Perspective & Paradigms

I had dinner with a new friend the other night. She has been a friend to me in several ways this year, but we actually met for the first time that night. She is a mom to three boys between the ages of 13 and 18. And they are all neurotypical.

We talked about the apparent lack of student support for The Boy and his friend in the marching band. She carefully and respectfully defended kids like her son who are more than happy to interact with a peer on the spectrum at home, but not necessarily at school, where peer pressure can be a hard thing for any kid to overcome. She said in middle school, everyone is trying to fit in, and in high school, everyone is trying to get out.

After 17 years teaching at both levels, I get that.

But to my ears, it rang as old-fashioned as the tired phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

Of course, I understand and fully believe how difficult it can be for middle school-aged children to look beyond themselves to see others who need help. It’s Child Psychology 101 – at that age, as you may remember, they see themselves as the center of their own universe. Remember thinking everyone would laugh at you for that zit on the end of your nose, or the bad haircut, or the crazy sweater your aunt bought you? But they really didn’t (unless they were mean kids, anyway), because they were too busy worrying about their own zits, and haircuts, and sweaters. Indeed, some people never grow out of this psychological stage, but that’s another post.

Most of us do grow up, and realize it’s in the caring for others that we find ourselves.

And what we need to realize is that our kids need assistance in growing up and out of this psychological stage. Yes, it’s normal, but we don’t want them to stay there. Just as we taught them to walk and tie their shoes, we need to teach them to be their own person. We as parents need to help them understand that “different” is not inherently bad, and we need to expose them to “different”, whether it be people, foods, cultures, or ideologies. Seeing and learning about differences is how we figure out and find peace with ourselves. What a gift it is to learn that we are not alone in our weirdness! Who wouldn’t want to help their children find that awareness??

Yes, it’s hard for typical middle schoolers to break out of their comfort zone and befriend someone perceived as different in front of other middle schoolers. But what a teachable moment, rife with lessons! Pick up the baton, parents, and show them the way.

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Today is the Day

Today is The Boy’s last day of 8th grade, of middle school, of being anything but a teenager. He’s excited. I’m excited. We’re all excited. And a little wistful, too. Even The Boy exclaims, “How did we get here?” and “How did this happen?” I tell him time flies, and if you blink, you miss it. I tell him all those old cliches, those that have been around so long they must be true. It sure feels that way.

Where is the 5 pound 6 ounce baby I was holding in my arms yesterday?

Where is the toddler who got away from me in the department store and hid in the middle of a clothes rack?

Where is the preschooler who couldn’t wait for the water to warm up to get into the small pool we had bought, and whose smiling lips turned blue?

Where is the 2nd grader who kicked his classmates?

Where is the 4th grader who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the high school football game with his choir?

Where is my 7th grader who began to have crushes on girls?

Who is this extra man in my house who is taller than me, requires shaving at regular intervals, and has hands and feet bigger than his dad’s? Who can barely fit on the couch if he stretches out on it? Who “practices” driving every time we get into the car?

Ah, yes. He’s my son, even though I can’t possibly be old enough for it to be true. My son. And me over here? The one with a bit of dust in her eye? I’m one proud mom.

finding our own path

 

Middle School Reflections

We went to lunch at the beach on Saturday after cleaning up all the chunks of drywall left by the drywall hangers at the new house. We ate outside at a picnic table, and were talking about The Boy being almost done with middle school. The Man and I both agreed that not too many people would like to re-live middle school, and that he had much to look forward to in high school.

“Why don’t people want to go back to middle school?” The Boy asked.

“Well, I can tell you that kids were kind of mean to me when I was in middle school,” I said. “I don’t have very many good memories.”

“And I don’t have too many memories of it at all,” The Man said. “Nothing really great happened.”

The Boy took a moment, and then said, “I think it’s different now.”

“It is?” I asked carefully.

“The kids at my school are nice. There aren’t too many mean ones. I have good memories of middle school,” he said.

I touched The Man’s hand and gave him a look. He raised his eyebrows back at me.

That is something that every special needs parent wants to hear. That her child has good memories of middle school, and judges his classmates to be nice people.

Just a bit of dust in my eye…

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Helping Him Connect

The Man and I were grocery shopping this weekend, and if you do like I do, and go on certain days of the week, you tend to notice the same people shopping on “your” days. I also tend to do the shopping alone, because I can get in and out of the store in twenty minutes without the boys, and it turns into an hour long negotiation with them. But this weekend, The Man tagged along, and we left The Boy at home enjoying his independence.

