Parent-Teacher Conference and Kevin

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Last night we met with Z’s preschool teacher. The first thing she asked when she saw us was, “Who’s Kevin?”

Well, Kevin could be a couple of things:

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or

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Z’s teacher said that Z often says, “Come on, Kevin” during class. Which sounds totally not out of the ordinary to us. We know who Kevin is (or could be), why doesn’t everyone?

We then talked about Z’s placement for kindergarten. The teacher said that she, the speech pathologist, and occupational therapist agree that Z is on the cusp of going either to a special class or an autism kindergarten class.

We forgot to ask what the difference is.

But her teacher said that Z catches onto academic stuff like reading and colors and shapes and math really quickly. In other areas Z is working on a few skills, and she still has social delays. She’s fine working or playing alongside a teacher or aide, but when another child/peer joins the group, Z leaves.

Y’all, sometimes I’m like that. But I don’t want to be the reason Z can’t interact with people. So we asked what we could do to improve her social skills. And we decided to try scheduling regular playdates with kids her age, just like we tried last year.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s kindergarten?” I don’t see a totally regular class full of typical kids–what I and Reilly grew up with. That’s not the normal around here. What I do see is the possibility of the bird from Up or one of the Minions. Both are equally great: Fun, goofy, smart (maybe not so much the Minion); generally happy and unassumingly generous with cheer. That’s our normal. I’m grateful to have accepted and live it every day.

That’s our girl.

 

Kindergarten Planning and Placement

Z turns 5 in the next couple of months. She’s been going to preschool since she was 3. In the fall she’ll start kindergarten.

KINDER-freaking-GARTEN.

A few weeks ago Z’s preschool teacher notified us of an informational transition-to-kindergarten meeting being held on January 24. We were able to go. It was only an hour long, but the presenter, Linda Chadburn, gave a lot of information. She was clear and easy to understand–she’s been in special education for over 25 years. I could sense a lot of the other parents were also trying to process all the information she presented.

We learned about Least Restrictive Environments, where by law children are placed with other children most like them. The presenter showed us an inverted pyramid with different levels of restrictive environments:

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From Linda Chadburn’s slide presentation

That’s a lot of levels.

Reilly and I have been talking, and we have an idea of where our little Z should go.

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From Linda Chadburn’s slide presentation

Z is currently in a special autism preschool. She goes Monday through Friday, for four hours each day. We feel she would most easily transition into an autism kindergarten. We just have to meet with Z’s preschool teacher and IEP team to see what they recommend.

This makes me so nervous.

The thing about the combined general education and special education classes is that the teacher/aide-to-student ratio is much larger, which means less individual attention. Her safety is one of our biggest concerns. Everything that you can imagine being an issue IS an issue, a definite possibility. Things you otherwise would have taken for granted. We don’t take anything for granted. That’s our world, and frankly, we’re ultimately better off for it.

But, we know Z is very smart. And her speech is really coming along. And if it and her comprehension have developed enough by the time her kindergarten placement is due, maybe we’ll be able to teach her about safety rules?

We’ll approach this milestone of kindergarten the way we’ve approached everything about Z’s development: one day at a time; one moment at a time. Learning as much as we can along the way.

That little girl. Getting to be quite the big girl, now. We love her.

Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

Halloween Costumes 2018, and Resisting Monsters

I posted this on social media 10/28/2018. It’s long enough to document here.

***

We went to a Halloween concert yesterday and as we got out of the car, a lady shouted, “Chucky!” As we entered the building, we got a few “Nice costumes, guys!” from people we passed. And Reilly said I made a toddler dressed as Black Panther cry.

Also, posting our costumes on a Sunday to get us wondering why anyone should live with near-paralyzing fear of getting murdered on their holy days. Or any day for that matter. That is where my heart is right now.

These characters from horror movies evoke the thrill of a good scare that we can turn off, recover from, and then carry on with our lives. Other real-life monsters, like those just from this past week, aren’t as easy to escape. But we can’t let them conquer us with fear. We can’t let their hate overpower us or ambush us through the mail, at the grocery store, or where we find spiritual strength or a sense of community.

We love these costumes, and we are so excited about showing them off. But costumes are all they are. And you know our hearts aren’t filled with revenge like Chucky’s, or incapable of distinguishing between affection and violence as Frankenstein’s monster’s, or deeply primally evil like Black Phillip’s.

We are here for you. On your holy days, and every day.

Happy Sabbath, y’all.

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Four Zinger Years

This post was written 10 April 2018, but I’m backdating it to Z’s birthday, 8 April.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

Dear Z,

Almost three months ago, you and I got sick with fevers, headaches, and congestion. You and I went to the doctor to see if we had the flu. The doctor sent us somewhere else to get a nasal swab to determine the flu. I’m not sure why he or any of the nurses in the office couldn’t swab us. I still might be a little bitter about it.

The doctor’s office wasn’t entirely clear on where we were supposed to get the swabs: do we get them at the hospital, or at one of the affiliated clinics near the hospital? I should have asked for clarification; part of our long day was that I should have gotten better directions.

We stopped by the hospital first. When we were checking in, the intake lady heard you coughing, handed me a mask, and instructed me to put it on your face. This wasn’t going to happen. I knew you weren’t going to keep the mask on. You sat on the floor, keeping mostly quiet, being very good for a sick 3-year-old.

The intake lady heard you cough again, and she reminded me to put the mask on your face. I didn’t do it, because that was a battle I chose not to fight: I’d rather you quiet than struggle to keep a mask on your face. She double checked our insurance and told us a flu swab wasn’t covered. I was irritated. My head was throbbing. I remember half-heartedly asking about the insurance, and the intake lady answered something. I took your hand and quietly walked away.

