Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tired of the Darned Dinos Yet?

Just one more update. It's a good one!

From N's teacher:
He did it! He read to me this morning and decided to read to the class after recess. When that time came he didn't want to do it, he hid in the closet, crouched down, etc. so rather than negotiate I asked someone to guess what N's dinosaur was. When R guessed t-rex, N stood up, put down his paper and said, "yes!" So I asked N to tell R one fact about the t-rex, he did. Then N called on different students and read to each one of them a new fact. It wasn't exactly the way we envisioned it, but it worked and he was very comfortable with it. It also made him stick with the schedule and didn't allow for the schedule to be postponed over and over as has happened before. He was able to be diverted from his anxiety quickly and didn't need to get the other students involved (as he did with the poetry practice trying to get the class to cheer him on, only to not follow through) which is a good improvement. He didn't want to take questions but told the class they could ask him later if they had any questions about his dinorama.
First of all, isn't his teacher awesome? I love her.

Second of all, I do realize that hiding in a closet isn't "typical" behavior, and that yeah, that probably means there's still a ways to go. But it's a shorter way than it was yesterday, so I'm choosing to consider it a victory. A triumph, even.

Either way, there's definitely a Like It size ice-cream in my child's near future. Maybe even a Love It.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dinorama (Now with Updates!)

If I tried to explain to you just how much trouble this little dinorama project (Get it? A diorama about dinosaurs? Dinorama?) turned out to be--not in the making, mind you, but in the final hour--I would probably get teary and cranky and angry, and I'd end up going on for way too long and I'd miss picking N up at his OT appointment, which would be extremely ironic, considering how the reason for my teariness and crankiness and anger would be the same reasons he's at the OT appointment in the first place.

In short, let's just say there was an oral report portion of this project, to be read in front of the class today.

In short, let's just say that someone whose name begins with N apparently was unwilling to do that portion of the report.

In short, let's also say that N's parents are, um, somewhat in disagreement with how to handle this whole issue.

I've decided that I, like my son, have special needs. My special need is that I need a special needs guru to tell me what to do in situations like this. But if I can't have that, I need a blunt object with which to bludgeon my husband until he agrees with my way of thinking about how to deal with these issues. (Kidding! Kidding! I swear!) [Edited to add: I can't figure out how to strikethrough, so that will have to suffice as a way to indicate that maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting a little, and maybe, just maybe, Baroy was on board with me and I just was too edgy to listen well enough to realize it. Maybe. Just maybe.]

I am tired, though. And this day is way too far from over.

[Edited to add, again: So there was a discussion about how to handle this with N's OT yesterday afternoon, in which I came out looking like I actually knew what I was talking about, thanks to some Twitter-coaching from some very smart ladies. And so, last night we videotaped N reading his report; we told him that it was so that he can see how good he is at reading aloud, and maybe it won't seem so scary to him. But, also, it's so that if the rest of our plan fails, we can always just send a DVD to school that the teacher can play for the class...a way to make sure he fulfills the assignment without totally freaking him out.

The rest of the plan involves having him read his report to his teacher during some "alone time" during recess or lunch, and then--and he agreed to this with his OT--reading one or two sentences of his report, while sitting at his desk if necessary rather than standing up in front of the class, which everyone agrees can be scary.

I emailed this plan to his teacher last night, and she's on board; not only that, but her reply made it clear that she not only 'gets' him, she really and truly cares about him:
N was so calm about the report; there were no discussions or early negotiations like we had with the poetry in December so I didn't even think to talk to him before hand about reading his report to the class. When I did call on him he calmly said he didn't think he wanted to and that was that. It was the end of the day and I told him we would talk tomorrow. So in the morning I will have him read it to me and we'll work through OT's recommendations. If they don't work, then send in the DVD. But it was nice to not have it consume him all day long the way the poetry practices did.
I love that woman.]

