Why I Hate Homeschooling

Look.  Let’s be honest, I never wanted to homeschool.  I did it out of love because I didn’t want to subject the love of my life to any further stress or anxiety of being in the wrong placement in our inept school district.  I love this child dearly, deeply, with a love I have never known until he stirred in my tummy in 2009, But I HATE homeschooling.  Ok, hate is an awfully strong word.  (My mom always used to get mad when we used the word “hate.”) Maybe I don’t HATE hate it, but there are lots of things I don’t enjoy about homeschooling … and a handful of things I actually do enjoy about homeschooling. Maybe I just despise it, but I’m focusing on the things I hate right now.

REASONS WHY I HATE HOMESCHOOLING:

  1.  Not My Cup Of Tea: I’m not made for homeschooling (personality-wise.)  I’m too type-a, too stressed out, I’m not laid back enough.  I try, believe me, I try. I see my friends who homeschool — they are sooooo laid back, so easy-breezy, so ‘type-b’.  But me?  I’m a planner, and while I can be fun and say “let’s have a ditch day today” every once in a while, I’m constantly stressed out about what comes next. And I won’t let The Boy slack off more than once in a while because I know how important a routine is for him.  And if he thinks he can take a day off every Friday, he is expecting it every Friday!  So I try not to.  Weekends aren’t even fun for me.  By mid-day Sunday, I’m stressing out because I need a block of 3 hours to lesson plan for the following week.  A block of 3 hours ALONE.  The Husband considered this “me time.”  That makes me grind my teeth & want to give him a swift kick to the nuts.  Lesson planning is TIME CONSUMING and guess what I have very little of?  TIME!
  2. Time Consuming: Speaking of TIME & how little of it I have to prepare for what-comes-next, I now have pretty much ZERO “me time.”  (You should see my nails!  You should see my *once organized* closet, or any of the kitchen drawers!)  Why was my last blog post 9 months ago?  GUESS!  I was busy homeschooling!!  Who has time to blog at the end of the day.  I mean, homeschooling is like a full-time job on top of my already full-time job of being a stay-at-home-mom / boss-of-the-house!  If I could connect a wire from my brain to my laptop, I could blog around 11pm, because I have things to say, believe me … and they all come flooding into my head when it hits the pillow and I’m too exhausted to move, let alone blog!
  3. Not An Educator: What the hell am I doing?  I feel overwhelmed pretty much constantly because I have no clue what I’m doing.  I have a degree in Acting & Theatre Arts … and a second degree in English.  What don’t I have?  A Masters in Education.  So I struggle.  Seriously.  I have no clue as to what the hell I’m doing half the time. I mean, there’s no one place where you can go to find everything you need.  (Can someone please make this!?) I have to collect stuff from this book and that one, this website and that one, then I have to streamline all of the subjects so that it’s one cohesive over-arching theme … EVERY FREAKING WEEK!  And it has to be fun, interesting, engaging … and educational.  And really, some weeks I just can’t, I just don’t feel like doing it at all … It actually reminds me of my own plight with homework in high school, so I wing it, which I hate.  I’m not a wing-it kind of woman. Because when I wing it, I end up feeling like more of a failure.
  4. My Student Is An Aspie: The Boy, of course, isn’t a neuro-typical kid, so I can’t ever leave him to his own devices while we’re doing school – he needs constant behavior management & supervision.  I have stickers, mini cookies, jellybeans, fuzzies & owls.  He completes a small part of one task = cookie; completes more = cookie & sticker; completes a segment or a lesson = fuzzy & owl. Immediate rewards, long-term rewards, short-term rewards, yes, we have them all!!  Laptop, iPad, worksheets, white boards?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  Maybe if he were a neuro-typical child, it would be easier.  Maybe if I weren’t his mom it would be easier.  I don’t know.  He fights with me on every.little.thing, most of the time, and views himself as my “equal.”  He wants to call the shots, he wants to be the teacher.  And I do let him have a say about curriculum and schedule … to some extent.  But holy moly.  I feel like I’ve survived a battle most days.  Honestly, it’s exhausting.  I have to think at least 3 steps ahead of him all the time!  I prepare for every moment of our day, school and beyond. .sigh. Did I mention that it’s exhausting?
  5. Melt-downs:  Have I mentioned my kid has epic 45-minute, physical / verbal / emotional violent meltdowns?  Have I told you that these meltdowns are directed at me?  Have I explained that it’s mentally & physically exhausting to deal with a 5-year-old Aspie’s aggressive attack at 9:16 in the morning?  It’s intense.  It makes you want start chugging wine at 9:42am.  It makes you want to put his shoes & socks on, and drag him down to the shitty school I pulled him out of last December, and say “good luck, dude!  Be someone else’s problem!”  But you know I won’t do that because I love him too much, and I won’t ever give up on him.  But it isn’t always easy.

To be fair … I have to be fair because I was born on the cusp of Libra & fairness is a big deal to me.  I have to be fair, so I have to tell you that a) I’m totally bleeding right now & just in a bitchy, hormonal mood (but my reasons for hating homeschooling are valid!) and; b) there are some things I legitimately like about homeschooling, (which is what I focus on when I want to throw the towel, drive to a winery in Santa Barbara and just be done.)

OK, OK, REASONS I ACTUALLY ENJOY HOMESCHOOLING:

  1.  I Never Miss A Thing: I love that I get to have him here, around me, all of the time.  We (usually) have a lot of fun together – he is so damn smart, and so much fun. I love knowing what he is doing, what he is learning, who he is listening to … I love being the BOSS of what he is doing, learning and listening to!  He is no longer influenced by some unknown, happy-meal-loving, junk-food-eating, crap-manners kid with absolutely no personal hygiene.
  2. Our Day Is Our Own: There is no one lording over us with a schedule and a common core curriculum, or standardized tests, (which I do NOT believe in!)  Or homework, (which I also do not believe in … especially for a child his age.) We can go down rabbit holes of subjects that are of real interest … like, when I started teaching science this year, I opened the book and it started with earth science, which The Boy was like “meh.” Ok, clouds, yay.  But that wasn’t what he was really excited about.  He was really excited about sea animals.  He was totally into Octonauts at the beginning of the year, and so I said to myself, “hmm … let’s just close the book and make up our own curriculum for science.”  I printed out a bunch of blank “animal reports” and each week we picked a different sea animal to study & write a report about.  We went to the aquarium, we watched videos on youtube.  We went to the library & researched a different sea animal each week … He was so engaged in our science studies.  We did our own thing.  You can’t do that in any other school besides your own.
  3. Fundraisers:  THERE ARE NONE!  Enough said : )
  4. Parent-Teacher Conferences:  Oh, they happen … with me, my hubby and a glass of wine : )  Waaaay more fun than the alternative!
  5. Creativity & Playfulness:  I love that I’m able to foster a creative environment where we are playful & silly … where we use story-telling and silly voices to educate.  That is important to me & no way in the world would a typical school district create a classroom designed to stimulate the innate creativity in a child and really figure out how that child’s learning style can be utilized.

