Thursday, May 28, 2009

First Grade Music Program

You are looking at a picture of the first grade music program at my son's school. The songs were all about gardening, and the principal came out in between songs to weave it all into a storyline with a bit of dialogue. Each class was dressed for their part as either farmers, weeds, birds, or flowers, and the stage was decorated with flowers each child had made. It was quite a production!

Max's home room is a K-2 Functional Skills classroom, but he joins one of the regular 1st grade classes for "Specials" (Art, Gym, Library, and Music) once a week. So for this night, Max was not a Special Ed kid; he was simply a Special Music kid. He was just another 1st grader.

It's hard to put into words just how beautiful it was to see him up there with all of the others, fully participating in this special event.

I suppose I should clarify that statement. He didn't fully participate in the literal sense. He actually did more of the choreography at home (and in the rehearsals, I'm told) than he did on stage that night. He mostly just stood quietly during the program.

Nevertheless, I still consider his performance a big success! Because in a stage full of 1st graders, there are many who are restless & wiggling, distracted by the crowd (or their neighbor), letting their hands & eyes wander, "singing" with unmoving mouths -- and I'm telling you, he fit right in!

No. Actually, he did better than fit right in: he stood there the entire time, calm and mature 100% appropriate. And while I would have loved to see him really swing those arms and dance a wee bit more, we were just as proud as could be.

Here's the one to watch.

This video shows a clip of Max's class (the farmers) doing their Hoe Down song & dance. I giggled -- and discreetly wiped tears -- throughout. It was fabulous.

Max was proud, too -- he clapped & clapped after each song, and when the program ended, he was full of grins and hugs and posing for pictures.

Max & his dancing partner.

Max & his biggest fans -- his classroom aide and teacher.

Max & a friend posed for pictures...and then admired their handsome selves on the preview screen.

Way to go, Max! You did it! (High fives all around!)

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Friday, May 22, 2009

School's Out!

(Ooo, icy treats!)

Today was the last day of school. Max's bus driver had a big hug for him when she dropped him off today, along with popsicles for all the kids.

Max's teacher sent home some parting gifts as well, including these wacky glasses. (Remember last year's pair?)


I'm ready to be done with the early morning rush and think Max is getting pretty tired in general -- he could use a few extra minutes of sleep each morning. But I think we're both gonna miss the structure those days provide for him.

And the meals! Oh, those lovely school lunches...I will miss them greatly. (If you have a kid who is a messy and distractable eater, and then throw in a few sensory issues on top of that, you know exactly what I mean.)

The end of school always brings with it a sense of satisfaction for me. We completed another year in the journey. Max successfully navigated the 1st grade classroom system, another set of skills has been gained, and progress continues.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can Anybody Else Hear That Ticking Sound?

Tick - Tock. Tick - Tock. TICK. TOCK. TICK!! TOCK!!

Can anybody else hear that ticking sound, or is it just me? Today is the last full day of school before summer vacation begins. I really think the second hand of the countdown clock is even louder for me than it is for the kids.

Am I the only parent who is NOT ready for school to end? Am I the only one who visibly cringes at the thought of those lazy days of summer stretched endlessly before me?

No time to dwell -- (I can hardly hear myself think, anyway) -- the ticking's getting louder even as I type!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sibling Issues Strike Again: It's True, Life IS Unfair. (Now What?)

In my post about the school picnic, I said I reached a new level of acceptance regarding the expectations I have when taking Max to activities or events. What I didn't mention was the fact that there is a slightly different set of expectations involved when the activity is not one specifically for Max.

I still feel a lot of ambivalence about how to include him in certain activities where the challenges may not be as acceptable.

Now, I'm not talking about issues of accessibility. We don't have a wheelchair to maneuver. We don't need ASL translation. I'm not even talking about community attitudes or tolerance (though that certainly does have an effect). I'm talking about our own, personal expectations.

