Let the Summer Games Begin

The summer games in my house include “How much work can mommy accomplish in a day while the kids are home?” and “When does mommy’s sanity leave the house?” The first day didn’t count, as I was attending a funeral. That was when my husband stepped up to take over the first day of the summer games, the practice day for when mommy is actually home. (For the record, my husband was home with our youngest while I attended the funeral with my oldest. Due to his high energy and anxiety issues, attending a funeral was not the best idea.)

Today, was not a great start. My blog being published late today is evidence of that. My to-do list that was supposed to be accomplished by lunch time, including this blog, was stalled. Because working from home is a very difficult thing when you are also managing your children. Especially my youngest. My daily schedule over the summer is now supposed to include the time where I enforce “school time”; doing more reading (including my oldest son’s AP reading list), working on my youngest son’s handwriting skills so that he doesn’t require OT next year as well, and various other things that will keep my boys fresh over the summer. I’m basically juggling a summer camp, summer school, and my profession every day.

There’s a careful balance that needs to take place over the summertime. Children should have fun and play. They should be free and relax. But, this is also the time to work on some of their shortcomings over the year. For instance, my youngest had struggles with his anxiety, focusing, handwriting, and listening skills. My oldest will be doing his summer reading journals over the summer, as well as test prep for his AP history, AP English, and PSATs. The balance needs to be there otherwise you create school burnout before school even begins.

So what’s my approach this summer? I do give a week break before I wean them into anything educational. However, we’re still doing the Mightier program for our youngest child’s anxiety, and we are getting more strict about our listening expectations for him. I trust my oldest to do what he needs to without too much supervision, though that doesn’t mean he’s entirely going to left alone without my nagging. That’s just how I do.

School is more complicated than ever these days, so it’s especially important for parents to make sure they get this balance. I like to do a 1/2 and 1/2 split. Their fun time occurs while I’m working and when I’m done, it’s time to get down to business. Sure, I won’t be as strict as it is at school. If my oldest wants to listen to his music or podcasts while doing what he needs to, as long as it gets done right I’m not too picky. They are kids and we need to let them be kids without putting too much pressure on them.

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When Your Little One Has Anxiety

As a parent, you go into it realizing that you’re going to have to make some hard choices. Where are you going to live to ensure they get the best education? Private, public, or charter schools? Religion or no? How strict are you going to be? Anytime a parent tells me about a plan that they have for their child, I do chuckle to myself in judgement. A friend mentioned to me about their birth plan as if that plan was going to be a reality for their process. I half jokingly told her that her birthing plan would be better tossed in the trash, because the real reality is that things with children hardly ever go as planned. Did I plan to have a baby over 2 weeks overdue in the middle of what seemed like the hottest summer/fall ever? Nope. Did I plan on an induction? Nope. Is that what ended up happening? Abso-freaking-lutely.

One of those things that parents rarely plan for are those “what-ifs” that seem impossible. Did I think that anxiety in children displayed at such a young age? No way. Did I understand that my child having anxiety was a real reality that may come to life? Yes. But I didn’t plan for an approach other than “I don’t want to medicate my child unless it’s absolutely necessary”. This isn’t a debate about whether I think a parent is wrong for choosing another approach; everyone’s different. I’m not there yet and that’s my choice of what I think is right for my child. Should a time come where I have exhausted every other approach, this will become more of an option. But I’m not there yet.

That was when my husband came across this program called Mightier, which apparently is a program that was created at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Expensive? Yes, but when you factor how much the co-pay would probably be for the medications, it probably equals out to the same amount. Plus, it teaches coping mechanisms and ways to ease the anxiety rather than just giving medicine to cover it up. Yes, these are medical issues. But if I have to choose a painkiller over physical therapy to find relief rather than just mask the problem, I would rather deal with the cause and not just the effect.

It’s only been a few days, but I can definitely see it started to sink in for him. When he starts to get into his “anxious episodes”, we calmly tell him to do his “Mightier breathing”. The program comes with a heart monitor and it stops the game on the tablet and pops up a meter with a breathing exercise, making it a game for the child to get their heart rate from the red to the blue. It’s training him how to do these breathing exercises in a way that I have failed. If this has been my experience after only a couple days, I can’t wait to see his progress grow. But so far, I’m taking these little wins.

