4/30/12

Speak their Language

Here is a question to start off the day.  Everyone who lives anyplace where there is local dialect tends to think of the way they talk as "normal".  From Maine where ayuh is heard for yes, to Gawwgia's southern drawl, from New Joyzee, to Bawstin there are different "normals" all over our fine country.  Where my family lives, our spoken language pretty much matches the written language.  So my husband wondered aloud last night, "How do they teach phonics in an area where the spoken language doesn't match the written word?"  I chuckled.  . .Do they teach Bostonian kids that "ar" says "ah"?  I would love to hear from folks who can share their experience on this, my curiosity is perked. :)

This did get me thinking though.  Where teachers come from, and where students come from and the language and baggage we carry with us can have a big impact on communication and behaviors between the two.  I remember one day during my first job as paraproffessional our school had a buddy time, where two classes of different grades would divide their students into to mixed age groups.  While I was in one group helping out, I noticed a boy wander in to class from a different group.  This guy was known to be an angry little soul with a comparatively short fuse.  So, I felt pretty good that I was able to talk with him and understand him, reassure him.  He was calm, but skeptical of returning to the former group, and insited the teacher would yell at him if he went back.  Being naiive and new to the school, I reassured him that would not be the case. (I simply could not imagine a teacher doing that)  I would speak with her.  It would be fine. I guessed she would be pleased to see he was back, safe, calm, ready to go.

Well, as you can guess, basing a promise on a prediction of someone else's reaction is a highly sketchy proposition.  The teacher not only yelled at the child, she dug into me too, in front of her whole group of first and second graders, nice.  I am only guessing, perhaps that was her way of dealing with feeling foolish at having lost a child.  (It was apparent she hadn't noticed he was gone, or greatful he was, not sure which really)  I left almost in tears, held 'em back long enough to get out of that witch's site.  I only wish I could've taken the child with me.  I felt like a fraud. 

That was one of the first times I knew I spoke or at least understood another language that some children speak when it looks like they are just acting up or misbehaving.  I know in my bones, that behavior is language.  Children who are really misbehaving, consistently angry or disruptive, are communicating in the only way they know how, or in some cases, the only way they are able when their amygdala takes over with it's fight or flight reactions. 

There are children who need teachers who speak their dialect, or who are at least flexible and willing to learn to interpret a new language.  Many kids need teachers to be aware that although they speak a different dialect or language all together, they can be very sensitive to mood, emotion, and tone.  They sense more than they can handle, understand, or communicate with words.  There are teachers out there, even otherwise good teachers who have difficulty grasping this mode of communication that some children use, nor do they have any idea of the negativity that these same kids pick up on.   I wonder, really, can this kind of communication or understanding be taught or learned?  

When children repeatedly bump up against teachers who do not understand them or take the time to learn their "language"  they may speak louder through more outrageous behaviors, they may stop trying to be heard, they may just drop out of school or life.  In an age where bullying, school dropout rates, suicides and mass shootings have been increasing, I really think it is time we all, parents and teachers, learn the dialects of the troubled children.  They have a lot to say if someone would listen.


4/23/12

Works in Progress

 This balancing act called life, requires me (and maybe some of you?) to look at just about everything I do as a work in progress.  So, I sometimes lose sight of the  little chunks that I can complete in a short time as I get lost in the wave of the big picture.  For instance, I think in terms of the "never ending housework", instead of focusing on the little accomplishments, small acts I can accomplish in a short time; empty the dishwasher. . .check; make bed. . .check; sweep floor. . .check.  I think to myself "I need to excercise", instead of "I will take a walk today".  So starting now I will list some of my works in progress (not including my actual children-they have their own separate list- *smirk*) I have been told by fellow listmakers it feels good to check things off as they are completed, so I will add some of those too, I like to feel good.

