Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tween Girls and TMI

Fun at the water park this summer.  
You wouldn't believe the time we had finding a 
modest bathing suit for her that didn't look like 
it belonged on a senior citizen.

The Princess is a tween.  Oh.  My. Goodness. is she a tween!  Swinging wildly between girly and mature, horses and school friend drama, and all that goes with being a tween.  Only, I don't remember my tween years having such an awful case of TMI.  I mean, am I getting old (don't answer that!), or have things in our children's lives become so ADULT that it's hard to keep our kids, kids until they're ready to deal with grown-up stuff?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the Princess is smart.  Well, no, she'd be the first, I'll have to be second.  Anyhow, she's one sharp kid.  Thankfully she's got a fair amount of common sense (which I'll also admit is an on-again, off-again thing at this age, but she does pretty well with it more often than not).  She's tall for her age, and a young lady that's already getting more looks from guys than I'm comfortable with.  She's not even 12 yet!  But I started trying to jerk-proof her early, as in discussing the things she heard in school and saw on TV and YouTube, and talking about relationships as the topic arose.  I mean, for Pete's sake, kids talk about "dating" in third grade now.  Really?  I mean, REALLY?

Anyhow, even with the preemptive idiot-proofing, even with talking about the ups and downs of physical changes and emotional changes and becoming a young lady, even though I'm pretty laid-back and not easily embarrassed or flapped, she still occasionally floors me with the questions she asks.  Like yesterday, when she asked me a question while we were in the car waiting for her brother to finish his fitness class.

"What is bestiality?"

WHAT the HECK is my 11 year old daughter asking me this question for?  I asked her where she'd heard the word, to buy myself a couple moments thinking space.  She said she heard it at school.

Speechless.  I'm just speechless what my kids are hearing from other kids, who heard it from older kids, siblings, parents, TV shows, and the internet.  Gobsmacked might be closer to my reaction.

So I gave her the simplest definition of the word (because I do NOT want her "friends" explaining it to her).  To say the least, she was grossed out.  (Thank goodness!)  And I hope I never have to go there again.

But now I'm freshly appalled at the things our children (CHILDREN, not young adults, not teens, CHILDREN) are being exposed to, despite the best efforts of many parents to keep them a little innocent a little longer.  When did it become acceptable to expose our kids to such filth and depravity as a rite of "growing up"?  When did so many parents stop keeping an eye on what their kids watch, and who they hang out with, and where they go?  I didn't have THAT sheltered a childhood, and I still didn't know what the F word was until sixth grade.

I'm grieving my daughter's innocence, which is being taken from her bit by bit by forces outside my control.  I've told her to guard her heart and her mind, and be careful what she watches, and she knows that I'm paying attention to what she's doing online and on TV.  I have asked her to stop watching certain things, change the channel, and move on, and I explain why I ask her to do that.  Why certain shows are just too disrespectful or rude or suggestive, why certain comedy routines have funny bits but you have to wade through a cesspool to find the comedy diamonds and it's not worth it.

I hate having to explain things to my beautiful girl that she shouldn't have to hear or think about or deal with yet.

But I'll keep trying to protect her.  That's what I'm here for.  Because I love her, and I want her to know she's worth far more than what the world would sell her for.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Letter

Here's the letter I sent to Safety Guy's teachers and counselors at school yesterday.  I omitted a paragraph of personal information, and changed the names - otherwise, the letter is as I sent it.


To the staff at C---------CSD who will be working with my son, 

I can hardly believe SG is going to be a freshman this year. I wish he were more excited about the transition to high school, and it's true he is a little bit excited. But he's also very anxious and even fearful about returning to the classroom next week. I wish this weren't the case, but it's true.

Eighth grade was very difficult for SG, especially during the spring semester. He experienced a lot of verbal bullying last year from a handful of his classmates (resource and regular, 7th and 8th graders), which increased in intensity as the school year went on. A couple weeks before school ended he was assaulted in the hallway by another student (XX) who punched SG in the head. SG suffered a mild concussion. My husband and I reported the assault to the police, and XX has avoided SG since then, except for flipping him off once or twice when he's seen him at the pool over the summer. SG is justifiably uncomfortable to be in the classroom with XX again this year, and I'm asking you to please keep an eye on their interactions when they do share a class.

