Work with me, please.

Archive for September, 2011

First Impressions

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So, Back To School Night was this past Thursday.  I was a little disappointed to find that Mae’s teacher, Ms. G, and the school’s guidance counselor hadn’t worked out a reading curriculum for her yet, and it turns out Ms. G wasn’t aware that Mae had second grade spelling last year.  I thought three full weeks would have been enough time for Ms. G to have made her own assessment and consulted with the counselor and worked this out.  At the same time, I recognize that this is her first year teaching and there is so much for her to learn.  I’ll give two more school days before I check in with her again.  That seems reasonable.

I was the last parent in the room, and Ms. A said to me as I was getting my things, “I just want to tell you that [Mae] is sooo special.  She is so loving and lovable.”  She gave an example of how Mae had encouraged a classmate who was getting frustrated with a lesson.  I agreed that Mae is a unique child.  It’s great to hear some nice things about her in a school setting, especially things that involve other kids and not just the academics.

In Jay’s class, parents sat in the itty-bitty chairs at the itty-bitty tables to color and cut with our non-dominant hand, which gave a sense of how our kids are learning.  Ow.  I colored a picture of a car for Jay, and I thought I did a pretty good job.  His reaction when he found it in his box the next day at pickup time?  He wanted to draw on it.  Well, gee thanks!

Jay is still loving the class.  And, I am too.  Yesterday, I saw his teacher handle a disagreement in a way I’m looking forward to trying at home (because I know I’ll get the opportunity).  A little girl hurt a classmate’s finger as they were tussling over a toy.  Ms. O talked to them together and then individually for a moment.  Next, she sat them on chairs facing each other and told them to talk about how to play together.  A few minutes later, she and I were chatting in the hall, and the boy and girl came out smiling.  The little girl said in a cheery voice, “Ms. [O], we solved the problem!”  It was sooo cute!!

Oh, if only all disputes could end that way!  Then again, I would have wasted a lot of time over the past 14 months earning a certificate in mediation, which I just received last week.  It’s my greatest educational accomplishment since getting a higher GPA than S.F. in 7th grade.  And, nobody can color on it!

Dear Mean Magician

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Congratulations on wowing the kids at the birthday boy’s 8th.  There must have been at least twenty kids, most of them eight and under.  I imagine that would be a tough crowd for anyone.  The kids liked the show immensely, no doubt.  The odd thing is that my impression is that you don’t like kids.

You delivered your rules pretty sternly at the opening, especially the no-eating rule.  The host mom did serve bags of chips just as you were about to begin.  In the future, you may want to talk to the host mom about your rules before the party.  Telling the kids that you would be distracted by their crunching and bag rustling, and then making them put their bags of chips on the table seemed, well, a little cold.  “You’ll remember which one’s yours.”  Yeah, right.

And, then, that bit about the birthday boy’s two-year brother — “He’s got to go.”  Well, let me just say that if I were the host mom, you would have had to work around him.

Telling the kids not to ask questions or try to guess what was going to happen, telling them that they don’t know everything?  It was how you talked to them.  I suppose it’s possible that I’m sensitive about how people talk to my children.  Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the many professionals I know who like children and speak to them with respect, value their curious minds, and know how to direct or redirect their boundless energy.  Even if I am sensitive, I know from the glances that the parents exchanged that I wasn’t the only one wondering “What the heck?”

Ok, asking parents to silence cell phones is reasonable.  No texting?  Is it really that serious?  And, I wasn’t texting anyway.  I was trying to update my Facebook status to tell my friends that I was at a drill sergeant’s magic show.  You didn’t have to take my phone.

At any rate, I wish you continued success in your career.  I wish you a vast abundance of opportunities to share your craft with adults.  I know times are tough; maybe you’re taking on kids’ birthday parties to make ends meet.  Whatever is going on with you, work on the kid-friendly thing.  Best of luck.

“Take chances. Make Mistakes.”

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Mae took the School and  College Ability Test (SCAT) today.  It’s an exam that, if she scores well, will allow her to participate in summer camps and academic programs through Johns Hopkins University.  I registered her almost two months ago.  I thought I read all of the pertinent material about the test at that time.  When I went online this morning to get directions, I saw a link for a practice test.  So, there I was 40 minutes before test time asking her to answer sample questions.  She answered a few of the verbal questions, said that she got the idea, and turned to go back to cartoon-watching.  I said, “Wait, there is math too.”  She made a pouting face and came back to the computer.  She looked at the screen and asked, “What’s a whole number?”  I started explaining, inadequately, I think, because I didn’t see a “lightbulb” moment.  Cramming is probably a bad idea for a second-grader anyway.  I let her go back to the TV.  I felt bad about not noticing the practice test earlier, and, for that matter, not doing anything in particular to prepare her. 

