Work with me, please.

Archive for January, 2011

We Need “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

“Am I getting on your nerves?”  That is not a fair question to ask just after you’ve gotten in trouble.  As it turns out, Mae was not getting on my nerves just then.  The general fatigue in my voice when I told her that she had lost her Nintendo DS privilege for tonight and tomorrow probably made the situation seem worse than it was.  She was being stubborn or inattentive (sometimes, it’s hard to tell which) about washing her hands for dinner, and she actually earned back the DS privilege for tomorrow before she went to bed.

That is not to say that she has never gotten on my nerves, and so I hope she doesn’t ask the question at the wrong time.  She has accused me before of not liking/loving/wanting her, and I have tried to respond honestly — sometimes I don’t like something that she has said or done, and still, I love her always, no matter what.

Outstanding Plus!

It doesn’t get any better than that! I’m proud of Mae for receiving O+’s (Outstanding +) in every academic subject — spelling, math, social studies, and reading — on her second quarter report card. O+ is her school’s equivalent to A+. I’m glad that she and Jay are at a school that has high expectations and teachers who are caring and stern enough to push the kids to excel.

The funny thing is that I have a suspicion that Mae’s academic success is her saving grace at the school. I don’t know that the principal would be so patient with a lesser achieving student. Her teacher noted on the report card that Mae “still becomes rigid and overly emotional when she does not get her way. . . . Overall, Mae continues to do well academically, but she still needs to work on improving her social skills.”

Of course, this is no surprise. Mae is showing more self-control than she did at the beginning of the school year. And, we (at school and home) are continuing to try to guide her in the right direction.

At three, Jay will receive a progress report without letter grades, and we’ll have a parent-teacher conference with his teachers.  He’s also a good student, and although he shows some stubbornness from time to time, he generally listens well and plays well with his classmates.  It seems that his teacher’s biggest challenge thus far has been getting him to use more than one crayon when it’s time to color.  A picture will be all red or all brown or whatever he chooses.  What can I say?  He’s a one-crayon man.

Let’s Make a Deal

Another weekend is winding down, and as I measure how it went, I have to say not too bad overall. Jay made his basketball debut. Hubby says he did a good job and enjoyed it. He learned to dribble with one and two hands and practiced shooting. He talked excitedly about what the “basketball man” (i.e., coach) taught him. Hopefully, I’ll get to see him in action when the next lesson takes place in two weeks.  Although I missed his first day at basketball, I was right there when he made his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with a little bit of help), one of his favorite things to eat, and announced “Mom, I’m gonna be a chef when I grow up.”  I said, “Oh, yeah?”  Then, he said, “What number do I need to be?”  I had to think a few seconds about what he meant, and my first thought was to say “18” because that is the age at which I hope Hubby and I can begin downsizing to a condo and traveling the world.  But, I figured that he’ll need time to complete culinary school, so I answered “21.”

Mae enjoyed her third meeting with the social skills playgroup on Saturday. She and Ms. N had a talk afterward about the importance of listening and following instructions. Apparently, Mae resisted moving from one activity to the next. Once she starts having fun with something, it’s hard to get her to shift focus.  She’s great at ignoring the sound of an adult’s voice, especially if some sort of instruction is being given.

Later on Saturday, I took her to a laser tag birthday party for one of her oldest friends, Taylor, a boy that she started daycare with when they were both 3 months old.  Generally, birthday parties and similar social situations are a source of dread because of a latent threat of fun turning to fright if play doesn’t go Mae’s way.  However, I looked forward to Taylor’s party and went in more relaxed because our family has been celebrating birthdays and having playdates with his family and several of the other invited families for over 6 years now.  The parents and children know Mae as an energetic, spunky and talkative kid, and they would expect no less from her.  She generally plays well with this group of kids and doesn’t require as close supervision as with kids that we have not known as long.  The moms and dads follow the “it takes a village” approach and will call her out if they see her begin to show attitude.  Well, she enjoyed laser tag and I did too — so much so that I’m thinking about having my own laser tag party when I turn 40 this year!  Everything went well right through the birthday song, cake and favor bag distribution.  Just when we should have been putting on our coats and thanking the birthday boy for inviting us, Mae dropped her bomb.

