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Fade to Black

watching fireworks

As 2012 fades to black, I think back on how blessed we have been this year and in previous years. Life hasn’t been perfect or stress-free. All-in-all, though, it’s been darn good.

I had a glorious time in SC with my immediate and extended families during our short winter vacation. We had a Christmas party on the Saturday before the holiday. The food was good, the games were fun, and spirits were high. One of the things I love most about my big (my mother is one of eleven), crazy family is that we manage to consistently have a genuinely good time, without the drama that is typically associated with big gatherings and without the help of alcohol (LOL).

Mae and Jay got to see all of their first cousins. They played well together, and I’m especially proud of Mae. I think she managed to avoid falling out with her big cousin, who is just 9 months older, even once. Usually, Mae whines or has a meltdown about not being able to play with her cousin’s things or something along those lines. No meltdowns at all on the trip. Growth is a beautiful thing, and she’s been doing plenty of it physically and otherwise.  Lately, she’s been asking questions on topics like periods and the N-word.  She’s becoming less and less of a “little girl,” a term she now detests.

Last week, Mae told me that she wonders if she should tell her friends that she has Asperger’s.  She said, “I don’t know what they’ll think of me.”  I told Mae that she can tell her friends if she feels comfortable, and that it’s more important to focus on what she wants her friends to understand about her and show them who she is without using a label.  I told her that the doctor said she’s barely on the spectrum, so Asperger’s may not be the best way to explain who she is.   Her question is an interesting question given recent media coverage of Asperger’s in relation to the Newtown tragedy.  Mae is aware of the tragedy because her school principal made an announcement the next school day.  She’s unaware of the media coverage and how some have attributed the shooter’s behavior to Asperger’s.  We’re not much of a news-watching household, and that’s a good thing.

After we returned home from SC, we buckled down to Mae’s homework.  She actually completed some of it while we were in SC, bless her heart, with little resistance. She has had so much homework over the past few weeks, more than I could have ever imagined for a 3rd grader.  We spent hours each day last Thursday through Sunday working on a book about the planets. There is a required 15-page minimum with limited use of illustrations, which Mae had to create herself. (Thank you, Microsoft, for Insert>Shapes.)

Last night, as Mae put the finishing touches on the book,  she told me that she enjoyed working on it, that she had looked forward to it.  She’s really had a good attitude about this homework business.  Hubby and I have been the ones grumbling for weeks.  I’ve been trying to think of a way to complain to the school, but I don’t know if it’s me or them that’s being unreasonable.  I wanted an accelerated and advanced curriculum, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut. What I didn’t know was that we’d be trading loads of personal time and family time, weekends and holidays included.

Mae worked so hard on her planets book and still needs to make progress on her science fair project, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to ask her to write thank-you notes for Christmas gifts.  That’s normally one of our projects over the winter break.  I may saddle Jay with writing for both of them, if I can get him to be still long enough. He has been a ball of energy, literally running in circles around the house, for no apparent reason.  He’ll go round and round the kitchen table.  He’s in constant motion, still at five and a half.  I don’t remember his sister being this way.

Yesterday, I surprised him when I told him that I like candy cereal too, but I don’t eat it.   He said, slowly, “That’s strange.”  Then, he added, “If you like something, you should just eat it.”  Oh, my dear boy, I have fillings in the double digits and a pouch to prove that I have done plenty of that.

I’ve got to work on my “just eat it” problem in 2013.  I’m not big on resolutions, but I do need to create a new exercise plan and cut back on sugar.  This year was not good for me in terms of healthy living.  I tried to eat healthy (though the green smoothie project didn’t work for me; I decided that eating should involve chewing.  I like chewing.) and exercise (I quit yoga after one session because one full hour of yoga is just too much).  I got off track, mostly due to exhaustion in the evenings from hard, long days at the job I started in March, and then curtailing weeknight gym visits to help with homework in the evenings.  On too many evenings, I ate salty or sweet snacks for dinner instead of a proper meal.

Despite exercising less and eating more than I should have, I’m ending 2012 with a pat on the back for myself.  I’ve already ordered our photo album for 2012, a year’s worth of pictures bound in a hard cover book.   It’s an annual project that I sometimes don’t get to until the spring.  And, I’ve ordered our Happy New Year photo cards to send to family and friends.  I think our 2012 cards went out in February last year.  I feel like I was more organized in 2012.  Also, I spent more time with the kids, making more of an effort to do fun stuff on the weekends whenever we could.  House and yardwork suffered, but I have no regrets about that.

