Thursday, February 27, 2014

So Much Better

"Mom," N called this morning from the bottom of the stairs, where our dining table is, up to my room, where I was getting dressed, "why is it that I'm getting so much better grades in middle school than I was in NameofElementarySchool?"

"Well," I said, wanting to address important questions in the moment, and yet reallyREALLY not wanting to have an 'important' conversation screaming from room to room, "I think it's because your teachers this year are so much better at teaching YOU, instead of just being good at teaching everyone."

He started to harrumph a little, because he loved several of his teachers from grade school, and rightfully doesn't like to hear anything that sounds negative about them. But it's hard to explain yourself while trying to put on a bra, so I mostly stumbled/screamed (to be heard)/muttered (so as not to be heard too well since what I was saying made no sense) through a vague explanation of how there are fewer kids in his class now, and the teachers are really great at teaching, and and and…

"But I was in RSP in NameofElementarySchool," he countered.

"Yes, but…" I really could not imagine how I was going to talk to him about the difference between the one-on-one remediation he was getting before, and how we thought that was the best thing for him, but now we're seeing that being taught at grade level, as part of a class, with his accommodations addressed right alongside the teaching rather than during a second pull-out session, really works better for him.

Luckily, he'd moved on.

"Will I be in special ed in eighth grade, too?"

Scrrrreeeeeeeeeeech. I came to a dead stop. But not for the reasons you may be thinking. Not because I think special ed is a bad thing, or that I want him out. Oh, no. To the contrary.

"I think so, kiddo," I said. "Right now, that's what Mr. T and the rest of your teachers think will work best for you. But if you don't agree, I'd love to hear about it."

No response. He took his plate to the sink and began talking to Baroy about somethingorother about golf or computers or Idon'tknowwhat.

But I stood there, despite running perpetually behind in the mornings, for at least 30 seconds, brow furrowed, wondering.

Because, you see, he'd said "special ed."

He's never said "special ed."

He used to get pulled out for RSP, and it was called that, so he knows that name, but he just thought of it as a place he went to get away from the chaos of the gen ed classroom. Where the ladies who fawned over him were. Where the kids who didn't bully him hung out. He always saw it as a good thing, but not…as special ed. So I don't know where that came from. Possibly, likely, from overhearing me talk with Baroy. Or maybe in school, hearing teachers talk to one another. Or maybe from one of his classmates. Or maybe from some kids in the non-sped classes, though deargodIhopenot.

He didn't say anything pejorative. It was just…not a word, and not a concept, that I'd ever thought he'd internalized. More to the point, he's been actively resistant to any conversation that suggests he's "special." So to hear this…to realize he DOES know what kind of program he's in…is interesting to me. More interesting would be to know what he THINKS about that.

And so when we got into the car to head over to the school (a two-minute drive from our house, mind you…three with local traffic), I tried to ask him a little more about it. And he looked out the window and changed the subject to Back to School night tonight, and how his friend C from Religious School, who's in sixth grade, might come, and could he show her his classrooms, and next year when we see them on the first day of school could we all walk around together? And...

Ah, there you go. Back to being N. Who is, really and truly, doing so much better this year than any before, in so many ways. Special ed for the win.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Valentine Pushover

Cards from my funny, funny, Ravens-obsessed Valentine.
At about 8:45 last night, N came into the kitchen, breathless.

"Is the store closed?"

"What store?"

"The one where I can buy Jolly Ranchers."

"That would be the supermarket. It doesn't close until midnight or later."

"I really want to buy Jolly Ranchers for my friends. To give out to all my friends tomorrow, at school. Is it too late?"

If you're a special needs parent, you know what happened next. Even though it was 15 minutes before he should be getting into pjs and ready for bed, even though this kind of last-minute request from Em would have made me scoff and dismiss her with a "you need to plan better," even though I was dead on my feet from a long-ass week full of deadlines and stress and work and more stress…I picked up my bag (no coat needed, even well after dark, in LA this week), put on my flip flops, and told him to get his wallet. He skipped off to this room, clearly relieved, very excited, and chattered all the way to the store about who he wanted to give how many Jolly Ranchers too (his art and English teachers are in for a treat!), then debated the various-sized bags. ("I don't know if there's enough in here. I have a lot of people to give them to." Swoon.)

There are times when charges are leveled at me--sometimes by others, often by myself--that I am too easy on N, too willing to roll over to give him what he wants, too coddling; that I don't let him learn the hard lessons, or that I favor him over Em. But, really, I know that's not true. I'm a subscriber to the parenting dictum of giving a kid what he or she needs, not just what the other kid gets. N *needs* to be able to do nice things for other people when he thinks of them, and if heading to the supermarket late the night before Valentine's Day is needed to make that happen for him, so be it. Em? Does not. She has 16 billion friends (almost literally) and has the whole give-and-take of relationship building down pat. So had she asked me to drop everything just minutes before bedtime, I'd have said no, and considered it a lesson in planning ahead. Because that would have been what SHE needed.

