Tuesday, July 22, 2014


At the Tower of London, June 2014
Last night, we watched the Wiggles on YouTube. An entire episode. N made the dogs dance to "Fruit Salad" (yummy yummy). We did the motions to "Hot Potato." When it was over, N said, "Awww. I wish we had time for another one. But we can watch more tomorrow, right?"

N is 13. Thirteen and a half, this weekend. Going into eighth grade, next month.

I wonder, sometimes, if this is the wrong thing to do, to indulge these moments. They're frequent. They're often what we do together, when it's just the two of us. We watch Dragon Tales. We watch Curious George. We watch Blues Clues. We read Go Dog Go. (We play Go Fish, and War, and Nok Hockey, or we play frisbee in the park. It's not all passive. Just had to say that, even though it's not relevant here!)

The Wiggles is new (again; he was a huge fan as a preschooler), but it's just another Dragon Tales, just another Curious George.

Each time, I wonder: Should he realize that this is 'baby stuff'? That this is young? He doesn't seem to. Does he realize that there are some--though I'm not really among them--who would think this is inappropriately young? If I say something, if I make sure he would know not to suggest this kind of viewing in front of his peers--dear god, please not in front of his peers, the few who are still with him, most having outstripped him, many starting to peel away from him--won't I make him feel ashamed? I don't want him to feel ashamed at feeling joy. But I also don't want him to walk out in front of the bus that is middle-school social life without shouting a warning to him, either.

Not to mention the constant reminders I get from the 'experts' that I need not to hold him back, maturity-wise. He still sucks his thumb (as I did, right up to this age, so I know the comfort therein, as well as the oddness of keeping up that comfort at this age), and I fight to not make that an issue, because there are things more harmful, I believe. And yet they tell me that it will taint the way other see him, that it makes him a target for bullying and, more subtly, it makes it harder for other kids to connect to him or want to connect to him, if they see him as younger, as a baby. That I need to realize that he's 13, and needs to learn how to take care of himself. He's still not comfortable turning on or taking a shower by himself; he worries when asked to cut his own meat with a sharp knife. I tend not to even think before I do these things for him. I need to think. Especially about the shower and the knife. I need to make those things easier for him to take on by himself, to support him without carrying him.

But the Wiggles? Are they a comfort I should allow him? Or are they a dull knife that I'm handing him, making it difficult for him to get through a meal without assistance?

Then, there's the flip side.

My son loves guns. It's a subject I try not to talk about much, because if there's anything that brings out the hidden judgment of other parents, it's boys who love guns. Still, he does. He owns every model of Nerf he can possibly get his hands on. He has marshmallow guns, rubber-band guns, water guns, cap guns. He literally dreams of an AirSoft gun and/or a BB gun. (And I squash those dreams; not at my house. Not with a kid whose impulse control is less than perfect.)

He decides which movies to watch with his dad based on whether or not the movie will have guns in it. Top Gun? It has guns in the NAME, duh. James Bond? Oh, yeah. Die Hard? EVEN BETTER. Bring it on. The more bad guys that go down--and the more spectacularly they do so--the better. There is almost nothing in this genre he won't watch, and he and his father are twins in this, loving the time together seeing movies I don't even want to hear the names of.

Keep in mind that this is the kid who got nervous last night when the Wiggles heard a growling noise and went out into the night to investigate with Wags the Dog, only to (spoiler alert) realize it was Jeff's tummy growling, a noise that was squelched when they gave him an apple to eat.

"This is making me scared," he said at first, starting to turn away from the screen.

"Phew," he said, when the mystery was solved.

But entire office buildings full of people going up in flames after a series of explosions? He's glued to the screen.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except that these different sides of my boy lead to an extreme case of whiplash.

I guess I'm just trying to play all of this out. I have to let him grow up. I have to, in some cases, push him out of his comfort zone, out of the nest, even if it makes me uncomfortable.

But I also want to--have to--accept him. Celebrate who he is. I don't want him to ever feel ashamed to be N, in all his remarkable N-ness. I want him to know how spectacular he is, and to just be ever so much MORE himself. The Nerf guns are part of that, for sure. The whole lust for a feeling of control over the world around him makes sense, and if a bunch of soft darts give him that, I can deal (though I constantly, relentlessly tell him why I hate guns, never so much more than right now).

So where are the Wiggles in all this? Are they the comfort zone, the nest? Or are they part of his N-ness? Do I push him past them, or do I celebrate the part of him that still loves them?

To Wiggle, or not to Wiggle? That is the question.

Friday, July 11, 2014


N skipping a stone across a small river in the Yorkshire Dales during our recent trip to England and Scotland.
On Monday, I got a call from N's middle school. They wanted to tell me about a program he's eligible for, one where he would be one of two or three special ed kids in a regular gen ed classroom (with a 'consulting' special ed teacher and a classroom aide) for one of the four academic periods he was in a special ed classroom for last year.