Works In Progress

  • Hand and footprint door. (I like this one because I can go months or a year without thinking about it and then in ten minutes. . .check- for another year)
  • Letters to my children.  (I like to do this before I go to sleep at night whenever I feel like it, but have stalled because the paper supply in my nightstand has run out)
  • NOTE TO SELF:  Restock Bedside Paper Supply.
  • Photo and Memory Albums.  (I finally updated Lila's so she has pictures from birth to 2 1/2__When the boys' books began to get behind, I started buying smaller books :)
  • Basement Laundry Craft Area:  (Yes this space in my house is a work in progress.  About two years ago I made a vow to create a less messy, more functional laundry and craft area-they are visually connected, but not practical to mix too closely the clean clothes and paints, glues, and miscellaneous muck and froo froo)
  • The cellar stairway.  (This path from kitchen to basement has been the catchall for miscellaneous items of both high and non existent utility--from empty coffee cans and oatmeal boxes, to vacume attatchments, drink coolers, and dust bunnies we have had it all--My goal is to make it pretty and functional)
    1. board up chimney wall.  check/ (Thank you handy husband)
    2. Build shelfs under stairs.  check/ (Thank you again handy husband and Pinterest for the idea)
    3. Paint all the above, plus stairs and other wall.  check/  (thanks me)
    4. Create a glass mosaic/mural on the back of the chimney alongside the cellar part of stairway.  (Glass scattered and shattered all over craft area, caution wear shoes!!  Small portion of mosaic on workspace, yet to be set in place or completed)
  • Complete Trim re-painting on windows and doors outside (only South and West have been done)
  • Gardening
    • hoophouse built- check
    • seeds started - check
    • new actual compost place--(not just a stinky garbage pile outback)--yet to come
    • compost/fertilize beds- not yet
    • create a cottage garden out of overrun perennial bed out front (in progress)
    • weed said cottage garden and others :)
    • eat veggies (need one easy one on the list)
  • Write poems- hmm. . .nothing new lately just the one I added finishing touches to yesterday from years ago.
  • Be sure Mount Clothesmore (stole this name from a friend- it is the perpetual pile of clean clothes that lives in my living room or bedroom depending on whether or not company is expected:) is put away completely before the winter clothes are needed again next fall.
  • Do yoga daily (right now I think of it daily, but doing it???)
  • Go for a walk daily__hmm does walking to the busstop count?  while pushing Lila's little 3 wheeler?
  • Write in blog, check. 
Ok, so there it is, my list of works in progress.  I am sure there are more, but a baker's dozen is good for now and this list is a work in progress.  Sun is out.  Time to go for a walk, or plant radishes, or play with three year old. . . yup.   That's what I will do.

4/22/12

Ahh. . .

The woods pull me in again
The morning sun tempts
through pine tree tops
Like a strong hand into a candle lit room
toward bliss.

Ahead, the sun dapples the earth
Saplings dance, tickled by sun
through dazzling dewdrops,
tantalizing, well placed,
the dance lures me.

At the top of a hill
Silvery luminescence bursts forth
from snow dusted pines
The glow. . .
Magnificent!

Below, an icy stream gouges
sharp through rock, mud, snow. . .
endless rolling, running, rushing
away.
I
Stay.

4/21/12

Brotherhood

My husband comes from a fairly boy heavy family. He has two brothers each with two sons of their own and we have two brothers living here in our little family. Our boys are just eighteen months apart and share a room. Right from the beginning, I knew I really wanted them to share a room. I think the idea began with my romanticized notion brotherhood. I saw brotherhood as this special friendship bond that would tie our son’s together and make them strong, and happy, supported. 

I felt that sharing a room would help them to develop a closer relationship. Heh! The jury is still out on that one.The boys are alike in the many ways one might expect of brothers, but are different in as many or more. One likes the dark, the other wants the light on. One reads, the other listens to music. One is tidy(ish), (think seven year old boy tidy), and the other, well. . .not so much.


Though we didn’t always agree on room sharing, husband and I did agree that we wanted our boys to have a good, strong relationship to love and respect each other and to help each other navigate this crazy world. Of course, the reality is that they fight, bicker, and aggravate each other daily. Sometimes they hurt one another terribly. I was reminded othe that this week, when my boys headed out for a double sleepover with a pair of brothers the same ages as mine. My boys were at each others throats when I picked them up. The youngest was in tears and a shiner was forming around one eye.


I did my best to create space between them, as much as is possible in a caravan with two boys angrier than cats in a bag. Then I made time to hear each boy’s story, trying to ignore the interjections from across the house because it was important to them that I listen. I certainly had no misconception that I had the power to fix this. I read Siblings Without Rivalry-by Faber and Mazlish (not a year too soon) and I knew I wanted no part of being in the middle of this mess, that would only wedge the boys further apart. So I turned it over to them, just as the authors recommend.

So, I simply said, “You boys have some fun weekend plans coming. A weekend that involves a three or four hour ride, together, in a small space otherwise known as the BAT. (Big Awesome Truck). I am sure Uncle Howard is not going to want to deal with you to hating each other all weekend, you need to solve this now.”

