Thursday, February 28, 2008

A biting story

I know that no one ever said parenting was going to be easy. And believe me, it's not sometimes. Yesterday was one of those times.

To put it mildly, Ethan had a horrible day at preschool. His impulse control was basically zilch, and he ended up biting a child (who is normally his friend)......bit him TWICE, and hard enough to break the skin and cause bleeding. And to top it all off, this child had already RSVPd to come to Ethan's birthday party in a couple of weeks. AAAAHHHHHH!

As I came to pick him up, the teacher pulls me aside to tell me what had happened and to have me sign 2 incident reports that will have to go in his file. Apparently, they were on the playground, and Ethan bites for no clear reason (which I believe, because he's done this at home too), and gets taken inside to the director's office for time out. The other child is tended to, cleaned up, etc, then Ethan is given a chance to say he's sorry. He does so, and they hug and the other child is nice about it, says "that's ok", etc. They're holding hands and walking back out to the playground, and Ethan reaches over and bites him AGAIN! WTF??

I'm sorry, I do not understand this behavior at all. And how can I help him if I can't understand it? As strange as this sounds, I feel like I often can relate to Andrew (even with his ASD) he is a perfectionist personality, very sensitive and soft-hearted, etc. But Ethan? He's in a whole other dimension, and I'm lost there with no idea how to help him or make a connection with him about these kind of behaviors. He's almost 4, for God's sake, biting shouldn't be a problem any more.

But my typical tendency is to blame myself, and shut down because "it's just too hard, I can't do this" etc. I was in tears yesterday as we left the preschool, just totally at a loss for what to do next, how to get through to him. I don't think he's mean-spirited, I don't even think he truly wants to hurt others.........but then how do you explain it? And truthfully, I'm scared about how we can get things under control before Kindergarten, because he's destined for trouble in school if these behaviors aren't any better. Actually, if this weren't our church's preschool, where I"m on the Board of Directors, Ethan might not still be enrolled there......because they probably would be asking us to leave due to his behaviors. And what would we do then? We'd be SOL, I suppose.

I feel like such a whiny baby sometimes, but I want to know when our road will stop being so bumpy.......every single step of the way, from conception onward, has been a struggle and at times a life and death struggle. I'm lucky to even have the boys, for them to have lived despite the extreme prematurity and difficult births, but...........I secretly wish for a parenting life that doesn't have acronyms. That's it, that's all I'm asking for. No NICU, no ASD, no ADHD, no BPD, no SID or OT or PT or IUGR or PDA or any of the rest. And every family and every parent has struggles, bad days, etc, I get that. But I think I've had my share already, and really do wish for some smooth, newly-paved road ahead. Maybe even a chance to use cruise control, but at this point I haven't even discovered where that button is, much less used it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My kids are "old school"!

I think this is truly hilarious. My kids, aged 3.9999 and 6.5, enjoy most to watch and/or listen to "old stuff", or what they would probably consider old. You know, stuff we remember from when we were kids.

Examples: The Electric Company tv show (thanks Uncle B for the box sets). Schoolhouse Rock DVD collection (thanks Santa). Music from the 70s (thanks to the Veggie Tales for introducing Andrew to such classics as Funkytown and Car Wash, LOL). The rock group named "They Might Be Giants"......and I don't just mean their recent kids' stuff like Here Come the ABCs. I mean the early 90s stuff, like Particle Man and Istanbul, which I lovingly remember singing along to in college. You haven't lived 'til you've seen a 29-pound former micropreemie playing air guitar and singing "Istanbul is Constantinople, now it's Istanbul not Constantinople".......

Thinking about this never fails to make me smile. And I'll take it, for as long as it lasts. I'm perfectly happy that they're not yet into "today's music" or the older-kid videos and TV shows. Spongebob is about as mature and racy as it gets for them right now. Not to mention what they've learned from these golden-oldie videos.......remember "Lolly Lolly get your adverbs here"? How about "Conjunction Junction"?

I know that all-too-soon will come the day when one or both of the boys finally says "this old stuff is stupid" or something to that effect. What a sad day that will be. But until then, I'd better run because the Silent E song is coming on.........

Monday, February 25, 2008

Where do we fit in?

You hear so much in the news nowadays about autism. Celebrities are speaking out, charities being formed and raising money, books being written.........the awareness of "autism" is much more prevalent than even just a few years ago. But along with that, comes a much higher incidence rate of autism itself, and of the so-called "autism spectrum disorders" (ASD). Recently, the "1 in 150" statistic has been highly publicized, and it occurs even MORE frequently in boys, for some reason.

But even with the deluge of publicity on the topic, it's taken me quite a while to accept the fact that my son is on the spectrum. But he is. Or is he? Just about every day, I struggle with this. First, his tentative diagnosis was PDD-NOS, which is like a pile of leftovers for the kids who don't officially meet the criteria for "classic autism" or other recognized ASD. As I understood it, PDD-NOS is for those kids who have some developmental issues and autistic symptoms or "tendencies", and there's no real label to put on them, so they get "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified". How's that for a mouthful?

