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Archive for October, 2011

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet . . .

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Mae taught her little brother this old rhyme today in preparation for trick-or-treating.  It’s as funny to them as it must have been to me at one point in time.  I remember loving Halloween, just for the candy, which is about how my kids see it too.  Thank goodness.  I’m a holiday minimalist; I try to do as little as l can get away with doing.  There will be no inflatable anythings in the yard and no lights hanging from the eaves ever if I can help it.  So, I’m grateful that the kids were ok with their gently used costumes from Goodwill and our simple decorations.  Jay didn’t even wear his costume; he wanted to keep on the Spiderman t-shirt he wore to school today .  So, we put it on over his coat and he was good to go.  Easy peasy.

One huge mistake I’ll have to correct next year is explaining that trick-or-treating playtime.  I expected the Mae and Jay to return home a little hyped and ready to eat some candy.  So, they ate dinner and Mae did her homework before they hit the streets.  Back at home, I let them have two pieces of candy each, and then I announced that it was bath time.  You would have thought I tried to take their candy, given the protest they unleashed.  They claimed that they hadn’t had any playtime.  Really?  Any reasonable person should know that joining other kids to skip through the neighborhood in dress-up while singing a rhyme is indeed playtime.  Jay didn’t have much fight in him tonight.  Mae, on the other hand, asked repeatedly for some computer time and, ignoring my “no’s,” went to the computer and started typing.  After I started transferring some of her Halloween candy to my lunchbag (for my co-workers, of course), she left the computer and went upstairs for bath, still crying, of course.  I’m sure the whole episode could have been averted had I explained in advance that they would have to go upstairs for bath shortly after returning home.  Next year, I’ll know.  It’s too much candy for one kid anyway.

Unfortunately, Mae’s school day had a bump in it too.  She spent some time in the office because she cried uncontrollably after the little girl who she wants to be her best friend didn’t want to play with her.  It was Mae’s first trip to the office this year, which means she went 38 days without being taken to the office.  Not bad, especially  since the episode didn’t involve any hitting or pushing (as far as I know based on her version of events, all I have at this point).  She’s learning and growing, and it’s a huge relief.  A lot of the trouble she’s been in so far this year has been within the “normal” range, involving other classmates who were “guilty” along with her.  Last Thursday, she and a group of them lost some recess time for creating a “burrito of doom” with the exercise mat during physical education class.   I struggled to keep the corners of my mouth from twitching while she told me the story, in part because  of the mental image she was creating and in part because I was happy to hear that she was on the same side as her friends in play and not against them, as has so often been the case.  We count all victories big and small.

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And the Season is Fall (Out)

Mae and I made her souvenir into "Pumpkin Girl."

Some people point to leaves changing and falling, field trips to the pumpkin patch, and shorter daylight hours as sure signs of the season.  For me, I know it’s fall for sure when grown folk at my paid job begin having tantrums.  One benefit of having young kids is becoming accustomed to the “fall out.”  (At home in SC, another way to describe a tantrum is to say that someone is “falling out.”)  It’s performance review season, and every year, there will be some folks who have difficulty managing their emotions when they learn that their supervisor thinks they are less than “Outstanding.”  These folks will fall out and have to be coaxed out of their fits just like my kids.  At this time of year, I’m so grateful to Mae and Jay for the training they have provided me on recognizing and managing tantrums and meltdowns (the distinction is in the intensity level). My paid job has become so much easier since having kids.  Yesterday, Jay alone had three tantrums, two at school that I didn’t witness myself and his teacher told me about, and one at bathtime last night — a good ole, loud, sinus-clearing tear fest.

The workplace tantrums have started and they will continue into early next year, thanks to the supervisors who delay the evaluation process as long as they can.  Some employees will refuse to sign their performance evaluations, storm out, or cry, or all three.  I am not aware of any floor-rolling, though I suspect there is an equivalent.  The woman who received an “Excellent” (one level below “Outstanding”) a few years ago and never returned to work comes to mind.  My job is to coach the supervisor on how to prepare and present an evaluation, and then, if necessary, respond to employees’ questions about their options for contesting their evaluation.  Thank you, Mae and Jay for giving me so many opportunities to learn and practice patience and problem-solving.