See … when I look at the (2nd) list above, I think – yeah, this is ok, i can do this homeschooling thing!  I get all pumped up.  Then Sunday comes and I start stressing about the week.  But then I take 3 hours and get ready.  Then Monday comes, and it’s a struggle to get him to engage and focus, and I think “this sucks.”  It’s like 6 of 1, half dozen of another.  It’s a conundrum.  I’m so torn.

And then I think about The Boy … and I think about what all of the professional psychologists have said to us … He should be in a small classroom environment with typical children (or children who are JUST like him.)  And I know how social he is … how much he loves to have friends and be around other kids.  I tried to find homeschooling co-ops, but there are no appropriate groups that are near us that would work for our schedule.

So I went to see a special education attorney (finally) and she thinks I have a case against the district & long story short, I’m suing the school district on behalf of The Boy to get the services I believe he deserves: A small classroom setting with typical peers & possibly a therapeutic companion for a (hopefully) short-term time period, to get adjusted.

In the meantime, we’re still homeschooling : ) and I’m still going back and forth with my love / hate relationship with homeschooling.  But I want you mamas (and dads ) to know that it is totally ok to not love homeschooling, to think you suck at it (you probably do not!) and to doubt your decisions.  Look … at the end of the day – our kids need US.  And they will learn the stuff they need to, but developing the “whole child” is more important than having them be able to recite facts back to you. Don’t stress out.  Try and have fun (I need to take my own advice!)  Just do the best you can because that’s really all you CAN do!

Each week I set a goal & when The Boy gets 20 fuzzies, he can pick from the grab bag!

Each week I set a goal & when The Boy gets 20 fuzzies, he can pick from the grab bag!

The fuzzies!

The fuzzies!

Giving Up On The IEP & Putting Faith In Me

overcomeWell, we’ve been in school for almost 3 months now, and I’ve already had to call an IEP.  This is the wrong placement, but it’s the best one we can get right now, all things considered.  Not only is The Boy on the spectrum, (High-Functioning Autism / Aspergers,) but he’s also very intelligent & tests way above average, so that’s called a “Twice Exceptional” “2e” or “Twice Gifted” child.

He’s only 5, so he’s technically in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) because he has a late September birthday, and that’s the law here – kids have to be 5 by September 1st to enter Kindergarten no matter your intellectual ability.  He is currently placed in a Core Autism classroom with 10 boys (all boys) ranging in severity, (the majority are non-verbal, low-functioning kids.)  The ages of the kids range from 5, (The Boy is the youngest one in class,) to age 8.  TK – 2nd grade.  Wrong placement for him because of the severity of the behaviors in his class, but the best available option because he is able to work above his grade level with the 1st & 2nd graders.  In his current IEP, The Boy is supposed to push out to general-ed, but for what?  He would tear a “typical” “gen-ed classroom” apart in about 30 seconds if left to his own devices.  He’s way beyond “A makes the ‘aaaaahhh’ sound.”  He’s reading, spelling, doing math, learning geography, etc.

He needs a one-to-one aide, someone who can be with him in a typical (but advanced) classroom … not forever, but for the time being until he can learn to self-regulate.  He’s over-stimualated & easily influenced by these low-functioning kids.  He’s picking up behaviors and trying them on for size.  Behaviors that had taken a long time to eradicate are now resurfacing.  He needs to be around his more typical, higher-functioning, bright peers.  I have told the school district this for over a year now, and my assertions fall on deaf ears.  I know what they hear when I ask them for an aide, they hear the sound of money being pried out of their sweaty, bureaucratic hands.  It costs approximately $100,000 a year to have an aide for a child.  It’s no wonder they have denied me time and again.

This was my 4th IEP and I’m pretty much a pro at these now.  I read several very helpful, (and very dense,) special education books from “Wrights Law.” I have my notebooks all properly prepared, each paper at the ready in case I need to reference something.  I have my secret advisors within the district, who, (of course,) shall forever remain nameless.  I have my outline of what I’m going to discuss placed in front of me, I’m dressed professionally, and I am ready to confront them, even though “we’re all on the same team.”And, sorry, but I don’t buy that for a second.  Sure, they all say they have The Boy’s best interest at heart. And I believe that they want to believe that, but at the end of the day I’m not the person signing their paycheck.  Their loyalty lies with the school district.

We’re at an impasse here.  They basically told me that they don’t think he needs an aide, and to even get to the point where they will even consider an aide, they would have to do (another) Functional Behavior Assessment, (FBA.) Which is a time consuming process of collecting data on The Boy – what triggers behaviors, and why. So, let’s just assume they do this FBA & determine he IS eligible for an aide, the placement of an aide would not even happen until the end of this school year.  And that’s IF they decide he qualifies, which I’m here to tell you that will not ever happen without me taking them to due process.  They’re just stalling for time, trying to wear me down & honestly, I can’t deny that it’s working.  I’m tired of dealing with them!

See where I’m going with this?  How much longer do I give them to get it right?  How much longer does The Boy have to suffer from their lackadaisical, bureaucratic gridlock?  I don’t have the resources to fight them – we cannot really afford to hire a high-powered attorney & sue them, (even though I threaten that time and again.) And even if we did – who is to say that having an aide would even solve the problems he is facing?  He is riddled with anxiety that manifests itself in various ways – physical outbursts, nail-biting, aggression toward himself and others.