“I didn’t get to play much on the arcade games.”  Huh?  As we’d waited for more guests to arrive, I’d let her play one round of an impossible game that involves pushing a “Stop” button at the precise moment that a moving light lands on a red bulb to win an MP3 player or some other shiny gadget.  Ok, one more arcade game, and then we would go.  Of course, she wanted to go back to the impossible game.  I tried to steer her towards something that might last a few minutes, something where maybe she could actually earn some points and not feel like it was a total waste of time and coins.  What about the skateboard or dance game?  Noooo.  She marched right over to the MP3 player showcase and dropped two tokens for one chance to push “Stop.”  As the light landed just one bulb past the prized red bulb, Mae’s face went long, her shoulders slumped, and the whining began.

“I didn’t get to play much.”  She said that she wanted a toy and she hadn’t gotten any toys.  I pointed out that there were toys and treats in her favor bag.  Mae’s eyes started to fill, and I resorted to threatening to return the favor bag to Taylor if she couldn’t hold herself together.  She began whining again as we pulled out of the parking lot, and I all but lost it.  I told her that outings with her are more fun when she shows gratitude for what she did do and have instead of complaining about what she didn’t get to do and have.  Then, she began one of most unnerving spiels — “Nobody likes me.  Nobody wants me anymore.”

This is a common ending for us.  Hours of fun can come undone if there comes a point when Mae doesn’t get something she wants, whether it’s more time at the venue or a souvenir or toy.  If I know what the pitfalls might be, we have a talk beforehand — usually in the car after we reach our destination — so that I can set the ground rules and manage her expectations (e.g., We can play games at Chuck E. Cheese, but we will not buy any toys at the end.  We are going to play, not to shop.  Do you understand?  Yes.  Do you agree that there will be no whining, crying or complaining when it’s time to go?  Yes).  “The talk” is an effective technique, I think, in part, because Mae places a high value on sticking with a deal.  She’ll keep her word and she expects the same of others.  As this was our first time at the laser tag/arcade venue, I did not know to have “the talk” in advance.

Next Saturday is bowling for Jaden’s 7th birthday.   You best believe we’ll make a deal before we get out of the car.

(After)School Daze

Today was the first day of our new afterschool solution, and all indications are that it went well.  Yippee!

After Mae was suspended from her school’s after care program for two days in December for fighting in two separate incidents on consecutive days (although Mae insists that one incident involved poking a classmate, not punching as the teacher claimed), it became even more clear that she needs a more structured setting.  We searched for alternative after care programs over the winter break, and found a neighborhood program that seemed awesome — small groups, dedicated homework time, close adult supervision, and access to a master  teacher with a background in behavior modification.  We visited, and Hubby and I liked it.  Mae liked it too and wanted to start right away.  Alas, her school is too far off the program’s bus pick-up route.  I began searching for another transportation service.

Within a day or two of posting a flyer on the school’s community bulletin board seeking a person or service to provide transportation to the neighborhood program, I was approached by the school’s office manager, Mrs. J.  She informed me that she runs an after care program from her home.  When she finishes work at 3:15 pm, she takes her son and two other children to her home.  She was looking to expand.  The kids have 20 minutes of free time, then a snack, homework time, and more free time.  She takes them to the park when weather permits and to the library every other week.  Bingo!  Mrs. J knows Mae well (not least because of the many visits Mae has had to the office since she began school there at age 3), and Mae has a good rapport with her.  Mae also knows and likes the other children, although they are in different grades (kindergarten through 5th) — one of the many benefits of a small private school.  When I told her about the planned change, I was afraid that she would worry about missing her regular group of friends (even though she doesn’t always treat them as well as she should, she really does love her friends).  To the contrary — she was excited.

When Hubby picked Mae up today, he said she was happy, and Mrs. J reported that she did very well.  Her homework was complete (and initialed by Mrs. J to show that she had checked it).   Having homework completed before she comes through the door allows Mae to have more play time at home, which is really, really important to her.  One of her biggest gripes about our evening routine (homework, dinner, play, bath, bed) is that she doesn’t get enough play time, and that has led to many, many a meltdown at bath time.  Tonight was calm and peaceful (well, as much as possible for life with a 6 and 3-year-old).