I've heard families make the blanket statement, "Our child is part of our family; if she's not included, we don't do it."

I've also heard parents insist, "It's important to do things without him sometimes."

Frankly, I can see quite clearly from both perspectives, and place my personal viewpoint somewhere in the middle, sliding further towards one side or the other from time to time. (What that looks like is this: we do much less than we used to and frequently find ourselves turning down invitations or avoiding activities; and then when we do venture out, it is quite often without Max.)

As we get closer to summer vacation with all its trips and practices and campouts and sleepovers and picnics and parties and etc....well, this whole topic is weighing heavily on my mind. I want to stay balanced -- as a parent and as a family. It's not always clear to me how to do that, though. (The real question is not "To be, or not to be?" but, "HOW??")

Our decisions about what we will and won't do vary from day to day and case to case. Sometimes, sadness at leaving Max out -- or an unwillingness to do so -- is the stronger pull; other times the frustration or worry about bringing him along wins out. And, frankly, there are things that we know in advance will be extremely challenging for him, or simply aren't compatible with his needs or moods, which makes the decision to exclude him simpler.

(Well, it's simpler assuming we have the option and the childcare it requires, I should say. But that's a topic for another time.)

Sometimes the decision is based on purely selfish reasoning -- I simply don't have the energy or motivation to try to make it work. Or I need to be able to focus or participate in (or, simply enjoy) something without the distractions he can bring. Or, bluntly put, I want a break.

The times when the issues seem stickier -- or, occasionally, clearer -- are when the activities or events are for Max's siblings. When his brother or sister is being honored or acknowledged or celebrated, it doesn't always work to share the limelight, or divide our attention, or split the parental unit.

I'm suddenly reminded of a song on a Hap Palmer children's tape I used to play frequently when our daughter (the oldest) was a toddler. The song was called "Baby's First" and the chorus always came back to the phrase, "Everything is baby's first!" One day my husband said, "It's SO TRUE! -- Everything is All About The Baby now!" He had misunderstood the lyrics (which mentioned a whole list of milestones in the verses, like "Baby's first bubble" and "Baby's first bottle" and "Baby's first steps") to be a hierarchical command of "Babies First!" or the contraction of "baby IS first." We got a big kick out of his misinterpretation. We also got a lot of mileage out of the profound truth -- and caution -- it seemed to hint at. I think of it now, because Max is the baby in our family. (And I mean that on several different levels.) It seems as though the refrain is too often coming across as "Max is first."

So, anyway, all that sibling and inclusion stuff? They were the issues that bobbed to the surface yesterday, yet again. And that is the story I originally sat down to write about.

Max's older sister had her first track meet yesterday, which is when it all started. It was a gorgeous day, the meet was short, everything was outside -- basically, it was the perfect type of activity to take Max along to. He was very content and enjoyed cheering and watching all the action and was the model of good behavior. BUT he had to go to the bathroom during his sister's event! TWICE. My husband took him and they could watch from the sidelines as they walked along. But, really, it was just such lousy timing. It didn't seem like he was trying to manipulate or steal the attention or anything (and we certainly want to encourage his use of the toilet!), so they went. It wasn't a big deal, really. Except that it kind of was.

Later that evening, Max's sister had another special event. An essay she had written won 3rd place in a contest and she was invited to attend the City Council meeting to read the essay and be recognized by the mayor. I knew there would be at least a few other kids there, too, along with their families, and our town isn't all that big. So even though it was a rather formal setting, I thought it appropriate for our WHOLE family to be there, to cheer her on and offer our proud support.

(Plus, it's the City Council. Where ordinances are passed and community issues are decided. I should think it's an appropriate setting -- at least in theory -- to inclusively welcome ALL members of our community. But again, that's a topic for another time.)

