Distance Learning in Real Life

Distance Learning Pic

When “distance learning” began, I thought to myself, “Whatever this brings will be my next blog entry.” I just didn’t know what it would bring. Folks, I’m here to tell you that distance learning has not brought good things. Not at all. 

Let’s start with the scorecard:

Number of F’s on high school student’s quarter 3 grades: 1

Number of F-bombs dropped on high school student by his mother: 2 

Who’s winning? Well, I would say that it’s a wonderful time to not have a child, so kudos to those of you who had the foresight to wait until after a pandemic to have children. Also, kudos to the empty-nesters. You did it! Congratulations to all of you. You’re the winners. 

If you’re reading this and you have children, there isn’t much more to say that you haven’t already experienced, but obviously I’m going to try! I can say when this first began– like the very first weekend– when I saw people’s extravagant schedules for “homeschooling” and the very positive attitudes, I was both jealous and realistically choosing to wait until I knew more about what was happening to create something I may need to toss to the curb once we got started. I wonder how those schedules are going now. I am sure some of those people are rocking them, like they seemingly rock life, according to their social media. I prefer to display the shitshow that my husband and I ringmaster over here. 

We have a schedule, which truly does help focus the day. What it does not help is how much assistance my child needs to complete his work. Let’s review the kind of learner he is… Oh wait! I still don’t know what kind of learner he is! He’s 15, reads like a champ, does crazy math in his head, can’t stay on task for longer than it takes for me to set him up and walk to my desk (dining room table) in the other room, and gets so caught up in minor details of assignments that he becomes stuck for literally hours if I don’t help him unstick. He’s so bright but lacks the things that all the important people say he needs to succeed: grit, effort, determination, focus, etc. 

So, here we are, drowning in missing assignments, emails to and from teachers, Post-it notes, Google Classroom updates, Google Hangout invitations, and more. These things are nearly impossible for people who have solid executive functioning skills to navigate, let alone someone with severe deficits in that area. This is not a “distance learning” situation where he receives assignments, does them, and turns them in with little to no help. This is a situation where we review what’s due each morning, create Post-its for each assignment and place them accordingly on his laminated calendar (laminating that calendar was the best part of this process), review the Post-its a few times each day, remind him of what he should be doing dozens of times, argue another dozen times while trying to help him with assignments, and thank Baby Jesus when we throw in the towel for the day. Notice I didn’t say, “when he completes his assignments for the day,” because that just doesn’t happen. 

Do you want to know the worst part of all of this? It’s me! I’m a mother-f-ing SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER! Yes, I teach Deaf/Hard of Hearing students, but I know the drill. So while I make videos for students, contact parents and teachers, work with interpreters who’ve suddenly become captionists, “attend” meetings, and plan lessons done from afar, I’m empathizing with the parents who have to work with my students who may or may not be struggling like we are. I’m also trying to help my struggling child who has an IEP in the midst of this, and I AM FAILING!

So, where are my words of wisdom? Hahaha! My first bit of advice is probably not to listen to me, as I co-captain this sinking ship. However, here are some things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, allow my husband to help our son with homework. This only makes things worse. No matter how badly I lose my shit, it’s 1,000 times worse when he helps him. Neither of them know when to just be quiet, so they argue and argue and no one wins. This helps me find some patience sometimes when I know I have to pull it together or the house will fall rapidly into a scene from “Shameless.” (Disclaimer: My husband is amazing. He’s an incredible father. He also doesn’t have the stomach for the useless arguing and banter and lack of effort coming from our little angel. I don’t know many people who would. Remember when I told you I’ve dropped some f-bombs?)
  2. Praise, praise, praise. When kids are actually doing what they’re supposed to, tell them. It’s hard to find those moments lately.
  3. Stop checking grades so often. It causes trauma in the family, and is simply not worth it. 
  4. Sometimes mediocre work is all we can expect, and right now, that is okay. 
  5. If kids are truly working throughout the day, but they still hand in late work, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day.
  6. Frequent breaks are a must! Our son runs with his dad every few days, he bakes cookies during “creative time,” and he sometimes just looks at memes. This has to be okay right now. 
  7. Go outside as much as you can. All of you. It’s healing. 
  8. At the end of the day, have fun together. We play games or watch a movie almost every night as a family. It’s helped us have good times even if we’ve had a really bad day together.
  9. It’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes, we all feel frustrated, we say things we shouldn’t say, we swear, we cry, or we just feel sad. Feel those feels, but then find the things to be grateful for and focus on them. Maybe even write them down. I’ve found a TON to be grateful for right now, especially being able to walk every day and having more time with my family.
  10. Speaking of writing things down, it may be a good time for you (and your kids, although mine refuse) to keep a journal of what’s happening in your home and in our world right now. It’s soothing to write and it’s an excellent record of this crazy time. 
  11. Also, breathe! School districts of the world, take a breath and stop keeping such high expectations! If we’re struggling in a house with two parents who work (from home right now) in education, imagine what is happening in the homes of students who aren’t as fortunate, or who struggle with abuse, lack of resources, etc. It makes me really sad for so many kids and families. 
  12. Do your best to not compare your situation to others, unless it makes you feel better. This may mean limiting the social media, even in this time when we’re all looking for connections. Sometimes less is more. It makes me feel bad when I see the happy kids doing their schoolwork while their parents bake fresh bread, plant their herb garden, sew some masks, and organize their closets all in one afternoon. Step away from the Facebook!

