some good parenting advice I needed to read. The boys’ rooms are just about at my limit of tolerance for disaster zones. It helps to be reminded there’s more to life than a clean bedroom. Today, I’m choosing to close their doors, and avert my eyes.
  6. Then there’s this at She Said, She Said  Where’s my cape?
  7. Here’s some philosophy from The Chatter Blog 
  8. Tricia at Never Less Than Everything wrote two posts this week which were simply awesome. If you’re not following her, please do. Here’s one that had me in tears. And her open letter to teachers said everything I would say.
  9. Puppies!!!! And droids! Together!!

And there you have it for today’s edition of Friday Favorites. Happy Weekend!