Feeling Stuck

November 30th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I’m fairly certain my kid’s teacher shouldn’t be teaching anymore. She’s phoning it in, in my humble opinion. She’s a strict-no-nonsense-my-way-or-the-highway-step-out-of-line-and-get-reprimanded kind of teacher. I’ve been in the classroom enough to know I don’t dig the way she talks to the kids. And I’ve heard enough from my son to know that she doesn’t treat him with respect. When you’re paying twenty grand a year for a private school education, you expect a little more. At least I do. At the very least, I expect the teachers to fully show up and be present. To model respect and compassion. To set the tone for the social and emotional vibe of the classroom.

When I realized this wasn’t what was actually going on in his first grade class, I attempted to talk with the primary head of school to share my concerns about teacher-student fit. But before I could  really get the conversation started, the dailogue shifted to how my son was starting to become a real “problem,” to use her word.

And now, several conferences and meetings with our family therapist later, we don’t seem to be in a better place. While we’ve been promised that the school is most interested in supporting our son, the reality is this teacher has made it clear she’s not interested in doing anything other than report in to me about what my son did that was disruptive on any given day.

Meanwhile, my son always has a different perspective on what went down. Sometimes it involves another child or children excluding or taunting him prior to the disruptive incident I heard about from the teacher, something that I’ve witnessed multiple times and have brought to the attention of the school but get the brush off every time. And other times it involves his teacher speaking to him in a way he finds rude and unkind and abrasive. Sometimes, like today, it’s both.

This morning after dropping my son off, another parent from the classroom pulled me aside and asked how things were going for my son this year. Not knowing the parent very well, I gave a vague answer, until she shared with me that her daughter, for the first time ever, has expressed not liking school. She thinks the teacher is mean, and doesn’t respond well to her teaching “style.” This parent shared this with me with a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, Oh well, it’s just a year…we’ll just have to get through it.

Well, I don’t want to just “get through it.” In my mind, it’s not okay for the year in the life of a child to be a wash, especially when you’re sending him to a school geared towards meeting his intellectual curiosity. In my mind, it’s not okay for a school to employ a teacher who other parents specifically requested their child not be placed with based on feedback from parents with older children at the school. In my mind, it’s not okay to focus all the energy on making my child’s behavior less disruptive rather than providing him with what he needs so he can thrive. In my mind, it’s not okay for a teacher to focus their correspondence on what your son is doing wrong rather than suggesting strategies that could actually support him. I mean, come on…isn’t meeting each child where they’re at and giving them what they need what being an educator is all about? What am I missing here?

But what to do? We already met with the head of school about what’s been going on with my son and the lack of support we were feeling and he listened and did his best to smooth things over, to assure us that they are interested in meeting our son’s needs. But as our son has been identified as a “problem kid,” surely my husband and I are “problem parents” by association. Who’s going to listen to us now? Who’s going to take our concerns about this teacher seriously and not brush it off as disgruntled parents trying to place the blame for their child’s behavior on someone else?

And so, I’m feeling stuck. I know that I’m not. I know that this is my mind telling me stories about what is and isn’t possible. But I haven’t figured out what those stories are yet. So for today, I feel stuck.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Fingers Crossed

November 28th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

My fingers are crossed.

The first day back at school after a 5-day weekend can be a bit dodgy, so as I gave my son a hug goodbye and walked out of his first grade classroom this morning, it was with a bit of trepidation. He wasn’t too psyched to be there in the first place…I could tell the moment I woke him up this morning that he was sad the long weekend, the one he’d looked forward to because of getting so much hanging-with-daddy time, was over. He gets these post-holiday blues after any long weekend or highly anticipated event, but the timing for this bout of school malaise couldn’t be worse.

To say things at my son’s school have not been going well would be a bit of an understatement. About a month ago we were told, in a not-so-compassionate way, that we should be exploring other school options for our son for next year. Though our son attends a private school that caters to highly gifted kids, it seems that they’re not so equipped, or at the very least, interested, in dealing with the other “exceptional” sides of my son. And whereas last year we felt supported by the school and his teacher and we finished the year feeling positive and confident and grateful we’d found such a great spot for our son, this year the story is different. This year, communication has broken down, positive discipline has been thrown out the window, and my son is floundering in a classroom where he’s struggling socially and the teacher frankly doesn’t have his back.