I can see the toll that daily “failures” are taking on The Boy.  His teacher uses a star-sheet for the day where the kids have to earn a certain number of stars for making safe choices, respecting others, participating in group activities, completing assignments, etc., and if they earn a specific number of stars, they are rewarded by being allowed to choose a treat from the treasure box.  After 60 days of school, he has had 8 treasure box days where he’s earned enough stars to be rewarded.  EIGHT.  Out of SIXTY.  Tell me that isn’t destroying his self-esteem.

I can’t fault him for not having good days – he doesn’t have the tools to be successful!  I mean, of course I will reprimand him for acting out physically toward his teachers or peers – I think he is smart enough to know how to control his impulsivity.  But how can I punish him when a big part of it isn’t his fault?  This is really wearing all of us down: The Boy, The Husband & Me.

I’ve been pondering homeschooling for a little while now – the past few months it’s been rolling around the old brain cage, as sort of a last resort option.  But I’ve been thinking about it more and more lately.  A few friends of mine home school their (typical) kids, but they seem much more cut out for the challenge – both are a lot more laid back than I am, and make it look easier than it probably is.

Well, as I was driving this weekend, (alone,) I was flipping through satellite radio, and on one of the channels, a woman was talking about homeschooling.  And, it just really struck me, that, with all the blood, tears and sweat I’ve put into fighting the school district to try and get The Boy the tools he needs to be successful in school, I’m still not even close to accomplishing this!  And all the time I spend fretting about Common Core & IEP’s, I could be teaching him myself instead of trying to find ways to convince the district to try my ideas.  steve_jobs_quote_Think_Different

Instead of fighting them, why not throw the towel in & flip the script?  Why not remove the obstacle (The School District) & empower myself to be in control of the way my child is educated?  Educated in my comfortable, loving, supportive home environment, where he could focus & receive 100% of my attention.  And, bonus: I could kick Common Core to the curb.  It’s not that I don’t have the fight left in me to battle the school district, but for what?  And for how long until I have to do it again?  It just struck me so deeply that I may be fighting the wrong battle, I may be spinning my wheels, I may be wasting my energy.  And that maybe homeschooling is something I need to seriously consider.

I sat on this idea for a day.  I didn’t tell anyone because I thought maybe it was a fleeting feeling, maybe it was a hormonal thing, maybe I was fired up by the talk radio segment I had heard.  I mean, I was on my period – maybe this wild hair would work its way back out of  me, but instead the thought of homeschooling kept gnawing at me.

Without alerting him to my objective, I started a casual conversation with The Boy about school.  Lately, he has been complaining that he doesn’t want to go … he doesn’t like that they do the same thing every day, he feels overwhelmed with all of the distractions in class, he wishes it was just him alone with me as his teacher.  I explained that I wasn’t his teacher, and he relented and said, then he would be better off alone with his 5 teachers.  So, wow, he said it, he wants to be homeschooled.  That was another a-ha moment.

Then, I went to The Husband.  He’s heard me talk about the possibility of homeschooling before, but between him and my mom, they pretty much dismissed it as a passing thought, brought about by my frustration with the school district.  They thoughtfully pointed out that homeschooling would be really, really tough & I would be exhausted by the end of the day, probably not up for the task … After all, dealing with a very willful Aspie is really hard to do all day.

The thought is actually frightening, I’ll be honest here.  I have no idea what I’m doing, true. And selfishly, where’s my “me time” going to go? I can kiss coffee with the girls good-bye.  Our entire lives will have to change – our routines, our priorities.  I’m petrified, nervous, overwhelmed … and excited.  I feel like this is the beginning of an amazing adventure & I can chart the course.  I feel like this could be really great.  Or be really awful.

outsidethbox

But, don’t I owe it to him to try a different approach?  Even if it is going to be challenging for me?  He is my only child & he deserves this.  I cannot think of anything more important than the well-being, overall health and education of my child. There is no job, no hobby, no community service that I can think of that inspires my passion more than my only little boy.

I’ve been reading some stories from parents who waited too long, and now in a crisis are forced to realize, all too late, that their child would be better off being educated at home.  I don’t want to wait until it becomes a tragedy.  I want to be that intelligent woman who sees the writing on the wall early enough on, and says, “let’s do this.”  If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work and we will know that we gave it our best effort.  But if I don’t try it, it will continue to gnaw away at me, this feeling that we can do better.  Maybe it won’t be forever, maybe it’s only for a little while, and maybe it won’t work.  But shouldn’t I at least try?

Courage

Friends, mommies, homeschoolers, teachers, anyone who wants to chime in, please do!  I’m looking for input from those of you in the trenches.  Give me a shout out!  I need some words of wisdom & inspiration 🙂

Love, The Fairly Good Mother

 

Kicked Out!

We gave it our best effort … The Boy tried, he really did. I tried too … And the camp, well, the camp gave it their best shot I suppose, but in the end, we came to a “mutual agreement” that their summer camp wasn’t the best fit for the Boy & we went our separate ways in the middle of the week last week.  Apparently running from the counselors toward the street in the middle of a public park didn’t go over so well.  I don’t blame them – it’s a safety issue & if anything had happened to The Boy, you bet your sweet patootie, I’d be flipping over tables and lining up the lawyers!

So we gathered our things (minus one swimsuit, one pair of flip-flops and some pricey goggles,) and left.  I was relived & slightly happy, because now I get to have him all to myself this summer.  I was also kind of sad for him because … well, because he was starting to really like camp, just beginning to make friends, and it made me cry to think that he isn’t going to have a “normal” childhood and do “normal” kid stuff like go to summer camp.  I knew that already, (the not having a normal childhood part,) but I feel like I forget it all the time.  And the whole kicked-out-of-camp thing made me realize that it’s never going to be the kind of carefree life that everyone else has … and I’m totally ok with that, but sometimes it makes me a little sad for The Boy.

Anyway, I won’t dwell on that because hey – I have 8 weeks of awesome MamaLove SummerCamp planned!   (I actually only have the next 4 days planned, but don’t fret, all those things I’ve been pinning on Pinterest are going to come in handy over the next 8 weeks.)  Swim Play Dates, Beach Days, Library Outings, Cooking Club, A Fairy Garden … this summer is going to be one to remember!

