We Are Destroying Our Children

On the news last night, they featured a music program in a California school system that was funded by a grant because there wasn’t any money in the school budget for it.  This is not new, this happens all the time, but while watching this program I began to cry.  Not like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, and isn’t that great for those kids.” No, this was different.  These tears were more like, “This is completely and utterly unacceptable that our schools cannot afford arts programs.”

Do you know where the money is going?  It’s going to Pearson, and companies like Pearson who charge for their testing programs, for their test prep materials, even for their “professional development” programs – “experts” that they have chosen to send to schools willing to pay enough for the wisdom on… you guessed it, how to get the kids to pass the test.  How to teach more, faster.  How to determine what not to teach, so that you can teach the really important stuff – you know, the stuff that’s on the test.  How to get kindergartners to sit still long enough to take a standardized test.  Test taking strategies to teach to the kids to increase their odds of getting a correct answer… on the test.

Let me be clear – testing is not education.  But our kids and our teachers spend so much time on testing, there is very little time left for actual teaching and learning.

And in the meantime, we wonder why the rates of kids with anxiety have gone through the roof.  We wonder why kids are so mean to each other.  We wonder why our kids get addicted to video games, and their phones, and technology in general.  And I hate to say it, but in ten years or so, we’re going to be shocked at the rise in suicides and mental health issues in our youth.

They don’t know how to play anymore because they don’t have time.   They don’t have hobbies anymore because they don’t have time.  They don’t find joy in music or art because it’s not in their school day anymore, and you guessed it – they don’t have time after school.

They have hours – HOURS! of homework. Even in Kindergarten. They have shortened recess because the class didn’t get everything done.  They have silent lunch periods where they have to sit boy-girl, boy-girl so that they do not socialize and cause “trouble.” They are not allowed to have a real vacation – some teacher will assign a project, because kids will just get bored over break, right?  Why not use that time to get some more standards in?

I cried at that news story out of sheer rage and helplessness.  I left education in large part because it was heading in a very wrong direction, and it is only accelerating  toward that really bad place.  And it will have devastating, crippling effects on this generation of school kids that can only “socialize” and escape via technology.

What do we do? I do what I can. When my kid’s teacher assigns homework over break, I tell him it may not get done, and I might tell a little white lie about why.  My kid deserves a break, and he will get it if I have anything to say about it.  When a school in my district enacts these stupid policies about recess and lunch (and yes, those are real policies in place in an elementary school in my district), I will write letters to principals, superintendents, and school boards. And I will speak loudly to anyone who will listen about testing, and what it is doing to our kids and our educational system.

I do what I can.  It may not be much, but it’s better than crying at the TV.

What Stress Does to Me

I’ve mentioned how stressful the fall has been.  Know what happens when I get stressed?

First is my back-shoulders-neck-head. Mostly shoulders-neck-head. Tension-soreness-headaches-migraines happen to my shoulders-neck-head.  It can get bad, where I need to consciously lie on back at night (normally, I’m a side sleeper, curled into a fetal position), take too much tension headache medicine, be in a darkened quiet room, etc.

Second is my stomach.  Polite way of saying I need to run to the bathroom every two seconds.  Again, not fun, but uncontrollable, and a sure sign that something (or someone) has me stressed out.

Third, I begin to shake.  Somewhere between a shiver and a quake. Deep breaths help, but again, it’s uncontrollable.

All the while, I worry it, shake it like a rag doll in my brain.  In other words, I get a bit obsessive about whatever or whoever it is in my brain, and I can’t let go.  Probably one of the reasons, “Don’t worry about it,” sounds just as awful as nails on a chalkboard to me. It’s just not even practical, not even a realistic goal. Shut up.

Why do I know this much about how stress affects me physically? Because I was a teacher for over 17 years.  No, that was not a sarcastic answer. It’s the truth. And I’ve paid attention to my own body.

What helps alleviate some of these? Regular yoga (oops, need to get back on that wagon, too). Me-time. Deep breathing (goes along with the yoga). A massage now and then. Reading (to some extent). Being able to vent to someone about my source of stress (but not too much, because that can get me ramped up again). And a realization that This Too Shall Pass. I forget that a lot. Maybe I should get it tattooed somewhere I’ll see it all the time.

What does stress do to you? What do you do to alleviate it?

