Friday, April 29, 2016

Looking Back

I was looking back at emails I sent to my son's teacher.

I am angry.

I am angry at how much I was reaching out to address the problems.

I am angry at how little was helped.

I am angry that the other day she said, "He was in the cafeteria and I was trying to get his attention and he was chewing on a plastic bag from his lunch, just chewing and chewing on it."

It's April. I've been describing SPD to her all year long - WHAT it is, WHY it happens, WHAT triggers it.

But you also don't want to be this:

So, instead of contacting the principal, we really tried to A.) Figure out what was causing the behavior. B.) Help him find coping strategies to control his own behavior when being bombarded with sensory overload C.) Not be those parents

But he kept coming home - every day - with a "2" on his chart. Never earning a treasure box toy. Having "bad" behavior pointed out nearly every day. I am not kidding you - nearly every single day. Mostly "making noises," "being silly," or "being distracting." The time she told me he had chewed the end of a pencil so much - and rather than be concerned about WHY he did it, she simply mentioned it was "very dangerous - look how sharp the end of that is now."

And now we have a little boy who is clearly hurting. I feel like I've neglected him all year by NOT being "those parents."

Anyway. I had forgotten about October 7.

September 3:

I was very disappointed with Alex for the note in his folder today. I would like to better understand what's been going on with him - has this been every day? (He received "3's" the other days, but the note mentioned he "has been" having difficulty listening.) 

Could you please elaborate a bit on time of day, and perhaps the type of assignments? 

I am so sorry that he was disrespectful in your classroom. This is very out of character for him in a school setting. I am really concerned about this sudden change in behavior and want to make sure we address it right away.

My reply to her reply:

Thank you for that information. I would like to schedule a conference to discuss his behavior at your convenience. I appreciate your willingness to meet. It's really important to me that he start out on the right foot and build good learning skills at the beginning. I am a teacher as well (although staying home for now).

He does have mild sensory processing disorder, but last year was a good year for him. I've noticed his sensory-seeking behaviors creeping up again, and have been addressing them at home with activities and strategies. Meeting with you would definitely help me better understand what's happening and if I need to seek out occupational therapy again.

September 14:

I spoke with Alex about his "2" yesterday - as you can imagine he was very disappointed with himself because he will miss out on the treasure chest and he will also not be allowed a special gift at home this weekend. As a parent, I am disappointed because I want my child to make the right choices. I wanted to let you know what he and I discussed.
Screaming: He said he screamed "shush" at the end of school because it was very loud in the classroom. I told him it's unacceptable to do this, that it is the teacher's job - not his - to quiet a classroom, if it in fact needs to be quieted. Alex does get bothered by very loud sounds sometimes, so I advised him to cover his ears with his hands if the noise gets very loud. If this is a problem (for him to cover his ears), please let me know.
If he was screaming at other times, he did not mention it to me - but I did stress to him to not scream inside of a classroom, not ever.
Story Time: He mentioned he has problems concentrating during stories. He said he feels "silly sitting up in the chair." I know why he was moved to sit in a chair, but perhaps that can be revisited and he could hold a bean bag or small weighted pillow instead? I really am puzzled by this. Alex has been read to, multiple times per day, since he was born. We even read chapter books without pictures some times. He can read several Bob books on his own. After my background check has been approved - perhaps I could observe him, if this behavior doesn't improve?
I also asked Alex to please ask for permission to use the restroom *before* story time - as sometimes his behavior becomes animated when he needs to use the bathroom.
Last - he mentioned having problems in science. He had no explanation for why - other than "the teacher said a lot of kids were having problems today." Science is one of his favorite subjects, he loves experiments, discussing clouds and weather, astronomy, etc.. Again - I mentioned setting a good example, a positive example and not being silly simply because other people were being silly or because he "thought he could get away with it."
I really want Alex to be successful in school. I don't want for him to start off his school career developing bad habits in behavior. If there is more I can do at home to help with this, please let me know.

September 18:

Thank you for the note explaining Alex's behaviors.  We will continue to monitor and reinforce at home.  Is he still sitting in the chair - I was curious if he could try sitting on the floor again but holding the busy object? He's expressed he doesn't like sitting in the chair and "feels silly." I understand (as he does) if he moves around too much he will not be able to sit on the floor, but could this be revisited?