On the more pleasant signs of fall, Jay and Mae did have their respective pumpkin patch field trips.  Jay asked to make a pumpkin pie with his souvenir.  It looked like a piddlin’ thing of a pumpkin, and I wasn’t even sure if it was fit for consumption.  But, I like to say yes anytime the kids show an interest in cooking, and especially baking.  When I went shopping for the pie ingredients, I picked up a can of pumpkin pie filling as a backup.  I had never baked pumpkin pie, and I think that Jay had never even tasted it.  Perhaps he heard the idea at school.  Well, we tried it.  The runt pumpkin yielded more than enough filling.  Both kids helped and they loved the pie.  The pie was good, but it didn’t convert me — I’m a sweet potato pie girl.  Actually, I’m a cake and cookie girl.  Next year, I’m going to make a pitch for pumpkin cake or at least muffins.

Caller ID. To Know Or Not to Know?

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The best thing about having caller ID on my cellphone is knowing when the kids’ school is calling.  It lets me know if the call is worth interrupting a meeting or other important task.  The worst thing about having caller ID on my cellphone is knowing when the kids’ school is calling.  My stomach drops a little.  Which one is sick?  Which one is in trouble?

The guidance counselor called me on Thursday.  She didn’t say fast enough, “This is a non-emergency call.”  Instead, she began by asking if I’d ever gotten results from any evaluation of Mae, any diagnosis, anything?  My first thought was “What the heck did she do?  It must be really big this time.”

It turns out that there was no problem.  The guidance counselor and principal had been reviewing all 504 plans (a plan that outlines accommodations for students with disabilities) and realized that they didn’t have a written plan in place for Mae.  I still asked if there were any recent concerns or incidents (the teacher had brought none to my attention).  The counselor wasn’t aware of anything.  She was requesting an evaluation report to see if there were any recommendations the school could implement to help Mae and her teachers.  I thanked her for asking for the report, and doing so in the absence of any current problems.  She said that she would look at the report, write a plan, and email it to me.

I was satisfied with the accommodations and supports the school provided last year (e.g., the counselor deep brushing Mae and having lunch with her and other kids to practice social skills, and reading and spelling pull-outs).  It’s a private school that is not required to provide a 504 plan.  However, if the administration is willing to do more, I’m all for it.  I emailed the report from Mae’s neuropsychological evaluation to the guidance counselor on Friday morning.  I recall discussing the Asperger’s diagnosis with the counselor and principal, and the counselor was correct that we’d never gotten as far as formalizing a plan.  I wanted to hold the full report close to my chest out of concern that it would overwhelm or alarm the teacher and/or counselor, as some of the challenges, such as difficulty with handwriting, had not become an issue yet.  While I have long thought that the school is a safe place for Mae, I have trust issues with regard to the Asperger’s label.  I don’t want it be something that is used to hold her to lower expectations or to view her as a “problem child.”  The counselor’s call had a genuineness about it that makes me feel that the school may be even safer than I thought.

I’ve read some parents’ horror stories about the difficulties of getting schools to even meet to discuss an evaluation report, much less take it seriously and implement the recommendations.  So, once again, I feel fortunate to be a part of a school community that is open and willing to even engage. 

On a less happy note, I received results from the aptitude test that Mae took last month for the Center for Talented Youth’s online courses and summer programs.  Her scores were not high enough to make her eligble.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Part of me thinks that she wasn’t ready, I hadn’t prepped her well and I didn’t like the way the test was proctored.  Of course, when you think your child is awesome, it’s hard to accept anything contrary to that.  We have the option of retesting, which I’ll have to think about some.

But not today.  It’s a Supper Club day, and I’m not hosting.  Yes!  Fun, fun, and more fun and all I have to do is show up hungry.  Life is good.

More Celebrating

Jay ate breakfast with his new books.

I don’t know how I forgot this:  Jay is starting to read on his own.  Not whole books or sentences, but words.  He’s decoding.  I was reading to him Monday night, and when I pointed to words that I thought he would recognize, he sounded them out instead of just saying them.  Yippee!  He’s proud of himself, too.  Yesterday, our Scholastic book order arrived, and it included a box set of Hot Wheels phonics books.  He left the house carrying it like a bookcase.  Sigh.  I remember the days when he just left with the Hot Wheels cars.  My baby is growing up.  Sniff, sniff.