I don’t expect to cure his anxiety. I still suffer my own anxiety issues. But it’s not about curing it; it’s about finding ways to manage it. I manage mine by exercising, music, knitting, art, and writing. Does that work for everyone? Absolutely not. Are there people who do benefit from having these life-saving medicines? Absolutely. Medications for anxiety and depression are not a crutch or a weakness; they are the same as taking medication to keep your heart beating properly. They can be essential to life. Mental illness is just an illness, and you treat illnesses in the way that you feel is the best for you while taking a medically practical approach.

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.

Sorry, But I’m Not Really Sorry

Whenever someone stops by and sees my house, looking like a bomb went off in it, I instantly apologize. Instead of saying “yeah, it’s called my children/husband/dogs, and honestly I was too tired to deal with it”, I apologize and just say that I wasn’t feeling well. Sure, it’s a half truth. The real truth: I’m not sorry. I’m not really even embarrassed. I honestly, don’t really care. Some days, you are going to come into my house that looks professionally cleaned. But most days, you’re going to find a disaster. And honestly, if you have a problem with it then that’s more on you than me. If that dictates how you view me as a friend or a mom, than I’d rather you not come over anyways.

It’s the normal thing to do right? To apologize for a mess? To apologize for anything? I know people can tell I’m not really sorry when I’m really not, but I say it anyways. Because honestly, I don’t think that they care if I mean it. I think they just want me to say the words. I’ll concede that. It’s what we’re trained to do. But I’m not sorry. I really don’t even care.

Mom’s have a lot to do. Stay at home moms, moms who stay home and work from home, moms who go out to work. It doesn’t matter. We all deal with the same struggles of having a list longer than there are hours in the day. We’re on the clock 24/7. I get up at 5:30am, and sometimes don’t get to sleep until 1 or 2 am. That’s not counting the 10000 times that I wake up in the middle of the night for anxiety/kids/dogs/general body not cooperating things. I have my to-do list. I’m not special or a supermom. I’m just a barely average mom. Maybe even a mediocre one.

Stop apologizing for not meeting other people’s standards. You’ll feel much better about yourself if you don’t. Own your mess. You are your own person and if they have a problem with that, they know where the door is. It’s that thing hidden behind the mass amount of recycling that has amassed in your dining room that they barely made it through when they entered in the house.

When You Start Cutting Special Needs Funding

The idea of cutting slashing special needs funding is appalling to me. This is the group that arguably needs their funding cut the least. It’s easy to dismiss this if you never had to sit through IEP meetings or worry about how your kid is going to succeed in school without receiving services. “Those are kids that would never make it anyways, so what does it matter?” is a sentiment that makes me cringe. This isn’t just going to affect those kids who may have severe disabilities, who deserve the dignity of going to school and learning and interacting with other people. Cutting this type of funding affects a broad range of students that you may look at and not believe that they receive services. But they are. And cutting those services will only hurt them.

It’s apparent that there is already a budget issue with funding special needs programs. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. My son’s early intervention services ended at 3, at which point I would either have had to hope that he got into this preschool program that offered these services or I would have to cough up money that I didn’t have. (Which I would have figured out, because that’s what you do.) When doing the evaluations, they met several difficulties along the way. First of all, he was still basically nonverbal just shy of his 3rd birthday. Secondly, he doesn’t have the focus or attention span to be bothered with testing. The tests came back inconclusive. That was a very bad sign that this nonverbal 3 year old was not going to get into a program that he really needed to get into. I was fortunate enough where that special needs team came together and realized there was a need, even if they had to really strain to get him into the program (he made it in for “self-control” issues).

The gamble paid off as the next year he did qualify for speech services. After getting those speech services? He just took off and not only did he start speaking very well, it turned out he could actually read. Which we wouldn’t have known had he not gotten these services. Had this team just dismiss him. They recognized that he was a bright child and that they needed to intervene to ensure that he could succeed in life. After he left preschool, he was out of these services. I thought I didn’t have to worry about it again. Until I did.

Again, in the meeting it was a struggle for the team. While they used a few technicalities as answers, it was needed otherwise my son wouldn’t get the services that they agree he needed. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to fight. Other parents aren’t that lucky. Those are the parents that suffer because the budget is already so tight for these kids. These kids are arguably the most vulnerable in the school system, especially for those “normal” kids like my son. Those kids where people don’t even realize that they are receiving services. Without receiving these services, my son could have easily become a statistic. He could be on the track of disciplinary issues or even eventually drop out because they are frustrated or dismissed as “unworthy” by a school system that values students based on testing and meeting a specific grade on unfair standardized tests. But for now, he is going to be fine.

