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Archive for March, 2011

Fairy Interrupted

I had to deliver bad news to Mae last night:  she can’t be in the spring play because of too many missed practices.  Our trip last weekend to Philly and an upcoming trip to SC to visit family the weekend of April 16 are two too many for the drama teacher.

My gut was uneasy at having to tell Mae because I wasn’t sure how strongly she would react.  She’d had a good day, including getting a Student of the Day sticker.  So, I figured last night was as good a time as any to deliver the news.  She had a healthy cry, understandably, and said that she felt it was unfair.  She was disappointed, and so was I.  I let her take her time getting ready for bed and offered to let her stay up past bed time to write in her journal.  She declined that and instead asked if I would play our guessing game with her (I give three clues about some noun and she guesses what it is).  So, we did that and it got her into a good mood before lights out.

So far, it seems that she’s handling it like a typical seven-year-old would, which means that she did not wail that nobody likes or wants her, and she did not say that her whole day was bad because of this one bad thing.  I thought I’d have to coax her out of that downward spiral, and it was a relief to be let off the hook relatively easily.

To Philly and Back

I think the birthday trip was a hit.  We made it to Philly and back without incident, and both kids seemed to enjoy themselves.  The first item on the agenda yesterday was the Liberty Bell.  Then, we had lunch at World Cafe Live while we watched Moona Luna perform.  In the afternoon, we went to the science museum at the Franklin Institute.  We spent today, Sunday, at the Please Touch Museum before returning home.

The biggest challenge of the weekend was keeping up with Mae.  She walks or runs 10 feet or more ahead of us, curious and fearless — not a good combination.  In a museum setting, she wants to see everything and is not interested in waiting for you to catch up or asking if she can move on.  She goes about and doesn’t look back to see if you’re with her.  If I had a dollar for every time we said, “Stop”, “Slow down”, and “Stay with your grown-up”, this would have been a free trip.  Hand holding lasts for a matter of seconds.  I probably let her get away more this weekend than I would normally because the settings were such that exploration was encouraged and the temptations were many.  It’s just a tiresome job to keep her within sight.

I kept having flashbacks to Chicago.  We went there for vacation in August 2008.  She and Jay were is a double stroller, the kind where the older kid can sit in the back, facing the parent.  Hubby was pushing the stroller and I was walking beside him.   We passed a restaurant that had a funny name, and Hubby and I looked up at the sign and made some joke or comment about it.  We then stopped at the corner and waited for the traffic light to turn green.  Midway the intersection, we heard Mae calling us.  I was confused because her voice sounded far away.  I looked down and she wasn’t in her seat.  I turned around, and there she was running into the crosswalk to catch up with us, yelling, “Wait for me!”  Talk about shocked and scared.  While we were waiting at the corner, she’d gotten off the stroller to look down into a subway entrance.  Ironically, she was annoyed with us for not waiting for her.

That could have gone a lot of different ways.

This weekend was a reminder that major outings for us require one adult per child, and confirmation that I’m not crazy for being extra cautious when we are away from home.  I still put them both in a cart when we go into a store, any kind of store.  If the store has a shopping cart, I want it and I want them both in it.  On the rare occasion that I take them into a grocery store without Hubby, I squeeze them both into a shopping cart and place groceries under the bottom.  If the bottom fills, I tuck items around them in the cart.  Maybe they complain about being crowded or maybe others wonder what the heck I’m doing, but I just keep on moving.

7. The Age of Reason?

March 25 is the big day — Mae’s 7th birthday.  Of course, she is very excited.  She made her birthday wish list a couple of months ago.  At one point, she reasoned that seven is close to being a pre-teen and pre-teens get to [I usually tuned out at that point because, frankly, I don’t care what pre-teens are doing and I’ll worry about it when we get to it].

She wanted to pack on Tuesday night for our one-night trip to Philly, where we’re going early Saturday morning to celebrate by seeing the Liberty Bell and visiting some museums.  I thought a short roadtrip would be less expensive than providing pizza, juice boxes and cake to twenty-something first-graders at an inflatables warehouse or overrun arcade.  Wrong.  Hotel + gas + tolls + meals on the road for four + museum entrance fees + Moona Luna concert tickets = I should have done the math before I suggested this idea.

At any rate, the Philly trip will be fun, and I have my own reason to be excited about age seven.  I’m reading Dreamers, Discovers, and Dynamos:  How to Help the Child Who Is Bright, Bored, and Having Problems in School by Dr. Lucy Jo Palladino. She says that at about age seven, a major change takes place in a child’s ability to reason.  They begin to better understand the relationship between cause and effect.  Interestingly, we have been enjoying longer stretches of peace at home.  I don’t know if it’s the age or the result of being consistent about our routines and rules.  Also, we added a new component recently to our morning routine that helped cut down on fights about getting up and getting dressed:  an hourglass that Mae has to beat in order to take her Nintendo DS to aftercare.  It’s been far more effective than the cellphone timer we were using.  Maybe it’s that the sand is purple, one of her favorite colors, or just seeing the time past versus hearing us say how many minutes are left.  Or, maybe it’s just her competitive nature.  We may never know, so I may as well have faith in what Dr. Palladino is saying.

