Monthly Archives: June 2014

Dude-venture Weekend

Cody was invited to a bachelor party in Philadelphia this weekend for a close college friend. He really wanted to go and I really wanted to not be left alone here in PGH with both our kids. We asked my parents (who live along the way) if they could take one or both of the boys, and my mom said she’d love to spend some special time with Mikey.

I initially sort of wish I’d pushed to send the two-year-old…the irrational, caveman-brained toddler who eats his boogers and hands me live spiders and cries for 47-minute intervals. But we sent Mikey off to his grandparents, who planned a delightful weekend for him and texted me questions all week in anticipation of his arrival.

He’s been obsessed with wooden tokens lately (because we get them when we bring our own bags to Whole Foods and the kids get to put them in the little treasure chest by the door, marking our chosen charity to receive the $.05) and my mom bought him a boatload at Michaels.

He’s also obsessed with the numbers 8 and 18, so my mom painted the tokens with these numbers, just for him. Then, she made plans for her and my dad to take him to the antique auto museum, where I’m sure he got to look at more wheels and engine parts than he could ever begin to describe to me.

But Mikey didn’t know any of that was happening! As he heaped a bag with his brother’s babydolls, toy cars, a “dude diary,” and his beloved copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mikey was just excited to spend time with his grandparents. He’s so comfortable at their house and they dote on him and he very rarely has meltdowns under the loving haze of their undivided attention.

This afternoon, my mom sent me a picture of him playing in a bin of kinetic sand (of course she bought him kinetic sand!), where he’d been singing and yabbering for 45 minutes. It makes me sad that we don’t live closer to them, because I have such great memories of spending time sleeping over with my grandparents, too.

Meanwhile, Alex and I are having a really quiet and uneventful weekend. Uneventful meaning…things are so predictable with him. And even when he cries for 45 minutes, I know that if I distract him with a marshmallow, I can eventually get him to stop. And if I don’t do this, he’s just going to cry. He’s not going to bang his head off the wall until he hurts himself and he’s not going to throw his body down the stairs or come after me with the sharp end of a corn-cob-holder.

It’s just so much easier to parent that kid. Maybe because I’ve been to this rodeo before? But I find myself verbally prepping him for all the upcoming transitions, and then I realize I’m just sort of bothering him while he’s trying to play trucks all by himself. He’s like, “ok, Mom. You already told me we’re going to a birthday party later. We’re good.”

I even changed my mind about what I was going to make for dinner and it didn’t matter! Then, I waited until we were done eating to decide what we’d have for dessert. Just like that! We opened the cabinet and made a choice, and it was fine and we didn’t have to make a list first or discuss it. We just ate the damn Oreos.

So this weekend is really a break from me having to be ON so much. I get to bring my B-game, and it’s more than enough parenting skill and boy! That’s relaxing.

Mikey is such a remarkable kid. He spent most of Friday describing to me the difference between a trachea and an esophagus, for heaven’s sake. I sure am glad he gets to spread this joy to other adults who love him, so Alex and I can spend a weekend where I learn more about what makes him awesome, too.

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In Which We Tour a Charter School

It’s been challenging for me to be in this school situation without weeping, which is super unfortunate, because I’m not at my best when I’m weeping. But it’s all so damn overwhelming! I can’t help it.

On Tuesday, I toured a charter school on the north side of the city. Like many things on the north side, this school clings to a cliff and one must approach it via cobblestone roads so vertical, I can’t even imagine attempting the drive in the winter. Plus the road was under construction the day I arrived, so I had to park far away and ascend a huge mountain only to find out there was a parking lot somewhere I could have used just this once as a visitor.

Everyone I met inside was flustered but friendly, and the principal knew who I was, remembered my son’s name, and greeted me warmly. The tour was led by the special education coordinator, who supervises special education staff in several different schools. She introduced me to several kids with Mikey’s diagnosis who were all fully integrated into their classrooms and seemed to be…just regular kids doing regular work alongside their peers.