The oldest began his “I am sorry for. . .’s” after only a short pause. They sounded sincere to this mom’s ears and thorough too. Actually they were more thorough than I may have imagined, more thorough than my assumptions might’ve predicted, if I hadn’t done this before. That is exactly why I don’t belong in the middle of these two boys’ problem. We all know kids live up to expectations, so I simply quote Faber and Mazlish, “I know you can solve this, I have confidence in you.” (often the boys grumble, “Confidence shmonficence” right before they engage each other and solve the problem.) And truly, on this day both boys apologized for everything, even the stuff they “didn’t do” according to previous statements.

I didn’t get in the middle, but after all was reasonably calm I did make sure to tell them both what concerned me most, above all, about the day’s events. “I sent you two off last night, to have some fun with your friends, to someone else’s home where rules, and routines are different and unfamiliar. I expected you two to have each others back, not tease, torment, and hurt each other. When you two are off on your own, it is not your job to put each other down and say and do mean things. Your job is to take care of each other, to help each other out and to support each other. You are brothers.

(Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish wrote Siblings Without Rivalry, it is on the Parent/Teacher reading page.)

4/18/12

A Common Language

When I first began teaching I was lucky enough to fall into a job at a school that was training staff to use Responsive Classroom practices.  The basis for Responsive Classroom was to create an environment and community that felt respectful and safe for children and teachers, by teaching and modeling what expected behaviors looked and sounded like and by using positve language to describe expectations for the children.  One of the many benefits of this practice was to create a common language for our school.  If you were a child in first grade, and you walked down the hall to another classroom or to lunch or recess, all the teachers would use the same type of positive phrasing, and logical consequences, "Go back to the door way and use walking feet this time", "Remember to keep your hands safe", "Quiet voices please."  I have to think it must have been nice for those children going up through the grades to find out that in second grade there might be a lot of things different and new, but this common language was the same.  Although Responsive Classroom did not solve or prevent every problem behavior, it was a nice simple foundation for building an overall sense of community and safety for our students.

Now fifteen years later, I find myself, mom of three, looking for that common language here at home.  The language that most consistently keeps us all feeling respected, positive, safe and happy.  A foundation on which to build.  Somehow it seems like it is so much harder now here with three of my own children, than it was back then with a classroom of other peoples' children.  Back when I left school at the end of the day, week, year, I was free to relax, rejuvinate and rebuild my positive attitude and language.  Now somedays I go to sleep feeling like I got sucked down into the negative spiral that raising a wacky tribe of children sometimes appears to be.  Imagine being swished slowly down the drain with a spiral of water sucking you right down through the pipes and into the sewer.


Then yesterday, I realized we have our own language after all!  We were at our local lake, summer hangout during unseasonably warm spring weather this week.  The second day a breeze payed a seasonal reminder.  The beach was empty and waves lap, lap, lapped at the shore.  My middle guy said, "I like to be here even more when noone else is here.  I can hear the waves. It's so peaceful."  That started me thinking, we have a common language, a foundation, it is Water and it mostly brings out the best in us.


Everyday we use water as our nonverbal method for communication.  How many times did I soothe an unconsolable baby by running water on his little piggies till he giggled, and use the nightly bathtime ritual to show consistent love and care for my children.  A squirt of water from my clenched hand lets them know I have a sense of humor, and a smile when they splash back proves it.  Water can transport my family from a bickering, bellering, belligerent bunch to an amicably enchanted symbiotic organism.   It can bring contented calm to the young fisherman while the toddler fishy wiggles delightfully on the swishing shore.  Like a comedy water can make us laugh and act like children standing on our hands with feet in the air and splashing.  Then in the meloncholy end of summer tale we wistfully leave our favorite lake in Maine for the year, we jump in and take some home with us, in our hair and on our cooled skin, like goodbyes in our ears, knowing we will return again and again and again, because we know the water cleans our bodies and spirits, and rejuvinates our minds and hearts, like a great novel you don't want to put down and are somewhat sad to finish.  Water is our language.


Home :)

Bog time!

4/17/12

Social Stuff

Over the last year and a half, I have read, talked and learned about the children who need to be explicitly taught certain skills in order to achieve social success.  Nowadays there is lots of talk in schools about social skills, and learning about emotions.  Empathy is the keyword of the day.  There are so many components to being social that most of us have never even thought about even though the skills or lack of, can greatly impact our daily lives.  It is Ironic in a way that the children, the people with social difficulties who are often seen to lack empathy toward others, are the ones who really need empathy from others (for someone somewhere to see things from their point of view)  They often don't get it, because they are percieved as undeserving.  Awareness is growing among those who work with children, slowly I think, but I have begun to wonder when we will carry over this knowledge and be able to apply it to people in general, to love each other faults and all.  I will be the first to admit this is not my strong suit.