And I will do my best to document it, but I’ve made a conscious decision to be as “hands-free” with The Boy as I can.  I’ve pretty much chucked out 90% of social media, but that is a story for another day …

Happy Summer!

 

Summer Camp Blues

This has proved to be a tough day for no real terrible reason.  Lots of tears have been tumbling out of my reddened eyes & I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied, (luckily, Ikea has been a good annoying distraction – more on that in another post.)  I didn’t bother even putting on make-up today, because I knew it would be another emotional day.

Like I said, it’s not anything tragic, but I’m a big sobbing mess.  Why?  The Boy started summer camp today, and was away from me from SEVEN excruciating hours!  It was harder on me than it was on him.  And it’s not just that camp started, it’s that preschool is finished, kindergarten looms in the very near future, and he is almost 5 … time is moving way too fast for me.

Wasn’t it just yesterday when he and I were taking Mommy & Me swim classes at the YMCA?  Wasn’t it just last week that we hatched caterpillars that grew into butterflies and set them free in the front yard, caught up in the magic of the moment?  Wasn’t it just last month when we would have long periods of quiet bonding time, me relishing in the way he discovered the world around him?

Where did the time go?

Now he’s ready to spread his wings & fly away from the nest – not too far, but far enough to cause me to hold my breath.  Will he be ok?  Will he remember to re-apply his sunscreen?  Will someone help him if he is having sensory issues peeling his banana?  Will the camp counselors remember what I told them & help him with social interactions, or will they leave him to fend for himself?  What if a kid is mean to him, pushes him, hurts his feelings & I’m not there to intervene?  My mind was swirling with a thousand “what-ifs” all morning long.  I mean, I would feel like this if he were an NT kid, but he’s not & although he seems typical, he still is an Aspie & has special needs.

My job is to protect him.  Besides The Husband, (and his Grandparents) no one else in the world takes this job as seriously as I do … and then the control freak in me just felt so uncomfortable with all the variables that are absolutely OUT of my control.  And bottom line, it’s really hard for me to trust – especially to trust that someone else will care for my child the way I expect them to.

The Boy & I talked the entire ride to summer camp; role-played on how to make new friends, what to say, what to ask, talked about how to keep our hands to ourself, talked about asking a counselor for help if and when The Boy needed to take a break because there were going to be a lot of kids around him, we went over his home phone number, my cell number, our address and a slew of other things … WITHOUT freaking him out.  Just casual conversation.  And then, after a lull in our conversation, he said:

“Mommy, I’m a bit nervous.”  My heart leaped, but I had this.

“Honey, that’s ok, it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re starting a new adventure.  I feel nervous too when I am trying something for the first time, so does Daddy.”

“What if I don’t like it?” He wondered.

“Well,” I swallowed & searched for just the right thing to say.  “I think you’re probably going to have so much fun and make lots and lots of friends, but if you try it for a week or so and you decide you don’t like it, then you don’t have to go back.  But you do have to be brave and give it a try … doing new things & meeting new people is part of growing up.”

“But I miss my friends from my old school – I want to go back there.”  Now, here’s where my heart sank … This poor child has been shuffled around to 3 different schools now & it’s been tough to put down any kind of ‘roots’ and make lasting friendships – every time he bonds with someone over the school year, we’re off to another program, never to see them again.

“Honey, your pre-k school is closed for the summer,” I explained, “everyone is going to different summer camps or they’re on summer vacation, but we will see your friend Dani for play dates, and you will make new friends here – it is going to be a lot of fun.”

He accepted my explanation and we got out of the car and walked in to this new, unfamiliar world of summer camp. We checked him in, dropped off his backpack & he was excited and happy as I took his picture for the purpose of documenting his first day of summer camp in 2014.

I walked him to the door that led to the play yard outside, and he kissed me good-bye & ran outside, full of hope and excited energy.  It was all so fast – I wanted him to linger for a minute, but knew that wouldn’t be a good thing – better to rip the bandaid off quickly.

I watched him from a window where he couldn’t see me … he wandered around aimlessly for a few moments, as I held myself back from running out to his rescue.  He was just about to strike up a conversation with a couple of older girls as a basketball slammed into the side of his head!  I had to resist the instinct to intervene – I waited to see what he’d do.  He shook it off & shortly thereafter he started a game of race with another older boy.  A camp counselor was nearby and monitoring the interaction.  I felt better, but still uneasy.  I crept out, and then found another vantage point to spy from … I spied for another 10 minutes and then I had to force myself to go.

The truth is this … I don’t want to miss one moment of his life.  Selfishly I want to be there for every little thing, I love seeing the world through his eyes – he’s always filled with wonderment & awe over all the discoveries he makes during the day.  But I know that the right thing to do is to give him some space to grow & explore the world without me right there on top of his every move narrating the story, but that’s really difficult for me.  I also want to protect him, help him, guide him, and monitor everything.

But it’s not about me – it’s about letting him drift away from the nest a little bit & letting him put into practice all of the things we’ve been working so hard on, (social skills, self-help skills,) and not ever letting him see how much it affects me.  He can’t know that it breaks my heart to have him away from me for more than a few hours, otherwise, he would want to comfort me and take care of me & never leave my side.  I will never be that kind of burdensome mother.  I’ve seen them in action & they disable their children to the point of a role-reversal. And Typical or NT, I think this kind of a transition (the growing up & letting go) is hard on any (good) parent.

So, I suck it up, I walked back to the car, losing the fight with the tears that were distorting my vision.  I got into the car, shut the door and just sobbed for a good ten minutes.  I’m not ready for this transition. If I had a magic potion, I would keep him little for a while longer.  Though I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready for him to grow up … It’s my job to prepare him for what lies ahead in this great big world.  And as with pretty much every job I’ve ever had, there are some things about the job that are not easy.  Letting go just a little bit & letting your little bird spread his wings is not easy to do, but it is the right thing to do.

When I went back to get him (and believe me, my eye was on that clock every other minute, counting down!)  He was happy to see me, gave me a hug & said “Mommy, I had so much fun!  And I made lots and lots of new friends, just like you said.”

That made me feel a little better.  A little.