The paraprofessionals at this school are all certified teachers. There’s a room kids can go to eat lunch with support staff if they don’t feel able to eat in the cafeteria (where, instead of blaring rock music, they actually keep things at “level 0” so the kids aren’t supposed to talk during their 20 minutes of eating time).

When I explained how one of Mikey’s challenges was that sometimes people get in his personal space and instead of using his words, he hits or shouts. M (the woman giving the tour), pretty much said, “…but he’s 4, right?…”

Once someone acknowledged that it’s developmentally appropriate/expected that 4 year olds would hit (rather than make me feel like my kid is some ruffian hooligan), the weeping began. I explained to M that his current school sort of made it sound impossible for him to be excused from class to take a break should he feel overwhelmed. M showed me two different rooms where kids go to take breaks at this school, with swinging chairs and bean bags and trampolines.

It’s pretty hard to not take this school seriously.

However, the curriculum there is heavily focused on the Common Core. It makes me sad to think my other kids would have to give up the Montessori style of learning…but it makes me sadder to think about the logistics of managing kids in multiple schools.

There’s a wait list for Kindergarten at this charter school for fall. I’m going to fill out an application and just see what happens. The school is close enough to Cody’s office that he could do drop off in the morning and we could decide about bus vs me going to pick Mikey up in the afternoons. So many logistics to consider. So many hills.

But how nice would it be for him to be in a school where his needs are anticipated and worked into the fabric of the school, rather than having to fight and spend every day waiting for the phone to ring? I can’t even tell you how much more productive my work days have been since school let out and I’m not using so much energy dealing with issues from school.

Now, even the extended school year schools are out for summer break, so these plans get set aside until September. The rest of the summer I’ll spend gearing up for our IEP meeting.

By the time you read this, I’ll be busy touring a school on the North side of the city. It’s still hard for me to say the words, “We’re looking for a new school for Mikey,” because up until June 3, we thought he was doing moderately ok in his current school. The one we carefully chose for him and our other kids, that was supposed to be their school until 8th grade.

Cody and I went to school on June 3 to (we thought) sign a NOREP form, which is fancy acronym for a form that says what will happen when Mikey starts kindergarten in terms of his special educational support. We’d already actually had this meeting in February, but neither his teacher nor the special education person showed up…which sucks. A lot.

The email we got after the February meeting pretty much just said he’d be going to kindy at his current school, let’s keep working on his IEP goals. Everything we’re trying is going fine. And by “pretty much,” I mean this is what it said. Precisely.

So, while we knew Mikey was having challenges keeping his hands to himself, this information was given to us without context and we assumed he was exhibiting typical 4 year old boy behavior. All his early intervention progress reports said he was progressing toward IEP goals and that our current strategies seemed to be working.

Why should we suspect anything different?

We were utterly blindsided at this meeting to hear his teacher and principal suggest Mikey needs to be moved to another school, one that’s in an impoverished and high-crime neighborhood, that has a full-time autism support classroom. When, at this other school, Mikey went out among his “non-disabled peers,” he’d have a paraprofessional at his side. Full time.

In other words, totally marking him as other and placing him in a classroom mostly attended by non-verbal children with extreme histories of aggressive outbursts.

I’m glad Cody was with me, because in my shock and disbelief all I could do was cry.

Who are they to spring this upon us the second-to-last day of school? Who are they to sit upon this knowledge that Mikey apparently wasn’t doing well, to not inform us until the problem was beyond repair?

In the 2 weeks since, I’ve spent 20+ hours every week on the phone or in meetings. We’re consulting with everyone, from the special education offices to educational advocates to private schools to psychiatrists and pediatricians.

We rejected the form the school gave us, saying we prefer Mikey to remain where he is so we can gather data (requested a Functional Behavior Assessment for the beginning of the school year) and that we prefer to develop a new IEP before the beginning of the school year, one we will prepare for as if it were the GRE or maybe Cody’s CPA examination.