While my husband and I are starting the process of exploring other options for next year, I have it in my head that pulling my son out mid-year would be highly disruptive and possibly even traumatic for him. So although it’s become clear that the very pricey private school we’re sending our son to so he can have more support isn’t actually willing to put in any extra effort to make school be successful for him, my husband and I are trying to do it from home.

It’s not ideal. Ideally, school and home would be like church and state. Or Vegas. What happens at school is dealt with (in a positive, supportive way) at school and what happens at home is a whole other ball of wax. Instead, we’ve asked the teacher to let us know what the specific behaviors are that are creating the most disruption in the class, and we’ve put together a behavioral contract, complete with mini-daily rewards and a larger weekly reward, that my son has agreed to and signed. We’re hoping that these daily goals and reminders will improve the day-to-day for our son, the teacher, and the class enough so that we can finish out the year in a way that feels good for everyone.

I hate managing his school life though. I hate it because my son is already starting to identify as a “bad kid” because he gets in trouble at school so much for doing things like blurting something out while the teacher is talking, expressing his frustration about a game or other unpredictable activity that he doesn’t buy into, having trouble respecting other people’s personal space bubbles. He is asked to sit by himself, or even go outside in the hallway, a lot. And now home isn’t even a place to escape. It’s become another place where he is reminded that the way he behaves, the way he is, is different and needs work.

I hate that his school isn’t using the proactive problem solving tools we gave them, that they’re treating his disruptions like behavioral issues instead of remembering that he would do better if he could. And then here I am, reviewing his behavior contract at the breakfast table this morning, reminding him that he’s not to complain out loud if he thinks a task his teacher assigns is unappealing or boring, and practicing the strategies he can use in such a situation, like taking five slow, deep breaths or saying in his head, “I’m not really interested in this activity but that’s okay,” and then doing it anyway.

As I reminded my son of his goal for the day – to cooperatively participate in class work – I could see the wave of frustration wash over his face. He’s tired of hearing it. Tired of working so hard on these things. Tired of getting in trouble. I don’t blame him.

But still, my fingers are crossed.

Parents and Playdates

November 26th, 2011 § 2 Comments

Playdates can be complicated around here. For a couple of reasons.

First, there’s the whole issue of finding friends to have playdates with in the first place. Luckily, though my son doesn’t really read social cues, often takes the “my way or the highway” approach when it comes to the rules of play, and can be highly explosive if something upsets him, he still manages to have a few good friends. With that said, it’s recently become apparent to me that most kids his age get together with friends all the time. For us, playdates happen infrequently enough that they’re still kind of a big deal.

Then there’s the playdate venue, which, not surprisingly, is pretty much always at our house. It seems other parents are happy to have their child invited over to our house to play, but aren’t very interested in reciprocating. Since I know it’s an unspoken rule that once you have a child over for a playdate, let alone five, that child’s family would in turn have your child over, it’s painfully obvious to me what’s going on: most parents aren’t up for bringing my high-energy, unpredictable boy into their world. And I get it…I really do. When my son experiences something – be it glee, hilarity, excitement, or frustration – he feels and expresses every last drop. It can be pretty intense. But still, the lack of invites sucks. And sometimes I find myself watching friends and neighbors shuttle their kids off to various weekend playdates with envy, battling the part of me that wants to take this lack of interest in my son personally.

When we do have playdates, things often go very smoothly. There are two boys in particular who come over from time to time and everything is great. They might spend hours creating imaginary worlds and inventions with Legos while listening to books on tape, then shift gears to diving into an art project while munching on apples and Pirate Booty. Sometimes they even stay for dinner, which I love. It makes me feel like we’re just like any other normal family with a normal son who has normal friends.

Other times, playdates crash and burn. Sometimes my son gets super disregulated and just can’t get it together no matter how many times we pull him aside, ask him to take some deep breaths, and have him read by himself until he is ready to rejoin the play. There are friends who are okay with these playdate disruptions, but others ultimately come to the conclusion that hanging out with my son just isn’t all that fun. I see this realization come over their face as they watch my son throw an impromptu tantrum. It’s around this time that I either start playing with the other child while my husband manages our son, or, noticing the look of bored confusion on their face, I gently suggest we try the playdate another day, explaining that my son is having a tough time.