This group of skills we call "social skills" is really a very large set that is affected by attention and impulse control and both verbal and body language.  For some children their impulsivity prevents them from developing friendships with classmates.  For others the bookish manner in which they speak is put offish to other kids their age, or the overly logical way they think comes through leaving others feeling like the child is insensitive or mean.   Some kids don't notice, the way many children do, that certain clothes or standards of hygene will make or break their social success, or  that others in a conversation are giving silent signals that they have had enough of a particular subject.  I know several people who's poor sense of time, or time management causes frustration for those around them and strains social ties.

In my own case, I realize now as an adult that as a child I had difficulty reading the body language of a conversation, probably first and foremost because I did not look at the person I was speaking to.   When girls do this we call it shy, when boys do this we call it disrespectful.  I think I have become better at this, but I have always found it much easier to talk when not placed in a face to face conversation.  Talking while riding in the car,or while busy with a task has always been easier.  Now, as an adult, I make more of an effort to pay attention to those little cues that say, let's move on to something else, or let's give this person a chance to speak. 


I consider myself a deeply caring person, but that is not always apparent to others.  I recall times when I have laughed when I should have cried, and I have been told I looked angry, when what I felt inside was more like anguish or distress.  One time, years ago, a person I considered a dear friend, brought up an emotional subject and I know thoughts began swimming in my head about what to say, but I just could not speak.  I also know that our relationship sort of dissolved after that.  I was in my thirties then and could feel the awkwardness of the situation, but it was like my brain was in lockdown.  On a positive note, I feel I am quite lucky to have a husband who either "gets" me, or persists in trying to understand, because this little quality of shutting down when the going gets tough is a hard one to live with, I am sure.  It is certainly cause for a great deal of frustration.

Among the multitudes of ways many people use to communicate and develop social relationships, one of the most enlightening for me was the concept of social politics.  The idea that people need to know who they can talk to about certain subjects and how much information to disclose about themselves to certain people caused me to reflect on some of my own social faux pas.  The fact that some people are very good at using information to achieve personal "gain" in the social hierarchy, (think teenage girls) was not a new one altogether, but I began to see my own social situation, while going through school, in a new light.  I realize I had assumed that because I would never say or do anything to purposely be hurtful to a friend that others felt the same, but that was not always the case for them.  Some "friends" chose social politics over loyalty and scruples, something I just could not imagine or understand.



Over the years I have become somewhat more aware of the social realm of life, and have been able to make adjustments and improve my skills. Social fate is not carved in stone.  Self awareness can really be a helpful tool for improving the social skills that do not come naturally.  I have also learned that social politics is not a skill I wish to have.   I choose my friends cautiously, and try to avoid the "high school girls" of life, the ones I had all but forgotten about till my kids began school and I began to see the same foolishness at play.  I am me.  Take it or leave it.  That's all.

I am concerned about the adult wandering the earth in any walk of life who lacks that self awareness.  He wanders about his daily business of alienating others with his need for organization so strong he tries to control situations and people and seems to be unaware that his behavior bothers anyone.  I worry about the person unable to read cues from others when her one sided conversations go on way too long, or disclosing too much personal information to eyerolls and yawns of the listener.   I am troubled by the fact that a person can keep others away unknowingly with an unwelcoming expression she doesn't even know she is wearing, or a comment that is misinterpreted by the listener as insensitive.  You know that person, the one who once you get to know you realize "Wow she is really sweet", or "We have a lot in common".

 As humans we are all social creatures on a line somewhere from introvert to extrovert either skilled or  unskilled in conversation, social norms, and social expectations.  All humans offer unopened gifts to our society, our schools, and our lives that will never be seen if we fail to look into the book, beyond the cover, past the rambling, and cast down eyes, through the angry face to the hurting heart, and farther than our immediate expectations.

4/12/12

Don't Put Off for Tommorrow. . .