On-Again, Off-Again Dad

The ex has called a couple of times over the past month or so, after a couple of months of not calling. He said, “I get him for Christmas this year, right?” Ummm, ok. So after making use of your liberal visitation schedule for two weeks out of the last 104, you want to stake your claim? Sure. Yes, you actually are supposed to have him starting on Christmas Eve, as it is an odd year. “I’ll try to get some time off, then,” he said. Sure, I thought.  Like last Christmas.

He called once more, spoke to The Boy only for a little while, and that was the last we heard anything about Christmas.  The Boy’s birthday was Wednesday, and his mom had sent gifts, one from her, and one from his dad. Her card said they were looking forward to seeing him at Christmas.  But the ex didn’t even call his son on his birthday.

What?

My mom told me that recently, she and The Boy were at Walmart and he said he really hoped he’d get to see his dad at Christmas, because he hadn’t seen him since April.  Yes, it hurts him more than he’ll admit to me, and yes, he does keep track.

As The Man says, kids are only young once. He’s going to miss it completely.

Angry for The Boy and pity for the ex. And partly angry for me too, really, because I have my own life and family that will be affected by his inadequacy. But mostly angry for The Boy.

Life Gets In the Way

I wish I had a better excuse for not blogging. I wish I could say I won NaNoWriMo this year.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way sometimes, and, well, we’ve been having a rough go of it lately, behaviorally. It’s hard to write when you have no idea what is going on with your kid. It becomes harder to find time when you struggle to get him to do any homework at all, and really homework is torture for you, as well, and you just need some downtime.

But I’m not one for excuses, except to say that it is what it is. I have missed blogging, and it is something I need to do for my own well-being. Ergo, it shall be done. I may not write every day, but I will write, and I just hope that there are a few of you still out there to read it. If not, that’s ok, too.

Be prepared, though. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Puberty + Autism = Nothing for the faint of heart. I sure hope puberty is the culprit here, because if this isn’t temporary and transitional… I’m not sure I’ll make it.

Thanks for sticking by me. I’m back on the wagon again.

The Formula

More and more, this school year, I am wondering what the heck The Boy is communicating through all of this behavior.  My sweet little boy is refusing to do work, refusing to go to class, refusing to go to school… like someone has flipped a switch. When we experience a negative behavior (i.e. when all hell breaks loose), after the initial shock (Who is that demon child and where did he put my son?), I am left to figure.

Autism parents are familiar with this. Determine the trigger and try to eliminate or decrease it so you can better manage the fallout, and predict when it might happen again.

Except when you cannot for the life of you figure out the trigger.  Could it be puberty? That magical ingredient that changes body chemistry and is our current prime suspect? Is it medication that needs tweaking? Is it a virus, which always makes The Boy’s behavior completely wonky? Is it someone at school making fun of him? Is it a teacher? Is it..? Is it..?

We are trying to take this thing and try to determine its formula, its ingredients. And it’s a difficult, difficult thing.

 

Who are you and what have you done with The Boy??

Who are you and what have you done with The Boy??

Helpless and Dumb

Whenever I was sick as a child, my mom would say, “I hate it when you’re sick,” and I never truly understood the depth of that until I had my own child.  Today, I looked at The Boy and said, “I hate it when you’re upset,” and burst into tears.  “Why are you crying, Mom?” he asked.

I cry because I’m helpless and I know nothing.  I had to come and pick you up at school today because you wouldn’t go to class, and then tried to escape school.  I don’t know why.  No one does, and when we ask you, you start talking about your bus driver from last year, and how he must have retired because he doesn’t come to pick you up anymore. You talk about not going back to school until next week, or returning to that other middle school you went to for a quarter last year until I screamed enough to get you into a better one, the one you go to now.

I cry because I don’t understand your motivations, and I just want to make it better and easier for you.  Can we clarify the bus rules for you?  Let’s make a checklist so you don’t forget your band binder again. How can I make it better?  And I get no answer.

I cry because you are my only son, and I can’t see past this very day for you.  I hope I can get you on the bus tomorrow, but I don’t know if you will go.  I don’t know what will happen then.  I don’t even know if I will be able to return to work later today, if you will be able to calm down, if we will be able to come up with a reasonable plan to get you back to school and going to class.