Today is a playdate day. And not just any playdate day. Today, the parents of a classmate at my son’s school – the only child he’s bonded with in his year-and-a-half there – have invited to bring my son along with them to a science center. They’re picking him up in two hours. And I’m feeling anxious, because I’m not sure what kind of day my son is having, whether or not he has his “bubbly head” feeling going on or if he’s in a go-with-the-flow kind of place. The other parents know my son well enough, but they haven’t seen him when he’s unglued or overstimulated. My hope is they won’t today either, but my fear is that if they do, they’ll join in the list of families who decide bringing my son into their worlds is too much effort.

But I’m going to be optimistic. Their little boy is also profoundly gifted and very unique, and my son is the first real friend this boy has made at school as well. So perhaps they’ll be a family that will realize what my son has to offer, and love him for the way he accepts their son exactly as he is. And maybe future playdates with this child won’t have to be complicated after all. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Self-Compassion

November 24th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Stumbled upon this short interview with Kristin Neff, Ph.D., an author, mother and professor at the University of Texas at Austin with a severely autistic son. I love what she has to say about the importance of self-compassion.

Bubbly Head

November 24th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And at our house, along with the traditional 15-pound turkey, we’ll be enjoying the usual side-dishes: mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cranberries, rolls, pumpkin pie, and disregulation.

From the moment he woke up today, anticipation of the arrival of his grandparents, who he only sees three or four times a year, put my son in an instant state of anxiety. If you were to ask him, he would say it’s a good kind of anxiousness…the kind that stems from pure excitement about what he knew was to come – the doting, the goofing around, the reading, the time spent showing Grandma his expertise at Angry Birds. I, on the other hand, would classify my son’s anxiety differently. Again…one word: disregulation. And today, all that anxiety-induced disregulated was squarely aimed at me.

In my world, this means I got to spend the day with my own 7-year-old version of an unstable armed nuclear missile. The most mundane comment or request could result in a meltdown, and did. Do you want to have peanut butter and banana or a turkey sandwich for lunch, sweetie? ARGH…NEITHER! Hey honey, I wanted to remind you that we’re heading out to go to the supermarket in about fifteen minutes. UGH…I AM NOT GOING ANYWHERE! Sweets, here’s the book you were reading, in case you want to read it while having your snack. THAT IS NOT THE BOOK I WAS READING!! Today, my son was about as flexible as a slab of titanium. And nothing was going to change that.

Then there’s the physical piece…the way my boy moved from one activity to the next could have be mistaken for a Tazmanian Devil impression. My son only had one speed today: FAST. And the quality of that speed? Out of control. Making sure he didn’t physically hurt himself became a top priority, something I hadn’t had to focus on in quite some time.

We managed to get through the day without any scratches or injuries, and spent a few hours with the grandparents before going to his 4 p.m. OT appointment. On our way home, I asked my son if he could feel in his body that his energy was different today than it was yesterday.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Do you know where you feel that different energy in your body? Is it in your head? Your stomach? Your fingers?”

He reflected. “It’s in my head. It’s the bubbly feeling in my head.”

“Well, it’s good to know that you can notice something different going on in your body, honey. That’s kind of like the way your body is giving you a clue that you need to slow your body down a bit, so you’re not as yelly and inflexible as you were today, you know?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“When I’m feeling anxious, I feel it it my stomach. And when I have that feeling in my stomach, I remember that it’s a clue my body is giving me that I need to slow my body and my brain down a bit. I like to take slow, deep breaths. That usually works for me. How about you? Do you have any ideas about the kinds of things you could do to help your body slow down and remind you to be more calm and flexible when you have the bubbly brain feeling?”

Silence. I let it go, not sure if I’d lost him to daydreaming out the window or if he was managing to read his book to the glow of the headlights from the car behind us. “I could go to a quiet room and read a book,” he finally said.

“Love that idea, sweetie. Absolutely, you could do that.” I paused for a second before continuing. “Maybe next time you have that bubbly head feeling you could give it a try…what do you say?”