Our hope is that this arrangement with Mrs. J will work out for the long-term.   I believe this type of setting is a much better fit for Mae, and that it will give us more and better quality family time in the evenings.

(P.S.  I submitted the application for Mae to be tested for the county’s talented and gifted (TAG) program — thanks to her awesome teacher for taking time out of her report card prep day to complete one of the forms on the same day she received it, which happened to be the application deadline.  If Mae tests successfully and gets into a TAG school, I’ll have to think long and hard about leaving her current school.  Sigh.)

Ask the Right Questions

I was casually reading the local paper this past Sunday and came across a notice from the Prince George’s County Public Schools Talented and Gifted (TAG) Office — non-public testing on February 5 for TAG program eligibility.  This means that private school students like Mae can take a test to see if they meet the requirements to attend one of the county’s centers for talented and gifted students.

I was grateful to see the notice and immediately sent an email to the two email addresses provided to request a copy of the test application.  I was surprised and impressed when I received a reply from the TAG Supervisor within a few hours  — on a Sunday!.  She recommended that I pick up the application in person because I would only have five business days to receive and return it.  Good and much-appreciated advice.

Even with such responsiveness, I could not completely bury my annoyance with the school district in general.  I thought back to a meeting I attended at our zoned elementary school with the school principal, psychologist, first grade teacher, special education teacher, resource teacher, and psychologist intern on November 10, 2010.  I’d initiated the Child Find process to determine if Mae might be eligible to participate in any social skills training that might be provided by the county.  The school psychologist looked at Mae’s report card and test scores, and said,  “It looks like she may be gifted.  You should look into resources for gifted children.”  The principal added that there is a good program for gifted children in Baltimore (an hour away) that begins at second grade.  He said that if Mae were enrolled in his school, she would be tested for giftedness in the spring along with all first graders.  The psychologist seconded his suggestion — the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth is a reputable program and I should look into it.  The psychologist happily shared that her Ph.D work involved gifted children in preschool, and she had spent some number of years working with gifted children.

Not one person in the room bothered to tell me that the county offers non-public testing in addition to the standard testing for all first-graders enrolled in public schools.  Could they all have been ignorant that this opportunity existed and that their employer was making available the TAG non-public applications that month?  I doubt it.  It’s jacked up that they referred me to an out-of-county program (which, by the way, costs $34,000 a year), when Mae is at least eligible to be tested for entry into a program around the corner that our tax dollars help fund.  I’ll accept responsibility for not doing enough homework.  I had made an attempt months earlier to find out more about TAG, and I saw no information about non-public testing on the county’s website and I could not reach a live person nor even a voicemail box at the number provided on the website.   I gave up at that point.  I should have persisted, and I should have known to ask at the Child Find meeting if there would be an opportunity for private school students to be tested.

OK, moving on.  I emailed Hubby and asked him to pick up a copy of the application after work on Monday.  He asked a good question – why isn’t the application available online?  Wanting to give the program office the benefit of the doubt, I offered up a couple reasons that he found unacceptable.  Nonetheless, he made the first attempt to pick up an application on Monday.  All gone.  I towed the kids along at a second attempt on Tuesday.  I was luckier and picked up a few double-sided pages that could have easily been PDF’d and posted on the school district’s website.  Ok, keep moving . . . .

I scanned the application to see if we could complete the process within the week.  It seems simple enough — complete the parent’s form, have her teacher complete the school’s portion, and add copies of her most recent report card and standardized test scores.  Seems doable.  We’re going to give it a shot, despite my overall distrust of the county school system.  Hopefully, the remaining steps will go more smoothly.

Getting to Where We Need to Be

Indeed, it was an awesome day.  No meltdowns, tantrums, or fights.  We got to everywhere we needed to be today, and even managed to hang out in the library for a while.

For better or worse, basketball was canceled because it snowed a little this morning.  Jay handled the disappointment well, always the trooper.

Mae’s playgroup met as planned.  Woohoo!  We walked into the small office, where some parents were waiting for their kids to finish with the session already in progress. Both white mothers looked away and didn’t response to my sunny hello. No surprise. I received similar avoidance in the occupational therapist’s waiting room this past summer where Mae went for help with sensory processing issues (of the tactile seeking variety, e.g, touching family, friends, and teachers’ arms and hair to the point of being annoying or invasive). The irony is that these are parents who want to help their kids improve their social skills, yet they didn’t extend the common courtesy of returning a greeting or acknowledging someone’s presence with simple eye contact. Having a difficult to manage kid is already isolating enough; you would think that there would be an instant affinity across race or ethnicity. Anyway, after a short, uncomfortable silence, the dads in the room attempted to make small talk. Even better, after that group of parents collected their kids and left, the next group was much friendlier.