I cry because there are no answers.  All of us autism parents just throw stuff onto the wall to see if it sticks every damn day.  Some of it sticks, and a whole hell of a lot of it doesn’t and you go back to the drawing board.  If I had a dollar for every time I said or thought “I don’t know what to do…”

All I can do is rely on experience, try, try, try, and hope, hope, hope.  But in the meantime, I hate it when he’s upset. :(

Heads Up: NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us

It’s that time again, and I give you fair warning.  November is National Novel Writing Month, and it begins this Saturday.  I am very excited this year, however I had oodles of time to participate last year – I was unemployed!  And this year, I’m employed full time and wondering when I will have the time to write 50,000 words in 31 days…

Therefore, I may not post with any sort of regularity, although I will attempt to prepare some posts in advance.  If you try to interact with me on the blog or social media, please understand if I don’t get back to you right away. NaNo is a crazy, tortuous thing that is so rewarding and creative that I can’t imagine not doing it again.

This year, I have a killer story and I’ve even done some planning and research (unlike last year, when I completely “pantsed” the whole thing)!  I’m not giving any spoilers yet, but I really, really want to do this, so please, dear readers, bear with me.

I can’t wait!

Last year’s book cover…

bookcover1

Our Latest Project

A couple of months ago, The Man and I were presented with an opportunity, and after careful thought, we jumped at it.

You see, The Man has done a couple of house flips in the past – he is that good at what he does. Not the huge house flips you see on HGTV, but some smaller ones where he turned a small profit that you couldn’t shake a stick at.

And so when we were offered a beach trailer for a steal, we decided that this was something we could do together.  Where we live, lots of people live or vacation in beach trailers.  They pay the lot rent year round and come down on the weekends, or a for a week at a time in the summer, stay in their little single-wide trailer a couple of blocks from the beach, and it’s their own little paradise for a fraction of the cost of a condo or beach house.

The Man and I are pretty good at being able to see potential in a living space. This place was a wreck when we bought it – holes in the floor and roof, standing water in places, and mouse poop pretty much everywhere else.  It was pretty disgusting work getting it cleaned out, and I was continually amazed that someone had lived there, in all of that nastiness. But since then, we have been working to make it sturdy, simplified and updated.  It may not look like much yet, but it already has come so far.

We have our tense moments, and things get thrown around, including cuss words from time to time, but we work well together, and we so look forward to seeing the finished product.

Here are some photos of our progress so far:

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Being Put Through My Paces

A meeting is scheduled.  With The Boy’s teachers.  Not yet an official IEP meeting, just an I’m-so-sick-of-you-not-knowing-what-you’re-doing meeting.  Nah, I won’t really say that.  But I do have dreams, yes DREAMS about running an inservice, actual PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for these teachers, and not just about how to effectively approach a student and his/her IEP, but about basic things like GRADING and ASSESSMENTS.

I was a decent teacher.  I don’t claim to have been the best teacher at the school where I worked, not by a long shot.  But I did know a thing or two about exactly how assessments (quizzes, tests, and projects to a normal person) are supposed to work, and how to effectively use and fairly grade those assessments, skills that The Boy’s teachers apparently haven’t yet mastered.

A 65/100 on a quiz with 10 multiple choice questions just doesn’t compute…

quiz

I guess I was spoiled by the staff I worked with.  We didn’t have to argue very long that grading a kid on effort just wasn’t fair to anyone, and definitely watered-down the picture of whether or not the student knew the content.  We didn’t have differing opinions on how much quizzes, tests, and projects should be worth — assignments and quizzes should rarely be worth more than 25 points or so, and tests and projects were usually between 50 and 100.  Assignments and quizzes, we agreed, showed how well the teacher was teaching the content (formative assessments), while tests and projects showed how well the student had learned the content (summative assessments).  To me, this is TEACHING 101.  Fellow teachers, Amiright?

This reminds me of the meeting I had at The Boy’s previous school where they thought the use of rubrics was such a novel idea… “We don’t really use those…” they said… (I was taught to use rubrics in my teaching in TEACHER COLLEGE in the 1990s… 20 years ago…).

My challenge is to attend this meeting and not come off as this know-it-all mom telling them how to do their jobs.  My challenge is gently nudge them towards doing their jobs without them realizing that I’m telling them how to do their jobs.

Time to get clever.