At the testing center, she was the only kid amongst a bunch of adults taking the MCAT and whatnot.  As the proctor signed her in, I thought, “Oh, no, she’s going to be fidgety.  She’s going to whine if she doesn’t know an answer.  She’s going to distract someone who has been working long and hard for something that will determine their life’s destiny.”  The proctor gave her instructions about staying quiet, logging in, using the tutorial, paying attention to time.”  Then, I realized that she was going into the testing room on her own.  I wasn’t even sure that Mae was paying attention to the instructions.  When the proctor asked if she had any questions, Mae said no.  I thought about backing out.  I wasn’t sure she was ready for this.

Then, I thought about something Mae had said to me once.  She was trying to convince me to buy some sugary cereal and she told me to “take chances.  Make mistakes.”  She learned this from Ms. Frizzle on “The Magic Schoolbus.”  Ms. Frizzle was probably talking about something other than sugary cereal.  Nonetheless, it’s good advice.  We were there already; the $55 exam fee was spent.  If Mae scores well, it will open doors for some challenging and exciting educational opportunities.  If not, so what?  This isn’t the type of thing that would upset her.  I took a deep breath and let go.

The test should have taken 60-75 minutes.  Mae went through the verbal portion in less than ten minutes.  Umm, that seems too good to be true.  She used the full time allotted for math, and didn’t finish all the questions, which she didn’t seem bothered about at all.  It’s an above-grade level exam, and it’s meant to be difficult.  We’ll know the results in about five days.  Now,  off to home to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Mom, Who’s Your Favorite?

Mae and Jay at the corner of the MLK statue

Lately, I’m reminded of how difficult and thankless a job is parenting.  I should say before I go any further that I gave my share of fits as a child.  I was unappreciative and stubborn at times.  I didn’t like being told what to do.  I talked a lot and I talked back.  Somebody or somebodies put up with me.  None of that vindicates the difficulty of raising the kids I have.  When they are not being fun, loving and kind, they are being unreasonable, ungrateful, and plain unfair.  I refuse to believe, and I’m not even going to ask my mother, that I was on this level.  I’ve had to give so many reminders recently to say “May I” and “please” that it feels like we’re going backwards.  The sarcasm of both the seven- and four-year old is so teenagerish that I have no idea what to expect five to ten years from now.   Unless I’m in some kind of denial, I think the scale tips more on their cute/funny/clever/mannered side.  However, I’m starting to think someone is messing with the scale.  Or, maybe I’m not the drum major I thought I was.

This evening, Mae asked me if I liked her shirt or Jay’s shirt better.  I said that I liked my own shirt best, thinking it was a quick (and clever) way to end the conversation.  She then went on to say that it seems that I like Jay better.  I said that wasn’t true.   I should have stopped there.  Noooo.  I asked what made her think that.  The only example she could think of was that he gets more things at Christmas, although, when I pressed, she couldn’t remember how many things she had gotten nor how many things he had gotten.  Truth be told, she probably doesn’t remember what either of them received nor who gave it to them.

Since Saturday, Mae has asked me a few times whether I like her or Jay better.  She has not been satisfied with my answer that they are both my favorite.  Choosing her words carefully, she has been saying basically that I am nicer to Jay because “he does things better.”  What she will not say is that she gets into trouble more than he does.  She says instead that other people get her into trouble, even when she is not doing anything.  We had a version of this conversation on Monday and Mae said that she “never” does anything wrong.  I asked if all her choices are good choices, and she answered, “mostly.”  I could tell by her voice and face that she wasn’t confident in that answer.  She’s good at sticking with the story in her head.

On Tuesday night, she was super tired.  It was a long day for her.  She’d woken at 4:57 am complaining of both hunger and a stomach ache.   I wasn’t surprised after a weekend of fast food and junk.  I offered her a snack, gave her some medicine and sent her back to bed.  However, she didn’t go back to sleep and that was one and a half hours of sleep lost.  To her credit, she was amped about school and dressed herself before Hubby and I were done showering.  It was the first day of school, the first day of the new aftercare program.  By bath time, she was worn out and that precipitated a fight about getting off the computer and going upstairs.  As she cried and screamed on the floor beside the bathtub, she could barely keep her eyes open.  I don’t understand what is so wrong about feeling tired and going to bed.  Why choose a fight over a hot shower and a soft pillow?  I know that she is much more reasonable when she is not exhausted.  I haven’t forgotten that.  But, her unreasonable state is so intense that if a UFO had hovered outside the bathroom window and asked for her, I would have packed a suitcase and a snack.  If she had asked me at that moment if I liked her or Jay better, I’m 95% sure that I would have yelled “JAYYYY!”  She didn’t ask because she was in her “nobody likes me” mode.  Usually, I think to myself and/or I say to her, I like you though sometimes I don’t like something that you said or did.  Tuesday night, though, I had a shift.  I didn’t like being a parent.  It was more about my reaction than her behavior.  As she was yelling and throwing her socks at me, I stood there thinking that that very morning, I’d gotten up at 4:57 am to get her water and grapes and give her a suppository (something that might have been sufficient birth control had I known it would be part of the job), and there she was, having a fit about not having enough time on the computer.  Her behavior may have been typical for an exhausted seven-year 0ld or it may have been the inflexibility of Asperger’s.  I didn’t know and I didn’t care, and I just wished that it wasn’t my job to deal with it right then.