But, Andrew was a preemie too, a 29-weeker. And most preemies have developmental delays, specifically in the areas of motor skills and/or speech. And true to form, Andrew was delayed, both in learning to walk and in the development of his language. He said a word or two, then stopped, and said no more for a while. He didn't acquire baby's favorite word, "no", until he was 2 1/2.

So when we started the diagnosis process, evaluators said "he sure looks a lot like Asperger's Syndrome" but the strict definition of Asperger's says that a child must NOT have had a speech delay. And as time has progressed, I've thought back to those comments and come to the almost-conclusion that Asperger's is a more accurate description of Andrew. But in some ways, even Asperger's doesn't quite fit.

Andrew is smart, very smart. Academically, he does very well at school and reads above grade level. He's made such tremendous progress over the last 2-3 years, and the progress even extends into the social realm, where ASD kids typically have the most trouble. He can play with other kids, speaks to them, looks at them, enjoys their company. He's even started to say some typical-6-year-old things, like "this is boring" or "I'm tired of this", and occasionally has a bit of an "attitude", all of which are typical of non-ASD kids his age, right?

I have wonderful cyber-friends in the ASD world, and I owe so much to those ladies for their support and encouragement. But since every child with ASD is so different, I still sometimes feel like we don't really belong anywhere. I want and need to have a community of people to belong to, and to understand what we deal with and what my parenting situation is like.......I'm just not sure how to find it. I never want to make any other parent feel bad, if her child might be struggling more than mine or has more disabilities, etc. But it's just hard, feeling like we are neither off nor on the spectrum.............and since you can't pick and choose the characteristics that apply, we're left floating out there, knowing that Andrew still has difficulties to work on, but not always knowing how to go about it. There's definitely no road map.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ramblings of a political junkie

This is something that not everyone knows about me---I'm a political and American History junkie. It's true, I always have been. I guess it came from my Mom.....she became interested in politics, elections, etc way back when she was a teenager and JFK ran for President. That side of my family is Irish Catholic, so you can imagine the excitement when he was elected, etc.

I barely remember my parents taking us to see Jimmy Carter in a campaign event when he ran in 1976.....I was in Kindergarten but they took me out of school for the day to go to Columbia to see him, for the educational value of it, etc. I was 5 and my sister was 2. Ever since then, we've watched the party conventions on TV every 4 years, paid attention to who's running, etc.

All of my political-watching life, however, I've wished I could get as excited about a candidate as Mom was back then about JFK. She collected stuff about him, and still has it. She's got a box full of scrapbooks made of newspaper clippings, campaign memorabilia like posters, buttons, hats, etc. She tells the story of how inspiring he was for the whole country, and when you listen to his speeches on those old black and white films, you can see it for yourself. They had such hopes for what he could do for America........but then it ended when my then-2-year-old Uncle had to pass out tissues to the family as they cried in front of the TV on that day in November 1963.

So I've always looked for a similar kind of candidate to be excited about, inspired by. We've always been Democrats, and there haven't been many Democrat Presidents in my lifetime. Most times, the candidate has been someone that you just "accept" because he's better than the alternative, but not someone you love because you truly think they are right for the job, etc.

Well, I'm afraid to jinx it, but I do think we might have such a candidate this time, in Barack Obama. I was a John Edwards supporter in 2004, and think if he had been the nominee, things might have turned out entirely different in that election. But I digress..........this time, I was glad to see Edwards trying again but he never seemed to get any "traction" as the campaign went along. I don't like Hillary, don't think she's the right nominee because of how polarizing she seems to be, and how much Republicans hate her and would do anything to see her defeated. But then there's Obama.

I like him. He's smart, articulate, well-rounded with a varied heritage and varied world experience. He's young.....only 10 years older than I am, and his kids are the same age as mine! I love the idea of someone "our age" being President, representing a whole new generation of Americans. (wasn't that Kennedy's line....."the torch has been passed, to a new generation....") In his experiences both in and out of the world of elected office, he seems to have a talent for bringing people together--across racial lines, economic lines, etc. And boy do we need that in this country. I'm so tired of the Red and Blue stuff, I could scream!

So last night, I got home from a rehearsal and turned on MSNBC tv. I hear the tail end of a statement by Keith Olbermann (LOVE him!), something about "allegations of a romantic relationship with a lobbyist", etc.........and "we'll have more after this" as they went to commercial. OMG, my heart sank. I thought "this cannot be happening, PLEASE don't let this be a story about Obama". Like I said, I don't want to jinx things, and part of me keeps waiting for the other shoe to fall. This almost seems too good to be true, so we're bound to be disappointed somewhere along the this it?

I held my breath as the show returned, and the story was actually about John McCain. Truthfully, I wouldn't wish this kind of scandal on anyone (ok, maybe W, but no one else, LOL), but was SO relieved to know it wasn't Obama. I've pinned my hopes on him, and am praying we won't be let down.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sometimes I hate my job

Can I please ask a dumb question?