One of the people I have noticed on previous trips is one of The Boy’s friends-who-is-a-girl. She kinda, sorta recognizes me from band events and such, but I don’t often do more than smile big at her. I mentioned to The Boy that I saw her on one of these trips, and so now, when I leave him at home, he asks me to let him know if I saw her.

This weekend, I did one better. After I saw her, I Facetimed The Boy to let him know, and who walked down the aisle right as I was doing it? The girl in question! So I approached her and said, “Do you want to say hi?” and pointed the face of the phone toward her. A bit confused, I saw a big smile break out on her face when it clicked who I was, and who was on the screen. “He’s showing you his cat,” I said. “Awww! How cute! Hi!” she said to The Boy. His weekend was made, and even though I probably confused her for a minute, I helped him make another connection with a friend.

It may not have been the most “normal” occurrence for her on a weekend, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do to help her kiddo make connections and spread awareness and acceptance.

Big Stuff Coming This Year

2016 is going to be a big year for us. I’ve already set up a meeting with our autism specialist and the transition coordinator for next week to talk about The Boy’s transition to high school. Yes, high school.

yikes.

high school

In our state, there are different programs in which a special education student can enroll for high school, and you kinda have to pick which track you’re going to pursue before you even start. The Boy could try to do the full curriculum, but with deficits in math and language arts, I’m leaning toward the track that is labeled “occupational,” which emphasizes work skills and experience. If he wanted to, he could attend a community college with this type of diploma, but couldn’t directly enroll in a university. That’s where I’m leaning, knowing what I know now, but that’s why I want to meet. I want to know the details and make an informed decision. I also want to include The Boy in some of our decision making.

We are also looking forward to building our house which will allow The Boy to go to the high school he is planning on. We’re several months behind due to some unscrupulous contractors (I think they are rather requisite for any home-building project), but are excited to be filling our building permit applications this week. And I can finally start visualizing our new home.

Big changes coming our way. And this little mama is doing what she does best – planning, and planning, and planning…

Halloweekend from Hell

Halloween was never my favorite holiday as a kid, but my kid loves it, so it’s been much more fun over the past fourteen years. We are getting to the point where the trick or treating should probably be winding down, but hasn’t, and I don’t quite have the heart to force the issue.

This weekend, the issue is compounded because of too many opportunities.

Tonight, the high school band is hosting a party to which the 8th grade band members have been invited. I thought maybe this is the one thing we could skip this weekend, but The Boy has other ideas.

HalloweekendSaturday evening, we plan to take him trick or treating in another neighborhood.  He definitely won’t give this up.

Sunday evening, his best buddy who is now at the high school is hosting his annual haunted house, and he looks forward to this all year.

Three days in a row and the weekend is shot.  I was aiming for compromise and maybe doing to out of three, but I lost the fight, and since Halloween is for the kids, that’s ok. Plus he is actually choosing to do social stuff, and how can I say no to that?

But Mom definitely gets a weekend off next weekend!

Dances, Dodgeball, and Decisions

The Boy is in 8th grade and has never been interested in any of the school dances – go figure. This past week, however, his school band had a Friday night “Bandathon” fundraiser, which was followed by dinner (pizza) and a dance.  Several weeks ago, I asked The Boy if he might be interested in staying for the dance…

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

In Boy-speak, this usually means no, kind of like when your mom said, “We’ll see,” back in the day.

When I brought it up again, I offered to chaperone if he wanted me to, and at that point he said, “I think I’d like to do that.”

!!!

I had no idea what type of dance this would be, so I thought I had better cover my bases, and ended up showing him how to slow dance with a girl in middle school, just in case the opportunity arose and he might want to ask one of his friends-who-are-girls to dance.

After the performance, and the pizza was inhaled, the band director spent the first hour of the “dance” reading off ticket numbers for prizes that had been donated for a raffle. He then turned on his computer, and played three or four songs over the speakers (a la “Cupid Shuffle”), started a game of dodgeball (??), and returned to calling off ticket numbers. That was the “dance”.

Dodgeball?

The important part was that The Boy had fun.  When the kids danced, he made some herky-jerky movements near them.  When they played dodgeball, he went out on the “court” and wandered around, throwing a ball when it was handed to him.  He got to show some of his hand-drawn pictures to his friends-who-are-girls, and play his DS a bit.  He was a happy camper, and that’s all that matters.

I Must Have Jinxed It

Everyone knows that when things are going well, you jinx it by actually stating how well things are going, right? Remember when I posted about how hopeful I was for 8th grade?

Now I’m nervous.

Went to back to school night last week and found out the teacher I left work to meet with the previous week, who would kind of replace his ASD teacher who was leaving the school would in fact NOT be teaching him anything.  He also didn’t have art on his schedule, and no one knew who his homeroom teacher would be.

