New Friends, New Opportunities

The Boy and I went over for a “playdate” of sorts with some new friends from our local chapter of the Autism Society.  The Boy had gone to summer camp with this boy, and I’ve leaned on his mom quite a bit through our schooling struggles.  The boys had a blast – it was very neat to see The Boy getting along so well with kids his own age (or thereabouts), and I was grateful just to have the chance to do it, and the chance for him to make some real friends, something he hasn’t yet done at school.

And I can’t overlook the chance for me to make friends.  It can be a bit lonely moving away from almost everyone you know.  I still love my friends from up north, but I can’t hang out with them by any means, and so I spend a lot of time by myself, especially being underemployed.  It doesn’t lend itself to maintaining your sanity, let’s just say, so it was nice to get out and just hang out with someone, especially someone who really gets what I’m going through right now.

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten...

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten…

One of the things we have been talking about has been a possible switch in schools for The Boy.  We’re hoping to get him into a pilot program at a middle school across the county which is aimed at high functioning kids on the spectrum.  It happens to be housed where our new friends go to school (across the county, requiring busing), and New Friend’s Mom can’t say enough good things about the special ed staff, who really seem to know autism, front and back.  So, we are pursuing it, because his current school is still not following his IEP, and seem to be taking their sweet time even implementing any of the county specialists recommendations.

It would be a tremendous transition, again, and we have weighed that into the decision, but at this point, I strongly feel he is not in the correct placement, and I’m ready to fight to get him into this program (even though I don’t think I will really need to).

So keep your fingers crossed for The Boy.  New opportunities may be on the horizon that would be much better in the long run, but may be a little painful at first.  Just another day on the spectrum.

Blended Boys

Blending families is an ongoing journey, even when you only have one school-age child.  Differences in parenting styles become apparent fairly quickly, and when your child has special needs, it can be even more challenging.  We have been lucky — The Man and I dated long-distance for several years, which gave us an opportunity to glimpse each other’s parenting styles and transition to a blended parenting style over time.  To say that it’s a finished product would not be right – it continues to evolve, but it’s functioning, and a positive thing for The Boy to have two parents in our home.

The Man continues to learn about The Boy and his challenges.  It can be unfortunate sometimes to have a disorder like autism, because it isn’t oustwardly visible, and people who don’t know will judge, while even people who do know will forget, myself included.  Not forget that he has autism, but forget The Boy’s struggles and needs, even if momentarily.  This happens with The Man from time to time, but we continue to communicate and progress on our journey.

The Man is a natural-born dad — he doesn’t know it, but sometimes I almost burst into happy tears at his small gestures towards The Boy.  He doesn’t even realize that he is doing things for The Boy that have never been done for him before.  And I have found that the one best thing for their growing relationship has been to force them together without me for awhile.  I have had to leave for work for a few hours on each weekend, and they have gotten to hang out a lot more this month.  And you know what?  We’ve had fewer meltdowns from everyone involved.

Yesterday, The Man pulled into the yard, home from work, and immediately grabbed our knock-around bike from the shed to go join The Boy who was riding around the neighborhood with some other kids.  And I watched, with those happy-tears in my eyes.

The Boys

An Awful Weight Lifted

Over the past month, I’ve become quite close, almost best friends, with a feeling I’ve never had to feel before. Because I was always a teacher, and had been for years before The Boy was born, and because (at least where and when I taught) teachers usually had a fairly decent benefits package and fairly decent pay, I didn’t ever carry the heavy weight of worry about providing for my child.

English: Heavy Burden

I know how lucky I was, and I knew it then, but I did work hard for that security, and we weren’t always absolutely free from worry on that front. With the ex doing our finances, there was always worry, but there was always the reassurance of another paycheck on the horizon, even if it was already spent. There was also a time when our district slashed our benefits, and all of a sudden, our all-important speech and occupational therapies were no longer covered. It was a struggle, but we managed. We only got sued by a hospital once, so victory for us, I s’pose.

Today, as I walked out of the Department of Social Services office, where a kind lady had explained to me, “Yes, those mailings you received do mean that your son has full Medicaid coverage,” I took one of the deepest breaths I have taken in months.

No matter what happens, he has a roof over his head, and the medical care he needs.

And now, I don’t have to spend any more emotional energy on that heavy worry, and can concentrate on finding a decent job.