“Okay,” he said. And with that, he was back in his book, the conversation over.

Breakthrough? I don’t know. Will tomorrow be any different? I don’t know that either. But I know that understanding what disregulation actually feels like is a good thing…it’s the first step to actually being able to proactively do something about it.

Luckily, as the grandparent visit is lasting four days, there will be plenty of opportunities to practice.

My Job

November 22nd, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Sometimes I feel like my new fulltime job is crafting email correspondence to fairly unhelpful school officials. Not really what I was thinking when I became a writer…

Good Surprises

November 21st, 2011 § Leave a Comment

I’m in disbelief at how smoothly, and I mean SMOOTHLY, this morning went. To be fair, mornings on school days are generally pretty decent. They’re not amazing, but they’re not terrible either. For the most part, they’re all about routine: cuddle time followed by reading and milk followed by getting dressed, brushing teeth, and eating breakfast, followed by shoes and coats on and out the door. All in all, it takes about an hour, and it’s full of predictable, loud gripes (usually about brushing teeth), two or so dozen reminders, countless repeated requests, out-of-control-full-body bounding down the stairs to get to the table, and the occasional “warning countdown” by dad (“You need to be getting your shoes on it 3-2-1“). But we’ve got it down, so it’s all good.

But today? No gripes. No reminders. No repeated requests. No bounding. No warnings.

Today? My son was all, “Thanks, mom” and doing what I asked after one request. The incomplete homework assignment was quickly finished, a full breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, shoes strapped on. When we arrived at school, the book he was reading was handed over as soon as the parking brake went on, complete with a pleasant, “Can you please mark the page, mom?”

As we walked towards the school entrance hand in hand, I thanked him for being so cooperative today, for making the morning so easy for me, especially since my husband is out of town and solo-parenting can leave me feeling especially stressed.

A chipper “You’re welcome” was all he said as he released his grip and bounded full-speed toward the front door. He turned back when he reached it, pulled it open, and waited for me.

I don’t know exactly what was responsible for this attitude, what had happened between the tantrum of last night and the peace of today. But I know enough not to waste time wondering why. All I need to do is notice and appreciate.

It’s going to be a good day.

Reminders

November 17th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

You know how some days you find yourself still stunned when your child says something completely not age-appropriate, like explaining to you why the discovery of quantum locking will enable cars to “fly” in the not-so-distant future? And then other days you find yourself equally stunned when this same child, the one who’s been fairly regulated for the past few weeks, reacts in a completely non age-appropriate way at the mere suggestion of something that isn’t to his or her liking? I had one of the latter days.

My husband is traveling this week and so I decided to treat both my son and me to our favorite dinner after his 4pm OT appointment: sushi. You know, a little mama-son date. I looked forward to having a chat about school, the upcoming weekend, our plans for Thanksgiving, and maybe even quantum locking if that’s what he wanted to talk about, while cozied up next to each other at the sushi bar. My image isn’t a complete stretch – some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with my boy have happened while splitting a Z Bar on a park bench or sitting in the corner table of our favorite gelato spot, relishing a scoop of salted caramel.

But when we got to the restaurant and grabbed our stools, it was clear the only thing on my son’s mind was devouring as many of the library books we’d picked up just before OT as possible. And even though that wasn’t what I’d had in mind, I let him grab a book and dive in while I sipped my soda water and nibbled on some edamame. No biggie. Hey, I was modeling flexibility, right?

Then about halfway through the meal, a group came and joined us at the bar, with a woman sitting right next to my son, who by this point had claimed some serious real estate. Between his bowl of rice, plate of edamame, sushi tray, bowl of soy sauce, water cup, napkin, chop sticks, and paperpack copy of The Amazing Adventures of Nate Banks: Secret Identity Crisis, he was definitely bleeding over into this woman’s zone. Since one of my son’s issues is respecting, noticing actually, other people’s personal space, I started reigning in his stuff as soon as the woman sat down, scooting dishes over, rearranging our plates and bowls to fit them in to area directly in front of us. I gently grabbed onto the book my son was holding, and said, “Sweets, let’s take a break from the book. There’s not enough room to read and eat right now.” Yesterday, I’m quite certain, this would have been no problem. My boy might have pushed back a bit, but he would have listened to reason and agreed that waiting to read for five minutes while we finished up our meal was a tolerable request. Today, things didn’t work out that well.