Again, I’m not sure why you’d want any advice from me, but do know that if you’re struggling, you are definitely not alone. I’m taking everything one day at a time, and I’m practically counting the minutes until Friday, when my kids won’t have school for 10 days! THANK YOU, BABY JESUS!

Photo by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash

Sports. Yay.

Sport QuoteSports. They are not my jam. During my rookie season of freshman basketball, I was asked to stop being a player and instead become a manager due to my utter ineptitude, despite the fact that I was the tallest girl on the team. Enter Cameron (14 years later). When he was about five years old, Cameron was running on the beach on his hands and feet like a dog, as he often did. A random man came to us and said, “I like your boy. He’s got good energy. Gotta get him into sports” (I wish you could hear his Wisconsin accent). He was right. We’ve always said we have to run him like you run a puppy to tire him out.

Being a sports mom is even less of my jam than sports. I’ve taken my kids to sporting events at the wrong time, wrong place, and on the wrong day. It seems like it would be easier to keep it all straight, but I think I have some sort of disorder rendering it impossible for my unathletic and noncompetitive brain to comprehend the ins and outs of organizing meets, clothing, practices, potlucks, etc. within our schedules. I depend on other parents (who probably judge me so hard) to help me understand how being a sports mom works. I’m apprehensive to start relationships with other sports moms for fear of being caught up in the sports parent subculture that I don’t understand–and let’s be honest–probably a little bit because I’m assuming they’ll judge my shortcomings as an inadequate sports mom. 

So when we are required to attend sports banquets, we dutifully bring our dish to pass, we sit, we eat (sometimes I bring a book for the super long banquets), and we watch as our son tries to fit in with his teammates at his table. We have watched as the kids at other tables look like they’re laughing at (not with) our kid. We have watched his coaches say kind and thoughtful things to everyone about each child, and say very generic things (i.e. “He had a good season. He tried hard.”) about ours. We have watched as kids on the team cheer loudly for their teammates and half-assedly clap for ours. I’ve given many of these kids death stares in hopes that they’ll look my way and I can mean-mug them. 

Meanwhile, throughout the season, we schlep him to practices and go to meets and hear him tell stories about how he only does the sport because he wants the exercise, but he doesn’t really have friends on the team. We hear about how he doesn’t get along with this kid, or how that kid is a jerk, and we always wonder what the real stories are behind his stories. Is he misunderstanding them? Is he being relentlessly annoying and driving them crazy? Are they actually being mean to him? Is he saying or doing things that are just not appropriate (I mean we know he’s doing and saying inappropriate things because he’s a teenager and we’ve seen his phone, but are the other kids offended)? We will never know. 

It hurts to watch him interact with other kids on the team. It is heartbreaking to see him struggle and not be sure if the root of his problems are mean kids, NLD, hormones, or some sort of combination of these. It’s sobering to be reminded that even when things seem okay, even when he looks like things are going well, even when he is a solid contributor to the team, there is usually something amiss. Sometimes even we’re fooled for weeks at a time that things seem to be going really well before we’re slammed back into reality with a phone call from school or an angry teenager on our hands who simply cannot navigate the social parts of the sports world just as his mom cannot navigate the logistics of that world. 

In the end, we try to help him as much as he’ll allow us to help (that means between him arguing about why we’re wrong before maybe listening to us after talking in circles before we realize he’s got us caught in an argument about something we were genuinely trying to help with). And we decide to be proud that he can recognize that he doesn’t have great friends on the team and that he still sticks with the sport. We decide to be grateful for the sports he does where he seems to have actual friendships. We try to build friendships for him and we support him when we see him floundering to maintain these friendships. We decide to be proud about the truly strong athlete he’s become in spite of his struggles. He’s actually quite good!

We are grateful he has an outlet for his never-ending energy (energy that disappears completely when it comes to any sort of work around the house). And I am grateful that I am slowly starting to get the hang of sports-momming. But don’t expect me to volunteer to plan a banquet, and do expect me to sign up to bring napkins as frequently as possible. 

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Open Letter to Our Sophomore

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Dear Cameron,

You have just entered your sophomore year of high school. Since freshman year was the worst year we’ve had, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. After all, there were so many things to fear last year that were barely on my radar. I tried and failed to prepare you for the workload in high school, but still you didn’t hand in your homework, and you had to deal with the consequences. I tried and failed to keep all the plates spinning with your school activities, but still you and/or your necessary supplies were dropped off at the wrong place, time, date, etc. (when it comes to being a working mom while being involved in your activities, I am not winning). I tried and failed to keep your mental health in check, but still there were struggles. I am still trying so hard to help you be a productive citizen of the world. You’ve come so far, but you have such a long way to go. You do the dishes now, but not necessarily what doesn’t go in the dishwasher without being asked 100 times. You “clean” the toilet, but it somehow looks exactly the same as it did before you cleaned it. You do the laundry, but leave the clothes that are hang-dried in a wrinkled clump of forever-damp fabric on the drying rack. 

It’s safe to say that your dad and I don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know how to raise a teenager. I mean, I don’t think we know how to raise an infant or toddler, either, but kudos to us for remembering to feed you when you couldn’t feed yourself! I remember being a teenager, but you and I have different experiences, not only because of the decades between our teenage years, but also because I don’t have the same challenges you have. And while your dad is afraid you’ll be like he was when he was 15, we both know you’re very different from him, too. Thank goodness.