The last age we were told to watch for was five.  Mrs. O, the preschool director, advised us that we would see a major shift in maturity at five.  And, she was right on target.  About three weeks before Mae’s fifth birthday, there was a break in the clouds.  She started to mellow out and control her emotions a little better.  Prior to five, her meltdowns were toddler-like.  She was having trouble growing out of the type of crying and whining that one would expect from a two- or three-year old who doesn’t get her way.  She continued to lag emotionally behind her peers.  Still, there was a noticeable improvement.

So, what the heck, I’m claiming seven as the age of reason.

But, uh, we’ll keep using the hourglass since purple is such a nice color.


I'd intended to bake a mini cake, which is perfect for 4 servings. However, Mae asked for a chocolate cake with "Happy Birthday" written in cursive with chocolate chips and a smiley face. So much for keeping it simple.



Fairy #3 Has Landed

Mae had drama rehearsal today.  She will be Fairy #3, and she has three lines!  Last year, she was a napkin in Beauty and the Beast and she had one line, “No, pick me!”   She’s moving up in the drama world!

I took her to the school’s gym and then went up to the ground level to look through my newest issue of Cooking Light and make wishes about dishes I’d like to cook one day.  When I returned to the gym to see how things were going, I saw Mae sitting on a little girl’s lap and the girl’s hands around Mae’s waist.  This is Red Circle activity.  Some months ago, Mae and I made green, yellow and red circles from construction paper.  We wrote names and relationships (e.g., friends, neighbors, teachers, strangers)and acceptable and unacceptable types of touch on the appropriate circles.  Sitting on a friend’s lap is unacceptable.

I called Mae to me and reminded her of the Red Circle — no sitting on laps.  She corrected me, “But, it’s ok if it’s Grandma.”  Oh, so she does remember something about the Circles.  I asked if the little girl is her grandmother.

Mae went back, and I decided to finish the magazine in the gym.  The next time I looked up, the little girl, who is playing “Jill”, was holding Mae around the waist.  Gee whiz.  I wondered to myself, should I say something to Jill?  Tell her nicely that she should keep her hands to herself?  I looked around to see if I could spot her mother, but there were no other parents in the gym.  Just then, Jill asked the drama teacher for permission to go to the restroom.  He said yes, and Jill took Mae’s hand and started for the exit along with a third girl.  I stepped in front of them and took Mae’s hand from Jill.

Jill:  “I’m taking her to the bathroom.”

Me to Jill:  “No, you’re not taking her to the bathroom.

Me to Mae:  “Do you need to use the bathroom?”

Mae: “No, but my leg hurts because I fell.”

Me:  “Ok, go have a seat and I’ll check your leg later.”

During the next break, I talked to Mae again about not touching others and not allowing others to touch her.

Perhaps Jill is just an affectionate, friendly kid . . .  but what if she isn’t?  What if she is an abuse victim who victimizes other vulnerable children in school bathrooms?

Ok, now my head hurts.  I’m going to make empanadas.

Handle with Care

After I dropped Jay off this morning, I had a good conversation this morning with one of Mae’s former teachers, Ms. O.  She is the quintessential teacher — white hair, glasses, soft but firm voice.  When a child is upset she says, “Tell me what’s in your heart.”  And, when a child is out of order, she goes into that no-nonsense mode that I love to see in teachers.  I learned the “choice, no-choice” technique from her, as in “Do you want to brush your teeth and then take a bath, or take your bath first?”

Ms. O was Mae’s PreK4 teacher, and also spent a lot of time with Mae when she was in PreK3 and summer camp in between.Ms. O once told me and Hubby that she had asked God why he sent Mae to her, what did He want her to do?  I don’t remember what Ms. O said the response once; I just remember that she said she decided that she would just claim Mae and love her.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Ms. O has a son who has Asperger’s.  So, there is her answer.  One day, I’ll remind her of that conversation.

This morning, I asked if she could recommend a cognitive behavioral therapist.  She couldn’t.  She said they weren’t doing such things when her son was Mae’s age, and he’s now in college.  She said the most important thing to her at the time was to have him in an environment where “he wouldn’t be damaged.”  She said that’s why she kept him there, where she has taught for twenty-plus years, because she knew he would be protected in a small, private school.

We were saying how great it is that there are more interventions available now, and how early intervention can be so beneficial.  At the end of the day, Ms. O is right, whether it’s school placement or therapy, it’s all about that universal parental duty:  protecting them, including fortifying them to function and thrive.