I’m not even suggesting that the education method at Mikey’s school is the best fit for him. Or even a good fit for him. But I’m sure as shit saying you don’t get to spring that information upon me on the last week of school and then dictate where he’ll go instead. Oh no. We have school choice in our city, and we will make an informed choice for the best environment for our son to succeed.

I’m so angry that my son, who is performing at grade level and by all data we have been given (there very well may be “secret” data that was gathered, but we have not been presented with this or communicated with in any capacity)–that my son is being brushed aside because his current school doesn’t want to accommodate his differences. His documented neurological disability.

It’s hard for me, in my sea of anger and overwhelm, to see the right path for Mikey. I don’t want to fight to keep him in a place that doesn’t want him simply because the law requires it and I *can* go to the mattresses to insist they do what is necessary. I also don’t want to send him to whatever the hell school they suggest without ever seeing it in session.

Our current plan is to send him to his current school for the start of the year, to gather data while Cody and I look at other schools. We’ll either find someplace to transfer him mid-year or else plan for him to begin anew as a first grader.

Or maybe, with our iron-clad IEP in place and the lowest level of special education support (which is, by the way 5 times more support than he currently gets at school)–maybe he’ll thrive where he is.

On deck (after visiting the Northside school) is an uncomfortable phone call with the principal where I request a new teacher for Mikey, too.

Mikey’s Thoughts on Sports

“I don’t understand why this game with a brown ball is called football if you mostly hold the ball in your hands.”

[discussing his gifted Ralph Lauren US Open hat] “I am NOT wearing a baseball hat. This is a horse hat. Baseball hats have capital P’s on them.”

“Daddy, why are you always watching baseball?” “Mikey, this is soccer. This is the first time I have ever turned on a soccer game. The United States is playing in something called the World Cup.” “I think those men all look very sweaty. They need to drink more water.”

“Why is everyone in our neighborhood playing sports at the playground? I want to ride the scooter on those fields and they are in my way.”

Different Speeds

It’s hard to know where to begin writing about a situation I’ve been dealing with at Mikey’s school. So instead, I’ll write about something with Alex that’s been frustrating us to no end: he’s pokey.

From the moment Mikey could walk, he ran. He ran away from us, fast and far and never stopped or looked back. A “walk” around the block with Mikey was a brisk jog. Other people had toddlers and complained about how they couldn’t go on hikes because it was painstakingly slow. How they couldn’t deal with walks around the block. We had no idea what they were talking about, because we were getting so much cardio in every time we opened the front door.

We took to having Mikey hold hands with another friend if we went somewhere like the zoo, so the friend would act like an anchor dragging him back as he tried to sprint on ahead. It actually ended up being like one of those resistance parachutes that runners use for drag when they’re sprint training.

Now, Alex is 2 and he moves at the pace of a bloated, dying snail. He’ll take a step, then squat to look for ants. Then he’ll take a step, then stop to talk about a bush. Then another step before he sees a bird. It takes an hour to walk to the stop sign and back. I can’t bear it. I truly can’t bear it. I’m a fast walker, impatient person.

I remember bemoaning how tired I always got chasing Mikey, but truly I’d prefer that to this Alex pace, which seems to be more typical toddler speed.

We tried taking a family hike on Saturday, and even Mikey (maybe especially Mikey) was perturbed by the slow pace. It was a half mile hike and it took over an hour to get to the waterfall payoff at the end. Eventually, we had Mikey and Alex hold hands, hoping Mikey would drag him to a faster speed.

It sort of worked. Not as well as picking Alex up to carry him, but he’s 2 and insists on “Me walk! I do it!” But, as always, it’s interesting and challenging for us to encounter a typical development milestone. We have no idea what to do with a typically developing child–just as we had no idea what to do with Mikey.

No matter how frustrating and unfamiliar it might be, though, it’s still loads easier figuring out Alex’s shizz than it was trying to learn what was going on with our first kiddo.