So, I’m good.  We’re good.  2013 will be good.

Get Up, Stand Up

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Hubby and I had a good meeting last Wednesday with Mae’s four teachers and the school’s talented and gifted Coordinator and guidance counselor. I requested the meeting to get a better idea of how Mae has been adjusting. I’m still trying to determine what intervention(s) to pursue next and what’s available through the school system now that we’re public.

The meeting went well. As it turns out, the teachers have been pleasantly surprised that Mae is not the kid I described in my introductory email to them. I was expecting a much tougher transition than we’ve had. I’m happy that I was wrong. They counted among them 3-4 meltdowns, and two of those were on the same day and may have been one extended meltdown. The teachers have observed some of the same behaviors we’ve been working on — not picking up on social cues, difficulty working in a group, frustration and withdrawal when others don’t accept her ideas, trouble making friends. They offered some supports that they think may be helpful with social, transition, and organizational skills.

I wasn’t aware that she had such trouble with organizational skills at school (though her neuropsychological evaluation report said that she would). For example, even though she began the school year with a well-stocked pouch for pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and the pouch stays in the backpack that she carries from class to class, she’s caught the devil keeping up with the items. And, I check the pouch regularly to restock as needed. Students are actually graded on work habits, and can lose 20-25% of a daily work habit grade for forgetting to take crayons to math. One of my friends asked if the emphasis on organization creates too much pressure at this age. Right now, I think the teachers are being reasonable. The school’s stated goal is to make them “college and work ready,” even though it’s an elementary school (2nd through 5th graders). Working in human resources, I see how a lack of organizational skills can hamper career success. Once I receive the first grade report, I’ll know if I should change my attitude.

I brought up during the conversation that Mae has become more anxious about her relationship with one student in particular, Gigi, which may eventually lead to problems in class. Mae’s homeroom teacher offered to monitor them when she has recess duty and she said that she would suggest to Mae that they try peer mediation. She did just that later in the afternoon after our meeting. The guidance counselor agreed that peer mediation may be appropriate.

Mae has been talking about Gigi more and it seems that they are becoming less and less friends. Mae has said that she’s afraid not to do things that Gigi tells her because Gigi may gossip about her to other students who have been friendly and then those friends will stop liking her. There is one girl in particular that Mae admires and enjoys being with, and she’s afraid of loosing that budding friendship. I swear, this is the first time in her eight years that Mae has shown any inkling of being unwilling to stand up for herself.

I started reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to Mae last week, mostly because of the second agreement, ‘don’t take anything personally.’ I thought the concepts would help her understand the importance of protecting herself emotionally and build up the confidence to do so. On Wednesday night, we read agreement one, ‘be impeccable with your word.’ This requires using words for good, not evil.

When I picked Mae up from aftercare on Thursday, she asked me, with urgency, “What’s the second agreement?” I told her we’d read it later and asked why she needed to know.

Mae: “I told [Gigi] to be impeccable with her word.”
Me:  “Did you tell her what it means?”
Mae: “No, I told her to figure it out. We were about to switch classes.”

And, just like that, she was ready to give the kid the second agreement and she hadn’t even explained the first.

Ironically, I met Gigi and her dad that same day. Hubby was right about her — she reminds me too of my child!

I’d asked Mae to introduce me to Gigi, and I was glad the opportunity came.  I’d like to get to know this child who is the first person — big or small — I know of that Mae has been unable to stand up to and defend herself against. Mae had her own agenda; she walked over to Gigi.

Mae: “My mom wants to talk to you about being mean to me.”
Gigi: “I’m not mean to you.”
Mae: “Uh huh. You called my baby brother annoying and stupid.”
Gigi: “No, I didn’t.”

Gigi followed Mae back to me anyway, and I asked about her day. She seems friendly and outgoing. We walked down to where her dad was waiting for her. I introduced myself as Mae’s mom and told him that the girls ride the bus together to aftercare and sometimes do their homework together. He was friendly too. I asked him if he was aware of any of the “friendship drama” between Mae and Gigi. He looked confused and said no. I thought to myself, ‘I guess that’s Mom’s domain.’ Mae said to the dad, “She’s been mean to me. She said she’ll be my friend Monday through Thursday, but not Friday, and that’s just wrong. Wrong.” Without taking a breath, Mae then went off on a tangent about having swim lessons on Fridays and not liking having to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Gigi’s dad went with that line of conversation and asked questions about swim lessons. I would have liked to talk to him some more about the girls. However, since he made no attempt to explore what Mae and I meant about “drama” and “mean,” I decided that I would postpone that conversation until I have an opportunity to meet Gigi’s mom. Hopefully, she’s a reasonable person and open to having a candid talk about her kid. We chatted for several more minutes about swim and I don’t remember what else.