5 Tips to Being the Best Mom Ever

I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I did have the best mom ever, so I have some familiarity with the subject.  This list is from the perspective of a mom of a tween, so bear that in mind.  I still think it applies at many levels of development (both yours and his):

  1. Never stop showing them how much you love them.  I’m lucky that The Boy still allows me to hug him, kiss his face, and cuddle him from time to time.  He even holds my hand sometimes!  I tell him I love him when I wake him up, when I say goodnight, and any other time I feel like it.  To me, it never loses its meaning.
  2. Try to remember what it’s like.  The Boy is in middle school, and unfortunately, I remember middle school.  No one wants to re-live it because it’s not a fun time for anyone.  When I can remember this, I am much more compassionate towards him.
  3. Put down the phone.  Step away from the TV.  I still struggle with this, and truthfully, he does, too.  But we have so much more fun, and make so many more memories when we spend time together, often outside, doing stuff.  And that’s what builds relationships.
  4. Make him a priority.  Notice I didn’t say the highest priority.  But moms need to be involved and know what’s going on in a child’s life.  If you don’t know every teacher’s name, and who he gets along with best, you’re behind.  You don’t need to be a nuisance (like I am becoming, albeit for very good reasons), but you need to show through your actions that you are present, to both your child, and the school.  Education works so much better that way.  Trust me.
  5. Try not to take it personally.  When he gets snippy or disrespectful, doesn’t want to hold your hand, or seems aloof, it isn’t you.  He’s figuring it all out, so give him the space to do so, while realizing that every kid does this.  He still loves you, and may even like you 😉  Conversely, when his behavior needs to be corrected, take the personal out of it.  Pretend you are the teacher (you know — the one that can’t scream back at a kid or curse) calmly trying to teach him a lesson about life… Because that’s exactly what you are.

As I said, I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I’m the best one The Boy’s ever had 😉  I’ve seen a lot of good moms during my time in the classroom, and I had the best mom ever growing up.  The biggest thing to remember is this:

No one is the best every day.  Just keep trying.

Your kids will love you for it.

Winter at the Beach

Non-Warrior Pose

I’ve been in Warrior Mom mode since yesterday, sending emails to the school, rapid-fire (pew, pew, pew!), making phone calls to the county social services department to make sense of the mailings they sent in the wrong order, spending over an hour to modify an assignment for The Boy to do last night, and making an executive decision to skip Tuba practice as he fell asleep while doing said assignment.

And then the special soup I bought for dinner was gross, so I basically had cheese and crackers for my evening meal.  And I had to wait for the boys to use the microwave for their own dinners, and mine was last and turned out to be yucky anyway.

And the ex emailed with more promises to call later this week (yeah, right).

And then the cop directing traffic this morning looked at me funny…

and I burst into tears.

I sent another email this morning, and had planned to do some medical legwork since I didn’t get anyone from the county to answer my questions yesterday.  But I’m thinking I may just not.

I may just take a day to not fight the world.

I may do some yoga, may attempt to draw some more Zentangles.

I think I need to heed my own tears, spend some time in the sun, stop communicating with the sources of my frustrations, breathe, cry if necessary, but slow down and take a day with no anger or fear guiding my actions.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Golden Gate Tea Garden

We Need to Care More About Mental Health Care, Starting in the Schools

I was just watching some commentary on the Navy Yard Shootings that occurred a short time ago, and indeed how mundane these mass shootings are seeming.  No one even appeared to take notice of this last one, and that is really scary.

I’m not going to get into a debate about guns.

But I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute about something I feel is related.

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

The school where I used to work has one counselor and one social worker for 900 children.  The school where my son is enrolled now has one counselor for 300 children, and no social worker.  (And guess who is often in charge of all the standardized testing in the school?  How much counseling do you think they get done with that on their plate??)  You see, these positions are often the first to get cut or reduced, often to preserve the teaching staff.  And while I don’t disagree that teachers are important, I have seen the children walking through our school doors over the past 20 years.  I have seen how aggressive, how damaged, how out-of-control they have become.  And I have spoken with the parents, the ones who when you meet them, cause you to say, “Now I understand.”

Today’s kids are dealing with a lot.  They are exposed to so much more than in years past, and too often, parents are not on top of it, neither to control what they are watching, hearing, experiencing, nor to help them process that information.  I don’t know if bullying has increased over the years, but I do know that most kids can be mean, and when I say mean, I mean MEAN.  That’s a lot for anyone to deal with.  And then if you don’t have a perfect home-life…

Mental health in this country has always been taboo.  Unfortunately, we are telling our kids that it isn’t that important through underfunding the resources that they need to help them be of healthy mind.  And they are left to deal with the world on their own terms, with virtually no help.

I’m not suggesting that this is a cause of these mass shootings that have become so common, but our attitudes toward mental health don’t seem to have changed, even with the evidence staring us in the face.  And support for our children and their mental health should not be an afterthought, only provided when there is enough in the budget.  Our actions speak loudly to those kids, and right now we are telling them to suck it up and deal.  That’s not good enough.

Filling the Time

I am so completely unused to having time in my day.  When I was a teacher, and a working single mom, coming home and being able to sit down was a treat.  Now I’m much more of a homemaker, something I never envisioned myself doing, but I enjoy nonetheless.  I just wish it paid better 😉  I shop for groceries, do laundry (including the folding!), clean things, etc.  And I still have time left over.  I’m really hoping I can pick up some more tutoring students, and that there is so much interest in my classes at Michaels that I have to schedule more… but until that happens, I have a lot of time on my hands.