I am so frustrated, and am beginning to wonder seriously if what I'm doing is really worth it. People who know me well will say "hey, Jen, you say this every year at about this time", and it's true that I do. But, eventually I need to just step up and do something about it; the question is when.

I teach Band at a small Catholic high school. The school claims to support Band and want to build a program here, but........I am constantly faced with roadblocks in my way as I attempt to do so. I've been here almost 5 years now---well, ok, 4 1/2 if you count the time I took a leave of absence before and after my micropreemie's birth in 2004. And guess how many people I have in Band as of today? 12! You heard right, only 12. Out of a school of over 800 students! Trying to start a program from scratch is never easy, but this is ridiculous!

The problem stems from all the things the students are required to take in order to graduate. If you've ever been in a performing group like Band, Chorus, Orchestra, etc, you know that it can't be a revolving door of students moving in and out......or at least it can't be that way if you want it to be successful and make progress. But the revolving door is what I seem to always have, because there are just not enough class periods in the day for kids to take all that they "need to" plus Band. Hmm, let's see if we can do basic counting:

Foreign Language

Oh, and let's include Band too........oops, they only get to choose 7 courses per year. So where does that leave Band? In the trash heap, mostly. So far, I've signed up a grand total of ZERO kids for next year's Band. They start signing up today, and it goes through next Tuesday. And every year, when this particular week comes, I get mad and I plan to quit. I say "this is just too frustrating, nothing ever changes, I can't take this" and I whine and complain to anyone who will listen. But then, for some reason, I stay. I like the part-time schedule, I like my availability to go with my kids on field trips, volunteer in their schools, etc. But truthfully, there needs to be some career satisfaction too at some point, some sense of accomplishment. I work hard here, and it's horribly frustrating to know that despite all that I do, things aren't improving and we just have to keep on limping through, barely scraping by as a respectable Band program.

Well, it might be out of my hands anyway. The principal told me a few years ago that if ever the Band enrollment numbers didn't justify the money they spend on my salary and the TINY budget we get for music and equipment, then they'd just have to cut Band altogether. Sometimes I almost wish he would, just to save me the heartache of trying to decide what is best for me......this way, he'd take it out of my hands. I pray about this a lot, hoping to be led in the right direction so that I'll do what I'm meant to do. Just wish the answer were a bit clearer.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Mother's Day azalea is blooming

Hi! Welcome to my brand-new blog. I figured it was time to enter the new century, right? I hope that this blog will be a good way to share my thoughts, ramblings and the ups-and-downs of daily life. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

I'm a thirty-something Mom of 2 boys, and both were born very prematurely because I suffered from severe preeclampsia in both pregnancies. My oldest son, Andrew, has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) and my youngest, Ethan, is barreling towards a diagnosis of ADHD.....emphasis on the "H" part.

Almost 3 years ago, my husband gave me an unconventional Mother's Day present: an azalea plant. We live in South Carolina, specifically right outside of a town called Summerville--basically, the world capital of azaleas. I'm well known for my black thumb, which kills every plant I come in contact with. But I figured I'd try to keep this little azalea alive for as long as I could.

I kept it in the original flowerpot for a while, then it started wilting. I planted it at the left-front corner of our house, and made a little decorative brick border around it, then waited. It struggled mightily for a while, but it seemed that whatever I did was wrong. I watered it too much; I didn't water enough. It turned brown, leaves fell off and branches became crunchy and brittle. I kept pruning off the dead parts, hoping something would make it through.

Around this same time, you could say my life was mirroring that of the poor little azalea plant. I was just being confronted with Andrew's diagnosis, and micropreemie Ethan wasn't eating, wasn't gaining weight, etc. I felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders, and was failing at it. I went into a very dark period of depression, and my life nearly fell apart. I was just sure I couldn't "do this".....being a mom of special-needs kids and dealing with the loss of the kind of pregnancies and parenting I'd expected to have.

Thanks to a wonderful doctor who took me seriously, and to the wonderful cyber-friendships I've made, I've bounced back and made tremendous progress since that time. Things aren't perfect, guess they never will be. But, I pruned off some "dead parts" and kept pushing on, and that's really all that any of us can do, isn't it?

Last year, when spring arrived, I couldn't even see the remnants of the azalea plant. The flower bed had filled in with weeds, and they were crowding out the little azalea shoots........but some heavy weeding cleared things out for the last little surviving buds of hot-pink azalea flowers. I think we actually got one good blossom out of it last year.

Now it's 2008. Andrew's doing superbly in first grade, winning awards and growing taller by the day. Ethan's slowly making progress, thanks to omega-3 supplements, and his weight is finally on the charts! And my Mother's Day azalea? Even during the coldest parts of winter, I saw it growing.......steadily, slowly, pushing on and putting out new leaves. And now it's blooming! The plant still has a long way to go, and there may still be brown leaves and wilted blossoms in its future, but for tiny flower bed is filling with hot-pink blooms, and I like to think that the revival of that plant represents something similar for me.