When it was time to go, Gigi began hugging on Mae and refusing to let her go. Gigi said she wanted to come home with us. She held Mae’s hand as we walked out of the building, and walked with us in the direction of our car instead of with her dad in the opposite direction. Finally, when I teased that she would have to help clean and cook if she came to our us, she gave Mae a last tight squeeze around the neck and kissed her on the cheek three times before she went off with her dad. It reminded me of the same clingy type behavior Mae had towards her friend K at her old school, towards whom Mae was often bossy and possessive. I wonder if Gigi displays that same sort of possessiveness and becomes “mean” if Mae tries to play with someone else or wants to play or do something different from what Gigi wants.

I think Mae and Gigi do have the potential to be friends. They need guidance on how, and with help from teachers and parents, maybe they can figure out ways to get along. Or, they may decide not to be friends at all and leave each other alone or just be homework partners in after care. It’s my mediation training, I’m sure, but I’m optimistic and hopeful.

On another friend-related note, Jay’s old pal that pushed him around last year didn’t return this year. Yay! It’s such a relief. He’s such a nice kid and was just unable to assert himself with that little dude. His kindergarten teacher has described him as “quiet and unassertive.” He’ll have reading and computer technology with the first grade class, and I am concerned that he may be too uncomfortable with the older kids to participate in class. I think he’s the only kindergartener reading at his level and so there is no kindergarten reading group in which he can be placed (and still be challenged). I’m sooo hoping that he will test into Mae’s school for second grade. This year, he’s playing soccer for the first time, and loving it. As he develops interest in doing more things outside of home and independent of his sister, I hope more assertiveness and leadership will come.

Jay has brought home his Good Day stick practically every day (a couple days, he forgot to take it back to school). Mae said to him last week, with wonder, not envy, “You’re such a good kid, better than I was in kindergarten.” She even told him that he’s cuter. When he began bringing home the stick, I thought she would make some comparison and feel bad about having taken so long (relatively) to earn the opportunity to bring home her Good Day stick in kindergarten. Instead, she’s been happy for him and encouraging. She still likes to help him with his reading and anything else where she sees a need. That’s a relief too. It reminds me that she’s a good kid too, in a different way from her brother.

Public School, Here We Come

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Mae was a lottery pick for a public talented and gifted (TAG) school. This is the school she tested into and for which she was wait-listed last year. It has a good reputation and I’ve heard nothing but good things about its gifted program. Hubby and I toured last week. The enrichment programs sound fun and challenging, and there is advanced, differentiated instruction within the classroom.

I am concerned, though, about the average class size for third grade. Twenty-five students per teacher with no assistant sounds like a lot of fish for Mae to swim with and then, I think, she was with 18-19 classmates for 1st and 2nd grade. What’s a few more kids?

I’m also concerned, of course, about the transition. When Hubby and I told her that she may be going to a new school in the fall, Mae said, in short, “no.” We told her it’ll be more challenging and she’s less likely to get bored. She has warmed up to the idea since we received the lottery results two weeks ago. She thinks 25 kids in a class is a good thing because, in her words, even if some kids don’t want to play with her, there are enough kids that it’s likely she’ll still have friends.

I asked Mae’s 1st grade teacher for her opinion on moving Mae from the small private school to a public school. She recommended a class size of 10, no more than 15. Well . . . . She also warned that new teachers often “get stuck” with the gifted classes because experienced teachers get worn out by high-maintenance, demanding parents. (I hope she shared that opinion with me because she doesn’t see me as such). During the school tour, we visited two of the three 3rd grade classrooms. The teachers were older, if not seasoned educators, at least mature in age, which is a relief.

I went to a PTO meeting at the TAG school also. There was a small group of committed parents voting for next year’s officers. I was impressed that there were folks happy, or at least willing, to take on the responsibility. At the last PTA meeting for the kids’ current school, it took some teeth-pulling and arm-wringing to get parents to accept nominations. (That’s not a judgment, just an observation. I didn’t volunteer for anything and declined a nomination. My new job is already spilling over into evenings and weekends, which I had not anticipated and I’m trying to get a handle on it.)