But I don’t like being idle.

I’m not the type to watch the afternoon “shows”, and there’s only so much Good Morning America one person can take.

I’ve decided to take some of my hobbies to the next level, possibly.

  • I’m going to use my camera more, really get to know the settings again, so I can confidently have my way with a camera, and maybe, just maybe open up an Etsy shop.  I’ve sent a few of my shots to a professional printer who will make some free prints and send them back to me so I can check out the printing quality, and we’ll go from there.
  • I’m thinking about doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I’ve been told a few times that I should write a book, and since November is right around the corner, and I have nothing else pressing…  Why not?
  • I’ve been checking out Zentangles, and I’m intrigued.  I’ve tried it out, and it is very, very soothing.  I looked into it because I thought it might help me with some of my demos at Michaels, but this may have income potential, as well.
  • And I keep thinking about taking this little blog to the next level, transferring to wordpress.org, and selling some ad space, too.

The best part of all this, is that it helps me to feel like I’m at least doing something that could earn money some day, and it keeps me occupied, rather than sitting on the couch, watching TV, bothering The Boy’s teachers, and worrying.

Zentangle1

My first attempt at a Zentangle design

How have you been filling your time lately?

The View from the Other Side Is Blurry

I had a post drafted for today, but I had to revise it.  I’ve mentioned the struggles we’re having with The Boy’s new school, and how little they seem to know about autism, and how to make modifications and accommodations that are necessary for him to thrive within the general education curriculum.  His teachers came to his IEP meeting with that deer-in-headlights look, as if they have never seen a creature like my son before, and had no clue about how to assist him in his learning.

As a teacher, I knew that ineffective teaching existed — I just didn’t really witness it.  I taught for over 17 years, and rarely did I work or come into contact with colleagues from whom I wouldn’t want my son to learn.  There were strict teachers and lax teachers, friendly teachers and more distant teachers, scattered teachers and organized teachers, but essentially they still knew what they were doing.  It was even more rare to come across a teacher who was not good with kids.  Even teachers who were not warm and fuzzy were still able to form relationships with kids and treat them fairly and professionally.

I guess that’s why I’m having such a hard time with one of The Boy’s teachers in particular.  They all seem a little lost in terms of autism, and a few seem a little scattered in terms of general teaching skills.  This one in particular has problems communicating, both with me and The Boy.  She assigns a crazy amount of work, even for a neurotypical student.  She uses rubrics, but they do not seem to assess knowledge of social studies content, rather the processes by which the content is expressed – for example, there is a public speaking rubric for sharing current events, and a writing rubric for a research project.  I don’t know for sure, but I can guess that she is not teaching about public speaking and/or writing in her class, so where are the assessments that give her information on what the students have learned from her?

More importantly in our own case is that she seems to dislike having a student in her room that isn’t “normal”.  She decided on the second day of school that The Boy should be placed in the resource room rather than go to her class because he wasn’t “doing the work”.  She wrote in his planner last week that he wouldn’t “answer” her.  She sent me an email today, saying that The Boy had printed off 43 pages from the internet in the computer lab yesterday and that there is a rule against printing without a teacher’s permission. She has made only one modification since the beginning of the year, giving The Boy a modified review sheet and quiz that she had printed off from a “special needs workbook” published by the textbook publisher, and refused to give him extra time to study as I requested, and which is also an accommodation spelled out in his IEP.

When I got the email about computer lab printing rules today, I could hear my pulse quicken, could feel the blood in my veins heat up, saw my hands clenching into fists involuntarily.  I took a breath, and reminded myself not to answer immediately (calm down, Mama Bear – Ha!).  After a few minutes, I responded that I would reinforce the printing rule with The Boy when he returned home, but also asked her to please remember that he has a hard time asking for help when he needs it.

And then I sat down to write this post.

And this seemed like even more proof that this woman was not nice, would continue to be a source of frustration and obstruction this school year, and was looking for any excuse to prove that my son can’t.

And then she responded to my last email, telling me she knew he didn’t do it on purpose, and that he shared his research project in front of the class by sharing his maps while she read his points of interest, and the children clapped for him.  She said it was a successful day for everyone.

And all of a sudden, my impressions of her became blurred, and a little bit of hope peeked through.

I can only hope that we will all learn a lot this year.

A ray of hope?...