Friday, April 24, 2009

All the Reasons

Here's why I haven't been blogging:

1. A freelance deadline that I've pushed about three miles past its breaking point.
2. Utter, deep-bone exhaustion from umpteen nights in a row up past 1 am trying to figure out how to make this freelance piece 'work.'
3. Even more utter, even more deep-bone exhausion from umpteen nights in a row tossing and turning between 1 and 3 am, convinced that I'll never be able to write anything decent again.
4. N's OT appointment Monday, Religious School for both kids Tuesday, chairing the committee that was responsible for the school science fair Wednesday (it went well).
5. A call from the kids' school this morning that N was in the nurse's office after vomiting three times and needed to be picked up. (Ya think?)
6. General uselessness.

I'll be back when I become more...useful.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Family Day

Last week was Spring Break, and I'd taken a few days off to do some work, but also so that we could get in a Family Day. And yes, those capitals are there for a reason: It was significant.

I mean, it's not like we never do fun things, or go anywhere as a family. But it's rare that we do something fun, go somewhere as a family...ALL BY OURSELVES. Usually, there are friends along. Usually, in fact, there are three other families's worth of friends along. And that's awesome. But every now and then, you need a Family Day.

Our Family Day was a trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be. Baroy'd never been there; neither had the kids. The last time I'd been there it was the early 1990s, and I'd recently done an article on their condor recovery program for ABigScienceMagazine. We took a staff trip there, and got special tours and such...but I'd never really seen it on my own time and on my own dime.

And while it ate up a LOT of dimes, we really did have a great time. As I said to Baroy, it's the zoo experience, without most of the zoo guilt. (There are still some animals in small enclosures, but even they're there because they're somehow part of a breeding or conservation program.) And to watch a whole group (or tower, as Google tells me) of giraffes loping off into the sunset across an impressively expansive field...I literally had tears in my eyes. Baroy fell in love with the cheetahs, and Em fell in love with the cheetah baby in the nursery, not to mention the elephant baby who kept rubbing himself against his mommy's legs. And N...well, N loved it all. Especially the gift shop.

I can't wait for the next Family Day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Hard Being a Jew

...just ask N, who came to me on Monday, on day 5 of Passover, and simply wailed, "I really, really, really need some Goldfish! I can't wait any more. I NEED Goldfish!"

(Anyone know of a good Goldfish-related 12-step program?)

For the record: I let him go into the off-limits-during-Passover closet and take some Goldfish. (Clearly, we fall waaaaay south of orthodox in our handling of the holiday.) "It's between you and God," I said. "You do what feels right for you; I do what feels right for me."

"God won't mind," he replied confidently. He considered that statement for a moment, then added, "But if he gets mad at me, I don't care."

Apparently someone wasn't listening during the recitation of the Ten Plagues. Because, when I was his age? I'd pretty much decided it wasn't worth testing the whole 'wrath of God' thing somewhere around locusts. Or maybe boils.

Those Goldfish must have some pretty powerful mojo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Step Away

Sometimes I do a good job at this parenting thing. Sometimes I suck. And sometimes, I take a 'good' moment and turn it into a suck moment simply by not being able to keep my mouth shut.

Take this morning, for instance. Let me set the scene: The kids are on spring break this week. Last week, I had a conversation with Em's teacher over some unfinished homework due to Passover seder observance, which I promised she would finish over break. He noted that he wasn't concerned about her missing one or two homework assignments; instead, he would prefer her to take home her in-class math workbook and 'catch up' on the stuff she hasn't finished in class.

"She works slowly," he said. "And she's distractable. And that means her workbook's a bit of a mess. If you guys could take care of that over break, that would more than make up for missing homework."

And so, when she came home from school on Friday, we had a talk about the workbook. I told her that it was her responsibility to 'clean it up' by doing missing assignments and fixing things she'd done wrong. I told her that she would probably be happier if she would do a little bit every day, so that it wouldn't end up eating up a whole day of her break near the end. But, I stressed, it was up to her. She's a sixth grader, and she's going to middle school next year, and she needs to be responsible for her own work. If she didn't do what she needed to do, she'd suffer the consequences.

She nodded gravely...then went off to one sleepover after another after another.

So, this morning, with her latest sleepover friend by her side, I asked her if she'd even cracked open the book yet. "No," she answered cheerily, "but I'm definitely going to do some of it today."

Don't say anything, I warned myself. She needs to learn responsibility on her own.

