Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why having your kids go to school is hardest for teachers.

The As have two weeks of kindergarten under their belts.  They've pretty well rocked it, if I do say so myself. Aside from an unfortunate whistle-blowing incident in PE, during which Anderson freaked out, things have gone fairly smoothly--from what I can tell.

I've decided that being a teacher and having your kids go to school is just incredibly hard. I'm not taking anything away from you non-teacher mothers out there, but I think it's even harder for us. Especially if our kids aren't in our school. See, I know too much. I've spent the last seven years as a K-3 Curriculum Coach. That means I go into K-3 classrooms and work with teachers to create engaging units and lesson plans that meet curriculum standards. Sometimes I model-teach, which is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes I work with kids in intervention groups. Sometimes I just hang out, because I miss being with the students.  But another part of my job is to attend professional development sessions, so that I can stay informed about all that is up-and-coming in education. Over the past seven years, I bet I've had well over 400 hours of PD on topics ranging from behavior management to very specific literacy strategy instruction. I've been fortunate enough to attend many national conferences. All this to say--obviously I have very specific ideas of what I believe instruction should look like in classrooms. How teachers should teach. What they teach and when they should teach it. At my own school I collaborate with our leadership team and our teachers to be sure that we are providing the best instruction possible. I KNOW what happens in OUR classrooms. But my kids are going to our neighborhood school. I have absolutely no idea what happens all day every day. And that's hard for me.

Don't misunderstand; their homeroom teachers have been nothing short of amazing. I've had many interactions with them already, and I know that they are good teachers. They're kind, warm, and just right for my kids. But I have no clue what they do all day! Sure, they bring home a newsletter and the odd worksheet here and there. That doesn't tell me what their literacy block looks like. Do they do a combination of whole group and small group instruction? What does it look like when they're teaching phonics? Are they teaching them correct letter formation? Do they have an assessment that they use to drive instruction? Are they monitoring the class to be sure that my little crazies are actually paying attention?

If you have kids in school, you know what kinds of responses you get when you ask them what they did at school that day. Anderson immediately talks about the whistle in gym (we are working hard to get over that...), even if he didn't go to gym that day. Amelia pretty much just gives me the run-down on who got in trouble that day in her room. Sometimes, if I ask just the right question, I get something out of them. Amelia read the "David" books her first week and told me that she learned that "mothers and teachers still love their kids if they get into trouble".  Anderson can recite his class rules, and apparently they have some kind of class motto: "Be kind, be honest, be your BEST!"  The "best" in the motto is said with a nice fist pump. I know there are good things going on.  But not knowing the instructional part of it is, well, hard.

I don't know. Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it'll help me let go of some of my controlling tendencies. Or maybe I'll just continue to hound the teachers and be "that mom". I'm just playing it by ear. :-)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The kids spent last week with Marty's parents (aka Nana and Papaw). I had three days of professional development for work, followed by a full workday this past Monday, and Marty couldn't take off four days in a row. Since we have no local family, this was the best option--especially since the kids absolutely LOVE going to stay with them. I missed them terribly, but was so busy with work that I didn't have time to focus on them being gone. 

They came home Monday afternoon. I don't think I've ever been happier to see anyone in my life. They were happy, full of stories and excitement over both their trip and the fact that they were home to their toys, their dog, and most exciting of all--their new bunk beds. After hugs and kisses all around, we jumped right back into our routine, spending time playing outside together before getting ready for bed. After showers and pajamas, I asked Anderson if we were going to "snuggle", which is code for getting into my bed and watching his favorite elevator videos. I was shocked to realize that I couldn't WAIT to "snuggle". In the hectic whirlwind that is our everyday lives, "snuggling" is just another thing to check off the list before I can finally drag myself to bed, and I admit it; sometimes, I wish I could just skip it. Sometimes, I wish he was just one of those kids who says goodnight and crawls into bed, kind of like his sister. And most of the time, I would rather watch anything than elevator videos (linked in case you want to check out Anderson's current favorite). Watching grown men, albeit also on the ASD spectrum, ride and talk about elevators is not the most...entertaining thing to watch. It is admittedly oftentimes like listening to fingernails down a chalkboard.

On this day, though, I swear it was as if I had taken off the blinders of our regular busy routine. I was seeing our routine through new eyes. As we crawled into my bed and he pulled the comforter up to his chin, I watched him. I looked at his little profile in the light of the phone; his slightly pudgy cheeks and nose that are still holding onto toddlerhood.  His long blonde eyelashes and perfect pouty lips. His slightly out-turned ears and fuzzy hair. His eyes, intent on the videos. His genuine smile as he looked at me and said, "see those indicators?" I watched it all and soaked it in, stored it in a locked treasure box in my heart that I can unlock on those days when I literally would rather do anything than the bedtime routine. In those moments, I was purely and completely grateful. Thankful for all of it--for the gorgeous blonde boy that I created and love so fiercely. For the fact that he is on the spectrum, because he has taught me so damn much about acceptance and quirkiness, that different and unique aren't qualities to be embarrassed of but real actual gifts. Gifts that are so rare in this conformist world! In that moment, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, gratitude that I was chosen to be his mother.

Life isn't always so sugar-sweet and perfect. I know that there will be days, probably sooner rather than later, where I will once again dread the bedtime routine. I'll be so tired and stressed that I just want to get into bed without having to hear Dieselducy talk about original, glass-back cabbed elevators. But I'll remember that particular night and know in the back of my mind that it's all a gift I was lucky enough to receive.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Our Orbit

He wakes up, and I know. I know immediately. Breakfast is a battle, the granola bars he has eaten a million times, including yesterday, are "yucky". They are "bad", they "will make you throw up".  He glances out the window and sees an overcast sky and cries. It's going to rain today, he says. We can't play outside. Oh no, we can't play outside anymore ever again. We are fifteen minutes into the day, and I know.

His orbit is at its farthest point from me. He's on that outer arc, pushing against the gravity that threatens to bring him back, closer to me, to his family.  It's a struggle; he wants to come back and he doesn't want to come back, and it's a familiar, painful struggle.

I know what the day will be like, and I'm right. Every simple decision is hard, none of the toys cooperate and there are many tears, lots of yelling and hurt feelings. Amelia understands the cycle, but she's five.  On these days, we go above and beyond to find creative things to do, things that are novel and new but not outside the comfort zone. On this particular day, we make Eclair cake, which requires the use of a mixer--one of his favorite things. He settles in, gets his toy mixer out and just like that, calm settles over the house. We breathe, and enjoy a solid hour of quiet play.

These orbital shifts are hard. There are a few rough days, days where he swings, almost out of control, through that farthest point. In the beginning, his anxiety spread through our house and caused everyone to be on edge. But that's the thing about orbits. They're routine, and predictable. So while my wild satellite inevitably pushes his way to that distant part of his path, the part that is most distant from me, I hunker down to ride it out, knowing that almost as quickly as he swings away, he will always, always come back around to me.