“Grrrrr….give me back my BOOK!” my son shouted, eyes closed, fists clenched, whole body involved in the protest.

Heads turned. The shaking and grumbling continued. “Argh… I just want to read…give it to me now!!” The woman next to him completely ignored the tantrum. Which I appreciated.

Once again, completely caught off guard (when will I ever get used to the unpredictability of his nature?), I hurriedly leaned into him and sternly and quietly said in his ear, “Stop yelling. Calm your body down now.” No change. “It is NOT okay to disturb everyone while they’re eating…lower your voice NOW.” The yelling subsided, but the closed eyes, clenched fists, and shaking continued. “Let it go RIGHT NOW or I’m not going to be able to bring you back to this restaurant for a LONG time.”

That got his attention, especially because we were at his favorite place. It got my attention too, because I realized I’d just used a threat to deal with my son, and that, I didn’t love. It’s not that I don’t believe in natural consequences as a method of discipline…I totally do. But this wasn’t that. And this also wasn’t the way I aspire to deal with my son’s outbursts – with calm empathy and a problem-solving openness. Rather, this was me trying to manage the situation because a) I didn’t want to disturb everyone in the restaurant, b) I didn’t want to deal with a lengthy angry outburst, and c) I was embarrassed, wondering what other people were thinking about me, about my boy, even though I am usually pretty good at not caring about what other people think. Maybe I was so frustrated because managing an angry boy wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I planned our dinner out. There would be no FB post tonight about what a “great date I had with my favorite little guy.”

All of these reasons for my reacting the way I did are true on some level. But there is one other reason that I know trumps them all. I’d forgotten, just for a little bit, that my son was as different as he was. For whatever reason, I forgot how angry he could get, how intense and out-of-the-norm his reactions can be. I maybe even started believing that he’s really just like every other tired kid, a little loose around the edges when the witching hour draws near. And so those in-the-moment reminders, the ones that bring me back to the reality that my kid is, and always will be, different, can be especially tough.

My son eventually took some slow deep breaths with me and decided he could wait five minutes until he went back to his book. We finished up our meal, paid the check, and headed home. There, the next battle involving an unpopular homework assignment, a piece of Halloween candy, and a broken promise would take place. The same kind of battle between kids and parents that I’m sure happens at kitchen tables across the country.

Maybe life in my house isn’t so different after all?

The Beginning

November 16th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

The last time I experienced this dark-hole-in-my-stomach feeling for any significant length of time was fifteen years ago, when my then-fiance dumped me mere months before our wedding. It was a constant presence – the slight nausea, the sleepless nights, the perpetual swirl of thoughts and feelings and anxiety moving from my head, down to my toes, and back again.

That’s how I’m feeling again. Have been for the past two-and-a-half weeks, ever since our son’s private elementary school started letting us know in a not-so-gentle-way that our son’s behavior in the classroom was beyond disruptive. Last week we were told to start looking for other schools for the next academic year. This week we’re wondering if we can wait that long to get him out. Right at this very moment? I’m having a bit of a freakout.

I’m not going to write the whole story now. That’s what this blog will be for. Because I have to share. I have to have an outlet for what we as a family are going through. Because having a twice exceptional son is both incredibly wondrous and incredibly challenging. And because I know we’re not alone.

I’m going to keep this blog anonymous, not because I want to hide what we’re experiencing (believe you me, I’m an open book, almost to a fault), but because it feels like the right thing to do for my son.

So here’s what you need to know about me: I am happily married, live on the west coast, and together my husband and I have one exceptionally gifted, quirky, intense seven-year-old son. I work from home fulltime and am incredibly good at taking care of myself. I like Twizzlers and Woody Allen movies. I believe in openness and truth-telling. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that things are unfolding perfectly for our whole family. But knowing that doesn’t mean the bumps are easy to get through.

I want to write about our family’s journey so I have a place to process, vent, and muse out loud. More than anything, I hope this blog can be a place where parents of twice-exceptional kids can connect, commiserate, share, and commune. Because, the way I see it, we’re all in this together.

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