I told Max where we were going and what we would be doing there and what behavior was expected of him (and even reminded him of a few things we would NOT be doing). I kept it simple. I repeated it over and over -- at home, again in the car, and whispered more in his ear as we sat and waited for the meeting to begin. He said "church" and I said yes, it was a lot like church. He signed "music" (we just attended a band concert last week, with similar instructions & rules) and I had to break the news that there would be no music this time. He was disappointed, but sat quietly and nodded and watched everyone.

And then, just as the meeting was called to order and the first item on the agenda was announced, Max fell apart. He would not stay seated. He grabbed my daughter's essay out of her hands and crumpled it. He struggled and squirmed. Then he started to yell. He spit on the floor and thrashed himself around. My husband wrangled him out of the room with little delay, but his shouts were still audible from the hallway.

They ended up going outside for a bit so Max could calm down, then slipped into the back of the room so they wouldn't miss the very thing we were there for. Frustratingly enough, when I cautiously looked back at them to see how they were doing, I briefly made eye contact with Max (how DARE I??) and he started to yell again, and they whisked back out, briefly, one more time.

They made it back in before our daughter had her moment in the spotlight -- thank goodness -- but it was touch-and-go there for a while. And even though my husband was present in the end, he was sitting in the back of the room. Frustrated. Embarrassed. Annoyed. And, once again, separate from the rest of us.

This is the thing: even when we do "whole family" events, we are generally split in two distinct groups, with my husband and I doing tag-team or parallel activities. They don't really feel like "whole family" events.

In this particular case, while my husband was dealing with Max in the back, I was sitting with the two older kids towards the very front of the room, and they were visibly shrinking in their seats. My daughter, in particular, was terribly uncomfortable. I could see the look of pride drain from her face, as her smile crumpled and her face turned red. Her nervousness was being trumped by self-conscious horror and the fear that Max would destroy her essay (quite literally, as it were). In addition, she was worried that her dad might miss the whole thing.

This particular situation had a (relatively) happy ending. Max was quiet and cooperative through the actual reading of the essay, which was the critical moment for us. We left as soon as that part was over, making it out of the meeting hall without further ado.

Her big moment.

We didn't linger or visit or chat. We should have. But instead, we just got in the car with sighs of relief and left.

So Proud (and relieved it was over!)

At home, I took some pictures of my daughter with her award. Even then, Max was saying "cheeeeese!" and trying to worm his way into the photo. I insisted his sister had the spotlight alone for a number of shots and that he wait his turn.

And when his turn came, all of the acting out transformed immediately into delighted grins.


I don't think these sibling issues have clear-cut solutions, and we continue to fumble our way through. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed -- but each situation is different, so there isn't always a lot of carry-over wisdom. What works one time might not work the next; then again, what fails one time might work the next. We're working without an instruction manual, relying heavily on trial-and-error.

It's not fair that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

(But then again, isn't that WHY it's squeaking in the first place? Because it needs that grease??)

So then I decide that applying the right grease to the right spot will make the squeaking stop. And then the ride will be smoother and more enjoyable for everyone, when all the wheels are turning smoothly and efficiently along together.

(But how do we know we're using the right grease? How do we know the squeak isn't actually being caused by some other, hidden part that's out of alignment or cracked or weakened or just plain missing?)

Either way, the question remains -- How do you fix a chronically squeaky wheel without bringing the entire vehicle to a dead stop? Surely there's a way.

(But then again, sometimes aren't you better off just leaving the wheel in the shop for some much-needed maintenance work instead?)

I'm obviously not a mechanic and I clearly haven't figured out the best way to maintain all these wheels.

I could really use a manual. (...and also a new metaphor!)

I'll keep thinking about this one.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Great School Picnic Debacle, Part III

It's like deja vu all over again.

Exactly one year ago, I was fretting and stewing about attending Max's end-of-year school picnic.

But this year, I decided not to do that.