I see that Jay is trying to make sense of Mae’s meltdowns and figure out how to respond.  Sometimes, he makes a point to distinguish himself by saying that he is listening or being cooperative.  Or, he’ll ask why Mae is crying so.  Recently, he’ll say that he had cried at some time during the day or someone had been mean to him.  These are things that he hears Mae talking to me and Hubby about and I fear that he sees those topics as attention-getters, even if the incidents are not very serious.  So, now we have to work on nipping that.

Last night, Wednesday, was much better.  Mae had lost computer time because of her behavior the night before, and she whined only for a second when I reminded her.  She was cooperative at bath time, even with a new rule of TV off at 7:30.  She and Jay played well together — not a single fight.  She earned a couple of mickeys for being helpful to him.  They gave me a break, a much-needed break.

Hoping for the Best

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Hubby and I are going to SC tonight to retrieve Mae and Jay from my mom’s house.  They are ready to return home, and I’m sure my mom, Nonny, is worn out.  I’ve spoken to them almost everyday, and while Jay seems to have had fun mostly, Mae has complained a lot.  She says that she has had a lot of bad days at Nonny’s house, and that Nonny has been mean to her “for no reason.”  For Mae, “mean” includes when someone does not let her have her way.  I know that she’s had good days and good times too; she just doesn’t talk about them as much.  It’s her mouth that gets her in trouble mostly.  Even if she does not intend it, her directness comes off as rude or disrespectful.  And, when her stubborness crops up in non-negotiable situations, there will be tears. 

Aside from freeing Mae and Nonny from each other, I’ll be happy to see the kids.  I miss them, and we’ve been apart long enough. 

School begins after Labor Day.  We plan to return home on Sunday to give ourselves a day of quality time and transition before we get back to our rules and routines.

Last night was sneak-a-peak night at the kids’ school.  I think Jay is going to like the preK-4 class.  He’ll have the same teacher Mae had, and she’s great.  And, a lot of his preK-3 classmates will be there again.

I met Mae’s new teacher, Ms. G, last night, and we had a good conversation.  I told her that I’ll be readily available by phone and email and that I won’t mind if she talks to the first-grade teacher about what she found to have worked well last year with Mae (not that Ms. G needed my permission, and they had in fact talked already about Mae, both about her academic and behavior history).  My first impression of Ms. G was good.  She said, “We’ll have to work together as a team.”  I like that.

I worry about Mae and her classmates.  In chatting with parents last night, I learned that Mae was excluded from some playdates during the summer.  One mom said to another that it seemed that everytime she received one of the Evites, they had plans already.  That was awkward.

On the one hand, that means fewer social situations to negotiate.  On the other hand, those are lost opportunities for Mae to practice social skills and potentially sources of distress for her if she becomes aware.  She told me last school year that there was an “in group” in her class and she was not in it.  She seemed to not mind much at the time.  I don’t know how much longer that will last. 

I sense that some of Mae’s past negative interactions with classmates has made some parents wary of her.  I understand that parents want to protect their children.  I don’t know if things will get better; I just hope they don’t get any worse.

I walked around the u-shaped seating arrangement, looking for Mae’s desk.  I found her name between a boy that she seems to get along with ok and an “in group” girl.  Hmm.  Later, another mom made the walk and found her daughter’s name between two boys.  She didn’t like the arrrangement.  She said that her daughter does not like boys and should not have to sit between two boys.  To my surprise, she began to peel her daughter’s name from the desk.  I laughed, thinking that maybe she wasn’t serious.  I said that Mae wouldn’t mind at all because she loves playing with boys.  So, then she started looking for Mae’s desk.  Sure enough, she switched the labels.  I didn’t mind because I think it’s actually a better arrangement, though I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it myself.  I pointed out the change to Ms. G before I left, and told her I thought it would work if she’s ok with it.

So, I’m looking forward to having the kids back at home and getting the year started.  I’ll brace myself for the ups and downs and hope for the best.

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