I am sitting here soaking my foot tonight because I dropped a piece of firewood on bare toes last night.  (insert self depricating remark and use your imagination because this is a doozy!)  I am reminded of the old saying "Don't Put off till tomorrow, what you could do today."  This of course comes to mind because I am stuck, foot soaking and eyes cast upon the piles of Lego Duplos still scattered across the floor for me to step on as I shuffle-limp around.  The piles of dishes on the counter is awaiting a ride to the dishwasher that Lila helped me empty today.  (Yes, I recruited a 3 year old.)  Then I think to myself, "I wish the giant clean laundry pile that has taken over my bedroom, the one I will stub my most likely broken toe on tonight, would just twinkle twinkle tink- and *poof* right into the closet where clothes belong.

Sadly, this is not the first time I have been caught short, house awry (or a wheat as I love to jokingly say because I am constantly getting sayings mixed up) while I am stuck waiting out the effects of some sort of calamity or illness.  I recently had my gall bladder out due to a most horrendous attack during which I longed for something less painfull and easier to deal with like childbirth or something fun like that with a happy ending--No Joke!

I didn't know it was a gallbladder attack when I was heaving hell to breakfast in the commode.  All I could think, besides "please make this go away!" was "Oh, no!  This house is too messy to have a stomach bug with 3 kids," and " The laundry pile is already big enough without a gazillion towels and sheets added in."  So, to this end, I am pretty sure I smiled at the Doctor who told me I needed to have my gallbladder removed.  Woo Hoo!  No stomache bug laundry!  The gallbladder removal was scheduled so I could arrange a cleanish house while I recuperated and the normal type laundry piled up out of sight. 

Then I wonder "What if those indigestion type pains in my chest and torso I began to notice back in April didn't turn out to be a gallbladder in December?  I didn't seek help till I experienced pain worse than childbirth and even then I googled my symptoms to be sure it was worthy of a trip to the ER and calling family to stay with the kids in the middle of the night.

Don't put of till tomorrow what you could do today. . .  It takes on new meaning as my husband and I get older, as I watch my three kids grow, and as grandparents, great grands, and me start experiencing the frailties of life.  Who do I need to connect more with?  (besides my Doctor, wise guy)  What am I going to wish I said?  Who do I need to listen to more?

I began, when each of my children was new, to write one page letters to them talking about things I didn't want to forget about them.  Like when one of them called strawberries, dabios, and another called Uncle Howard, Hadu and other silly, priceless, unforgettable, (so we think at the time) moments in life.  I wrote at Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's and Birthdays.  And I wrote to them any other time I thought of it when funny stuff came up, and I still do.  The focus was always on the kids and always on the good stuff.  I never wrote, "You were up 600 times last night and I have a headache the size of Mt Monadnock right now" 

So, now in this blog, I have begun writing what my thoughts and experience have been, because someday I may forget it all or not be here to tell them.  And now I head upstairs to kiss three Sleeping Beauties on noses, because that's what I do.  Because I don't want to put off till tomorrow what I can do tonight.

4/10/12

A Positive Plan

I think I have mentioned this before.  Kids have a way of asking for what they need.  If we parents, teachers, and caregivers listen closely we can hear it even when they don't use words.  Then last week, my wise 9 year old, who just began a new school program after Christmas break, came home last week and wrote an outline for a positive behavior plan for our family.  He calls it "Mommy Points".   (Yes, the same child who just began writing spontaneously at home -like when he used to when he was confident and happy- for the first time in about 2 years- Thank You Awesome Teachers!)  The plan is similar to the one they use in his class. 

Ok, kiddo.  I get the message.  What we are doing here at home isn't working is it?  Our family has been swallowed in a negative spiral, a whirl pool, swoosh, down we go!  For the first time since we met, we argue on a regular basis and it is always about the behaviors, "Where did they come from?", "How do we get rid of them?", "Why does this feel so hard?",  "Your idea isn't working!"  Then a couple months ago we recieved an answer.  A psychologist we were talking to told us "Your kids require Big League- Fenway Park parenting skills." ( Umm. . .where do we get those???)  "Whereas most parents can get by with minor league skills, some even just high school baseball type skills."

So, last week, my 9 year old writes the sketch for a plan based on his school setting.  He outlined three main components: 
  1. Ways to earn points (Ex:  first time listening, helping without being asked, make bed, put away laundry, polite talk at meal time, setting clothes out the night before, empty dishwasher, talking face to face rather than bellering, getting homework done right after school. . .)
  2. Fines (Ex:  hitting, bad words, potty talk, interrupting)
  3. Things to buy with points (Ex:  choose a supper, or dessert, print 2 pictures, movie night, special game with Mom or Dad, special craft, new dsi game--trying to stay away from monetary rewards, but this is a huge pointer to encourage saving)
Now I have not been a big fan of reward systems, we have tried star charts of all sorts, but they just haven't worked longterm (for us that means more than a day)  We end up all feeling frustrated because none of us feel the success that is "supposed to happen".   This time, though, I am optimistic.  For starters, we are on day 3 and everyone has felt some bit of success, including me.  Remember, I am still learning too!  After all I need to beef up my skills to survive in the big league!  to do that, and I need to see some positive results as much as the kids do.