I heard glowing reports about last year's picnic, for one thing, but also I know it is important to be a familiar presence in my son's school. I want to meet his classmates and their parents, thank his teachers, and observe Max in his element. In return, I also want all of them to see Max in his context -- to see the loving family behind the kid. (though I whisper that very quietly, while holding my breath and crossing my fingers in hopes that we would actually appear as such!)

To be clear, I was still dreading many things about the event -- the actual picnic buffet itself, in particular! -- even though Max has matured & mellowed somewhat over the past year. But the memories of last year's angst coupled with the promise of friendly, familiar faces and thrills galore (bounce house, dunk tank, and PETTING ZOO!?!) erased all doubt. We would attend! Of course we would!

As the date drew near, we realized the older kids each had other activities and places to be that night, but my husband & I still agreed to take Max to his picnic. I was invited to a friend's house that night, too, and I replied that I would be there....right after Max's picnic.

So we were ready and willing. Optimistic, even!

And then it began to rain.

It sputtered around, starting & stopping & starting again throughout the late afternoon. The original information sheet sent from school listed an alternative date in case of rain, so it seemed quite likely that the picnic would be postponed. I checked the school's website to verify a cancellation but didn't see anything. (My husband told me to just call the school and ask, but I didn't want to be one of those people -- people who didn't have the common sense to simply LOOK OUT THE WINDOW -- clogging up the phone lines asking that very same question.)

So I just kept watching the weather channel radar and scanning the skyline...and finally it began to pour. It was a soaking, drenching rain. The kind with distantly rumbling thunder. The kind with dark skies and no end in sight. The kind that is clearly NOT compatible with picnics. I finally put on my Captain Obvious hat, turned to my husband, and declared the picnic cancelled.

Fast-forward to today.

Today I stopped in the office to pick up Max for his weekly Speech Therapy appointment.

"So the big picnic will be on Friday now, right?" I said conversationally to the school secretary while I was waiting.

"Oh, no, we had that last week!" she answered.

And then my brain fell out and I sputtered something about rain and rain dates and postponing and huh??

Right then the principal walked through the office and said, "Hey! We missed the life of the party at our picnic last week!"

And then my ears melted right off my head and I sputtered something about weather channel and radar and plans and RAIN!! DATES!!

Apparently the school sent home a paper the day before the picnic, announcing that everything would take place as planned, regardless of the weather. They would simply move into the gym if it rained.

The paper was not sent home to me. (It's true. The oversight was confirmed.) I am once again in this oddly annually familiar place: slightly relieved that we avoided the whole crazy picnic scene, slightly guilt-ridden that I feel that way, slightly saddened that we missed it, and slightly comforted by the knowledge that I did, at least, have the right intentions.

I am heartened to realize, too, that while this place is familiar, it is not identical.

We are both, Max & I, one year older, one year wiser, one year matured, and one year further along the path.

The path to where, you ask? Well, I'm still not exactly sure where this path goes, actually, but we seem to be on it (mostly), meandering along. I can tell you this much about the path today: The landscape is similar, but I'm pretty sure we're in a different county now. (Yes, you read that right: county, not country. Baby steps, folks. This trip is gonna take a while.)

Sometimes when there's a bump in the path, I scream at the lousy, inadequate map and threaten to quit....but sometimes there's a bump in the path (like a school picnic debacle, for example) that allows me to stop and catch my breath while I gaze back in amazement over all the miles we've come.

Tonight I'm kind of amazed. Picnic, Schmicnick. The REAL story here is that I caught a clear glimpse of progress when I wasn't even looking for it. And that's a thing worth noting!

So to Max, I say, "You've come a long way, baby! Way to grow! I'll get you to a picnic one day soon."

To myself, I say, "Hey, you -- you've actually come a long way, too! Keep on keeping on. Remember, even baby steps start to add up!" And then I hum a little of Dori's song ("Just keep swimming, just keep swimming....").

And to the picnic, I say, "Too bad about the mix-up. Maybe next year?? Because I really think you're special. CALL ME! Bye."