That is until funding starts getting cut. Cutting the Special Olympics funding because “rich people will keep it afloat”? Are we seriously trusting fancy rich people do to things that don’t benefit their bottom line? But charter school funding remains untouched? Why not count on the rich people to put their money into those charter schools? Why cut services like the ones for those on the autism spectrum? Do you think rich donors are going to cover that too? It’s disgusting and appalling. These aren’t just issues that affect low income people. These are issues that the middle class are dealing with and the moment you ignore that, you are disproving anything that you have ever said about caring about the middle class. My son needed noise cancelling headsets to be okay in school. It took nearly 2 months to find a pair from someplace that was willing to share it because they didn’t need it at the time. The schools should be able to have those accommodations for the kids who need it. But hey, let’s cut funding to the special needs programs that kids rely on to succeed.

Make broad cuts that are necessary. If charter schools are really that great, parents can make that choice themselves. Don’t take money from public schools who actually need the money to improve. The special needs programs need more funding to keep up with the growing need, not getting cuts and forcing these school systems to refuse even more services than they already do for kids in need. If I didn’t have an excellent team supporting us, my son would’ve lagged behind. And if I need to, I will make it my mission to ensure other kids like him are taken care of. And I’m one hell of a fighter.

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.

Parenting is All About Figuring it Out

It would be really easy if you could look in a book and learn all about how to be the best parent. You can’t, though. It would be great if children fit into some textbook mold so you can know what to expect. But they don’t. The reality is parenting is about the unexpected and walking around like you have no clue what’s going on most of the time, but are just really happy that everyone survived the day. Even if it did require a Deathwish french press coffee in the morning and only God knows how many other cups of instant caramel latte you consumed throughout the day.

I had my first child at 18. Imagine all of that insane wisdom that came with it for my friends in their future. When they mentioned a birth plan, I laughed. There is no planning it. There’s a “dream”; not a plan. I guarantee for the most part, nothing will go as planned. My birth plan at 18? Not to die in childbirth. I like to set the bar low. My birth plan at 29? Can’t say that it was much different. Just simply having a healthy baby and not dying in a pool of my own blood was sufficient enough. When I hear people start planning out their home birth, I do roll my eyes. I do judge. That’s great and all, but what about the unexpected? People need to learn to not be so rigid if they are going to have kids. Because the unexpected is your life now.

I have been very open about the differences between my oldest and my youngest. My youngest, who seems to be in an endless loop of observations and interventions. When he went to preschool for his IEP, I was happy that he was going to get the help that he needed. Or at least that first year, that they would be able to see that he needed speech therapy and set it up. They did. He got it for his second year of preschool. Then he satisfied his IEP and he went into Kindergarten with no plan. Aside from some anxiety issues, he didn’t do terribly in Kindergarten. For a kid who never spoke before 4, he was not only on par with his class in speech, he was exceeding some. He was a little “active” and had “attention” problems, but we all attributed them to his sensory disorder. It was fine.

Then at his parent teacher conference back in November, it was suggested that they do an occupational therapy evaluation on him because of some issues such as his handwriting and need for noise cancelling headphones in class. His teacher has been great. Eventually I finally got a letter a couple of months later. I was anxious to see what the results were. If they mailed it, that means they didn’t need to setup a meeting for an IEP, right? It turns out, it was a letter to inform me that there was more testing needed. It was stressful. When you have been dealing with evaluations for practically his whole life for various things, it does get into your head a little. It isn’t about me thinking he’s less than anything because of these interventions. It isn’t about what other kids will think of him. It’s all about wanting to do the best for your child. If he needs the help, I’m going to make sure that he gets what he needs. I want him to succeed. I want him to thrive. I just hate the waiting game, because that means you just sit around worrying until the results come in.

No one expects watching their young child go into surgery when they are planning out the nursery. No one expects struggling through evaluations when they feel that first kick. No one expects that they are going to agonize over every decision that they make because who knows what the repercussions are for their future. There is no greater responsibility in the world than being a parent. My best advice that I have ever given to any other parent is: “At the end of the day, as long as you did everything that you could to make sure everyone made it out alive, you did exactly what you were supposed to.” You can’t control what happens, but you can give them the best odds possible.