And besides, I did make him pay for the Jolly Ranchers. And then he made a sad face when I wouldn't let him pay for the chocolate milk we got him for his lunches at the same time. Because he loves being generous, buying things for other people. He just doesn't get a lot of chance to do it, and doesn't always think of it on his own. When he does? Well, I'm going to roll right over. I'm that kind of mom, I guess. And proud of it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Statements of Heartbreaking Fact

A friend of ours, A, has come to visit, while she helps care for a sick friend of hers whose apartment is too small for her to stay in.

She hasn't lived nearby in close to a decade; N doesn't really know her.

For his birthday (this is related, I promise), N asked for an got a manual typewriter. He thinks it's the coolest thing; his favorite thing to do with it is to type sentences and then ask someone to come type something back to him. It's like Primitive Instant Messaging.

This was his back-and-forth with A last night. Clearly, N is all about the honesty.

N: How are you doing today!!!!!!
A: I am fine. I am so happy to be here with you.
N: I like that you are here with us. First I didn't want you here, but now I like you here.
A: I am glad to hear that. Sometimes when you meet someone in person, it makes everything better.
N: I really like you a lot. I hope we become very best friends. From N Middlename Lastname.
A: I know we will get along famously!

This morning, they resumed.

N: I like you very much and I wish you can stay here for ever.
A: I really love it here. It is warm and sunny. Right now it is rather cold in my town, in Colorado. The dogs slept with me last night and it felt so cozy!
N: Do you like our home and dogs and do you really like me a lot…
A: I really do like your home and dogs. And I really really like you a lot. I wish my son was with me so he could meet you. I think you would get along well.
N: I don't think your son and I would get along, because I am afraid of meeting new people.
A: I think after you met him, you would change your mind. It is scary to meet new people.

When I read N's last line, my heart broke. Just a little. Because…how could it not? But I was also really proud of him, for being aware enough, for putting it out there, for owning his feelings. That's not an easy thing, for any of us.


There's been a lot of that sort of thing lately, actually. Recently, we started listening to an audiobook together during our drives to and from religious school twice a week. I chose Wonder, by RJ Palacio, to start us off; it's about a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to a mainstream school for the first time in his life and is worried about it, and how he learns not so much to fit in, but how to stand out.

Near the very beginning of the book, the main character--Auggie--introduces himself, saying that he feels like an ordinary kid, even though he knows that "ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds."

"Yes, they do," N says, quietly, not entirely to me, maybe not at all to me.

I pause the audiobook.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"You know," he says, already uncomfortable. "Ordinary people DO have people running away from them. Like how the kids at my old school used to say I had cooties, and then run away from me. Like MAX." His voice grows nasal, disdainful, his eyes rolling. He's just mimicking, though. He would give anything for Max to like him. He'd give anything for all of them to like him. He loves being liked. It's another of those autism myths that are so far from the truth it's ludicrous.

"Do you really think of yourself as ordinary?" I ask.

He shoots me a look. Of course he does. It's what he wants to think. I can't get him to see that ordinary isn't so great; ordinary isn't the goal. Not at all. Not even close.

"I don't think of you as ordinary," I say. "I think of you as EXTRAordinary. As special. In the best way possible."

N wasn't having any of it. "Can we just listen some more now?" I look for the please, shy smile, but he's not there. He wasn't smiling or proud. He was just done with the conversation.

And so I turned the book back on, and we listened some more, and I wondered once again just how he sees himself. And how long it'll be before he really starts to believe me when I say he's special in all the best possible ways.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Other Teenagers

N in his adaptive swimming class, learning to float.
It came out of nowhere.

"Mom, would you just put me to bed tonight, but not lay down with me?"

"Sure, kiddo," I said, but I frowned a little. Normally, I'd be thrilled. Lying down with N is lovely and sweet and a great way to connect and often the only chance I get to hear his random thoughts and read with him from whichever Percy Jackson book we're up to, but more often than not I end up falling asleep there during these every-other-night lie-downs, and all my plans for the rest of the evening go out the window.

So, yeah, normally I'd be thrilled. But not this time. Because this wasn't the first time he'd made an excuse recently for not having me lie down with him. In fact, I realized in the moment, I hadn't laid down with him since his 13th birthday in late January.

And so as I leaned over to kiss his forehead, I jokingly said, "Too old to have your mama lie down with you, huh?"

"Yep," he said, grinning. "You know, I'm a teenager now. I don't want the other teenagers to find out that my MOM lies down with me at night."

"Well, we don't have to TELL them," I replied, smiling too, thinking, he cares what the other teenagers would think?

"But what if I get carried away one day, on Facebook, and I write about it," he replied. "It would be too embarrassing!"

I didn't point out that he's only been on Facebook since the day of his birthday--which is why I can no longer tell these stories there--nor that I monitor his account and his friends and there isn't a single teenager-who-could-judge among them. Nor did I ask him how exactly he thought he would "get carried away" and reveal the info.

Instead, I simply kissed him again, adding a little not-so-fake sobbing into his hair (and prompting an exasperated but very pleased, "Moooooommmm!"), turned out the light, and let my boy nod off on his own. Teenagers need their sleep, after all.