I hope tomorrow is easier.  (Update: IT WAS!  I feel much better today … )

The Adventure Begins Here Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

The Adventure Begins Here
Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

Silent No More

photo credit: neuro-atypical.com

photo credit: neuro-atypical.com

No, I’m not going to be quiet about it anymore.  The Boy has Aspergers.  He’s an Aspie.  He has been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism now because they no longer have Aspergers Syndrome listed in the DSM V.  Hearing this last Friday was not “news,” but I think I have finally accepted that this is our life.

Two years ago, I got the diagnosis of “Aspergers Syndrome” from a psychologist who contracts for the Los Angeles County Regional Center.  A psychologist who had met with me and The Boy for all of 2.5 hours.  Her diagnosis made sense to me, but at the same time I wanted to dismiss it because I felt like she just conveniently made that assumption based on The Husband’s family history.

Everyone that we had talked to leading up to that diagnosis had told us that The Boy was a “perplexing” case.  I was told that he may “outgrow” his diagnosis by the time he started Kindergarten, so I kinda believed it and kinda hoped they were right.

And so I didn’t tell too many people about The Boy’s Aspergers Syndrome.  Only close friends and family. And you, dear Reader. I kept quiet because I thought that this diagnosis was The Boy’s, and it was not for me to share with anyone beyond his immediate family until he came to an age where he could determine who he wanted to tell what to and when.  I didn’t want him being labeled.  I didn’t want him being judged.

That decision kept me isolated from my friends, and from the parents of his typical friends.  Even more isolated that his diagnosis had made us.  I kept quiet about it because I figured if he did indeed outgrow his diagnosis, I didn’t want people to be confused.  I didn’t want to have to explain.  I just wanted to work quietly on this without everyone knowing, and I think subconsciously I was hoping that the diagnosis would just disappear from our lives & fade away into the background; becoming something we would just say was a “phase” that he outgrew.

The fact is, this is our life, and it has been every day for the past two years.  Even if he does overcome some of the diagnosis, he will always be an Aspie – he will have his quirks & his mind doesn’t work like most everyone else’s.  So, this is our life.  This is his life.  This is perfectly fine.  It isn’t the way I had envisioned things when I was 8 months pregnant & reading baby books about “what to expect,” but that’s ok.  The lesson is: Expect The Unexpected.  And, make no mistake, I wouldn’t trade this for “typical” EVER.  I love The Boy just the way he is; he is perfect.  I only want him to have the tools he needs in life to have the best life he can – to be as happy and healthy … but this is our journey, and it’s an ever-changing one. There are no books to help guide us on our way.  Expect the unexpected.

I also kept quiet also because I felt like I wasn’t entitled to have the feelings I have had: confusion, frustration, isolation, exhaustion, sadness.  How could I complain when The Boy’s case is mild – look at him one moment & he seems like a typical child, but in another setting you might say there’s something off, but can’t put your finger on it.  He is extraordinarily verbal, loving, outgoing … not like some of the children I’ve met with severe autism who are non-verbal & have never given their mother a hug or kiss.  So how can I justify feeling anything other than gratitude for this?  I must be a shallow, horrible person to feel frustrated with our situation at times.  How would anyone even understand?  Surely my friends with typical kids wouldn’t be able to relate.  So I said nothing.  Until now.

Now I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not going to be quiet about this anymore.  I am allowed to feel how I feel & that may change from one day to the next.  Yes, of course I’m grateful that The Boy is high-functioning, that he is affectionate and playful, curious, intelligent, creative and engaging.  Yes, his case is “mild.”  And I tend to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses.  But it’s not always easy.  Every day is different; some days are great, some are challenging.  And I didn’t even realize how much I work with him until a friend visiting from out of town pointed it out to me.  But that’s my job; he is my heart & I am his voice.

And I’m really going all out with my vocalization.  After two years of searching for my “tribe,” other moms who are parenting an Aspie kid around The Boy’s age, I have yet to find an active group near where we live, so I just went ahead and created a meet-up group yesterday.  I figure if I build it they will come, right?  I hope so!  There have to be other parents who are feeling stressed out, tired and in need of sharing experiences.  I’m here for you, mamas, and I’m ready to talk.

The Karate Kid

I think we’ve finally found the key to The Boy, and slowly we’re unlocking a serious breakthrough.  The breakthrough comes with a hearty “Hi-YA!” and a karate kick in the face of Autism.

Aye-Yah!

Aye-Yah!

A little over a month ago, I called the local karate studio & spoke with the instructor of the class.  I explained that The Boy had been diagnosed with Aspergers but we were in the middle of getting him re-assessed & aren’t certain it’s AS.  We think he’s definitely somewhere on the spectrum, and thought that karate might be right up his alley.  We tried gymnastics & soccer, too much waiting around, not enough discipline.

“We have a couple of guys here with Autism who are black belts now.  Bring him in – we’ll run him through a trial and see if it’s a fit.”  The Instructor said.  I was careful not to get my hopes up.  This program didn’t accept everyone.

That Saturday, we brought him to the studio.  He was full of energy & a little unorganized, but he seemed to enjoy the physicality of karate, and he caught on to the routine pretty quickly.  I loved the structure & discipline that this class offered, and it was only 30 minutes – perfect for my little guy with the short-attention span.

The Instructor was a tough guy.  Just as The Boy began to act out & I hissed his name, The Instructor walked over to me and said “No, let me handle him.  You just sit here and watch.  He needs to know that I’m the boss here & if you’re doing the discipline in my studio, he won’t ever respect me.”  Word.  I was totally on board, but also on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how much of a spectacle this would turn into.  To my delight, The Boy didn’t buck too much, just tested the waters a little, but I loved that The Instructor didn’t let him (or any of the other kids) get away with a single shenanigan!

The Instructor told us to bring The Boy back again to the next class.  And again, and again, and again.  The Boy was in try-outs for almost 3 weeks!  He had to “earn” his “jacket.”  That totally motivated him.  He loved the challenge, he got the hang of things, (addressing his instructors as “Ma’am & Sir,” keeping his hands to himself, staying quiet & following directions – for the most part.) And although he struggled with controlling his body, he really made an effort.  After 9 sessions, he had finally earned his jacket!  He was a proud little boy, and I was a proud mama.

Yeah, I cried a little.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the distinct look of pure pride on The Boy’s face.  He had accomplished this all on his own & he knew it! He glanced over at me & smiled, we exchanged the “thumbs up” sign.

