Kids Learn More Than You Think

My oldest child is at that fascinating age of almost 17. There are so many things that make this age interesting. This is where they start doing their driving school thing. But even more interesting than the shift to adulthood as far as physical growth, is the other aspects of it. It’s the watching them learn to navigate through life. It’s watching them carefully think and form their own opinions. It’s watching their struggle as they try to break away from you while still understanding there is a lot that they have to learn in the world.

For as long as I can remember, my son wanted to be a forensic scientist. Eventually this grew into a want of being like Abby from NCIS: a forensic chemist but also a cyber forensic specialist. His goal has long been to work for the FBI to help solve crimes and make a difference in the world. I never told him what to be. But, apparently my fondness for crime shows rubbed off on him. Though now he is also wondering if he should be more like Spencer Reid, boy genius. It’s his life. I’m just here to offer support and advice as he asks.

That’s another fascinating thing about this age: your shifting role as a parent. With my younger son, it’s all about teaching right from wrong. It’s doling out punishments for not going to bed on time. It’s picking out their clothes until they learn that stripes and camo is not a great look. You give 6/7 year old choices, but you are still the one making their decisions for them. They don’t know any better yet. At 17, you’re done with that. Sure, you still make them take out the trash and do their chores, but now it’s about them. You give them a curfew of 12am, and remind them that this means they need to be walking in the door before the click hits that number. But you aren’t there to run their life anymore. Now, you let go and hope to whatever entity that you believe in that you did a passable job.

You’re not going to be there when they are at that party where they are offered a beer or drugs. You have to hope that they hear your voice of disapproval in their ear. You have to hope that if they did make the wrong decision in that moment that you were compassionate enough so that they call you instead of getting in the car with someone who is under the influence. I always told my son “my 10 minute lecture the next day is better than not having a next day”. I won’t lie and say that I won’t be disappointed in his decision, but I’d rather him alive than dead because he was too afraid to call me. I’d like to think that my child is always going to make the right choices, but I’m a realist. He’s going to screw up. I just hope that he knows I’m here to help pick him up afterwards. With my judgement of his situation to come later.

But what’s even more fascinating is the things they learn. My son reads the news, and like me doesn’t trust anything he reads. So he reads more until he’s down a rabbit hole where he feels like he has a good grasp on it. He talks about social justice, asking why things aren’t this way. Then I explain the logistics of “it may sound like a great idea, but like most great ideas, people ruin them”. He doesn’t like that answer. Even more recently, he has become fascinated by cold cases from watching crime shows with me and fascinated with things like false convictions. It turns out, these are things that have further inspired him to follow his current dreams. He doesn’t want good guys to get locked up because someone didn’t do their job in the crime lab. He doesn’t want families to not get justice for their loved ones. So much to the point of when he read “The Lovely Bones” for summer reading, he got so mad that he read the end of the book before he could move on because he couldn’t stand the fact the bad guy got away with it.

I say this a lot in these blogs, but you are not raising kids: you’re raising adults. Whether you realize it or not, your every action can impact your kid and this will either set them on the right path or the wrong one. It’s a big responsibility raising the next generation, but that’s what you signed up for when you made the decision to become a parent. Somewhere along the line, parents stopped remembering that and look where we are now because of that. Kids bully others because they see adults bully. They show kindness because they saw kindness. They work hard because they grew up with a work ethic. If we don’t teach these kids properly, other people will. And that usually never ends well.

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Better Late than Never?

Unless I’m deathly ill, or I’m playing nurse to other people in the house, I try not to miss my regular posts. Unfortunately, sometimes that does happen. But I try really hard. Today was one of those days were my to-do list was too much. However, I wanted to get something up because I’m a big fan of sticking to routines, almost annoyingly so. Routines are something that I can find comforting, which is why I try my hardest to stick to as rigid of a routine as I possibly can. Maybe it’s superstition or maybe it’s a necessary by-product of working from home, where you are your own boss and taskmaster so you need to be on the ball. Whatever the case is, I have a routine that I often stick to as close to the minutes as possible. When I said “rigid”, I meant it.