Many times during the year, almost daily, SG was called “gay,” “fat,” “retard,” “stupid,” “weak,” “wimp,” “soft,” and other similar insults. He was mocked for his weight, among other things. These insults were done during unstructured time, hallway transitions, and during lunch, and even very quietly during class when the teachers were busy with other students. The antagonizing was often subtle and covert, until SG would lose his temper.

SG did his best to ignore the insults, and sometimes he could brush them off and move on, but sometimes he would reach his limit and react loudly, yelling at the other students. His overreaction seemed to be the goal of the other students, who would get him upset then be amused when he'd get in trouble for yelling or swearing at them. At times he would also swear at his teachers when they tried to intervene or divert him or the other students with whom he was angry. He would always apologize and feel badly for acting out at adults after he calmed down, but the damage was done, and by losing his temper and swearing in class he put the teachers in a position where they had to give him a detention for his public outburst and offensive language. In the second half of last year he had more write-ups and detentions and suspensions than his previous 2 ½ years in public school combined, and then some. We had several meetings with his teachers and with Mr. G, Mrs. J, Mr. F, and Mr. L to try to address this issue, but the fact was that no matter how hard SG tried to mind his behavior (and he did try, beyond what most kids with Aspergers can handle), the other students continued their bullying behavior. Not enough changed from the other students, and then SG was assaulted at the very end of the year.

SG now feels that the school will do little or nothing to keep him safe, and that school is not a place where he will be allowed to learn in peace. He's a struggling student in math and science, and needs all the help he can get. Last year his grades bottomed out as his stress level peaked, in spite of intervention at school and at home, and counseling both at school and individually outside of school. He became inconsistent at turning in work, depressed, and angry, and felt that he'd gotten into such a deep hole that he'd never be able to climb out again, so why try? He gave up. Over the summer he confessed to us that he'd felt suicidal in the spring, but didn't tell anyone.

SG also started antagonizing some of the other students back, to avoid being seen as weak (one of their taunts). He figured he would strike first, and get the upper hand. That never worked in his favor either. Discipline at school and at home did little to curb his growing urge to lash out at the students he thought had bullied him. I'm very concerned about this negative cycle in his life. His emotional maturity is delayed due to his Asperger Syndrome, and it's taking him longer to internalize the self-control that will allow him to make better decisions when he's upset. It's as if he's almost 15 years old chronologically, he looks 17 or 18 physically, and he acts 11 or 12 emotionally. It's not a good combination. He needs consistent, step-by-step help with being able to recognize his own emotions and modify his behavior or choose to leave a situation before things get to the explosion point.

SG needs continued help to manage his emotions and reactions to negative situations in school. He knows the steps he can take to defuse situations or report teasing or bullying, but he often forgets to implement these steps in the heat of the moment. Mrs. J has done a wonderful job working with SG to self-monitor and find better ways to deal with his emotions than acting out verbally, including peer mediation with his classmate CC, with whom he has had many difficulties. (SG and CC often get on each others' nerves because they've known each other for a few years, have been friends in the past, and are very much alike in personality and stress points.) SG has recently stated to me that he'd like to patch up his relationship with CC so they can help each other and stand up for each other, instead of working against each other. I hope the two of them can work on this goal and become friends again.

This seems like a whole lot of negatives to start my introduction of my son to you, but it's necessary if you're going to understand some of the peer relationships and interactions you're likely to see with SG in class. My hope is that having more staff working with him will allow more eyes to be on the peer interactions, so that bullying issues can be nipped in the bud before they become serious. I don't want SG to disrupt your classes by his own behavior, but I also don't want him to be goaded into doing so due to covert peer bullying. We all agree that school should be a safe environment for our students. It was not always that way for SG last year. I sincerely hope that this year is much better for him.

I know you've read SG's IEP by now and understand the basics of his needs – his executive function issues, his need for help being organized, his math learning disability, his social/emotional immaturity, his perseveration on topics of interest to him, and his distractibility. I know you'll address those needs with skill and dedication. I don't need to rehash them here.