And, there’s more.  Mae received her first progress report of the year:  all A+’s and 100’s on almost every assignment and test.  The teacher’s hand-written note on the report is all positive, except that she’s concerned that Mae “has a tendency to slip ‘off track’ during some class discussions.”  Yes, she talks a lot and she’ll begin to ramble after a while.  Or, it’s more like she starts talking about one thing, which reminds her of another thing, and that’s related to another thing altogether.  Frankly, I think she’s always going to have that tendency.  As she gets older, I’ll teach her about active listening.  Also, the teacher warns on the report that work will get more challenging later and grades may drop later.  I like that:  manage expectations.

At aftercare pickup, the director remarked that Mae is “getting better everyday” at playing and interacting with the other kids.  That’s also good news, although I expect that there will be good days and bad days (mostly good).

I’ll have to think of something fun and rewarding for the kids this weekend so that we can properly and officially recognize their progress.  Another excuse for cake?  You betcha.

My own crowning achievement of the day was booking tickets for me and the kids to visit my sister and her family in FL for Thanksgiving.   Year after year, I’ve said that we need to get done there because it has been several years (although we do see them at my mom’s in SC once or twice a year).  It’s bittersweet because the kids and I will be travelling without Hubby.  We will, however, return on November 26, which is his birthday and our wedding anniversary.  We’ll arrive home early enough for some type of celebration, to be determined (More cake? You betcha).

Celebration Time

I have a few things to celebrate these days.

1.  I made 40 years on October 7, in the vernacular of my Cousin T.  Hubby’s birthday gift to me was Fela, an amazing show.  We were able to see it thanks to my mother-in-law watching the kiddies for us.  Mae would have loved the music and dancing, and it’s a reminder that we should get her to the theatre more often.  She asked to take drama again this year, and I’m not sure that the school’s program is worth the money they charge for it, especially since they moved the meeting time from aftercare hours to Saturday.  I have not taken time to look into a community program yet; it’s on my to-do list.  Anyhoo, the kids and I made me a chocolate birthday cake.  Chocolate is not my favorite, but Jay said I should have chocolate.  I added four candles, one for each decade.  Yikes.

2.  I braved a pool party with Mae and Jay.  I have yet to be sold on the wisdom of pool parties for second-graders.  I’m getting there.  Water makes me anxious, and kids in water, especially my kids in water is . . . a lot.  Hubby takes them to their weekly swim lesson.  I took them for the first lesson, and I gasped loudly every time they moved more than two inches away from the instructor, every time she turned her head from their direction, every time they put their face near the water, etc.  The original plan for the pool party was that Hubby would take Mae, as the party was for one of her classmates.  Then, he was required to work on Saturday, and that left me with two kids and a pool.  My youngest sister came along with me for moral support, bless her heart.  As it turns out, the kids were wonderful, mine and the rest of them.  Mine were actually the least skilled in the water, and it looked like the other thirteen kids started lessons out of the womb.  They all played smartly and safely, and the lifeguard had an easy day of it.  My anxiety level lessened once I saw how comfortable the kids were in the water.  I stopped sweating and my heartache slowed, though I stayed seated at the edge of the pool (the only parent to do so, and I don’t know if that makes me or the other parents nuts).

3.  I was proud especially of Mae at the pool party.  She doesn’t like to put her face in the water, which has slowed her learning.  While her friends were jumping in and diving to the bottom of the pool to get toys, she was quite content to spend most of her time in the 3-foot area.  She ventured into the 4-foot area a few times to mingle with her friends, and some of them came to play with her from time to time.  I expected her to become whiny about not being with them more, or even worse, try to keep up with them.  However, she didn’t mind at all.  She practiced swimming with noodles, and was pleased with herself for noodle-swimming into the 4-foot area.

4.  We had a long overdue playdate with a family that we’ve known since Mae was three months old, when she and the family’s daughter, S, started daycare on the same day.  S also has a little brother, three years old, a great match for Jay.  The weather was beautiful yesterday, and the park was full.  Mae and Jay had a good time with our friends and the other kids.   No interventions, no crises and no meltdowns — such a relief.  Later in the day, we met up with a cousin and her daughter, who is eight.  She and Mae played well together also.  I’m beginning to feel like I can monitor less, which feels a lot like progress.