My youngest son has been “not being the best version of himself”. That’s the new way that us parents say “he has been an absolute nightmare, send help in the form of wine, coffee, or both”. I almost wish that I could say that it was only at school that he’s been struggling, but it’s not. He’s been worse as I was hoping he was starting to settle down. His teacher emailed me, discussing his struggles in class. Fortunately, his struggles don’t involve bullying or otherwise not being kind. His issues are the usual with him: he’s overly anxious, struggles to focus, and sit still. These aren’t new struggles with him. But I’m with the teacher: something has snapped within him and he’s worse than he’s ever been.

He’s my baby. My special little boy. My little love. I feel bad about how much I have to take deep breaths before trying to calmly talk him down. His big thing right now: tornadoes. Anytime he sees clouds, he goes off about tornadoes and how our house is going to explode. I know he has anxiety. I know that I’m trying my best to hide my own anxiety to the point where he doesn’t learn how deep it goes but also showing him that I have ways of addressing my anxiety in healthy ways. Like through my writing, knitting, or exercise. His anxiety is something that I had hoped he would have grown from, that it was just a phase. I’m starting to think that this is something we’re going to have to work on in the long run.

To solve these issues I’ve decided to go back to the “Georgie Basics”, as I call them. I bought a new calendar and chart to help get him onto a stricter routine. I’m going to figure out some activity, maybe art related, to get him to work out some of those issues in his mind. Something that requires him to sit down and focus, but that he won’t care he’s sitting down and focusing on it because he’s enjoying it so much. I’m going to get him to start doing “Mommy and Georgie” yoga. I’m going to try everything, because he’s my boy and that’s what I need to do.

Dealing with children who have these types of struggles isn’t easy. It’s easy to backseat parent when you don’t have the same struggles. It’s easy to judge someone for not giving their kid medications for their anxiety and focusing issues. It’s even easier to judge them for giving them medication for their anxiety and focusing issues. But until you are there, on the front lines of these battles, leave it to those who live the struggle. I’m sure they don’t want to hear how your perfect kid never had this issue, but they read in this place that medications kill kids. (Not really, but you know exactly what I’m talking about here.) For the rest of us, keep your head up. We’ll get through this together.

Surprise! It’s a Pre-504 Meeting!

Last week, I mentioned about how I felt like I was in an endless cycle of evaluations. I discussed about how my youngest spend most of his time in an early intervention, dealing with specialists and evaluations. When he was done with his IEP, I was relieved. I thought that this would be the end of it. That now we could just worry about him being the kid that he’s supposed to be without needing to “fix” anything. He still had his quirks, but that was just who my boy was. And I love him for that.

I also mentioned about how I received a letter asking for permission to do more assessments on him, that the first evaluation required a closer look at his situation. His situation is that his handwriting is illegible, so much that the teacher can’t accurately assess him. I mentioned that I hadn’t heard back from this last letter, and I was anxious to see what was next for him. It was later that day, after the blog had been posted, that I received a phone call from the school to schedule a meeting with me. I knew what that meant. That mean that the cycle I had just ended with my son was starting up again. Had the evaluations gone well, I would have just received a letter saying that everything was fine. Instead, I had a voicemail that said “let’s schedule this thing as soon as possible.” That wasn’t a good sign.

I did become very anxious about this. Any parent in the same situation can understand the feeling of failure. That you did everything that you thought was right and it turns out, you fell short again. It’s not even a consideration in your mind that this was just how things were; it’s something that you did to cause it. You fear that everyone thinks that they need to fix your kid. But they don’t, because he isn’t broken. He’s just a little different.

They discussed some of the interventions that they had already started to put in place for him. In addition to the noise cancelling headphones for his sensory issues (which was a result of diligence on his teacher’s behalf rather than a requirement due to an IEP/504), they had started giving him one of the classroom’s Chromebooks to write out his lessons in instead of handwriting the work. This made them extremely happy because not only could he type well, he could type fast. He would type out between 3-4 sentences in under a few minutes. He could spell fine, even words that they wouldn’t expect a kid his age to use properly let alone spell. He was so bright and they needed to help him so that everyone else could see how bright he was too.