What I want you to know about my son is that he's a really neat young man. He loves all sorts of music, collects vintage video games, and is crazy about cars. He likes to study public safety, fire alarms, auto crash tests, shipwrecks, and natural disasters. He hopes to work in criminal justice someday, and will be going to BOCES in a couple years to give it a try. He has a sharp sense of humor (including word-play), and loves good old-fashioned slapstick comedy (ask him about Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd, or the Three Stooges). He enjoys working with younger kids, and helps in our church's toddler nursery. He's gentle and kind with kids with disabilities, and volunteers to work with a younger kid with severe classic autism at church (with adult supervision), and he makes time to play with our neighbor's young son who has Down Syndrome when he and his father walk over to use our old swing set. He's discovered that he likes to write, and this summer has been working on a screenplay for a crime drama. SG is interested in business, and wants to give the Future Business Leaders of America club a try. SG has a great memory for detail and trivia for subjects he's interested in. He enjoys studying history, but isn't much into reading fiction - he prefers to read for information, not pleasure. He's interested in forensics, and loves watching cop shows and true crime dramatizations. He's been taking a fitness class since the spring, with TC of NBC Gym. He enjoys being helpful and he likes routine. He collects Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, and has a pet guinea pig named Flash. He's a gentle giant.

I hope this letter will give you some insight into SG's life. He wants to succeed. He wants to get better grades, pass everything, and move on in life. He's motivated to do well in school to have privileges like attending school dances, going to after-school clubs, and eventually having his own car on campus. It's easy for him to get into a negative emotional cycle, but sometimes he can just as easily be distracted from the downward spin.

A few last-minute suggestions:

It would be good if he could be reminded to take advantage of being allowed to go to the Guidance Office if he needs a cooling-off period during the day, or to chat with his counselor for a few minutes, if he can recognize he needs that space BEFORE he loses his cool.

Music is an excellent reward for his good choices – he uses his iPod to listen to music to calm himself all the time. Ask him about Jazz sometime.

He might also benefit from having lunch in the library, since I know Mrs. S has in the past let a limited number of students who need the quiet to do that. The cafeteria is auditory and social torture for SG.

Large study halls can also pose the same social/auditory issues as the cafeteria for SG, unless the teacher has a strict quiet study hall policy. If the study hall he is in is too noisy/crowded, please encourage him to find a teacher with a resource period he can take advantage of.

SG and I have discussed his academics, and he realizes that he needs to stay after for 10th period 3-4 days per week, for help with homework and projects. Most days I will pick him up from that (unless he rode his bike), since he views riding the late bus as a punishment and a trial.

SG has also expressed an interest in learning about lighting/sound board for drama club. That may be another good outlet for him as an extracurricular activity.

SG can be a bit of a daydreamer, and is easily distracted from the task at hand. He'll be more focused if he's not near a window or at the back of the classroom.

Thank you for taking the time to read this – I appreciate your hard work with our students, and I know you want SG to succeed almost as much as his father and I do. If you have ANY questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to call or email me or my husband. Also, if I'm subbing that day, you can catch me at school. Our contact information is below.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Shall I Put This?

Safety Guy at Darien Lake on his favorite ride - bumper cars.

It's almost time for school to start, and each year since Safety Guy has gone back to public school (this will start his fourth year back after being home schooled K-5) I write a letter to his new teachers.  I introduce my son, and give some details about his strengths, needs, quirks, hot buttons, and interests. He may be going into high school now (eeek!), but I think this year's letter will be more important than all the others combined.

Those of you who have been with me for a while will remember what a choice slice of hell last spring was for Safety Guy at school:  bullying and academic stress, and ending the year with a physical assault, which gave him a mild concussion.  Can you blame him for being anxious about going back to school this fall?  I sure don't, and I can't give him any firm assurance that the bullying won't continue.  Our school has a big problem with bullying.  So, the letter. . . .

Somehow this letter has to be hopeful but firm, clear but detailed, and positive but including the expectation that what happened last spring WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.  I know all but one of his teachers coming up this year (the one I don't know is a new hire).  I like and respect all of them; there's not a poor teacher in the bunch, and many I would unreservedly call excellent educators.  But, and here's the big BUT, Safety Guy will still be grouped with many of the students who tormented him last year.  He'll have more teachers this year (four subject-specific resource teachers, instead of one resource teacher across four subjects), which means more eyes on potential problem situations.  I am hanging a lot of hope on these teachers nipping bullying in the bud, and sitting on potential problem situations.  

And, I include Safety Guy in the equation, since he has his own heaping helping of teen attitude, and a huge knee-jerk over-reaction to bullying now.  After being teased about being "weak" and a "wimp" last year, he decided it was better to get his verbal licks in first, rather than wait for the bullies to get up a head of steam.  Now he sometimes instigates too, which needs to be addressed.  Also, when he's stressed or upset or angry, he will lash out verbally, and not just at peers.  Swearing at teachers is a great way to get a one-way pass to the office, and makes him look like he's in the wrong even if he was bullied into losing his cool.  He had more behavioral issues last spring than the past 2 1/2 years of his public school education combined.