With all the balls that I dropped last year, I’m really not sorry. I mean, I’ll still blame myself for my mistakes and will have to squash the guilt that comes up uncontrollably, but I know that every mistake I made helped me learn new lessons for you and for me. Every time I feel as if I failed, my shortcomings may have given you more of an opportunity to grow. Yet as you continue to grow, it’s easy to feel like I’m losing you. Honestly, though, I don’t know that you’ve ever really been mine. There’s always been a gap between us that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to bridge, but maybe I’m failing at that too. Maybe it’s just because of my own insecurities, but it’s hard not to feel that there has always been something I’m not doing right or something I’m trying to help you do better, and maybe the fact that I feel that way puts too much pressure on both of us.

So with this new school year, I will try to just be, and to let you just be. I will try my best not to “fix” you. You don’t need fixing, you need supporting. I will try not to help too much, but I will support a lot. I will continue to loosen the reins a bit more each year (either by accidentally sucking at parenting or by intentionally giving you more responsibility– either way, it’s good), while I see how far you can go without my guidance. I can’t promise I won’t remind you to do your homework, but I am not going to attach myself to feeling so frustrated when/if you don’t. I am sure I’ll check your grades online, but only once in a while. I will definitely mention if I see a less-than-stellar grade, but I won’t tie my emotions to it. You have to figure stuff out on your own without me guiding you all of the time.

You have great dreams for your future. I will do whatever I can to help you reach your dreams without trying harder than you are to achieve them. I will also not feel defeated if you don’t achieve those specific dreams, because I don’t want you to feel defeated. You’ve already come so far! There is so much for you, and frankly your dad and me, to be proud of! You have so many attributes that make us so proud and happy that we get to be your parents. I will focus on those positives instead of getting caught up in the many struggles that are inevitably going to occur this year. At this point, I have to have faith that at least some of the lessons we’ve taught you will stick, and that you’ll decide to make good choices all on your own because you know they’re good choices, not because of what your dad and I think.

I’m writing these things down because I will need reminding about them probably as much as you’ll need reminding to hand in your homework. But, hey… you said yourself that you used to need to be reminded to “do personal hygiene” and now you actually like it. Progress!

You will be great this year. 

I love you,

Mom

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Bullied. Literally.

Bullies have been a part of Cameron’s life pretty much since he started school. He’s been teased for everything from being in special education (even when he wasn’t), to reading on the bus, to dying his hair red for swimming (which all the boys did). He’s been called awful names and has dealt with awful things. Having Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD) means that sometimes he may not even realize he’s being bullied. Alternatively, sometimes Cameron isn’t actually being bullied, but he thinks he is.

The most funny bullying situation we’ve had, though– and yes, I did say funny– was when very-literal Cameron took our parental advice so literally, he crossed all social norms with his bully.

I’m sure many parents take a similar approach to bullying that we do. We teach our kids how to talk to bullies. We teach them to try to take away the power of the bully by ignoring or by telling them not to let the bully know they may be bothering them. We teach them to be kind and compassionate with their bullies. We teach them to be confident.

We’ve also explained that many times bullies come from homes where they struggle. They may feel out of control at home, so they try to create control at school by treating others like they’re treated. While it isn’t right, it is easier to ignore a bully when we realize they’re not targeting us because we are who we are, but because they are struggling too.

Last year, Cameron had a very relentless bully who would not leave him alone. He was even becoming physical with pushing Cameron, always when he knew the school cameras couldn’t catch him. Cameron did not want me to contact the school no matter how many times I asked, because the bully, in true bully form, said “snitches get stitches.” It would be worse if he knew Cameron told. When Cameron came to me for advice, I started with, “Well, he probably comes from a rough home. He may have parents who treat him poorly or something.”

Cameron replied, “No, Mom! He’s had a perfectly fine childhood!”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I asked him.”

Pause.

“Ah what? You asked him?”

Yeah… It went something like this:

“Bully (not actual name), are your parents divorced?”

“No.”

“Are they alcoholics?”

“No.”

“Did your mom do drugs?”

“No.”

“Do your parents beat you?”

“No.

I laughed so hard. I mean, the kid is brave, right? There is something to be said for being open and honest and just saying what we mean. If you’ve read other posts here, you may have noticed that I’m pretty blunt to the point of making many people uncomfortable, so couple that genetic makeup with NLD and you have Cameron’s very literal “Interview With My Bully.”.

In the end, Cameron had to aggressively stand up and tell the bully to leave him alone. He did not have to get physical, but him simply looking like he would was enough to stop the bully for a bit.

I wish I could say that as a high school student, the bullying has stopped, but it has not. As recently as yesterday Cameron was dealing with another kid who has been on his case for years. It seems to be getting worse. I’m not sure that he’ll turn to interviewing the kid about his home life, but it’s always a possibility!

 

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Parents of Teenagers, Unite!

