Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not like my daughter

My husband recently got a new job, which is really great. However, it's a big change for a family that was structured around keeping one parent home at all times. That's why for years my husband had no job, or a nights and weekends job, while I worked days. But now the kids are older and an opportunity popped up, and now for the first time in seven years my husband and I will both have a day job. There's been a lot of scrambling over the past week and a half to find a new car (when someone's always home, it's easy enough to share one vehicle), get pre-employment stuff completed, and work out all the details of a new job. But the biggest deal by far was finding daycare for our toddler and after-school care for our older kids.

Last week I was at my kids' school signing them up for after-school camp. I gave the camp director my registration form and she looked at it and said, "Oh, you're signing up P and E! You know, E is SO GOOD! SO different from P!"

My stomach dropped. My daughter E is a very compliant child at school, that's true. She loves her teacher. Actually, no...P loved that teacher back when he had her. E would crawl across a desert of broken glass for that teacher. And when you love a teacher that much, you want nothing more than to make her proud, which means being very good, even when the camp director is subbing for your teacher.

P has trouble controlling his emotions. He has outbursts. He doesn't hit, or kick, or even call names. But it's not normal for a seven-year-old to wail and dissolve into a puddle of tears when he can't find his lunch bag in the cafeteria, or when he gets an extra worksheet packet in class. In his school, where so many kids are so very much alike, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

I blinked at the camp director and then said, "Wow, burn," with an uncomfortable laugh. Did she realize what she'd just said? I wanted to give her some space to backpedal.

"Oh, I sub in the classrooms sometimes. I've known them since they were..." She held her hand about three feet off the ground. "And E is always very good."

"Huh," I said. I could feel tears prick the backs of my eyes.

"But today...P was good too. I was subbing in his class and he was very good. No crying, no fussing. I even said to him, ''re so good today.'"

I was torn. I wanted nothing more than to verbally assault her. Truss her up in her own statements and squeeze her. Trap her and badger her until she admitted that maybe the problem was, at least in part, her own perceptions of my son.

But she's the camp director. And we need a place for our kids to go after school. And, at least for now, we can't afford an in-home nanny who could watch our toddler and pick the kids up after school. And we don't have family or friends nearby who could go get our kids at 2:30 and watch them.

And so I sighed. Partially because I couldn't fight for him. And partially because apparently my son is just "the bad kid." A conclusion so obvious and an assumption so widely held in that school that people assume that even his own mother would know it's true and not blink at having it pointed out.

My head says that might not be completely true. But my emotions aren't listening.

Tomorrow is the enrollment period for next year. We're going to enroll both of our older kids in a new school. Lately I had been wavering but this conversation made it a lot easier. Good-bye, neighborhood school. Sorry it didn't work out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


In my personal life I'm just my kids' mom. But in my professional life, I work in special education. A lot of times I work with staff members who really want to build good relationships with parents. But I'm ashamed to admit that there were times where one of my colleagues would sigh and say, "Jeez, that mom. Trying another quack remedy just because she read something on Facebook about someone using it.." And someone else would chime in, "Sad," and someone else would add, "Well, wouldn't you, if it was your kid? It would be hard to give up that hope." Since having kids of my own, I'm often voice #3. There are some practices* that I'll berate anyone for even suggesting, but most of the time I felt kind of sorry for the parents who were trying this therapy or that supplement. I figured they must simply be in denial and I pitied them. I cringe now, thinking about how condescending and superior we sometimes sounded.

I was thinking about this as I was reading an internet forum where parents were discussing anxiety in children, and a lot of people were giving their kids magnesium supplements. I did a quick Google search and couldn't find a whole lot of hard data on the effects of magnesium on anyone's mental health, let alone find guidelines for its use with kids. And yet, parent after parent was chiming in, talking about how great their child was doing with magnesium supplements. And I began to think to myself, Maybe I should try it. Maybe not the high-dosage supplements, but maybe some Epsom salts in the kids' baths. They say you can absorb magnesium through the skin if you do that. It might take the edge off for all three of them. 

I was surprised at my own willingness to consider it. It's exactly the type of thing my colleagues and I would rake a parent over the coals for. Her son is clearly disabled, and all she's doing is throwing Epsom salts in his bath? Seriously? Like that will make a difference. So why was I willing to grasp at this straw?

I think that a big part of it is that the advice was coming from a community that was welcoming to me and my son. In the schools all too often we come from the deficit angle. Your child is behind. His behavior is atypical. It's interfering with the other kids' learning. Our other students don't act that way. Do you really think he'll be able to go through life like this? We're so desperate for parents to see the need for help that we beat them over the head with it. The problem is, though, that when someone tells you that your kid isn't awesome it's easy to want to fight back, to show them exactly how great your child is.

These communities, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. Your child is fascinating! He has so many strengths! He reminds me so much of my daughter, except my daughter had terrible struggles with behavior...oh, your son too? Isn't it HARD? Well, this therapy helped and now she feels so much better. Maybe it would help your son too...  The high regard for your child, the care and concern, are hard to resist. Instead of tearing your kid down, they just want them to to be the best they can be.

It's a minor difference in approach but a major difference to a sensitive parent. As an educator I always have my students' best interest at heart. I always want them to be the best they can be, so they can share themselves with the world. But I think that I wasn't always the best at communicating that with families.

At this point I feel like I should say something like, "And by the same token, I should understand that when my son's school expresses concerns, it's coming from a better place than it sounds like"...but I can't. I just can't. If I have an entire conversation with you and you have nothing, nothing nice to say about my child I can't turn around and say nice things about you.

I think right now all I can do is pay it forward with the families I work with and hope that educational karma comes back to help my kids out sometime before high school graduation.

* Facilitated communication, I'm looking at you.

Monday, January 18, 2016


In my spare time I like to sew. Quilting is my favorite. I have a sewing space set up in my basement, and covering up a set of shelves filled with holiday decorations and camping gear is a flannel-backed design wall. I put up quilt blocks that are in progress so I can see how the quilt is shaping up. This is how it looks right now:

These weren't meant to be quilt blocks. I had taken one of my sewing machines to the local Maker Faire the past fall to demonstrate how to sew things using antique treadle sewing machines. I was making these blocks just out of scraps to show how the machines worked. However, they seemed so happy and colorful that I couldn't throw them away, so I'm going to make more and turn them into a quilt. It's wonky and haphazard, but it's also colorful and exuberant. The quilt will be a happy mess.

I have these up on my design wall because I'm in the middle of another, less-fun quilt for my nephew. I hate this quilt. It's boring to put together, boring to look at, exactly what my sister wants but nothing like what I usually do. It's work. But I put these up on the wall to remind myself that when I'm done with her quilt I can go back to creating my beautiful chaos. This design wall is motivation.

I'm doing the same thing with my kids' school year. We're at the halfway point. I remind myself we're in the downhill. And when I drop them off every day and feel a lump in my throat and the tightening of anxiety in my chest, I think about summer. I look at which museums we'll buy memberships for. I peruse the reciprocal museums that will let us in with a membership to our local museum, museums that are only a day-trip away. I think about the county and state parks we'll go to, the walks to the library with a stroll around the duck pond after. When we're done with the school year we can get to creating our happy mess of a summer.

This is my motivation.