You think kids with autism have a hard time with change, we autism moms have a hard time, too.

Yuck.

Monday, The Boy started the school year, and for the first time since he started school in kindergarten, I felt like I didn’t have a teacher to contact who would know what was going on with him.  No one who really had a good idea of the whole package – his IEP requirements, what classes he should have, triggers, calming techniques, how his overall day went… everything.  He seems to have a couple of teachers who have a partial picture, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

When he came home, I asked him if he had art, which was supposed to have been added back to his schedule.  He said no. And now I’m asking myself, “Is the second day of school too soon to go into That Mom mode?”

There’s so much going on right now, I’ll probably just wait and see before I panic. I sure hope I’m wrong.

Sex Ed for Sale

Before break, 7th graders at The Boy’s school had a week-long sex ed program.  A couple of days in advance, an opt-out form was sent home that also explained where materials could be viewed (in the library, something like the following day in the middle of the day – very realistic for working parents, but I digress). I have never opted out of these programs for The Boy in the past because I feel it’s important, and I want him to have access to the same curriculum as his peers.

About the second day of the week, I noticed that the “workbook” for the program was in The Boy’s backpack and thought I would sit down and see what was in it.

The first page I had a problem with claimed that condoms were ineffective against STDs, and that only abstinence would ensure that you would not get an STD.  Half right, in my estimation.  I went to the CDC website to fact-check the information on the page, and actually found that this workbook page contained some inaccurate statements.

Concerned, I continued to read the workbook.  And then I came to this page:

gender

Ah, boys are logical and girls are sensitive.  Boys deal in facts, and girls deal in feelings.  All couched in “sometimes” and “generally” which are the equivalent to “no offense but…”.

Nope.  Not acceptable.  Not even “generally”.  And then, I found this:

marriage?

Check out Attitude #6.  Because if you don’t want to get married, there’s something wrong with you.

What in the world is this crap they are teaching the 7th graders in my county? I googled the name of the group that put the curriculum together.  It’s actually a women’s pregnancy clinic that maintains an anti-abortion stance, and sells this curriculum to school districts.  A pregnancy clinic that doesn’t even know the facts about STDs and condoms.

I emailed the principal, knowing that this curriculum was probably selected by a committee, and was approved and paid for by the school board.  I asked her who I might contact with concerns about the program.  She took several days to email back, and even then only said that one of the counselors would be contacting me about my concern.

At least a week and a half went by before a school counselor called me and referred me to… drumroll, please… the pregnancy clinic that published the curriculum.

That would be like referring a library patron with concerns about pornography in the library to Larry Flynt.

I will be pursuing this with central office.  I will attend board meetings if I have to.  This curriculum is insanely out of date, and presents opinion as fact, which is a very slippery slope.  I just wish I had had better access to this in advance, and I wish the school had handled my concerns more appropriately.  I’m extremely disappointed with their response.

Tuba Update

Aren’t we done with this yet?

Well… maybe.

I wrote my four-page letter to the principal almost two weeks ago, and haven’t heard a single word from her, nor from the band director.  I haven’t heard a thing from anyone (except from LinkedIn, which notified me that the band director had viewed my profile, the same day that the principal received the letter… a coincidence?  I think not!), and so I am beginning to believe they have stopped trying to get him to switch instruments/quit.

I still need to get him an actual tuba to practice, and I can’t believe the help you all have given me.  It’s amazing, really, and makes me realize that the internet can be a very good place.  College band directors and nonprofits have been contacted by us, as well as on our behalf, and one of my readers here referred to tuba players as a “brotherhood,” and he said they take care of their own.  This brought me to tears (good ones!) because that is something I hoped for when The Boy began school band.  I saw it as a place he could belong, and meet neurotypical kids who were a little more likely to be accepting of him.

It also reminded me of when I was in the college marching band, in the piccolo section, and we traveled to Las Vegas for a bowl game.  The stadium continued to sell beer past halftime, and by the end of the game, the opposing team’s fans were incoherent, and several young men were actually threatening us, the piccolo section of the band!  The tuba section, all big, beefy boys left their seats to stand in the aisle between us and our bullies with their arms crossed.  It was a very brave and gallant gesture.

You helpers and supporters are lifting this boy up, in the face of someone who wants him out.

I feel very thankful.  We should have a tuba in the next week or two, and then I will ask to visit class to videotape so we can work on some modeling for The Boy, and help him to participate, which should have been the focus of all of our discussions from the beginning.  Keep sending us your positive thoughts, as now The Boy will need to get caught up!

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