Our school is also going through some big changes:  new vice principal over the summer, new principal starting at the end of September, and staff being moved around within the school.  On top of this, there's supposed to be a new behavior plan for the school to address the chronic bullying.  I hope it's effective, but I'll believe it when I see it in action.  And I will, soon, both as a parent, and as a substitute teacher.

I have to write this letter, you see, to introduce my son to people who know me but don't know him, who don't know the misery he endured last year, who don't know his hopes and fears, his strengths and weaknesses, his quirks and obsessions, his brilliant sense of humor or his unique powers of observation.  I want them to know that I love my son, and that I will fight tooth and nail to prevent him from being hurt in school again.  I understand where the school is coming from on behavior management, and legal issues, and parent relations.  And the cold bottom line is that I'm a parent first, and a teacher at the school second, and I'll be a pain in the butt as much as I have to in order to help Safety Guy have a successful, safe freshman year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Something Old

Last weekend I enjoyed spending a few hours at the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show, a week-long event that is the biggest outdoors antique show I've ever seen.  I only saw about 1/5 of it, it was so huge.  It was advertised to have 2000 vendors, and I believe it.  It was massive!  Acres of tents and tables, trailers and paths, portapotties and parking, businesses and casual sellers, true antiques, collectibles, and a surprisingly low junk quotient.  Lots of friendly people, good food, and bargaining.

I love antique malls, flea markets, and stuff like that.  I rarely buy anything, although I always am on the lookout for a few special things I might spring for if the price is right and my budget permits.  Mostly, the joy is in the looking, and in talking to the vendors.  

A train set/amusement park, amazingly detailed.

It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not too humid, warm but not stifling hot.  The only downside was my rampaging allergies (I'm allergic to pollen, molds and dust, so antiquing outdoors in farm country pushed all of my allergy buttons at once).  I still really enjoyed myself.

The view from the back of the fair - the wind farm and the dairy farm, 
a typical sight up here in CNY.

This show had EVERYTHING you could imagine, from furniture to collectibles, from art pottery to old tools, from dolls to antique cars, from books to folk art.  It was wonderful, a real treat to just wander and enjoy browsing.  Some smart people who attended were pulling little two-wheeled shopping carts to hold their purchases, or large tote bags.  I didn't buy much (amber/silver earrings, and a paperback), so I didn't need a tote, but you can be sure next year I'll bring one, just in case.  Next year I'd like to spend more time there.  The show goes for an entire week, so I'd like to go on a couple different days.  Three hours on my feet on hard-packed dry ground didn't make my back happy, so I quit before I knew I'd hate myself the next day.  Next year.  Next year.

An old Ford racing car.

Anyhow, it was fun, and relaxing, to have a day to myself.  I need to plan times like that more often, now that the kids are older.  Time to take care of myself.  Time to do things I enjoy.  Time to make sure I get some mental space.  And that cannot wait until next year. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Organization Bug

This has been "the summer of getting organized" around here.  I go through this once or twice a year, where the need to change one thing cascades into a series of "clean it out, spruce it up, or toss it" projects.  I like it when others in the house get the bug too, because then we're all working together, instead of Mom having a bee in her britches about getting the house clean and organized.

This summer's reorganizing has been pretty extensive, even by my standards.  But it feels good to deep clean and sort out stuff.  All three bedrooms are finally excavated and tidy.  The dining room/office is clean.  I touched up the wall paint in several rooms, and repainted a number of downstairs baseboards and windowsills.  The basement is tidiER (a total tidy on that's still on the "to do" list for the fall). We had a garage sale, and donated a bunch of stuff.  Last week we cleaned the Princess' room, and moved the caged pets around so that Cookie (her guinea pig) is upstairs and Norbert (her bearded dragon lizard) is downstairs.

The big victory this week was helping Safety Guy get his room cleaned.  He's a pack rat, and doesn't like to part with anything.  Rather than fight with him constantly earlier this year when he was so stressed, I waited for him to initiate a total clean-out.  That took a looooong time, but finally last weekend he said he'd had enough of the clutter and dust and wanted to make his room a place he could have friends come to hang out.  

Hallelujah!  (And if there wasn't rejoicing in heaven, there was at least happiness and a "strike while the iron is hot" jump by this Mom.)