To get started I had to take some time to fill in the bullets Joey left for me on the "Ways to Ern" page.  That is when I knew that the reason the other charts failed was that they were too focused, there was no room for the kids and us parents to see success.  So this time my list of ways to ern points includes many different areas from manners, and behaviors to chores and routine tasks.  A lot of them I know they already do, they are worth 10 or 15 points.  Important things I want them to learn are worth 30 to 50 points.  But there are fewer of those, so we can get it.  Once the new things are learned I can adjust the points to a lower number to reflect that this behavior or habbit is now expected, and I will choose something new to work on.  Or, rather, the kids will show me what to work on next. (insert smile here)

An online friend pointed out that fines for innappropriate behavior could send some kids over the edge on a bad day.  I will keep this in mind.  My guess is we will only use fines if a behavior gets really out of hand and we need a double whammy of a fine if  he does it, and bonus points if he doesn't.  I guess we will have to see how it goes.  On day 3 we are still all on good behavior. 

Then of course the spending points requires a bit of organization on my part.  I have included a range of small to medium point items that the kids can purchase that don't cost much if any money.  (still looking for more of these)  Then I thought about some big ticket items (new ds or wii game) that they could work for over time, that way I am not reaching in my pocket whenever they are doing well, and they are encouraged to save their points.

After a couple days, I have already seen an improvement in the atmosphere around here.  The kids are helping more and talking back less, and I didn't have to bring out the compost! (50pt because it is stinky)  Early days yet, I guess, but I am feeling positive about this positive "Mommy Points" plan.  Let's see if I can build up the stamina to keep it up for my Big Leaguers!
 

4/6/12

Autism awareness. . .What is normal?

This week we have been hearing a lot on the Autism Awareness front.  Autism rates have been increasing greatly over the last 10 years and the one thing that has been proven to help, whereever the child lands on the spectrum, is early intervention and awareness. 

What is normal?  Can we expect parents to know?  Even with the multitudes of checklists and development charts and books available to today's parents our observations are still subjective to our experience, our circumstance and our expectations.  One family's normal may be another family's odd.   A mom I met online this past year said one day, "Normal is a setting on the dryer."  And yet the trend today in family centers and community programs is an emphasis on early intervention and that is based on parents seeking help for children who seem to not be developing normally in some way.

The question is how do we gently encourage parents to 'see' the traits in toddlers that may lead to difficulties down the road?  And how do we reconcile the help of early intervention with the theory that a parent who finds out their child has special needs experiences stages of grief similar to when someone dies. (Dr. Kenneth Talon's book on Reading page)  The last thing a child with special needs needs is a parent going through denial, anger, blame, or depression.  From a school standpoint it would be best if we could all just skip to acceptance.  I don't know if that is even possible, but it would stand to reason that both parents and teachers being aware of the stages could seriously help the home school relationship.  I am betting there are many educators out there who would be a lot more understanding of the angry finger pointing parent, if only they knew it was part of a process.  If they knew the parent likely points the finger inward and blames herself as much as she seems to blame the school, wouldn't they be more sympathetic and willing to help? 


And what about that parent who seems to have no idea her child is developing differently?  Does she really not notice?  or Is she in denial?  Is it possible to push or lead a parent toward acceptance more quickly?  Should we try?   Should we be waiting till a parent comes to it on her own? Should we wait till the child begins having trouble at school?  Acceptance may be a long way off if a parent is left to figure it out on her own.  Should we be looking at why some children have such a difficult time succeeding in school?  I know that at another school setting working by another set of norms was the answer for my son, here he is normal.



And then I wonder why it is so important to say a child is not developing normally, when we all know there really is no one single normal?  Why do we assume because more children tend to develope a particular way that it is the right way.  I wonder how much easier it would be if teachers and schools not only accepted that every child is different, that every child needs a different set of tools to build success, and that every child has strengths that will provide them a place in this world, but that schools had the tools, understanding and support system to teach the children from whatever state of normal they are in at that moment.  Would parents and therefore families and children experience that same grieving process if there was no sense of normal to mourn?