We eventually found the place where someone would be able to give us the flu test. We ended up both negative. That was a relief, but we’d spent a lot of the day driving around, feeling like absolute junk. I’m so sorry for dragging you all over Orem and Provo that day.

We both tested negative that grey January day, but I can’t stop thinking about my lingering negative attitude about that experience, especially at the hospital. What I wanted was not to have to explain why you wouldn’t wear the mask. What I resented was the assumption that you would wear a mask at all. Maybe the intake lady trusted that moms know the best approach for putting a mask on their children, since no “normal” sick child would cooperate wearing a mask. I didn’t know how to say I was clueless. What I wanted was an acknowledgement–at least from this healthcare institution, in a state that has a higher population of autistic children–or some sort of effort to accommodate, a simple “if your child has sensory issues, then [here’s an alternative].” That can’t be too much to expect at a hospital that probably sees hundreds of children every day.

But guess what? I figured it out. When we were at another waiting room, the receptionist asked me to take masks for both me and you. You started coughing, and I held a mask up to your mouth. Every time you coughed, I covered your mouth with the mask, and you were actually ok with it. I was so grateful for this!

 

Dadda and I have been your parents for four years now, and we’re still figuring it out. I’m still learning patience, but I’ve appreciated the process of learning to see the world through your eyes. I love how you’re never in a rush. How you give in to adult-perceived distractions, when you’re just enjoying your surroundings. How you run your hands over all surfaces. How sometimes you exercise your curiosity by sticking your tongue on things (which often grosses me out). How you run and laugh and sing–and spin, of course. How you verbalize your feelings even though you don’t have as many words as you’d like.

You’re working on getting more words, though. More skills, more coordination. More understanding. A greater attention span and focus. You’ve developed a liking for coloring and puzzles. You can sit with these activities for at least an hour sometimes. Your teachers have been so impressed with you over the past year. When you began preschool, you weren’t able to sit still, and you had no words. Now look what you can do!

We’ve taught you to repeat simple phrases like, “I’m cool” and “I’m smart”; Lola has taught you, “I’m beautiful,” and on your birthday you’ve been able to repeat, “I’m four.” Four. We can’t believe it.

You are adorable, and everyone loves you. Friends and family, definitely. It’s a little weird when strangers smile at you while we’re out or traveling, but most of the time you’re oblivious and could give zero cares. I need to find a way to live more like you.

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It can be so hard being a kid sometimes. So many rules, so many boundaries. It’s been hard for me to reconcile your supposed limitations with your potential. Just thinking of your immense potential makes my heart full. But to you, you don’t have any limitations, other than your parents’ occasional inability to understand what you want or need. Such understanding often requires words. Which you are acquiring more of every single day. Your language–both jabbering and intelligible words–has expanded our minds and blessed our hearts in so many ways, made us better parents. We’re learning as we go. Just like you, we’re figuring it out. We try our hardest to open up the world to you. No limits, baby girl. No more assumptions.

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We have you as our daughter, and you have brought us more than we could ever imagine. More love. More happiness. More life.

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Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

42 Months (in two days)

Dear Beautiful Z,

In the middle of last month you had picture day at preschool. I preordered the package online, not knowing how they’d turn out. All I wanted was to preserve the memory of your very first picture day.

On your very first picture day, your teacher sent home a note. You usually get a daily note of your general behavior – this comes as a golden rod laminated form that your teacher fills out: What you ate, what you played with, any tantrums, or moments in the calm-down corner. But the note your teacher sent home on your first picture day was a pink note. The pink notes are achievement notes, and this is the one from your first picture day:

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This made me excited to see your pictures! I asked Dadda when he thought your pictures would be ready, and he said they usually take two weeks.

The next two weeks the suspense was unbearable. I kept busy and tried thinking about other things to pass the time. But it occurred to me that it was possible your teacher sent home notes like that for all your classmates, and doubt crept into my mind. What if your smile wasn’t really a smile, but a weird smirk? What if it was one of those forced smiles with your eyes squinty or tightly shut? What if you got all muddy or grimy from snack time? I’ve seen bad school pictures. Many of my school pictures were horrible. I definitely lowered my expectations of how your first school pictures turned out.

But the day came when I picked you up from daycare and one of the workers said your school pictures were on the top shelf of your cubby hole, and that they were sooo cute. And we saw another daycare worker who commented likewise about your school pictures. And so you and I went to your cubby hole and I glanced at the photo through the window of the big envelope, and I just about fell to my knees and cried from the cuteness. this is what I saw:

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Everyone loves your school pictures! I love them. Dadda loves them. I’ve shown them to you and asked who the girl in the pictures is, and you’ve answered with your name in that sweet little voice of yours. It’s nice to know that your teacher just wasn’t being nice when she sent home that pink note. She was being sincere, and I’m so glad we have this memory!

Yesterday Dadda and I had parent-teacher conference with your teacher. We talked for a good while about the progress you’re making, and she remarked how much energy you have! She’s impressed with you, and I hope you continue to let your teacher challenge you, and that you’ll eventually learn to harness that energy. We know you’re 3, we know you’re a sensory-seeker, so we definitely understand the spinning and running and climbing everywhere.

While we were at your school, we also got to talk with your speech pathologist, who had the chance of talking with your ABA therapist. It sounds like they will be able to coordinate their efforts and methods to bring about the best results for your speech development. How fortunate that we have these resources. We feel so blessed.

And today: Your teacher sent home another pink note!

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We are super proud of you. We love that you’re learning and expressing yourself. We love that communication is starting to click for you. We’re doing our best to help you, and your sweet spirit and desire to learn keep us from feeling too overwhelmed. We are here for you, and we will support you always.

Love, mom