I know it might sound silly, but I think he may have found his place.  This might be his sport.  I can’t see soccer as his sport, or baseball … He needs something that is more of a solo “team” sport.  In this class, he’s part of a team, but his success is solely based on his own merits.  And quite frankly, I’m a little relieved about this for several reasons – I mean, of course, I’m happy for him, but selfishly, I’m happy for me, too.  The thought of early Saturday soccer games out in the hot sun & weekday practices out in the hot sun don’t appeal to me.  I would do it, sure, and I even had envisioned him having the “All-American” childhood, replete with a position on the soccer & little league teams when he was growing inside of me.  But  maybe I’m not going to be a soccer mom.  Maybe I’m going to be a Karate Mom … or a Tennis Mom … or a Golf Mom.  I’m cool with that.

It’s been really spectacular to see the change in him … And it’s not just me & The Husband who see a change, his teachers commented to me that The Boy has been making big strides lately.  It’s a tough class & it’s three times a week, but it’s something that The Boy looks forward to – he enjoys the challenge & the routine, knows what’s expected of him & when he pushed back (which the instructor said he’d do,) he got his belt taken away for 2 classes!  He earned it back & learned the lesson: can’t clown around in karate.  There’s a time & a place for messing about, but in karate class, you act professionally, take it seriously & do your best.

Warning: MOMMY BRAG Ahead!

Yesterday, after being in this class for less than 6 weeks, he did this entire series called “Appreciation Form” which is a 12-step series of different hand movements FLAWLESSLY without any assistance from an instructor!  He even showed up a camouflage belt (highest belt in the class!)  The Instructor praised him “never seen a white belt do that series all on his own without any help!  Well done!”

We’ll see how it goes, but I think we’ve finally found his sport 🙂

 

 

Easter Egg-citement … and a Life Lesson on the side

Oh that title is sooooo cheesy, but it’s late & you get what you get at this point. And by the by – this post has not been “proofed.” I still have to make a basket, hide eggs tonight, and gnaw out chunks of a carrot that The Boy left for the bunny.

On Thursday, The Boy & I made Chickadee Cupcakes!

chickadee_cupcakes_platter

 

I was inspired by this post.  Mine are nowhere near as perfect & pretty as hers, but then again, I’m just a “fairly good mother,” so what do you expect?

Let me see if I can impress you with this little tidbit of info:  I did all of this WHILE working from home, juggling calls, making deals & doing laundry, AFTER running errands in the morning.  Impressed?  *huffs on knuckles & brushes off the shoulder dust*  Yeah, I’m a badass mama sometimes.

We took the easy route – got a box yellow cake instead of making from scratch, BUT I did make whipped cream frosting (my own concoction using heavy cream & powdered sugar & vanilla – don’t measure, just add to taste,) and then added yellow gel.  I bought pre-made eyes & used some orange icing that was leftover from Halloween.  It was Wilton’s – the kind in the air canister & it had a mind of it’s own, very difficult to deal with! I piped on some frosting to the sides for their wings.  Note: You need to refrigerate these because of the cream frosting.  Just let them stand at room temp for 15 minutes or so before you scarf one down.

The Boy had fun making some of the chickadees into “silly chickadees” with one eye or three, and since I didn’t want 2 dozen chickadees, so we used the rest of the batter to make a mama chick.  We used chocolate chips for her eyes & The Boy, my little choc-o-holic, ate enough chips to make 5 more chicks!

mama_chickadee_cakeWe took some of the cupcakes to the neighbor kids & then went to karate.

On Friday, we tackled the eggs!  And let’s be honest here, it was a less than perfect undertaking.

Take one rambunctious 4 year old, add 6 flimsy PAAS cups filled with colored water & of course your chances for a disaster are like 97% … Add to that the fact that I had dressed him in a new outfit that was partially white & the chances increased to 99.9999%.

No worries, I’m a chilled out mama regardless of my self-diagnosed mild OCD.  I had prepared for this event: laid out paper towels & put an apron on him.  But two seconds after this picture was taken …. the green egg disaster commenced.

Green will be all over the kitchen in 5-4-3-2 ...

Green will be all over the kitchen in 5-4-3-2 ..

The Boy accidentally tipped over the flimsy PAAS cup (we were using the whisk to hold the egg since that’s an easier way for kids to maneuver the eggs.)

The Boy immediately freaked out & hopped off his stool to retreat in the far end of the kitchen.  Before I even went to clean it, I consoled him.  My little sensitive guy was obviously pretty upset that he had spilled the green all over the counter, cabinets & himself.

“Guess what?”  I told him … “Accidents happen & I’m not mad.  I know I told you to be careful, but it’s no big deal – do I look mad?  No.  I’m not mad at all & it’s ok!  Let’s take off your apron & get you a new one.”  But he was still pretty shaken by the whole thing & ran off to his playroom.  This was a great teaching moment (yes, those are actual real things for the fairly good mothers of the world.) I went to get him & we had a nice little talk about how important it is to forgive ourselves when we’re not perfect.

He came back to do a couple more eggs, but I could see that he was a little timid & still pretty mad at himself, and it broke my heart into about a thousand pieces when I asked him why he was still upset & he said “I’m mad at myself for making an accident & I don’t want to color eggs anymore because I’m afraid I’ll do it again.”

I choked back my tears.  Give me a break, friends, I’m PMDD’d & I love this kid.   I got right down next to him & told him “hey it’s totally ok if you do it again … I might even do it this time!  I’m not perfect, no one is.  If we make a mess, we’ll clean it up!  No big deal.  Right?   And listen to me … You know when a friend does something that makes you sad & they apologize to you & you say ‘I forgive you?’ well, it’s important to forgive yourself when you do something that makes you sad or frustrated.”  He got that.  And we finished the eggs.

Tie_DyeEasterEggs

We used the PAAS Tie-Dye Easter Egg Kit, which I have used in past years, and had so-so results, but apparently my fairly good brain forgot that we tried this before & I bought the kit again.  This time they had included this gloss to polish the eggs, which seemingly made some difference.  And I guess I perfected my technique … or maybe it was just luck 🙂

 

I think I like this one the best: Pink_TieDyeEgg

Or maybe it was the super bright pink egg that I did just for The Boy since it’s his favorite color & I knew it would make him happy.