I have added some resources to the reading page that I think are important and helpful

4/4/12

Building the Foundation

I have two boys in the house building, inventing and creating, one a scientist, another a musician (kind motherly word for noisemaker/ future musician) at least for now, their interests may change as they grow.  I wonder if my little girl will be a builder too, a scientist? a singer a dancer?  Yesterday I showed her how to use the lego toolo tool to attatch the pieces, so she could build a truck for the duplo garage we just built together.  I thought it would be a good idea for her to get on board with the idea that she is a creator too (we all are really, all of us humans) and explore another avenue for creating. 

She is three now and she draws and builds, and makes her own songs, dances, stories and she is as alive as a flickering fire seeking fuel.  I suppose I did those things at that age too and I wonder when it was I began to forget how, because I know I did.  I wonder if it is possible to fuel that fire blazing in her consistently enough so it never goes out. 

I recall talking with classmates in Arts and Human Development about the crucial age for girls around eleven, when they can easily begin to lose who they are while trying to fit in, make friends, and attract attention of boys.  Girls are at risk of losing who they are, who they have become so far.  I wonder about the fate of the girls who don't know anything about themselves when they reach eleven.  I wonder back in time, was that me?  I  wonder ahead, will it be my little girl?

My kids I know, are lucky to be born into a wide family of makers and doers.   This family is composed of builders, farmers, engineers, doctors, artists, mathemeticians and musicians and more. They are luckier still because the makers and doers in our family enjoy sharing their skills with the next generation.  I am pretty sure my children have had a wider range of experiences now than I had graduating from high school.  That is not to say I had none, but that they have had many.  I know the boys are reaping the benefits already of the many experiences on which to hang new knowlege and more areas to feel success.  I hope they continue to reap the benefits along with my little girl who is just getting started.

Creation is empowering, motivating and engaging, and as humans whether we know it or not, I believe we seek it.  When I create something it proves to the world, and myself, "I can do it!"   But I wonder about the children who aren't getting the opportunities.  I wonder about the hands on classes in High School that were always full of boys, rarely girls.  I wonder if a girl's first and only empowering moment is creating a baby would it still be an empowering moment without the building blocks to make her strong?   I hope that giving my girl many opportunities and means to create will give her the fuel she will need, long into the future.  I hope her confidence, capabilities, and knowlege of who she is, is clearer and stronger, strong enough to light her path right through eleven to ever after.  So I am starting one block, one tool at a time. . .

4/2/12

Gen X? Really?

.I will admit it.  I was born in 1971, smack in the middle of the social phenomena otherwise known as Generation X.  I have never identified with the concept because the media hype doesn't fit me.  I am not a slacker, nor am I or have I ever been detatched or melancholy.  I seemed to miss the "tech savvy" boat.  Instead I get by in the "somewhat technically literate" canoe.  To me Generation X is that band Billy Idol was in during the 70's. "Into the valley of the do-o-olls. . ."

So, when I came upon this article "A Teacher's Guide to Generation X Parents" (link is in More References page) on the Edutopia website, I was a bit surprised, (and maybe slightly embarrassed) to find I am a GenXer after all.  It seems our unique circumstance of being the first generation raised as latchkey and daycare kids by divorced parents has created in us a strong desire to be involved in the lives of our kids in an exponential way.

"Ummm. . . I don't think I am a helicopter parent."  I say as I smirk to myself.  But no getting around it really.  I know, even if I don't really hover physically, that my husband and I think way more about the details of life that affect our kids than our parents did.  As a matter of fact, I have wondered to myself about why the generations before us seemed to get by with so much less thinking about it.  I think about it now, not so much from a critical perspective, but in wonder, as in 'where can I get me some of that?'  How did they do it?  Is the old saying "ignorance is bliss" true?  Being raised during an era where we have been told eating eggs and drinking milk are bad for you, along with other hypervigilant malarkey, I would have to guess it probably is . . .

That is not to say that our parents are or were ignorant.  They just were lucky enough to be spared the mountains of books, articles, and tweets ominously piling up in warning "If you don't do everything just so, your kids are going to turn out completely screwed up and it will be all YOUR fault!"  No wonder so many GenXers have skipped the parenting path for a less cumbersome existence.  Those of us who forged ahead and had kids anyway, well we (speaking for myself) are fierce advocates for our children.

According to the article, Boomers had faith that it would all work out and their kids would turn out fine, and for the most part it did.  We GenXers on the contrary have been shown repeatedly that we can't count on the guy in charge, "When we graduated from High school in the eighties wall street fell.  Wehn we graduated from college, the first Bush recession made jobs impossibly scarce.  when we started having children, the Nasdaq crashed.  When we finally boght our own homes, the housing bubble burst."