I couldn't do it.

"I just want to make something clear," I said. "I mentioned that if you didn't do your work in time you'd suffer the consequences. I should probably tell you what those are. If, by the end of break, you have not done what you needed to do, you will be full-out grounded for a whole week. Understand?"

She nodded. "I said I'm going to do some of it today," she said. "And I will. It'll get done in time."

Still, I couldn't leave well enough alone. When she called me an hour ago to tell me about something completely unrelated, I asked her if she'd done any math. "Not yet," she said, and I could tell she was gritting her teeth.

Again, my inner voice warned, Shut up. There are six days left in her break. Who cares if she leaves it for a couple more days? And besides, she can't learn if you don't let her succeed or fail on her own.

And again, my inner idiot refused to listen to my inner voice. "Well, if you don't find the time to pick up that book for at least ten or fifteen minutes today, no more sleepovers this week. I mean it."

Sigh. Even I was annoyed with me after that one. Big time parenting fail.

When will I learn? When will I stop expecting my kid to see the OBVIOUS wisdom of my words and fall IMMEDIATELY into line and do EVERYTHING exactly the way I would want her to do it? Am I the only one who finds it this hard to lay down the law...and then step away from it?

And on that disgusted note, some completely unrelated photos of my Jewish children on an Easter egg hunt. (N is the boy in the red shorts; Em's the blonde in the tie-dye.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I have this long, introspective, self-indulgent, half-written-and-unlikely-to-ever-be-finished post in my queue. It's all about Autism Awareness Month (my friend Kristen's post is the best thing I've seen written on the subject, bar none, so that's where I'm sending you), and how the only thing that I'm aware of is how neither N nor I really fit in: How we're betwixt and between the world of the spectrum, which (from this side of the fence) looks and feels like an incredible community of men and women and their children, all unbelievably connected and supportive of one another and always THERE for each other...and the world of the neurotypical (or whatever you want to call it), which (from this side of the fence) looks and feels like...well, like the world where people don't spend half their days obsessing about IEPs and services and looking around trying to figure out what the problem is in the first place so they can fix it.

And then there's us...separated from the neurotypical gang on their side of the fence by social skills groups and speech therapy and whatever else is on the horizon, and yet separated from the special needs gang on their side of the fence by not having a name, a tag, a label, by not qualifying for help from the Regional Center (and thus unable to join in on the special events/classes/camps/nights out for spectrum kids that the nice parents from the social skills group keep inviting us to), possibly by being just neurotypical enough not to be special.

(And no, I have no idea how it is that I'm on neither side of the fence, and yet I'm talking about the view from my side of the fence. Don't bother me with logic right now. I'm wallowing!)

(And yes, I do perhaps see where my son gets his social-isolation issues from. I'm wallowing, but I'm not stupid.)

And then my little, quirky, can't-quite-label-him guy delivers an unintentional punch to my gut, and I realize that no matter where we actually are in this world of needs both special and mundane, no matter what we're calling what these differences are, we're almost there...there being the kind of awareness I've been afraid of for a long time. And I realize I don't really want to talk about that other stuff any more. I just want to tell you what he said, and how sad it made me. And so I'm telling you.

It started with an email from Baroy yesterday, while I was at work:
N just broke my heart. We're doing his homework, making sentences out of his vocabulary words, and we came to the word "many." N suggests, "I have many friends." Then he says to me, "I don't really have many friends. But I can use the sentence anyway, right?"

When I got home from work that evening, N asked me--as he always does--if I wanted him to read his homework to me. When he got to the sentence in question, he read, "I have many friends," and then, sotto voce, "Except really I don't."


Before I could say anything, Em stepped in, having overheard the exchange. "N!" she exclaimed. "That's not true. You have LOTS of friends!" And she began ticking off names. And although he corrected her on a number of them (she was being overzealous, listing the names of her friends, the older brothers and sisters of a number of his friends), he did end up grinning.

"See?" I said. "Em's right. Even if you don't count J and G and R, you still have lots of friends. MANY friends, even."