And we read this book before bed – one of MY childhood faves: The Country Bunny & the Little Gold Shoes.

the country bunnyIt’s about a Country Bunny who becomes one of the 5 Easter Bunnies.  Was written in 1939 & still holds up seventy-five years later!

I hope you have a great Easter, and I hope you can remember the wonderment you felt as you woke up on Easter morning to discover a basket filled with goodies & eggs hidden around the house.

Childhood is a magical time where reality is kind of suspended … at least if you have fairly good parents who will do that for you.

I hope The Boy looks back on his childhood and forgets the accidents & the struggles, and only remembers the magic, the wonderment, the joy of his life.

P.S. Tell me that the addition of the text to my pictures was worth it! Thanks Picmonkey.

xo 🙂

 

 

Snakes In The Mouse House

GreedyMcGreedersons: 1 / Disney: 0

I found out today that Disney is changing their “Disability Accommodation Pass” Policy thanks to the greedy actions of some wealthy asshats & morally bankrupt disabled folks.  Thanks a lot, jerks – way to ruin it for the rest of us.  And thanks Disney for punishing those of us who genuinely need this to enjoy your park!  I was actually looking forward to taking The Boy to the Halloween celebration at Disneyland, but now, I am going to have to reconsider.

You see, before I knew what an accommodation pass was, we had a handful of stressful experiences at Disneyland, and I figured that Disneyland just wasn’t going to be something The Boy, The Husband & I could enjoy as a family.  It saddened me, because growing up 15 minutes from The Happiest Place On Earth, Disneyland was such a part of my childhood that I naturally assumed it would be the same for The Boy.

It was a sad realization that he wouldn’t have the same experiences I had there … until I had heard about the “accommodation pass” from a woman who runs a non-profit group for families of kids on the Autism Spectrum.

Waiting in line is hard for The Boy.  Much more difficult than it is for a typical kid … And being over-stimulated by all of the crowds, the fanfare, the parades, the noises, the characters — it’s a lot for a little Aspie to deal with.  It’s a lot for the mom of a little Aspie to deal with, but then I was told about the “accommodation pass.”  This changed everything!!

With the accommodation pass, we only go a couple of times a year & even then, we plan it out for a day that will likely be less busy, with less over-stimulation, and hopefully with less judgmental eyeballs on us, sizing up HOW it is we three can cut to the front of the line because we all “look” so “normal.”  We never abuse the pass & if there is an occasion where he can tolerate the line, we wait like everyone else.

And to be clear, you don’t get anything for “free” – you still pay for your ticket.  Having an accommodation pass doesn’t mean that you get to cut in front of the line and breeze on to the ride, but it does trim down on the wait times & takes you out of the regular line so that a meltdown due to overstimulation from crowds, and / or waiting is a lot less likely to occur.  It allows us to have a more “normal” & easy experience.

You cannot use the accommodation pass to cut down the wait time for dining, so there’s that barrel of monkeys to contend with, and you also can’t use it to cut into the line to meet with the characters, so we don’t get to do a lot of character meet & greets, (except recently I made friends with the character guide & asked him when the next time Sully was going to make an appearance so that I could try to time it out perfectly.  I ran with The Boy & his tow-headed girlfriend, so that we could be the very first people in line.  We almost made it, but we were like 5 people too late.  However, thanks to the sweet stranger in front of me, through a natural conversation, I briefly & quietly explained our situation, and she was kind enough to let us go in front of her & her son.

I certainly don’t expect preferential treatment, but I definitely appreciate any accommodations that kind, compassionate people are willing to bestow upon us.  It’s hard enough to confide in someone that my kid isn’t “normal,” even though he may seem to be at first glance.  I truly appreciate the courtesies that are afforded by understanding strangers.  And on the flip side, the glaring looks from those judgmental asshats anger me to no end.  You want to trade me?  I’d gladly take waiting in line for 45 minutes if that meant my son didn’t have to struggle with  Aspergers Syndrome.

No, I don’t think it is fair that other kids – “normal” kids, “typical” kids –  have to wait in long lines to go on rides.  I know it’s tough for any kid to wait, and I do think that adults with light disabilities should let all kids go first.  They’re kids after all!!  BUT, kids with mental delays, kids who are not neuro-typical, kids who have any disability or chronic disease — well, they should go straight to the front of the line.  If for no other reason than this: LIFE IS HARD when you have a disability.  And Disneyland is a magical place where that is all somehow erased … it’s a special place where not being “typical” doesn’t mean anything other than you’re super cool … At Disneyland, the playing field is leveled.  Everyone is SPECIAL.

So … some idiots totally ruined this for those of us who were just cruising along enjoying the brief respite from the storm of spectrum disorders as we meandered down Main Street.  I’m so annoyed I could rip their heads off and roll them down the crest of the Matterhorn!  (Of course after hours when the kids wouldn’t see this!)

Truly, I don’t mind proving The Boy’s eligibility with an IEP or a Dr’s note if that means that people, like us, who genuinely need the accommodation pass will still receive it.  But taking it away completely is a real tragedy.  It makes me angry that these selfish idiots have ruined things for those of us who have come to rely on this to enjoy Disneyland.   Sadly, I know it doesn’t phase them one damn bit.  There are no sleepless nights for them.  They don’t give a crap that my kid is going to suffer.  They’ll find another scam … and I’ll probably write another pissed off post.

No, I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to Disneyland if it means merely getting a “fast pass” for us.  Do you know how difficult it is for a 4 yr old Aspie to grasp the concept of “later?”  “No, sweet Boy, we cannot ride the Radiator Springs Racers right now, but in 45 minutes we will be able to.”  No, it’s impossible to understand if you A) are not an Aspie Kid; or B) are not a parent or caretaker of an Aspie Kid.  And I’m actually surprised that Autism Speaks was ok with this change.  What was their payout to get on board with this bullcrap?  They sure don’t speak for me!

Let the 56 year old lady on the little rascal wait in line with her leach family  – Let the spectrum kids, and the cancer kids, and the cerebral palsy kids and the kids who are 16 and under with ANY disability get on that ride FIRST.  END. OF. DISCUSSION.

And I’m pretty sure that Walt would agree.