One day, and it really will seem like it’ll be overnight, your baby, who you have sacrificed so much for (and yet you aren’t supposed to talk about what you’ve given up to have children because it’s absolutely been your choice and you knew what you were in for when you chose to have a child)– your baby will have become a stranger. A stranger who takes and takes from you. He’ll take your energy, your time, your money, and basically your belief in humanity. He’ll become belligerent for no apparent reason. He’ll become deaf to your offers to help him and blind to anyone other than himself and his own needs. He’ll say the meanest things to you and about you to anyone who will listen, all while you work and work to figure out how to help him succeed. But there is no manual. He will become the world’s most unsolvable puzzle. There is nothing to help you. There is no “Teenager and Me” class at the hospital like the “Mommy and Me” class you took when you were learning to care for a baby. And even if there was, you’d have no time to attend.

When your baby is a baby, people will probably help you because being a new parent is really hard. Your hormones are out of whack, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re so, so tired, and you are beyond overwhelmed. People may help you pick up your house, or they may bring food or watch the baby while you sleep. When you have a teenager, there is no help. Your hormones may be out of whack again (perimenopause at the same time as adolescence! What kind of a cruel trick is that?! Thanks, Biology.) There is no offer to take your teenager off your hands while you spend some quality time with your partner. Even if there is an offer, you’re not sure the person offering will be able to manage the shitstorm that is your life, and if you like that person and want to remain friends with them, you don’t want to do that to them. Your parents, who may have been helpful when you had a baby, are now nearly two decades older, meaning they may by physically less capable of helping, and certainly less in-touch to the struggles of today’s high school students. Many of the other involved parents of teenagers seem to be competing to see who can have the busiest lives and be the most involved in their children’s lives. They are clearly better than me, because I have a confession. I do not like going to my kids’ sporting events. I go because I love my kids and I support them in whatever healthy things they want to do (note: I added “healthy” as an afterthought, because now that I have a high school student, I’ve learned that I do not support everything my children do). I smile and clap and cheer and yell my kids’ names, but I do not enjoy myself. I feel uncomfortable being forced into conversations with other parents who smile proudly as they tell me about the hours they’ve spent waiting for their children in parking lots while their child spends time with friends. Or who talk about the morning practices that my child misses because it’s 6:00 am and he needs sleep, and I see in their faces that they are definitely trying not to judge me for not forcing him to attend, but it’s really difficult for them. And there are the parents who somehow have it all together and whose children seem to have it all together, too. No one is thinking that my child has it all together. All this talk makes me feel much less than they are. Less of a good parent, less of a juggler who can keep all the balls in the air, less involved because I want to nurture my other child as well as my relationship with my husband, especially when I feel like he and I are riding this sinking ship to the bottom. We’re like the old couple holding hands while our cabin fills with icy water on the Titanic. 

It is taboo to complain about all of this. However, I just want to say that if a real-life person treated you like your child has started treating you, your friends would tell you that you are in a toxic relationship and you need to get out. No one should talk to you like that. No one should be trying to hide stuff from you like he does. This is not a good relationship. Maybe you should get couples’ counseling. But this is different, because you chose to bring this stranger into your house about 14 years ago, give or take, and you’ve poured your heart and soul into trying to make him a good person and to make good choices. So don’t complain… You did this to yourself and you don’t have a right to complain. It’s just what teenagers do. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

I call bullshit.

Honestly, I am in hell. This person who I brought into the world… who I’ve spent so much time focused on and worrying about– is giving us a new reason to worry daily. Every day there is a new drama, a new threat to his safety, a new mountain to climb. And I literally don’t know how to navigate this.

Our teenagers in 2019 are among the first to have the amount of and access to technology like they do. They are among the first few generations who have two working parents, especially in conjunction with expectations that they should be doing every sport and activity the universe has to offer, and they probably need to volunteer too, because if they don’t, they’re not good people. Also, they need to get really good grades and save money for the college that those really good grades are supposed to get them accepted to. It’s no wonder mental health issues among kids (and their parents) are on the rise; no one can keep up with the pressures put upon them– even their parents can’t. Well, at least this parent can’t (imagine me here with my two thumbs pointed at myself). Parents of high school students are basically trailblazers right now. I am here to tell the parents that are following me that I am not the person to follow. I do not know what I am doing. Find another parent. Probably one of those I talked about a couple of paragraphs ago- they seem to know what they’re doing. I promise that I know much less now than when I brought that baby home from the hospital. 

So, I am proposing that parents of teenagers raise each other up. We help each other. When asked, “How are you?” we say, “I have a terrorist in my house who I love more than anything who is pushing me away so hard and it hurts so bad and he makes no sense and he lies so much and I am playing a game of chess every day from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed and then I’m dreaming about it and his grades are bad and I can’t keep up with work and home and I’m tired and puffy-eyed and just really fucking sad most of the time right now. How are you?” Instead of feeling shamed by these feelings– these feelings that I am not the biggest fan of this person I brought into the world– I’d like to feel validated. I’d like to come together and show other parents love and support and be united in helping each other. We can help each other by showing kindness. We can unite about rules surrounding technology. We can share tips and tricks. Mostly, we can be honest, supportive, and non-shaming.

It’s okay to hate being a mom or dad sometimes. It really is. Clearly, once you’ve brought a child into your life, you’ll be a mom or dad forever and ever, and the love for your child doesn’t change. But it’s okay to be sad when it’s really hard. It’s okay to cry because of postpartum depression, and it is also okay to cry because of perimenopause. It’s okay to cry because you’re worried sick about your child. It’s okay to put the baby down and let it cry because it’s safer than you holding it, just as it’s okay to send your teenager to his room and go for a walk because one of you could be hurt by words. It’s okay to mourn the loss of your life before kids, even when it’s been over 14 years since you’ve not had a child. Admitting these things doesn’t mean you’re giving up, it means you’re being honest.