I introduced myself to the school principal after the PTO meeting. She seems like a nice lady, and the TAG Coordinator seems like he’ll be a pleasure to work with. Hubby is certain, and I’m also there, in thinking this is the right move for Mae. I want to give it a try so that we don’t wonder “what if.” The teachers’ and administrators’ demeanor and flexibility will determine if we stay.

You Can’t Win Unless You Play

And, playing doesn’t mean you’re going to win.

Mae didn’t get selected in the lottery for the county’s full-day gifted program near us.  She is number 38 on the waiting list.  We had pretty much decided to keep her in private school anyway.

I do, however, think it’s unfortunate that there are not enough full-day spaces for county students who meet the gifted criteria.  I had no idea before she was tested that gifted education is such a political and contested issue.  I’m a little relieved that we will be spared the messy side of it.

How ironic that we moved to this neighborhood for the public schools.  From now on, when I think about the taxes we pay, I’m going to focus on benefits like reliable first responders, clean streets, and speedy snow removal.  As for the fraction that goes to the school system, I wish the kids and their families a solid education and positive experience.

The Week of Mondays

I need a weekend.

Hubby and I had our follow-up, or feedback, visit with Dr. Mike, the neuropsychologist who evaluated Mae two weeks ago.  His finding is that Mae shows enough characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome to be diagnosed as such.  The strongest characteristics she exhibits are (1) difficulty in recognizing and responding appropriately to social cues, (2) lack of flexibility and (3) difficulty inhibiting herself verbally and behaviorally.  In addition, Dr. Mike told us that, during the testing, Mae had trouble with planning and organizing, which has not been a major issue in real life.  At six years old, she has not had much planning and organizing to do.

Dr. Mike asked how Hubby and I felt about the Asperger’s label.  We told him that we were not surprised, and at the same time, we had noticed that there are many occasions when Mae does so well socially that it didn’t seem the characteristics were pervasive enough to fit the Asperger’s or any other label.  Dr. Mike responded, yes, she is borderline.  He advised, however, that the label can be useful in making Mae eligible for certain interventions and support, and helping teachers and educators understand she is not simply being oppositional.  As I see it, it’s a matter of using the label with wisdom.

Dr. Mike recommended that we continue with social skills training and work with a behavioral therapist to help Mae learn to better recognize and control her feelings.  For example, a behavioral therapist can help her develop strategies for what to do when she feels herself becoming upset or frustrated.  We also discussed educational placement,  such as public vs. private school; balancing academic environment and availability of resources to assist with the Asperger’s characteristics; and summer camp with like vs. typical peers.  Dr. Mike was well-prepared.  He had researched and had ready information about therapy services and legal entitlements, and he had particularly looked for resources close to our address.  Once again, I felt confident in his knowledge and abilities and grateful that we will have him as a resource.

Dr. Mike described Mae as gifted and motivated, and said that he is confident she can improve her social skills and learn better self-regulation, perhaps to the point where none of the Asperger’s characteristics will apply to her.  The written report that we’ll receive in another two weeks will have more detailed recommendations, and we’ll give due diligence to following up.

On a brighter note (not that I consider the Asperger’s diagnosis bad, just a lot to process), when I arrived home from work, there was a letter informing us that Mae meets the eligibility requirements for the county’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program.  This is good . . . I think.  We will not know until after March 18 whether she has been selected through the lottery system for a space in one of the county’s TAG centers.  Meanwhile, I could start researching other options for gifted programs (what’s funny is that Dr. Mike handed us a page about the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the $34,000-per-year program that is an hour away).

Whew.  It’s been a week of Mondays and there is still one more day before the weekend.  Both Mae and Jay have been fighting colds.  Hubby just came in from an urgent care facility, and says he needs a nebulizer.  I have been getting to know our car insurance company intimately since I had a minor four-car accident yesterday morning.  Oh, and then there was the breast surgeon visit, which I actually did twice on Wednesday because I had been scheduled for the wrong doctor in the morning and had to return in the afternoon to see the correct doctor after I picked up my own films from my last mammogram because the doctor’s office forgot to request the films in advance, and scheduling the next mammogram visit for next week.  And, one of my co-workers didn’t come back to work this week because her baby decided to be born a whole month early over the weekend, and although we had agreed that I would cover some of her responsibilities, I have been afraid to go into her office because I am not quite ready to stretch my brain, and even if I were ready, I do not think I would be able to do it this week.

I am sure I will have an opportunity over the weekend to clear my head.  Maybe I will bake this weekend; baking makes everything better.

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