5.  The kids and I were off for Columbus Day, and we were quite productive.  Flu vaccination, check.  Clean playroom, check.  We took some big steps when we cleaned the play room:  one and a half bags of broken and neglected toys and whatnot went into the trash, and one bag and one box went to Goodwill.  This time, when the trash bags were filled, I took them straight out back to the bin.  And, we drove the donations to Goodwill today.  In the past, I’d put the bag or box in the garage in case I changed my mind.  It’s such a guilt-ridden process, and I accepted today that the guilt is totally self-imposed.  Mae has never cared much for stuffed animals and dolls, and she’s had some not-so-nice things to say about both categories when we’ve cleaned up before.  Still, I had been keeping the Barbie dolls for when other little girls come over to play, and I decided today that that’s just plain nonsense.   Since Mae and Jay had to let go of some stuff, and, as a Libra, I like balance, I purged some things of my own — shoes and clothes that I should have let go of a while back, or never purchased at all.  I feel so much lighter!

6.  On Wednesday, I’ll join local family to celebrate the life of a great-uncle who passed last week at the age of 98.  It was an honor to know him.  In a family dominated by women, in terms of numbers as well as presence, he stood out.  He was steady, ever-present by my aunt’s side, her partner for 72 years.   There have been many men that the family has tolerated, few who were actually accepted, and even less revered like Uncle H.  He could get away with joking about my aunt and her sisters’ girth.  He always had a lean build and he’d say during a meal, “I won’t eat much, less I’ll get like [Z] and her sisters.”  When I moved to DC in 1995 as a poor graduate student, he and Aunt Z helped me get to know the city and more of themselves and the larger family.  Although I could have taken the bus or subway to get to their home, Uncle H insisted upon driving me.  He was a classic Southern gentleman, always in a shirt and slacks, tie added if he were leaving the house.  He’d pick me up in his 1976 Nova, which he probably should not have been driving even at that time.  Once at their home, he would walk me around the yard, telling me the scientific and common names of every plant.  He was a self-taught horticulturist, and he enjoyed sharing his knowledge as well as his plants, which he propagated in the basement of their home.   During those visits, Aunt Z would be in the kitchen, often times cooking something from their garden — squash, greens, tomatoes, peppers.  Whenever she called his name or asked for a hand, he’d say “Yes, Dear” or “Whatever you say.”   Watching them as a couple was an education for me.  When they had been married for fifty-some years, Aunt Z chided him for leaving kitchen cabinet doors open.  I was dating Hubby at the time, and I had a light bulb moment.  I asked Aunt Z, “Has he always done that?”  She chuckled and said yes, in addition to leaving open the bottom drawer of his dresser after he takes out socks, causing her to sometimes trip over the open drawer.  And, just like that, I realized that whatever my dude was doing then, he would still be doing 60 years later, and I was just going to have to learn to live with it.  They really don’t change.

It’s all good.  Since Uncle H went into the hospital in January of this year, Aunt Z has said that she dreams about him every night, even after he passed.  I see now why she laughed about the cabinet doors.  Hubby and I have a wedding anniversary next month, and I think the kids and I should bake another cake and put seven candles on top, a wish for seven decades.

Who Is This Kid?

I can't give her more than one instruction at once, yet she can read while she waits for the next game to upload.

There was this strange little person with me on Wednesday.  She had impeccable manners.  She offered her brother some water in such a loving voice, gave him comforting words when he complained about being hungry and thirsty, and said lots of thank you’s and excuse me’s.

I commented on how polite she was being and she said, “You told me to.”

Is that all it takes?  Why didn’t you tell me earlier?

Mae was referring to a conversation we’d had when I picked her up that day from aftercare.  When I arrived, the Director was helping resolve a dispute between her and another little girl, R, about R having picked up Mae’s book without permission.  R apologized, and Mae accepted the apology (after I prompted her three times) by saying coldly, “I accept, but don’t do it again.”  (I would not have insisted had R not been looking at Mae expectantly).  R and Mae walked away, Mae to retrieve their backpack.  Within seconds, R was back at me.  She tattled, “She was laughing at me.  She said,  ‘Haha, you forgot your jacket.'”  Mae tried to hide a grin and denied saying it.  Sigh.