Let’s be honest and kind. To each other and to ourselves. Starting now.

One Quarter Down…

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High school, here we are. One quarter in, and I am exhausted. I want to laugh at the me from last year, when I thought I was busy. Ha! You dummy! Just wait until he’s a freshman…

I want to be clear about the fact that I do not wear busy-ness like a badge of honor. In fact, I hate it. I have wanted a pause button for my life for a while now, but I can’t find one. Actually, maybe I pushed the fast forward button.

Let’s break it down, shall we? I work full time and feel like I can’t go more than a few days or less without managing another IEP meeting. My own son, who no longer has an IEP because the school determined a 504 Plan will meet his needs, requires extra parenting at home to make sure he stays on task (I’m guessing it takes him twice the time it takes typical kids to finish homework– HOURS every night) and turns in this homework. Perhaps I should be fired. He has already botched his high school GPA by not turning in the easiest assignments of all– the ones where he signs a piece of paper saying he agrees with the class policies and turns it in? Yep… not turned in. In at least two classes… I’m already watching colleges slip from his grasp and it’s only first quarter of freshman year. (For the record, I don’t truly believe these colleges are in his best interest; he was the one who said he wanted to go to the college with the reputation as “hardest to get into in the state”).

But wait! There’s more! He just finished up his cross country season, which was amazing for him socially, but that’s for another time. While he was doing cross country, he was also swimming for swim club. I was adamantly opposed to this idea, but I lost this battle, and have since been saying, “I told you so,” in my head so hard!

Also there was Homecoming, with the game and the decorating and the dances– two dances two weeks in a row because his date was from a different school. And then there’s the monthly volunteering he wants to do, which I can’t deny him because he loves it and I’m so proud of him.

And while I know he is so tired from all of this, as his mom… well, there are no words for the overwhelmed exhaustion that pours out of me via irritability, tears, overreactions, etc. I am working so hard to help him with homework, to keep the house clean (I mean, kind of), to keep him as social as he can be, to make sure his sister isn’t lost in the shuffle (she usually is), to go to his cross country meets, to parent meetings, to band concerts, to volunteer to bring food to pasta parties or work the band fundraiser, to be a wife, to cook healthy foods, to go shopping, to figure out what is going on with his sister and her issues (another story for another time), to keep all the plates spinning, that I feel like I am about to explode at any given moment.

Thank you for letting me vent.

There are many positives here. He doesn’t usually need help completing his homework, just the staying on task and remembering to turn it in parts. He truly is maturing, too. He’s learning to react more appropriately most of the time, he’s working on growing his social skills, he’s admitting to his mistakes more often than before, and he’s becoming easier to talk to. He even argues much less than he used to. When he was handed consequences for the grades, he agreed. He did not argue! Miracle. He’s incredible in so many ways. I’m so grateful for his emotional intelligence, which was in question for a long time. I’m grateful for his empathy, compassion, and kindness. With all this, though, he still has needs unique from other teenagers; the executive functioning struggles he’s had for years are still an issue, and they feel even bigger when I need him to function independently–and he truly wants to– but he genuinely cannot. 

I do not have a moral to this story. I do not know how to get off this train, and I’m not sure I would get off if I could. I would definitely slow this train down, though. If I figure out a way to make that happen, I’ll let you know. Until then, I have a kitchen to clean and a daughter to put to bed. Choo choo…

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

This Too Shall Pass

sonja-langford-357-unsplashIt’s no secret that I’ve been pretty excited for Cameron to move on from each stage as he grows. Every stage of development has been difficult, from acid reflux as a baby to the sassy toddler who made a million encores after being put to bed every night (a tradition that still continues today), to middle school, which needs no further explanation. Yet today, as we prepare for him to leave middle school and move on to high school, I can’t help feeling emotional. I have worked with middle schoolers in some capacity for 13 years of my career, with eight of those being placed exclusively in a middle school. I was prepared for the difficult times we would experience as parents of a middle school-aged child– as prepared as one could be for the emotional roller coaster that is early adolescence. I was prepared for the sassiness, and the moodiness, the back talk, and having uncomfortable conversations. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly the time would go. I wasn’t prepared for the unexpected peak in growth (literal and figurative) we have seen and the small lights of hope that are maturity. I have lived so long in survival mode with my head down and my boxing gloves poised and ready that the moments of clarity and maturity take me by surprise. Did he really just ask if he could write thank you cards to all of his middle school teachers? Is he actually begging to volunteer with kids who have disabilities? Did he truly just go to an invite-only (from the librarian) event at the library where he knew NO ONE because he felt like the librarian would be disappointed if he didn’t go, and then did he actually have a fantastic time and even do the worm in front of some random older kids he just met? Yes! Yes! And double yes!