It's frustrating and frankly heartbreaking as a mother to see him struggling this much. It is very upsetting to see his education "career" starting out like this.

Thank you for keeping me informed about his classroom behavior.

My reply to her reply:
Thank you so much for your reply and the feedback regarding Alex. I understand about the chair/pillow situation and the potential for distracting other children. Thank you for letting me know about the chewing - this sensory-seeking behavior happened often when he was three. I found that offering him crunchy snacks and foods with meals helps (I'll be sure to pack snacks and lunches that assist with this). Can you please tell me what the necklace is,exactly? Would it be possible for him to bring in his own chew-necklace so that I can wash it each night? I understand if this would be a distraction.
I am thinking that Alex is a bit overwhelmed, sensory-wise. I have decided to call our occupational therapist so that we can learn new coping strategies for Alex. I suspect a lot of this is from the schedule that kindergarten has - there isn't a lot of time for free movement throughout the day (rolling, running, etc.) and unfortunately that can send some sensory kids into a bad spot (as described to me by his occupational therapist - why it's important for them to learn coping strategies when this happens). I don't want him to be a distraction to others, and of course want him to figure all of this out so he can focus on learning and developing friendships.
I was a little sad this morning - he saw the bag of items I purchased to donate to the treasure chest and said, "at my old school the treasure chest was just for birthdays. Now it's just for kids who are good." I asked him, "don't you think you can be good in school and earn a treasure, like you did once already?" He replied, "I try to." And looked sad. That could very well be 50% him "milking it," but I am certain it was, at the very least, quite honest.
Please know we are trying very hard with him, and I think he is trying, too. It's hard when you feel like you don't fit in - and sensory kids *know* they are different from others, sometimes that's why they can be the class clown. Alex is a pretty intuitive child. Regardless, hopefully a handful (or more) of OT sessions will help with all of this and get him on the right path to success.

October 7:

Thank you very much for the note and homework information for Alex. I appreciate you taking the time at the last minute to share this information.
Regarding his behavior in lunch today and the last few days - he isn't being very forthcoming with me about what happened in lunch (rare, because he usually tells me what happens). I know he hasn't been feeling well lately, and unfortunately in sensory kids, when they have even minor sinus or allergy issues - their behavior suffers as a result. This isn't an excuse and we are trying incredibly hard at home with Alex for his behavior to be consistently positive at school.

He did tell me that Ms. *** told him today on the way to lunch: "Good thing you're going out of town this week." While I can appreciate my child is not the most well-behaved child in the classroom, to hear that an adult said such a statement to him greatly concerns me. Quite frankly, it upsets me very much and has made me lose trust. I hope such frustrations, while an understandable human response, can perhaps be directly said to me, and not my five-year-old child. I am concerned her statement made him feel unwelcome, and I do not want that for him - he's a very literal child. And as we've previously discussed, you know how important it is to me that Alex have a positive school experience this first year to set the foundation for his educational career.

December 4:

I am curious if we require another conference with you to address Alex's behavior, which was consistently poor this week according to your chart. Looking at many of the behaviors, I am seeing quite a bit of sensory seeking (falling out of chair, making noises, poking self in stomach, being loud while coming in from recess) and these behaviors - as we have discussed - often happen when sensory children are not able to move around enough, are over-stimulated (a lot of noise) or under-stimulated (being bored and sitting in one place for extended periods of time), or don't feel well (he has also had a minor sinus infection again).
We are taking Alex to occupational therapy with our own money and time. I feed him gluten-free foods and his diet in general is specifically to help his sensory problems. We have high expectations of BOTH of our children's behavior at home and are as consistent as possible with expectations and consequences. I feel like he is being labeled a bad child. Or maybe he is a bad child at school, I don't know. I am extremely frustrated and 100% heartbroken that kindergarten is like this for him and that he is struggling so much.
And I realize that he has to figure out how to control his sensory problems at school. If he's bored academically, it's not an excuse to be silly or distract anyone. But he's also five, and I feel like we should work together on helping him figure this out - and to me, sending him home everyday feeling like he is a bad kid just isn't working. It's just making him feel bad, and he still can't seem to fix the problems - even though we are working very hard at home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Thankful for Choices

If you are a Facebook friend of mine, or even if you've read my blog, you know it's been a difficult year for my kindergartner.