And I'm happy because HE initiated the process.  HE got tired of the mess, HE was embarrassed, and HE wanted to make a change.  That's HUGE.  But he needed me to help him push the process through. Cleaning is something he does in short bursts, and is easily distracted from.  (SQUIRREL!!)  Also, he has limited tolerance for other people being in his room and "messing with" his stuff.  So I had to approach this as a collaboration, push him just a little past his usual boundaries to finish discrete chunks of the project, and then push him to get back to it after each break.  (Otherwise he'd work for 15 minutes, and take a four hour break.)

Now he has more floor space.  (Heck, now he has a floor!)  We removed an old desk he didn't use, and he bought a cheap TV at the Salvation Army to put in his room just for his vintage video games.  (No cable, no video, just for the games.)  He is so happy to have his games upstairs, and to have space to spread out.  It's the little things like this that I hope help decrease his anxiety.  I hope this gives him more peace of mind when he's home, since I knew the disarray in his room was bugging him, but he didn't want to do anything about it.  I want to help him come up with a weekly cleaning checklist for his room to help him keep up on his own with his stuff.  Life skills, ADLs, self-help skills, whatever you call them - it's a process.

I'm sure the urge to purge stuff from the house will come around again.  For the moment, it feels good to have made some serious progress.  Now, about that pile of laundry. . . .

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Make the Best of It

I wish our whole summer had been this relaxing!

It's been a summer of changes around here.  Generally, I'm not that enamored of change - I like predictability, and stability.  I like roots, traditions, and the comfort of the everyday.  I'm not comfortable with rapid or drastic change, both of which have been a part of our lives recently.  I'm learning to roll with the changes, and I'm trying to make the best of them.

I guess that's been my mantra for most of my adult life:  "Make the best of it."  Whatever it is, find the good in it, or make good out of it.  If I don't look for the best, I won't find it, so I have to at least try.  Everything happens for a purpose. ("And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  Romans 8:28)  So here I am again, trying to make lemonade out of lemons, and trusting the Lord for the sugar to do so.

I'm still job hunting.  I'm still employed as a sub in our local district, and school starts here in a few weeks or so, but sooner rather than later I need a real, permanent, insurance-bearing, retirement-funding kind of job.  I've sent a handful of applications out, but this is the summer doldrums - most schools have already hired for the year, and office staff and school boards in NY are on vacation now.  There is likely to be a flurry of last-minute jobs posted right before school starts, from sudden retirements or illnesses or whatever, so I may score one of those, but at this point the odds are I'll be subbing and hoping for a mid-year opening locally.  If nothing comes along locally (i.e. within a half hour or so drive of our house), I'll look farther afield, knowing that that might involve a move immediately or later on, which is a whole other world of change I'm not eager to embrace again, but I will if I have to.

I'll make the best of it.

The kids are discombobulated with the changes in our household.  Safety Guy is angry, but doesn't want to talk about it with me.  He at least will talk to his counselor.  SG is also anxious about returning to school, and I can't blame him after how last year ended.  He did get his fall schedule a few days ago, and I know all but one of the teachers (the new resource teacher).  I think one class has the potential to be an issue, but I'm hoping for the best.  SG's best friend has moved to another district, and that's sad for both SG and E.  Hopefully we can get the guys together occasionally, and there's always FB and their cell phones.  The Princess also doesn't want to talk much about the changes, but she's had a busy summer and seems to be rolling with the ups and downs a little more easily than her brother.  The idea of leaving her stable bothers her as much as the possibility of leaving her two best friends.

Neither kid likes the idea of a move, but I've been honest with them - where we live a year from now depends totally on where I can get a permanent job.  I don't want a move to be a surprise.  I have to prepare them as best I can ahead of time, and they're not little kids any more, like they were with the last move.  Life is full of changes.

They also need to learn to make the best of the circumstances they find themselves in.

Safety Guy is a "glass half empty" kind of guy.  Making the best of things doesn't come naturally to him, but he's slowly learning.  His sister is the mistress of the quick retort and the last word, which isn't any more helpful.  I need to make some big posters to put in the house:  

"If you can't make a situation BETTER, at least don't make it WORSE."  

Or, "YOU are responsible for YOU."  

Or, "Don't complain about it if you're not willing to help make it better."  

Or, "Be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Or, "BE KIND.  If it isn't kind or appropriate, keep your mouth shut!"

Anyhow, we're making the best of it as we go.  And who can do more than that?