We have four years left. The last three in middle school have passed with lightning speed, so I know the next four will feel like a movie- genre, rating, and review to be determined. We have four short years left to help Cameron learn the executive functioning skills with which he still struggles. Four years that we still have some control over some of his choices that may or may not affect his future. Four years to help him become a productive citizen who is kind and independent. Four years to hug him and have talks over hot chocolate and listen to his teenage drama-because he still wants to tell us about some of it. Four years to teach him how to put away his clothes, change his sheets, shop for groceries, and respect women. There is a lot to do! I have a lot of feelings about all of this! So many days are so difficult, yet transitioning away from even those difficult times is emotional and a bit scary. My mantra is always, “This too shall pass.” I just didn’t know how quickly it would pass, even when it felt like forever while in the moments. I remember trying to savor every baby moment with Cameron’s sister because I knew how little time there is when you can hold them and smell them and rock them and they’ll just let you do it. As Cameron transitions into high school, I realize that I need to savor the next four years too. He may not let me hold him and smell him (although I do sometimes– someone needs to tell the boy he stinks) and rock him, but he is still my child. And he probably needs me more now than he did then. Onward to high school! Godspeed!

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!

Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Disappointed and Proud

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Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

I know that thirteen year-olds are not typically volunteering to help with basic housework. “Oh please, Mom, let me clean the toilet,” are words I’ve never heard (if your kids do say these things, have a heart and don’t tell me). I have heard, “Why do I have to do that? It’s not fair!” countless times, however, so it was no surprise when I arrived home from work on a day when Cameron was home alone to find that literally nothing had been done in the house. Not. One. Thing. I left a list, I discussed it with him the night before, and yet he did not do the dishes. He did not do the laundry. He did not eat anything that wasn’t a pretzel. I arrived home and he had forgotten and “hadn’t seen” the note. I calmly said, “I guess you can do it now,” with my eyes closed and my insides preparing for a battle. But he said, “I’m sorry. Okay.” Holy shit. Did you just read that? He said he was SORRY and he said OKAY! He hugged me too! Seriously, what happened here? I cannot explain how difficult it is for this child to admit when he is wrong, to apologize without being asked, and/or to agree to complete a task without a long argument first, and yet all three of these things happened at the same time. I felt like I may have fainted.

The next day he had fewer tasks on his list. He only needed to do the dishes and to shovel so his grandparents wouldn’t slip and fall when they came to visit while I was gone. He actually likes to shovel, so I thought all would be well. I even texted him to make sure he remembered this time. I thought we were in good shape! By now you know I was wrong. Once again, he did nothing. I mean, he ate actual food and was able to dig some brownies out of the freezer so he could eat a few–I mean give some to Grandpa– but other than that, he did nothing.

I was very patient with him on the first day. I was very upset with him on the second. His dad, however, was infuriated… like the most angry I’d seen him in a really long time. The disrespect! The lack of concern for others! The untrustworthiness! The laziness! Cameron had to go to swim practice so we didn’t have the opportunity to talk about consequences until he arrived home. We agreed upon the following:

  1. Finish the jobs you were supposed to do all day after you finish dinner (around 9:00).
  2. No phone.
  3. You cannot be left home alone, so…
  4. On Friday, when you were going to stay home alone with your sister while we go to dinner with friends, you will instead go to your grandparents’ house while she stays home alone, which means…
  5. You will miss seeing our friends, your favorite people, when they come over before dinner.

I was cringing so hard about delivering him this news, so I did what any reasonable adult would do and avoided it. I snuck away to read to his sister while his dad told him, then warned her that he was going to be really mad so she should stay away. We all know that Cameron is so explosive when things don’t go his way, that I was prepared for tears, screaming, uncontrollable outrage, etc. I could not have been prepared for the reality of what happened…

He said okay. He said he’d get it done. I was so proud! I couldn’t stop telling him how proud I was of his reaction to everything. I mean, I told him so many times that he was probably sick of me telling him; I know my husband was a bit tired of hearing it, probably thinking that I was focusing too much on that instead of what he didn’t do, but I couldn’t help it! He showed me a glimmer of hope! Maturity! Acceptance! Accountability! These coveted attributes are so elusive that I didn’t know that I’d ever see them in my life. They’re like the giant squid of my son’s existence.

And in the end, he did get the jobs done. He was done at around 11:00 pm, but he did it! He accepted the lack of phone, which has since been returned because of his solid show of maturity. However, he is still not allowed to be left home alone for more than a half hour or so.

With all of that said, we did not properly prepare Cameron for the fact that he would not be able to see our friends on the night he went to his grandparents’ house. We weren’t sure if he’d be able to see them or not until Friday actually arrived. Once Friday night rolled around, he was very upset. Tears, yelling, etc, but we understood. Honestly, we were really upset too! I hated that he couldn’t see them, but timing was off, and it just couldn’t happen. I felt sick to my stomach about it, but we couldn’t back out on what we said; he had to go to his grandparents’ house before they arrived. Calm and consistent parenting is what Cameron needed in these moments, and it’s what we were able to give him. We cheered him up enough before he left, and he ended up having a nice time. Win-win! Proud.

 

Voices of Special Needs

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

The Struggle is Real

When your kid is the kid that other kids’ parents don’t want their kids hanging around, but when you know that your kid is teased and bullied incessantly, and you also know those parents have a reason to feel that way, because when your kid and their kid are together they turn brainless. And when you know that you, yourself, don’t necessarily want to hang around with your kid when he acts like this, and you, yourself, are embarrassed by his immature, obnoxious behavior, and you, yourself, struggle every single day to keep it together when you, yourself, are dodging a nearly constant barrage of arguments, and you’re fighting a homework fight, and a grade fight, and a phone fight, and also reading about resilience and grit and the importance these have for success, and you’re watching your child lack these things and realizing you only have five years, actually four and a half, to try to instill the grit that you haven’t been able to instill since birth.