Between building Lego binoculars and towers and coloring with Jay, I had an enlightening conversation with two mothers of boys with ADD. It’s always a relief to know that you aren’t the only one, and even more of a relief when someone’s got it worse than you. One mother was pretty candid — she has a glass of wine every night and she sometimes wishes that her 10-year old had Downs’ Syndrome, or some other apparent disability, because then others would be more understanding and tolerant. Wow. I won’t judge her because I don’t know what she goes through on a day-to-day basis. I did offer that I accept and claim Mae for all that she is because she is hilarious and fun and brilliant, even if I don’t understand completely how she’s wired. I don’t like some of the things that Mae does and says, but I do think she’s the way she’s supposed to be. The mom’s face and tone lightened and she said that’s a good way to look at it.

The other mom talked about the lack of support from her son’s school.  She used to take him to a playgroup 1.5 hours away from their home, which required that she pick him up from school an hour before dismissal.  The guidance counselor didn’t want to excuse him, and suggested parenting classes instead.  Ouch.  Fortunately, Mae and Jay are in a small, private school and the principal, guidance counselor, and teachers have been great thus far.

After the session ended, I spoke briefly with the lead teacher. She said gently of Mae, “She needs to be here.” Uh, yeah. We don’t have a label or diagnosis, and our primary reason for participating is that Mae has had innumerable negative social interactions with playmates over the past years, especially through kindergarten into first grade.  A peer’s declination to play with her or to play the game she wants to play can lead to a crying bout 15, 20, 30 minutes long and statements like, “Nobody wants me.  Everybody hates me.  No one wants me any more.  No one cares for me.”  A disagreement about whether cars are better than make-up can end with a shoving match.  And, don’t dare cut in front of her in line or refuse to share a toy with her.  She’ll lay hands on a kid twice her size and not even blink before going in.  We saw a pediatric psychologist, who suggested Asperger’s, and the occupational therapist also advised us to look into Asperger’s.  Her school principal and guidance counselor said maybe ADHD.  We hope to learn more after a full neurodevelopmental evaluation scheduled for early February 2011.

Meanwhile, Hubby and I are trying to do what we can to help her be successful in building and maintaining relationships.  After weeks of searching for a social skills group within a reasonable driving distance, I stumbled upon this one in an ad in a local, free parenting magazine that I picked up at the gym.  The group leader is actually a speech-language pathologist.  I wouldn’t have thought to look to a speech-language pathologist for social skills training, but now it makes sense because children with communication challenges would be expected to have trouble making and keeping friends.  My lesson:  think more creatively and broadly when looking for resources.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Expected

I’ll be flying solo this weekend because Hubby is on his way to spend the weekend BMX racing.  I hope he rides safe and well.  Meanwhile, tomorrow will be Jay’s* first day of basketball AND Mae’s* first day in a social skills playgroup.  Basketball is scheduled to end just 30 minutes before playgroup begins 20 miles away.  As much as I’m looking forward to watching a bunch of 3- and 4-year olds dribble and shoot, and getting started on structured and guided play lessons for the 1st grader, the timing is so not in our favor. On the way home from school, I explained to both of them that Daddy will be out-of-town, we have a lot to do this weekend, and I’ll need 100% cooperation.  That’s not too much to ask, right?

I’ll have my “distraction bag” — books, crayons, Nintendo DS, Leapster 2, and snacks.  As I got them ready for bed, I told them that tomorrow is going to be an awesome day.  (As a little insurance, I extended the carrot — lunch out — if the first part of the day goes well.  I bet I’ll have to remind them umpteen times by mid-morning.  Oh, well . . . it is what it is and we’ll work it out.)

*I won’t be using the kids’ real names in this blog.

(P.S.  Today is actually January 7, and I don’t know why the date above says January 8.  I’m running out of energy, so I’m going to leave it be.)

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