We decided to seek other options for the 2016-2017 school year - our district has several magnet schools, there are state-funded charter schools, and of course there are a collection of private schools. We applied for one - singular - magnet school that is very hard to get into (frankly, in my opinion, it's one of the best public schools in Wake County). Our neighbor's daughter attends this school and they have loved it.

The lottery result e-mail arrived in early February. Our assignment for next year was...

Our same school. Sigh. They mentioned they would redraw again in a few weeks. Whatev's, I thought. I know my lottery luck.

In the mean time, I had wondered if my son might do better in a Montessori environment. I could list all the reasons why, but I won't - if you know what those schools are like, I think he'd do really well in one. The end. We toured and really enjoyed a school that another neighbor's child attends.

I started to seek a part-time job to help with tuition costs should we go the private route.

Then last month, I received an email from Wake County Public School System telling me our assignment for the next year:



Shortly after that, I was hired for a part-time steady job where I can work from home. Then... our son was accepted into the Montessori school. We found out yesterday.

Derek and I fussed at each other all day yesterday. I just wanted him to say, "let's send him to the private school because MONTESSORI."

But he didn't. He didn't focus on the money. (But, for the record - the Montessori school has a $15,000+ year price tag for the elementary school. Each year. Each kid.)

We sat there looking at each other, scowling, and sighing. I emailed and messaged nearly everyone I know last night and this morning. I ate all of the food in our house. I talked to a friend this morning.

And then I did some deep soul-searching.

The front of the magnet school

When we toured the magnet school, our guide (the enrichment teacher) pulled a few parents and random students aside as they walked down the hall. I noticed the following:

1.) They all seemed happy to go the school
2.) They described being happy in class and with their peers
3.) The parents liked the school and all of them mentioned what a different world it was compared to their previous school (in a good way)
4.) The AIG kids were - I mean this lovingly and admiringly - a teensy bit quirky. Like band kids. Like theatre kids.

Like I was. Like Derek was.

Like we still are.

I think Alex will make friends here. 

It was one of my first thoughts.

It was ultimately one of the most important thoughts.

The school has an extremely diverse population. I don't just mean racially and culturally - but socioeconomically. I think it's important for children to experience this, especially when we spend most of our days in our pleasant little cookie-cutter house and neighborhood, going to swim practices at Ravenscroft, lounging by the pool at freaking Lifetime Fitness where you can get a towel for each body part, if you so desire.

I want our children to know that everyone has a different reality. It would be difficult to expose a child to that when they are in a private school with children who are either in a similar socioeconomic situation, same faith, etc. I am NOT saying it cannot be done - it would be difficult.

The last thing I also considered was from a teacher at a wealthy private school a few months ago (he teaches at a private school, but sends his child to WCPSS. Happily.):

"There are families who save every dime, take out a third mortgage on their home, and send their kid here. They can't afford anything else. Then you get a Dad who waltzes in on the first day of school, writes a check for $125,000 for all of his kids' tuition, without breaking a sweat, and laughs about his golf game. They're going on African safaris for spring break. The non-rich kid? Might be perfectly ok with that. But some of the kids carry a chip on their shoulder for the rest of their life."

Right or wrong, that was a very important consideration.

I am also not ready to give up on public education just yet. One bad year has not completely wrecked my opinion. I believe in public education - and I believe there are teachers out there who can balance this:

with happy students who need to explore, run and laugh.

I believe that a 504 plan might benefit a child like Alex. We can and will utilize this in the future.

To be sure, I saw nice kids at the Montessori school. I saw a beautiful style of learning and a peaceful campus where I wish I could spend all day. I saw independent and happy children - happy teachers.

But I didn't see band kids. I didn't see theatre kids.

Ultimately, I guess I didn't see us.

Wish us luck next year. At a magnet school. A public education magnet school.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Her Drum, Her Beat

My 3 1/2 year old daughter is an interesting little girl. Many people will tell you "three" is more difficult than "two," and others will tell you all of parenthood is awful and it gets harder and worse. I don't know about all that yet, but my daughter definitely tests my limits as a human being most days, but she also makes me laugh. She makes my heart melt, and she constantly surprises me. I truly mean that.