And when you see other kids succeeding — really succeeding — and you have tried harder than any of those parents to try to help your kid succeed, but sometimes it’s not just how much they try, or how much you try, or how much they want something. No, sometimes it’s just genetics, or brain makeup, or something more than you’ve been able to provide through therapy, and coaching, and reading, and consequences, and pleading, and time outs, and tears, and yelling… so much yelling. You never thought you’d be a yeller, but here you are yelling like your life depended on it, because in a way, it does. In a way, you yell so you can release the years and years of tension built up. In a way, if you didn’t yell, the pressure cooker inside you would explode, and you might actually die right there, in your kitchen, while making dinner, helping with homework, and making lunches, if you don’t yell that minute.

…On these days, you can’t focus on the positives. You are always trying to see the positives, every day looking for the bright lights, because you have an ability to  see bright lights where most other people would see Mammoth Cave black. Because you’ve been trained to see the flickers of hope that are barely there, because your flickers are not flickers at all, they are fireworks. Because you have to see the fireworks. Seeing the fireworks gives the hope. And after the fireworks there is always rain, even when you feel like you’ve gotten through the worst storms; there are always more on the horizon. And that’s why there are friends and weekends away and wine and yoga and workouts and junk food and travel and The Book of Joy so you can have mini escapes that you need so desperately and that you need to not feel guilty about indulging in, because damnit if you didn’t have these escapes, you wouldn’t even see the flickers anymore. You need those flickers. Today more than ever.

Memory of a Meltdown

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One thing that may sometimes be forgotten is how having a child with any sort of special needs affects a relationship. Having a child, in general, affects a relationship, but it seems that having a child with unique needs exponentially affects how you deal with a co-parent. Because I handle things differently than my husband, I sometimes feel totally alone. I feel like his approach to discipline is different than mine, and while neither are right or wrong, our general philosophies and/or personalities make it difficult to meet halfway. My husband and I were crazy in love when we first met, and we continue to be crazy in love. But oddly, that crazy-love makes it even harder on the days when I feel alone because he’s the person for me, and we are not sharing experiences in the same way that we usually do.

Last fall we had a pretty big situation. With the new school year starting– a recent move, a new school (middle school on top of that), and the fact that he chose to join cross country and football at the same time, Cameron was beyond overwhelmed. I knew something wasn’t right when he was acting so calm all week during his very first week week of middle school. He seemed so… happy. I mean, he’s a happy kid, but transitions typically lead to supersonic booms; it was eerily quiet and calm. So when he had an emotional meltdown mid-week, I wasn’t at all surprised. However, as I’ve stated before, this was not something found in any sort of parenting handbook (and I’ve read a library shelf full of parenting books); this was fly by the seat of your pants parenting. I’m not sure I did the best thing, but I felt so stuck that I didn’t know what else to do…

When Cameron signed up for football, we explained how hard it was going to be. Cameron becomes mysteriously “injured” or “sick” or “exhausted” whenever anything other than what he wants to do is asked of him. Knowing of his “ailments,” we told him from the start that he would go to football even when he was tired or didn’t want to you. We warned him and warned him, but, per the norm, our warnings went unnoticed. I knew right when he arrived off the bus that day, saying the coaches were mean and swore at him, that we were about to enter a “Sam I Am” situation. You know, will you try them on a boat? Try them with a fox? Try them in the rain? Sam I Am is persistent! Cameron is usually not persistent in completing tasks, but that kid can argue himself out of something or us into something like nobody’s business. He’s relentless. And it is exhausting! I was already preparing my counter-argument to stand strong against “Cameron I Am.” Just as predicted, next he said his ankle hurt, which he had sprained a couple of weeks before. By the way, as of posting this, 10 months after his initial ankle injury, our precious hypochondriac is still milking that ankle injury for moments when he needs an extra boost of attention or rest. After the ankle excuse failed, Cameron said that he was so tired and had a headache and stomach ache. He was full of excuses, which is classic Cameron. I’m always trying to think about future careers for him, and I’ve yet to find one where “excuse-making” is a prerequisite; maybe he has a future in politics? All of his excuses bounced off of my excuse-rejecting armour, as I told him to get his stuff and get in the car.  Cameron’s next line of defense was the ever-popular tears. They started about 10 minutes before we had to leave. Tears turned into sobs, but I stayed strong and made him get in the car. I was proud of how I spoke in my best Mr. Roger’s voice about how stress often comes out in tears, how difficult I knew the week had been for him, how it’s okay to cry about things like this, that even adults get to this point, but we all have to suck it up do what we have to do and then come back and cry it out some more. I even explained how exercising at football practice would probably help his stress. He seemed to be listening, until his sobs became even bigger and more dramatic.

Cameron has been dramatic literally since birth, prompting us to call him “Cameron Dramatacus” early on in his life. Obviously, we now know why he seemed dramatic as an infant , given all of his sensory, attention, and processing struggles, but even putting that aside, Cameron was, and continues to be, a drama-king. This makes it difficult for me to know when he’s just over-dramatizing or truly, truly feeling something. Also, I don’t know at which point to let him not do something he committed to because he truly is overwhelmed; sometimes, in fact most times, he acts overwhelmed only to be “forced” into something that he thoroughly and genuinely enjoys. Just weeks or less before this, I had forced him to go to the dog park when he was crying because he didn’t want to go. He ended up loving it and asking if we could go every week. Due to the fact that I do not possess a sixth sense for reading the brain of my pre-adolescent son, I never know what’s real. This makes appropriate parenting an extremely difficult task no matter how many parenting books I continue to read! In this situation, I went with the odds, which were that he was overdoing his drama. Again. I made him go.