He admitted that maybe we were right. And yet, he knows he's right, too, our protests to the contrary. He knows that the playdates are few and far between, and seem fewer and further in comparison to his sister's nonstop social whirl. He knows that there's been not a single birthday party invitation from his class at school. He knows that he sometimes gets terrified and unable to cope when other kids are around...often even when they're other kids he likes. He knows how hard it all sometimes is for him. It's his life, after all, and he's living it. He knows. He's perfectly, heartbreakingly, aware.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Little Literalist

At Religious School on Sunday, the kids did an art project, each making a pair of painted, stained-glass-looking glasses--one each for Elijah and Miriam--for the upcoming seders. The kids who can write in Hebrew wrote those names on the glasses; the rest simply drew flowers and other decorations.

Because it's such a small school, the children all sit around a couple of tables when they do their projects. Apparently S, one of the girls in Em's class--who, it's important to note, has a younger sister named Miriam in N's class--jokingly announced, "I'm writing my sister's name on one of these glasses! That way she'll know it's for her!"

N then chimed in. "I'm gonna do the same thing." It wasn't until he'd completed his masterpiece and proudly presented it to Em that anyone realized "the same thing" wasn't writing Miriam's name on the glass...It was writing his sister's name on the glass.

When his mistake was pointed out to him, he became embarrassed; just because he doesn't always understand word-play jokes, he definitely knows when the joke is on him. When I arrived to pick them up at the end of the day and heard the story, it once again broke my more-or-less-perpetually-shattered heart. I told him to pay no attention; I told him that *I* thought it was a lovely thought, and a beautiful glass, and it would have a prominent place on our table during Passover dinner.

And thus it came to pass that Em officially joined the pantheon of prophets and matriarchs whom we will honor with a ceremonial glass of wine at our seder.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rock On!

To say that Em had regrets about what transpired--or, rather, what did not transpire (see point #6)--last year at our Shabbaton/family camp/retreat/call-it-what-you-will is to understate the point. And I mean waaaaay under. So far under that state that you'd probably hit magma.

And so, before heading off on this year's adventure, there was a lot of processing of last year's experience. There was also a lot of setting of goals regarding said rock wall, and what she would and would not expect of herself. And there was a lot of worrying that, when toehold came to fingerhold, those goals would fly right out the window.

Which is why, as we stood in front of The Wall that Saturday morning, I upped the ante.

"If you go up as high as you said you would," I told Em, looking her in her nervously shifting eyes, "I'll give it a try, too."

My fear of heights is almost as notorious as my fear of having to take the inside seat in a restaurant booth. (What? I'm claustrophobic. About specific things. All I can say is, you never know when you might get permanently trapped by the juke box in some Greek diner in NYC. And so I make sure that simply can not happen. Stop looking at me like that.) Em knows that simply having to climb up to the second step on a stepladder is enough to make me tremble visibly. So she also knew that for me to make this offer was BIG.

"Wait a minute," she said. "Are you saying this because you don't think I can do it? Or are you really willing to go up there?"

"Try me," I said.

And so, after a pep talk from the awesome woman who runs the ropes course and rock-climbing wall at the camp, she tried me. Boy did she try me.

See where her head is in the photo above? Her goal was to get some part of her body to pass the line just above her head.

And the photo above here? Is where she reached her goal. It's also where I started hyperventilating.

Yeah, I'd say she reached her goal. And so it was my turn. The photographs are courtesy of Em, who didn't stop grinning the entire time I climbed. Of course, that wasn't very hard. If I was on that wall for 30 seconds, that was a lot. And I mean it. It was A LOT.

I don't actually look like I'm about to vomit, right? Yeah, I'm impressed with me, too.

My left foot isn't actually on the ground in the photo above...but it's close.

I've made it up another, oh, six inches here. Go me!

See how far above my head Em's 'goal line' is? It's not going to get much closer to me than this.

Aaaaaand...That's it. That's as high as I could force myself to go. But probably three times as high as I've ever voluntarily climbed on anything ever in my entire life.

For the record, both Em and N were very proud of me. Although I will say there was more than just a note of condescension in Em's voice when she said, "You did really well...for you. You should be proud of yourself just for getting up there."

But I wasn't. I was much too busy being proud of her. As, I suspect, was she.