Once we were outside, Mae admitted that she had teased R and didn’t want to get in trouble for it.  I told her to treat others as she wants to be treated and to be polite.  So, for the rest of the evening, Mae was super nice.  And, Jay followed her lead, returning the kindnesses.  They had their own little lovefest.  I gushed and praised and added mickeys to their banks.  At one point, Mae was telling me her ideas for how we could donate more toys and food to those in need.  Oh, if I could only have frozen her in that state.  And, her brother too, for that matter.  He has a new “best friend” at school, someone he describes as a new kid who is always being put on the yellow chair.  The yellow chair is where kids are sent to think after they have made a sad choice.  I hope Jay rubs off on him before he rubs off on Jay.

Monkey Business

My biggest accomplishment this weekend may have been making monkey bread for the first time.  It was one of my childhood favorites, and I was happy to share it with the kids.  Actually, Mae and Jay did most of the work.  They enjoyed cutting the canned biscuits and rolling the pieces into balls.  The good thing about this recipe is that, unlike most baking, it’s random.  The balls don’t have to be uniform in size or shape.  The kids could wildly throws the balls into the plastic bag that held the sugar-cinnamon combination and stuff the covered balls, raisins, and chopped pecans any which way into the bundt pan.  Jay was giving me instructions by the end.  When I put my fingers into the plastic bag to cover the dough balls evenly, Jay took the bag.”No, Mom.  You have to shake it like this.  See?”  Mae loved the finished product.  Jay, not so much.

We continue to live with late nights and early mornings on the weekends.  On Friday, we let Mae and Jay stay up until almost midnight even though they had a full day of school and aftercare, and then swim lessons.  They should have been tired enough to sleep late on Saturday morning.  Noooo.  Mae was up just before 7 a.m. and Jay at 7:25 a.m.  However, of course, when I needed them up at 8:00 this morning to get ready for Dharma, they were sound asleep and slept until 8:30.  No fair.

Yesterday, I went to the library without them and checked out books for both.  One is Don’t Wake Up Mama from the Five Little Monkeys series.  A clever choice, I thought, especially since it’s Mama Monkey’s birthday in the book and my birthday is coming up on October 7.  As Hubby was about to read to Jay at bedtime, I asked him to read Don’t Wake Up Mama.  Well, he didn’t.  After reading time, Hubby said that Jay didn’t select it when asked what he wanted to read and besides, it was “propaganda.”  It was worth a shot.  I had nothing to lose.

Taking (little) chances.  That’s what I’m trying to do these days, upon my seven-year old’s advice.  I’m almost 40, so I made baked ziti today for the first time in years.  I stopped making it (and a whole bunch of other stuff) because it’s the kind of dish Mae and Jay are unlikely to eat.   For one thing, it has tomatoes and they don’t like tomatoes.  I decided to make it anyway, put it on their plates, and just see.  Mae was interested enough to come into the kitchen at one point, and ask, in her supervisory voice, “How’s that ziti coming along?”  She tried it and actually liked it, or at least she liked some of it.  She pushed aside the tomato and sausage pieces and ate the ziti.  I’ll take that.  Jay started whining as soon as he saw it on his plate.  He asked about a dozen times, “Can I eat my broccoli and then get three M&Ms?”  He seemed to think that three M&Ms was a reasonable trade-off for eating broccoli, and that the least I could do for even putting ziti on his plate was give him three M&Ms.  I turned into my tape recorder self.  “You can eat your broccoli and then go to bed, or you can eat your broccoli and ziti and then get three M&Ms.”  Finally, he ate all of his broccoli and I fed him the ziti while reading books to him.  He finished it all and I gave him five M&Ms.  I’m a reasonable person.

They are tucked away in bed now, and it’s time to wind down and get ready to start the week.  Mae begins a new reading plan this week, including two days a week with the third grade class.  She continues to have mostly good days at school, a relief, and I hope the change in routine won’t throw her off too much.  Aftercare is another story and I’ll come back to that later.  For now, since I seem to be the only person here who cares about my sleep, I’m going to bed.

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