I told him that he needed to go and talk to his coach is about his stress and how he feels. At that point, if he and the coaches decided it would be okay for him to miss, that would be fine. But he needed to be his own advocate; it was not my responsibility. We pulled into the parking lot, and he refused to get out of the car. I went to the field where the kids were practicing and left him in the car, thinking that the car is hot, and he would be joining me shortly. He didn’t come. I waited for about 20 minutes at the side of the field, until I walked back to the car and got a phone call from my husband, Jon. Jon talked to him and told him he needed to go. Cameron didn’t move. So here’s where all I’d learned from the myriad of parenting books just exited my brain and freely floated into the universe. Because at this point, I literally drug him out of the car by his football pads–even though he is significantly stronger than me–and explained to him again that if he didn’t go to practice, he still needed to talk to his coaches about what’s going on. I reminded Cameron that I’d already talked to his coaches about his processing issues and that they were very nice about it. I’ve always tried to teach Cameron that he needs to tell people himself, though, because in the end it is him that will need to advocate for his needs, not anyone else. At this point, Cameron was out of the car and following me like a sad sloth (if there is such a thing– I feel like sloths are perpetually happy animals) while I walked up ahead of him. I gestured to a coach and asked if I could talk to him. “Me?” he asked. “Anyone,” I replied. Then I rambled while holding back my own tears, “Cameron wouldn’t get out of the car he’s upset he’s overwhelmed maybe you heard he has some sensory and processing issues I just don’t know what to do so would you talk to him?!?!?!” It should be noted that at this point in the catastrophic event, I was so overwhelmed myself, that I, the captain of the Manners Police, didn’t even say “please” or any other nicety. I was borderline rude.

The mild-mannered coach sat next to Cameron and asked him what was going on. He spoke to him for quite awhile, sharing that his own son has issues, and that his family has not moved even though they’ve wanted to, because he knew his son couldn’t handle it. He shared that his other son has ADHD and that he learned after 15 years that yelling does not work [insert sad trumpet sound]. He said he knows that parents push their kids, and they should–when it comes grades–but not when it comes to football. At this point, I felt pretty much awful. I yelled AND I was pushing him to go to football! However, I truly didn’t even want him in football, so I was definitely not pushing him to participate in football; I was just trying to get him to follow-through with the commitment he made. I still don’t know when that line of pushing or letting him decide what happens should start and when it should stop. In the end, that coach was amazing. He told Cameron that Cameron’s number one concern should be his happiness, followed by grades, then followed by football, if that’s what Cameron thinks should come next. He told Cameron to take a break– that it’s not that big of a deal, and that it’s okay, and that the coaches won’t be mad at him if he misses a couple of practices because he is feeling so overwhelmed.

In the midst of all of this I realized that I was going to be over an hour late for dinner with a friend. I only realized this because she called me after I was 20 minutes late, making me feel even worse about all that was going on. Then I realized that I had forgotten about dinner for a very good reason, and that was that Cameron needed me there in those moments even if I wasn’t doing the best parenting job in the world. I was still present for him and not preoccupied with the fact that I was late for dinner.

When we got home, Jon was clearly unhappy that Cameron did not stay at practice. The whole night was basically destroyed for the family, as Jon was infuriated while I escaped to dinner with my friend–which I think was probably the best option for us all at that point. It didn’t occur to me until I got home that Jon had been dealing with the aftermath of this on his own. However, while I was unhappy about the meltdown, Jon was unhappy that Cameron didn’t go to football practice. I was also worried about the choice that we had made to move our kids– at that point I was very much doubting whether or not the move was the right choice, even though Cameron hadn’t had a lot going on for him at the old school, where he was frequently bullied and came home crying. I was also just feeling really sorry for Cameron and for my reaction to him when he really needed me to be more understanding. However at that point, Jon was focused on how Cameron spent the rest of that evening walking around “smugly” because he got what he wanted and his coach agreed with him. I didn’t see that because I wasn’t there. Our differences in opinions and perspectives left me feeling like I couldn’t talk to my partner about the most significant situation that had happened in our family– the move and its effects on our children. My frustrations were exacerbating Jon’s frustrations, leaving him to think that I was angry with him when I wasn’t.  The fact of the matter was that this was a big move for all of us, and my emotions about the move–whether or not I thought it was a good move or not– were directly related to my children’s emotions. Because they were having a bad week, I had guilt about it. I can now say this was a good move for our family, but it’s been nearly a year now.

It’s almost football season again. Upon reflection of this awful day, Cameron has decided not to join football this year. He wants to be in cross country too, and he was too overwhelmed when he did both. He liked the football games, where he rarely played, but didn’t really like the practices. It’s a lot of work and he recognizes that he doesn’t want to do it. Whew! We think he’s more of an individual sport kid anyway, although there are other team sports he’d like to try. While this could have been handled better, and while it put strain on the relationships in our family, the positive outcome is that Cameron is able to recognize his needs and make a decision based on them, even when I couldn’t. Cameron I Am persists!

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Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!