I get this.  I do.  We have been shown over and over that leaders don't have all the answers, they don't have big picture interests in mind, and we get to pay for their mistakes and carelessness, historically speaking anyway.  But we do know we can educate ourselves if noone else will, and we can get things done, we are capable knowlegeable and like to help. 

I can see now why my well meaning letters and ideas intended to help school personnell were met with an odd variety of pity, fear, and indignation at best and eye rolls at worst.  The boomer principal and several teachers were probably thinking " Chill out lady" while I am thinking "My child's future is on the line people!"  I guess this is one of those areas where there is room for compromise if I think about it in this light.  Hmm. . .now that I think of it, I wonder if the boomer "it will all work out" mentality isn't a big factor in the slow progress our ed system is making toward preparing our kids for the modern era.  Do they just think it will all work out? 

I am not sure I like having my basic insecurities summed up in a GenX description.  Makes me feel a little common and ordinary.  Huh!  Then again, it is a comfort to know I am not the only parent out here stepping on toes, pushing boundaries, and getting funny looks from school staff.  Just six more years till one of my kids reaches high school.  Hope the teachers over there read the teacher tips article between now and then. 

4/1/12

Real Life Prep Time

The hardest thing about parenting, for me, (besides the noise) is 'no prep time'.  After a week of dragging the kids out of bed and through the morning routine in time for school, the rascalls are wide awake come Saturday in the black and white movie hours of dawn.  Before I even tip a sip of tea to my mouth, someone is yelling, crying, whining or hysterically giggling in prelude to one of the first three.

Instead of feeling refreshed and ready to start my day with this tribe of children, I feel "Ugh.", "I'm not ready for this."  At this precise moment I wish I had prep time for real life.  When I taught, I made sure my day was mapped out, supplies and books ready to go at the start of the day.  Nowadays, evenings are jammed with homework, baseball, dishes and laundry.  Weekends are still a time for catching up, cleaning up and chilling out for my husband and I.  But we need to balance those grownup activities with kid oriented quality time.  We have discovered that "Go outside and play while I rake the yard." doesn't really cut it with kids.  Kids crave our time and attention in a way that is really incomprehendable till you are a parent in the movie of Life.  Kids are the masters of high expectations, they are clear what they want (our time and attention) and when they want it (right now).  We could learn a thing or to about the results of high expectations from our children I suspect, but that is probably a whole other post. 

So I found myself this morning, using PBS for prep time, and just as I think how I have come to rely on this simple form of technology to amuse while I prepare breakfast, dinner or myself, my kids remind me it is not the only way.  Of course they don't tap me on the shoulder, or speak softly in my ear.  You know that.  The boys start horsing around (boy language for I am bored with nothing to engage me)  and so I tell them, "Go out of this room and find an activity to do by yourself, you may play in the same room if you choose to be safe and friendly to each other."  So off they go.  I know if I said,"Go find something to play together." the results would not be half as good.  I remind them instead that being together is a priveledge (thank you brilliant Listserve Moms for this idea) and they earn this priveledge by treating each other well.

The result, for the next half hour before breakfast the boys played with spaceships they built out of legos for serious imaginary adventures.  They even included little sister.  After breakfast, play resumed for another hour at least. 

The hard part is do I use this as my prep time? shower? clean up  breakfast? OR Do I just sit back and enjoy the rare show of sibling cooperation and comaraderie?  I know if I were in the classroom, I would be there, noticing, watching, listening and enjoying someone elses' children.  I would take it in so I could share withthem or their families the great stuff they are capable of .  I might even write it down to remind myself what engages them, and tuck it away as a tool to use in the future.  Something like this:

"Joey really got down to Lila's level, talked to her and gave her an in.  Within minutes she was flying around with her spaceship making alien noises and needing to be rescued (will deal with that another time :) Charlie morphed his spaceship play into boat play, and floated his in the small kitchen sink.  Lila scrabbled around for boat parts and imaginary fishing poles to emulate big brother, while Joey dismantled an erector set construction to build "the greatest car ever".  Lila:  "look at the fish I caught!"  and Charlie the Shark Hunter: "My Hat!  My Spear!  This is just horrible! I am going to charge you!  I am going to kill you!  UGHHHT  That Shark!  ow!  That thing is strong."

Signing off and still in my nightgown. . .A