Back with his speech problems, I was always afraid that people wouldn’t realize how smart this kid was just because he couldn’t verbally communicate with anyone. They knew though. My biggest fear was that he would always be dismissed because he was his own person. This was validation that maybe I didn’t have to worry as much about that. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to fight for my kid because it seems like he has the right people on his side that are fighting for him too. I didn’t have to fight for a 504. Everyone in that room agreed with the plan.

So what is the plan? He’s back to movement breaks/rest breaks as needed to keep him focused and to help his attention/anxiety issues. He continues to use the computer and will use a special grip for his pencil to help strengthen those muscles to improve his handwriting. The occupational therapist, though I didn’t meet her at this meeting, seemed confident that he was bright enough that he would pick everything up quickly. He is bright enough to pick it up quickly, but they are also forgetting what I like to call “The Georgie Factor”. Getting his cooperation is more of a fight than his intelligence. Best of luck to them though.

Next week, I get to go back to the school and get the official 504 plan. I’m interested in meeting the occupational therapist to see what she says about him. I’m also very interested in getting tips of what I can do at home with him because it’s apparently not enough. But I’m relieved that there’s a plan, that they know what they are dealing with, and that they are confident in a positive outcome.

One Person’s Small Victory

When I had my first son, my big accomplishment would be making it to work without a gummy snack or some other food smeared on my clothes unknowingly. That was a small victory that many moms cherished. The moment that you can go to the bathroom or take a shower without an audience is a victory. I don’t think I truly appreciated these small victories as much as I should have.

Yesterday was my youngest son’s Christmas concert. This could have gone a few different ways. 1) He could have had a meltdown before going on stage, causing me to sit on the sidelines with him while the other classes performed their songs; 2) He could have had a meltdown while on stage (or standing in front of the stage), halting the entire concert and making a scene; 3) He would stand there, staring off into space, while doing something else that would draw attention to him; 4) He would be the perfect child, singing and dancing with his peers. I love my son, but holding out for option 4 was not a reasonable option. It would be great if that happened and I got fantastic pictures of my otherwise normally musical son performing. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was okay with that.

The battle was a weekend long one. “I don’t want to go to school.” “I don’t want to sing.” “I don’t want to dance.” I considered bribing him into option 4. I’m not above bribery. I know I’m going to get the people that will tell me how awful of a mother I am for that. Listen, I’m just trying to make it through the day with what little sanity I still have.

I wasn’t going to make him sing or dance. I wasn’t going to make him dress up for the event. Part of parenting is knowing your kids; knowing which battles are really worth it. Fighting with him over going to sleep? Worth it. Fighting over a Christmas concert or dressing up for it? Not high on my priorities. I’m just trying to get through the day with as little tears as possible, from both sides of this table. Some kids were dressed in gorgeous dresses or looked way too adorable in full suits. Mine wore a long-sleeve shirt with a pocket and jeans. That was fancy enough. He wasn’t the only one dressed in normal clothing. He wasn’t even the only one who wanted nothing to do with the singing. He didn’t dance. But boy did that kid have a killer bow game going on. He knocked his bow (okay.. “bows”…) out of the park. Did I see him trying to do The Floss while up there? Oh, he definitely started. He looked out of place. He stood out. But he did his best. And I could not be more proud of him.

When you have a kid who seems a little too different from everyone else, it’s easy to feel self-conscious. It’s easy to ask yourself what you did wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I may be judged by the fact that I proudly recorded my son even as he stood and did nothing. Why? Because he was there. He showed up. He didn’t have a meltdown or freak out. He showed up and got up their bravely, happy that he saw his mommy in the crowd to support him. That’s my job. My job isn’t to change him. He’s not broken. He’s flawed, just like the rest of us. But he’s not broken. He doesn’t need to be fixed. I’m here to guide him, to support him every step of the way until he becomes an age where I have to sit back and hope that I did everything that I could. And I know that I am doing everything I can to build a solid foundation for him, because a solid foundation is what will hold him up for the rest of his life.