It's optional, they said. But then they said this: We're doing this because this is the model they use at the high school, and we need to move toward it.

Shit. That's what I was afraid of.

Seventh grade was exceptional for my kid. After seven years (K-6) in a general education classroom with varying amounts of support and pullouts, he was over the whole inclusion thing. Last year, he was in classes of 12 (with one class of 16) with a trained sped teacher in each one, plus one or more aides. He thrived. It wasn't perfect, but he thrived. He still got lower-than-I-think-he's-capable-of grades (Bs and Cs, mostly, with an A in math the first semester), but had certain test scores and--more importantly--an ability to recall what he was learning and to work independently that were remarkable.

After thinking the program over a bit and talking with Baroy and N, I wrote the following email to the school. I'm proud of it, mostly because I didn't just go gentle into that inclusive night…though that's ultimately where we wound up. I said what I needed to say. I'd like to think that they not only read it, but that they forwarded it to the sped coordinator for the district. Maybe *I* will forward it to her.

The email started with a paragraph about why we weren't giving them an answer when I said we would, which was because N said he wanted to talk to his favorite teacher, the one whose class he won't be in if we do this program (but who will be the consulting teacher in that case). I said that I was actually thrilled about that, because, "if there's anything that's even more important to my husband and I than our son's education, it's giving him the ability to speak up and advocate for himself." And then I wrote this:
All of that said, I do want to go on record as saying that I think that the consult model is a terrible direction to go in--or, rather, to have as the only option for a kid like N--and even moreso at the high school level. Inclusion/a chance to be with his "peers" may be a much-ballyhooed concept, but in reality, the one thing I've learned these past four or five years is that my son's true peers are the kids who are like him, the kids he can relate to--i.e., the kids in his RSP classes. What the district is talking about when they say peers is N's grade-mates. Nothing more. 
I attribute the success N had in seventh grade--or, I should say, successES--entirely to his feeling safe and supported and accepted for who he is, rather than mocked and bullied and physically pushed around. The RSP program, to me, is the best kind of inclusion; that sense of safety and support are what we're after for N, and that is what we got last year. I'm willing to give this new model a try in eighth grade, mostly so that I can determine if OurHighSchool will be an appropriate placement for N in the end, something I hadn't realized I might have to worry about. But having done gen ed from kindergarten through sixth grade with N, I have to say that I'm highly skeptical about his ability to learn in a general education environment, with all the social and attentional demands it places on him, and the enormous developmental gap between him and the other children in the class. 
I realize that none of this larger-issue stuff is in your hands, nor is it your decision. But I wouldn't have felt right not stating it for the record. Your RSP program--and its teachers--are wonderful. I hope this new program will be able to measure up.
I did get a response, in case you're wondering, thanking me for my "candidness and honesty." And the assistant principal I sent the note to made a point of stopping N on the playground at snack that day and answering all his questions; he then decided he didn't need to talk to Mr. T, and gave me the go-ahead to sign him up for the program.

Really, I'm doing this for the reason stated above: I want to be sure that this is something that CAN work for N. He desperately wants to go to OurHighSchool, where there will be kids he's known all his life, plus several of Em's friends who are a year behind her, who've promised to watch out for him. But if this is the best they can do for special ed--shoving him in a general education classroom with people making sure his accommodations are being met…but not necessarily making sure he's TAUGHT IN A WAY THAT ACTUALLY REACHES HIM--then I don't know whether that's going to happen.

We'll see. As I said, I'm skeptical.

And, also, frustrated. There must be people for whom inclusion is important, for whom inclusion works. But ohdeargod, not my kid. I want him included, of course. I want him included in the learning that goes on at school. I want him included in the opportunities for growth and development. Last year? He was, for the first time in a long time. Their plan? Is more likely to move those things out of his reach than to make them ever more possible. But I'm keeping my mind open. Because, hey. Maybe everything is different now. Maybe the other little shits his peers won't pull his chair out from under him, or refuse to take a pen from him because it has "N cooties." Maybe they won't taunt him when he exhibits behaviors that are, let's say, young for a boy his age. Maybe they'll try to connect with him rather than ignoring him when they're not mocking him. And, more to the point, maybe he'll now be able to listen to a lesson in a room of 30+ kids, rather than spending all the time trying not to be seen, worrying that he'll be called on, trying to block out the shuffling and snuffling noises, trying to figure out what page they're on, find his pencil, put the right heading on his paper, keep up. Maybe he won't be completely shut down by trying to control all the input and the stress. Maybe some small amount of information will leak in along with all the rest of that stuff. Maybe.

Did I mention that I'm skeptical? And looking for a good special ed advocate, in case I need to find a different high school for him in the next year? Because I am. Though I'd hoped I wouldn't have to.