But she is difficult. She is stubborn and headstrong. She is extremely sensitive. And that is the only part of her I worry about. Being sensitive.

I know how much it will hurt when her heart is broken. It isn't just going to be a sucky thing, it's going to be the worst thing.

I know how much it will hurt when she is shunned. It's already happened a few times, and thankfully she seems to be pushing through that without too much hurt - but perhaps that is because she doesn't always realized she is being left out. But I see it - even three year old girls make little cliques.

I am not the type of mother to send her to school in a pretty dress because I don't want her to pee on it. It's hard to pee in dresses, amiright? I don't "do" her hair because I don't know how. The teachers always fawn over the girls in their pretty dresses with their pretty hair, and it sucks when you show up to class in regular clothes. No one gets excited about your practical pants and shoes. I see her get bummed out about that. I just assumed that women read all the articles that discuss how stupid it is to gush over little girl's clothing, but maybe I am the lone idiot for believing the Psychology Today studies. I dunno.

I know Mads wants the attention, but I also know she doesn't. A few days ago I offered her "fancier" shoes to wear to school and she declined, saying, "too much sand gets in them at recess."

Her teacher has mentioned Mads cries when she "thinks" she is left out. "I don't know why she cried, because other kids were playing with her."

I so want to say, "no, they weren't playing *with* her. They were playing near her. It's different."

The truth is Madeleine doesn't have a connection with anyone in her class. I so, so, so worried about Alex having friends when he was in preschool - and it oddly doesn't bother me that my daughter doesn't really have one yet. I've volunteered in her class. They are nice kids, but I can see why she doesn't have a friend yet.

I know what she likes, I know how she likes to play - none of her classmates play that way. I am not saying she is some genius. She still doesn't always recognize the letters in the alphabet. She can't write her full name (but she writes Mads). But she loves to use her imagination with her brother - they pretend they are on a boat, and they rock in the recliner until he falls off, she rescues him, they hop onto a "rescue boat" and then run up the stairs. They call the cats "squirrel cats" sometimes and pretend their tails are poisonous. She laughs when I use a funny voice. She knows how to set up a chessboard, excuse me - a "castle." She likes to be scared and make up ghost stories.

Anyway. I want to say this to my daughter, even though I can't really say it now:

Dear Madeleine,

You are finishing up your second year of preschool and I know it's not your cup of tea. People kind of suck, eh? They're weird and do things that make absolutely no sense. They hurt your feelings. And when you feel a little deeper than others, well - it really, really sucks. I don't blame you for steering clear. I am glad you know your family gets you and we love you. I hope you still remember that in ten years.

This is how life is going to be, though - quite often. It's going to suck. A lot. You notice so much, you feel so much, and you tend to lean toward the angst. That's ok. It's who you are, and though I am biased  - you're pretty cool. I know there will be other kids who will appreciate someone like you.

But I want you to know this - you're going to find approximately four people in your entire life who will get you. They won't make fun of you, well, not in a cruel way. They will accept you and all of your quirks. They will understand that you feel deeply, and they will appreciate it - not mock it. Not accuse you of overreacting.

Honey? Don't let those people go. In those relationships you will find a calm and peace. Life will make sense when you're with them.

But you will still be forced to hang out with everyone else, especially as you get older. Don't openly hate the people who don't get you. And don't feel sorry for them, either. Just - feel nothing. I know that's hard, but I promise there will come a day when you can just feel nothing, if you try. And sometimes you will find the goodness in a handful of people who aren't your inner posse. They're good people, too.

Never, never forget to laugh. I love that your laugh as a three year old sounds exactly like your laugh when you were 6 months old.

Please, please, keep being you - and don't ever let anyone make you feel weird for wanting to be alone, or wanting to write, or read, or do anything else you enjoy that isn't "normal."

Your mommy loves you SO much. I am proud of three-year-old you. I will be proud of you always.



Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Ink is Black, The Page is White

My folks were in town this week while the kids were on Spring Break. It was pretty much the best time ever - for me at least. All of my favorite people in one place. I still got most of my workouts in, sorta. (I'm trying here, coach. I really am.) This afternoon, however, sucked. I've never seen my kiddos so upset to say goodbye before and it broke. my. heart. into a billion frigging pieces.
Anyway. I still absolutely needed to get my run in today - as much as I suck at swimming right now, the current, a wetsuit, and salt water will help me at B2B. Nothing is going to help me run, however. Except running. I decided to take Alex with me on the Neuse greenway, figuring he could ride his bike for an hour at his own pace while I ran and Derek stayed behind with Mads in the jogging stroller. Of course, after we got there and I pumped Alex's tires - we realized we forget his helmet, so we decided he would run half a mile with me, then go on a nature walk with Derek and Mads while I finished the rest of my run.
Mile 0 -.50: Alex starts out jumping and frolicking, even though I said, "Better take it easy, buddy, you're going to wear out before we-" Alex calls out, "I CAN'T RUN. MOMMY, WAIT!" And cries. And whines. I try to be encouraging. I try to be positive. He stops and screams for a solid 30 seconds and I had to go back and get him. Derek catches up to us and I leave them. (Folks - I am not fast, either. It's not like I am running a 7:00/mi and expecting my kid to keep up. I was running about 12:00/mi pace with him).
Mile .5-2: HERE SHE IS. NEGATIVE NANCY! MY OLD FRIEND: I am fat, plain old fat. My weight really is in the "overweight" zone now. Seriously. How did I gain this much weight the last three years? I need to be completely vegan again. Every nutrition counseling thing I have done is a waste of money. I have to eat seaweed and quinoa and nothing else in order to lose weight. I can't do an ironman with a gut that looks 7-months pregnant. I can barely run a mile these days without feeling like ass. I bet I have ovarian cancer. Or there is a tumor in my cervix. Something is very wrong with me.
Mile 2-3: I MISS MY PARENTS! I HATE LIVING SO FAR FROM THEM. EVERYONE HATES ME. I DON'T HAVE A "TRIBE." WAHHHHHHHHHHH. (Seriously. I was seriously actually crying and couldn't run at this point, was barely walking. Just a sobbing mess of a chubby woman in stretchy clothing on the greenway.) IDIOT. LOOK AT YOU. CRYING. YOU CAN'T DO THIS. YOU'RE WORSE THAN YOUR SON STANDING THERE CRYING. WONDER WHERE HE GETS IT FROM, EH? LOOK AT YOU. AT LEAST HE IS A KID AND HAS AN EXCUSE. SHIT. PEOPLE ARE COMING. SUCK IT UP.
Mile 3-4: This actually feels ok now. Running feels ok. There you go, that's good breathing. Look - one minute has passed and it felt like ten seconds.
Mile 4: I am going to seriously poop my pants and I will have to tell my potty-trained children that mommy pooped her pants from running because she has no pelvic floor strength and her intestines are so messed up they just stopped functioning. (A cute couple, obviously on a first date, is walking in the opposite direction) Sorry, folks - you're about to smell a seriously disgusting fart. Maybe that will be a bonding moment for you. That one time you went on a walk and a huffing-puffing chubby woman in spandex let out a fume of gas that is solely responsible for eating away a section of the atmosphere. And you got to smell it.
Mile 5: Almost done. Almost done. Almost done. Is that Tom Lehr? Shit. Guess I shouldn't walk now. (I ran with Tom a bit, he was at the end of his 14-mile run. I started to walk when I met up with Derek and the kids, and Derek guilted me into finishing the rest of my run interval up to the trailhead).
Finally finished.
Then we just farted around a bit at the trailhead, where Tom was so exceptionally sweet and nice to my kids. And it made me realize just how lucky I am - all of the amazing people I have met thanks to triathlon. I have made friends. I have learned so much about life and being thankful - pushing myself. Everything Andrea has taught me. ALS awareness.
I am not an elite athlete. I won't ever be one. I might not ever podium. It's so difficult to come to terms with that, while still trying to do my best. I cannot tell you how much I struggle with it all - knowing you will not finish first place, but still trying just as hard "Just because." Finding that balance (FOR ME) is very hard - and I am getting better, but today was not a good one in the mental department.
But it was a Green Box. It was so nice running into an amazing athlete who is one of the nicest people you could ever meet.
But.... sigh. I dunno folks... Just some days... some days.
We did our best today, kiddo. <3