And yeah, I can say that because I worked at Disney for a large chunk of my adult life & know a lot more about the Disney culture, what Walt believed, and the vision that he had for Disneyland than most of the losers who are making decisions up there now …

Punishing kids with disabilities for the bad behavior of the rich & entitled was NOT in his vision.

End Rant. (for tonight anyway.)

Putting On Shoes with a Song

So, with an Aspie kid, the simplest of tasks can be a monumental under-taking.  Like putting on your shoes.  Or his shoes.  Or her shoes.  In any case, putting on shoes and going potty seem to be the 2 most challenging things we accomplish in the morning!

I’ve concocted a song to the tune of “Hokey Pokey” (you know that one, right?  “You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out …”) that helps The Boy get excited about putting on his shoes and socks.  It’s a little hokey (yes, pun intended,) but here’s how it goes:

You put your right thumb in,
You put your left thumb in,
You pull the sock apart and put your toes-ies in,
You scoot your toe-sies all the way down to the end,
That’s how you put you put your sock on!

You put your toes-ies in,
You put your heel in,
Wriggle your foot ’til it’s comfy and then
Strap your velcro to the sides again
That’s how you put your shoes on!

shoes and socks

Mothers Day – Reality vs. Fantasy

So … You all know what I was expecting to happen on Mother’s Day.  And believe me, my expectations were low – and I don’t mean that in a negative way, I  mean that I had managed my own expectations.  I kept them in check & I didn’t think they were unreasonable.  Looking back, I realize that what I was expecting was a fantasy Mother’s Day, albeit a fantasy that was seemingly within reach.  And the fact that The Husband had a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to me on Friday was a sure sign that my expectations were right on the mark.  Um, yeah.

In my fantasy, I would wake up to a the smells of breakfast cooking, and in The Boy and The Husband would stroll, (The Boy would be dressed,) breakfast tray carried by The Husband, small gift bag containing a mystery gift, and/or cards carried by The Boy.  They would watch me open them up, telling me what an amazing mother I am, how much they loved me, yada yada yada, and I would nibble lazily on my griddle cakes whilst sipping my coffee …

In reality, I woke up & couldn’t really make out any smells.  I called out that I was awake, but no one answered.  I grabbed my iPhone and texted The Husband that his lovely wife was now awake & ready for some pampering.  Surely I didn’t want to spoil their surprises by getting OUT of bed & coming to find them!

Minutes went by and I could hear The Husband negotiating with The Boy to bring in my cards.  There was bribing and threats.  Then more minutes went by, and the door flung open followed by a very rambunctious Boy, half naked, hair wild, running toward me, waving cards in his hand and screaming.  Too early for screaming unless alcohol was involved, and it wasn’t.

I opened the card from The Boy and he grabbed it away, nearly ripping the card.  I retrieved it and thanked him, kissed him, and we discussed the card at length.  There was a blue dog on the front & The Boy was very impressed with this dog.  I was impressed that he had chosen the card himself.

Then I opened the card from The Husband.  Out fell a lottery ticket that The Boy tried to confiscate!  I seized the ticket and he fought me, in tears, nearly ripping it into pieces!  All I could think was “this is the winning ticket and this kid is going to destroy it and I will never forgive him … and I’ll never be able to afford his college tuition without this winning ticket!!”  It was stressful to say the least.  The Husband was nowhere to be found at this juncture.

Then came the breakfast tray carried by The Husband with room temperature griddle cakes & a bowl of berries.  The bowl was not filled to the brim with berries, rather, it was a like a ration of berries.  As though berries were some very expensive commodity & we could only afford to purchase 3 strawberries a month.  No juice, no coffee.  Syrup and butter on the side.  Question: How are you supposed to spread butter on a nearly cold griddle cake?  It doesn’t melt.  So either you skip the butter altogether, OR you eat a thin layer of butter on top of your chilly griddle cake.  I know, I know, “First World Problems.”  I should praise the effort, and I did.

The husband left me alone with the tray full of food and The Boy while he went to get me some beverages.

During this time, The (wild) Boy was jumping around the bed, trying to crawl under the breakfast tray, wanted to lay on my lap & also stole all of my raspberries!  NOT RELAXING!

I ended up hand-feeding him a griddle cake to avoid getting syrup all over my bed and us.  The Husband made his entrance again with coffee in hand and there was NO WAY I could drink it with this crazy kid flailing about – I nearly spilled twice while trying to get enough of it in my gullet to deal with the situation!  When I asked The Husband if he could remove said child so that I could eat, Husband, (on the verge of a meltdown,) proclaimed that he needed to nap because he had been up for hours.  So I was on my own.

Not that I’m complaining … Ok, maybe I am.

I will spare you the details about needing to make brownies & discovering that we were out of  eggs and The Husband nearly having a stroke because I asked him to run to the store, and all that nonsense.  I will skip right to when we get in the car and head to The Grandparents house for more festivities.  The Husband & I “restarted” the day, kissed, made up and smiled as we drove off for our 90 minute trip to my parents’ house.

I had The Boy all dressed in a cute outfit, hair perfectly gelled and iPad, water, snacks and other accoutrements at the ready for our trip down the 405 on a Mother’s Day Sunday.

Cut to: The Boy eating a PB&J.  Then barfing.  ALL. OVER. THE. @#($&% CAR.  Off the road we pull, strip him down, clean him up, change his clothes, clean up the car seat, put him back in, stop at Del Taco to pee & continue on with our journey.  Ok.  I don’t know about you, but puke was NOT in my Mother’s Day directive!  Thankfully the fact that it was Mother’s Day relieved me from clean-up duty, and when I got to my parent’s house I was greeted with a large glass of Chardonnay.

We then proceeded to have fun, grill ribs, open gifts, hug and kiss and laugh.  Ah, that’s motherhood.  That’s life.

So, in summary,  although Mother’s Day did not go as planned, as expected or  as fantasized, it was all in all a pretty good day. May have gotten off to a rocky start, but at the end of the day, when I looked back over all of it, I smiled, chuckled lightly and thought this was one I would never forget.  All that really matters is having your family around you … and family is imperfect.  Well, at least mine is imperfect.  And I wouldn’t change that for the world.  Because you know what I say: You don’t have to be perfect to be awesome.