A ray of hope?…

Mama Bear, You’re Not Always Right

Mother Bear with Her CubsI’ve had my share of trials over the past week or so.  Not more stress than I can handle, but more stress dealing with The Boy’s schooling than I’ve had to deal with since he was in preschool.  I’m not sure I handled every day and every communication in the best way possible, but I try to remain respectful, even when I am pretty sure the person with whom I’m conversing wouldn’t know an autistic trait if it hit them in the face.  I don’t mind being the pain-in-the-ass mom who emails daily, because I wouldn’t have to if my son had more verbal communication skills, but he doesn’t.  And if school personnel are not going to offer information, I obviously have to ask for it, respectfully.

I posted the other day on my personal facebook page: “Seriously. Between dealing with the ex and (The Boy’s) school this week, my big-ass Mama Bear is showing – watch out!!”  In my world, “Mama Bear” is this walking-a-fine-line-between-angry-and-composed-mother side of me that rises up, out of protection of The Boy when someone or something is repeatedly threatening his happiness and well-being.

Mama Bear does not come out when someone looks at me funny.

Mama Bear does not come out when the teacher “forgets” to tell me that The Boy left his classroom without permission twice in one day.

Mama Bear does not come out when the ex forgets to call, again.

Because I am not Mama Bear.  And Mama Bear is less effective if it is the face you wear with the people you deal with on a daily basis.  If you ARE Mama Bear, you are being written off as crazy, I guarantee it.  “That crazy mom emailed me again, today…”  “Crazy Mom is in the main office, watch out!”  “Take everything That Crazy Mom says with a grain of salt…”

I follow another autism mom blogger’s facebook page, and she posted about her son’s first day riding the bus today.  A little later, there had apparently been a snafu, because her son had been found “wandering the halls”.  She said she was livid, and the great majority of the commenters were calling “Off with their heads!”  I would never take a situation like this lightly, but I put in my two cents, calling for calm, pointing out that everyone makes mistakes, and got called out for my response by another commenter: “Things should NEVER go wrong with our children.”

Listen, people will make mistakes with our kidsI make mistakes with my kid!  That’s how I learn, that’s how he learns.  Yes, it’s scary when a little one is wandering the halls of school, not knowing where to go because someone screwed up the procedure for drop-off.  And a phone call and/or even a meeting would be in order here to straighten out the situation ASAP.  But do you think that little one might be less scared in a similar situation later on because it has already happened to him and everything turned out OK?  If this happened two or three times, why yes, I would be livid.  But living your life in a constant mode of battle-readiness, expecting perfection from school staff, and wearing that Mama Bear mask whenever you come across someone who looks at you the wrong way is no way to live, and it’s not a good model for our kids.

The Boy’s Venture into Cyberspace

When we moved, The Boy asked for an email account.  I had to think awhile about whether he was old enough and responsible enough to be able to handle it.  I wanted him to have a way to communicate with friends and teachers from the home we were leaving, and I wanted him to explore Google Drive so that we wouldn’t have to rely on Microsoft, PowerPoint, and dozens of flash drives for his hobby anymore.   I took my time, did my research, and made a plan.  He and I talked at length about internet safety, with which he was already familiar, thanks to school.  I told him that I would have access to his account, and would know his password so that he would have some level of supervision of his account activities.  And with that, I gave him a supervised Gmail account.

He did attempt to change his password once, but because I had set my email address as the backup, I was notified immediately, and we discussed it.  We changed his password, and he seemed to use it appropriately after that, until he forgot his password, and we had to reset it again, but that was no big deal — again, he seemed to be on the right path.

Every once in awhile I would notice in his account that he had registered for some site, but they were kid-based animation sites, and when I investigated, he had opened a free account, but hadn’t used it.  And then about a week ago, I saw some notifications in his inbox of comments on his YouTube account…  Because when you open a Gmail account, you get a YouTube account automatically, now.  I had turned off Google+, but YouTube had slipped my mind…

With trepidation, I looked up his account.  Luckily, he didn’t have his profile picture posted on his account – just an abstract design.  Luckily he didn’t have too many views of the videos he had posted.  But unfortunately, there were two videos of himself, that he had taken with a webcam at some point.

mario in gI knew I would have to talk to him again about internet safety, and we would have to take them down ASAP.  I knew he would be suspicious of me “looking at his stuff,” and he would “know what (I was) trying to do!” I knew he would have some anxiety about my knowing some of his secrets.  But I continued to look at his account, and began to see something really cool.  He had posted some other videos and comments, and I can’t pretend to understand the fascination, but these other videos were a combination of animation, other videos (like the title sequences of cartoons), and modified (very strange) music.  And the coolest thing was there were other kids that were into this same type of “creation”, knew the programs he had used (Audacity is one – I had no idea he knew how to use it!), and were asking him technical questions about how he had created it.

In his first, clumsy venture into cyberspace, he had somehow joined a community, sharing his skills, and supporting other kids.

We continue to work on his understanding of what’s OK to post, and what’s not.  I continue to monitor his internet usage through his email account and other venues.  But I also continue to tell him how proud I am of him, and I’ve asked him to show me how he makes his videos.  So cool.