Puzzle Me This

Mae and I made a trip to the mall this morning to buy gifts for the birthday parties she and Jay attended today.  I ended up buying toys for Mae and Jay too, spending way more than I had planned.  It wasn’t Mae’s doing.  I told her before we walked into the mall that we were shopping for the birthday boys only.  She walked by the Disney store and pointed it out casually.  We breezed past the Lego store and the Pillow Pet kiosk.  She wanted to look at lots of things, but she didn’t ask for anything until we went into the Mind Game store.  Who can say “no” to educational toys?  That store is a trap, and I fell for it.  So, I applied my bookstore rule — I’ll never say no to buying at least one book, provided they behave and listen well in the store.

It was all good because I had been looking online for manipulative puzzles for Mae anyway.  Dr. Mike found that Mae had significant weaknesses in visual-spatial and visual-motor skills, which means that her brain has trouble processing what her eyes see, and she may have difficulty using feedback from her eyes to coordinate movements.  These skills impact a child’s ability to comfortably hold a pencil, tie shoes, button, snap, etc, all things that frustrate Mae easily.  Last summer, the occupational therapist identified these challenges; however, Mae’s therapy at the time focused on her sensory processing issues because we wanted her to decrease her tendency to touch or stand too close to others.  Well, it turns out that it’s all related because poor visual-spatial skills make it difficult to judge how close to stand to someone else.  At any rate, if we address these issues now, it should help with her writing and other tasks that utilize motor skills.

Just last night, Mae complained about her fingers and arm hurting while she was writing in her journal.  It’s clear that she is holding her pencil too tightly and using too many fingers.  I showed her another way to hold the pencil and suggested that she not press so hard.  She gave that a shot and then switched back to her way, telling me, “Mom, people can do things different ways.  Everybody’s different.”  Well, ok, fine.

Dr. Mike recommended puzzles to help improve her visual-spatial and visual-motor skills.  I bought Brain Twist, a three-sided pyramid that can be twisted and turned to match colors and flipped inside out, and Nanodots, a set of strong, small magnets that can be shaped into endless possibilities.  (Hubby just had to ask Dr. Mike, “What about video games?”  And, the answer was, yes, video games are good practice too.  Hubby had already made that argument to me ages ago because I was trying to resist buying a game console for Mae, and he just wanted to delight in hearing a professional say it.)

So far, she’s loving both the puzzles and, hopefully, she’ll stay interested in them along enough that they will be beneficial in the long run.  Meanwhile, at least she’s having fun with them.

The Golden Ticket

True to his word, Dr. Mike mailed Mae’s evaluation report within two weeks of our February 24 follow-up visit, and we received it late last week. I am so, so grateful for his diligence. I think it was a wise decision to use Children’s National for the evaluation vs. a doctor in private practice. I had read on Mamapedia and elsewhere stories of parents who had been waiting weeks or months to receive a written report from a neuropsychologist or developmental pediatrician so that they could request services for their children with diagnoses like ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). The written report seems to be a Golden Ticket for things like access to insurance coverage and flexible spending accounts, or simply getting educators to recognize that there is a clinical explanation for a child’s behavior and not “bad parenting.” I read about mothers calling and calling doctors’ offices, and the frustration of being promised over and over again that they would get a written report. So, I’m sending a virtual thank you to Dr. Mike and Children’s National for being accountable.

It took Hubby and me a few days to go through the seven, double-sided pages of findings about Mae’s strengths and weaknesses and recommendations for home and school interventions. We finished last night and then discussed next steps. It was easy to agree not to contact the public school system at this point to ask for Mae to be placed on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). That would be an intensive process with little or no return because we would be unable to show that Mae has any current educational problems, and the public school, as I learned at the first IEP attempt, focuses on what is needed to “access the curriculum.” We are satisfied with the academic and non-academic support Mae is receiving at her private school, and we are going to ride out the rest of this school year.

The most immediate areas of concern for Hubby and me boil down to social skills and flexibility. We will pick up with Ms. N’s social skills playgroup in May and maybe continue through the summer. Hopefully, Mae’s guidance counselor will be able to continue through the remainder of the school year to have lunch with Mae and two other elementary kids who need help with improving social interactions. I am waiting on the mail for a copy of Carol Gray’s social stories book, which I have seen recommended as a good way for parents to teach how to behave in various social situations. We have already Jed Baker’s book, Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social Communication Problems, currently on loan to the guidance counselor. So, I’m comfortable with where we are on that front.

The evaluation report recommends cognitive behavioral therapy to help Mae identify potential conflicts or unpredictable situations and develop strategies for how best to respond. Her meltdowns have become fewer and less intense, and to think that she could have even less almost makes me tingle. I think this will be awesome learning. Dr. Mike recommended a therapist that I plan to call this week, once I have my how-to-find-a-good-therapist questions and script together.

The report has many, many recommendations, big and small, long-term and short-term. I think we have bitten off enough for now, as I intend that we will not give our whole lives over to this thing. There is more to life than that. Charlie was the Golden Ticket holder who prevailed at the end of Willy Wonka because he stayed focused on the big picture.

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