Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Letting Go

On Tuesdays, I share a Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Hop over to their blog to read even more.


On Saturday morning on our way to karate, my youngest son, C.J., commented that he enjoys riding in the car with me.  He said that our rides together are the best place for conversations.  My son has OCD and anxiety.  We first began to notice these tendencies when he was seven, but they displayed themselves full force when we moved to a new house three years ago.  The move put his whole world in a tailspin, and despite our best efforts with therapy and support at home, he descended into depression and became suicidal.  My 12 year-old and I have been in the car often lately, as I have driven him back and forth to his partial hospital program and then to his partial day therapy for the past three weeks.  Last Thursday, he finally transitioned back to full days at his regular school, the culmination of a long journey that began at the beginning of March.  After two months of hospitals, medications, and intensive therapy, he is back to riding the bus to his home school.  This Saturday  after two days of bus rides, said he missed our time together in the car.

Often, we would talk about his worries and the strategies he was learning in therapy, but most of the time we just let our thoughts flow.   We told stories about things we remembered from childhood, asked each other questions about our favorite water ice flavors, or blasted our favorite songs on the radio. We never ran out of things to say or do while zooming back and forth in the car together.  You see, we have a lot in common, my son and I.  I have anxiety too.  

Today I was back behind the wheel with my boy, but this time we were headed to the oral surgeon.  My son has hung on to his baby teeth too long, and two more had to go.  After consulting with the doctor, he asked my son if he could just pull them out today instead of going under full anesthesia like last time.  C.J. said, "Sure," as I felt panic rise up from my belly to my throat.  I wanted to ask, "Are you sure?  Will you be OK?" but as they ushered me out of the exam room, he smiled and said, "Let's do this!"

On our car ride back home, with gauze in his mouth, he chatted away about how awesome his teeth looked in the baggie he was holding.  He asked if his lip was hanging down, because the Novocaine made it feel all heavy.  Then, he realized that his other tooth was wiggly, and he pulled it out.  Right then and there.   Despite my warnings about the Novocaine still being in his system.  Despite my worry about the pain he would feel when it wore off.  Despite my flat out opposition to the notion that he should be wiggling any other teeth right now... with his dirty fingers, oh GERMS!  

He did it anyway.  

When the bile in my throat finally made its way back down where it belonged again, and we were sitting at a full stop, I looked at the third tooth.  It was a baby molar, and it was flat (no roots left) and round.  It had been ready to come out after all.   He put it in the baggie with the other two, and continued to chat away.

When he first told me that he missed our car rides together, I worried that he may not have been quite ready to re-enter his school life.  I worried that he should have more time, or if it was a sign that he needed more support.  Today, after our tooth adventure, I know that he may have been feeling sentimental, but that is it.  Despite all of my worries, despite my hang-ups- despite my anxiety, I realized today that maybe I have been hanging on to my baby for too long.  He is ready to go.  



        

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Puppy Therapy

Every Tuesday, I share a Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Stress.  Anxiety.  These two words have escalated to a whole knew definition for me lately.   My life turned upside-down on its head last month with the hospitalization of my youngest son, whose depression turned into suicidal ideation.  His struggles with depression and anxiety had mirrored my own, but when he shared his plans to hurt himself, all of those feelings spiraled to the surface, raw and churning, throwing me down and beating me like a rowboat stuck in a storm.  So, of course I began seeing a therapist.

Therapy.  There are many kinds, traditional and not-so-traditional.  We are doing the traditional cognitive behavioral therapy; however, we decided as a family to introduce another type into our home- a furry four-legged kind.  Puppy therapy.

Yes, we already have another dog, Piper, who is a high-energy and naughty Corgi.  Yes, puppies are work- training and housebreaking and chewing and up in the middle of the night.  Yes, it was a bit of an impulsive decision (although I have been pining for another dog for almost a year, because I have a secret wish to have as many Corgis as the Queen of England).   Yes, it probably isn't the ideal time in our lives to add to our stress with this four-legged barking ball of fuzz.

But, then again, maybe it is.  This moment, captured in this picture taken this week, is the reason why it is the right choice, the right kind of therapy for all of us as a family right now.


And Piper is pretty happy about it, too.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
What a gorgeous day!  The smells of pretzels, cotton candy, fries, and cheesesteaks filled the air as we took our seats.  We laughed at the Phanatic and cheered as we heard the crack of the bat, sending our home team around the bases.  We groaned as the other team scored, but what mattered most was that we were all together.
Our fighting Phils lost, but we didn't care.  Outside in the crowd, we enjoyed each moment.  Happy to feel the sunshine on a crisp spring day, all of us, having a family fun day.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Birth Story

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

Once upon a time, two and a half weeks ago, my son told one of his teachers at school that he was planning to commit suicide.  Not only had he thought about it, he had considered three possible ways to go about it.  He had said that he tried to tell me that he was feeling very sad, but he couldn't get me to understand how much he was hurting.

He is 12 years old.

We had been working on his anxiety for some time, seeing a counselor regularly, and he had begun medication to treat the visible onset of depression.  We had strategies in place, and I felt like we were making progress.  I wanted to make progress.  I was determined to make progress.  Until that day, I was not willing to accept anything but progress.

That day he was begging for help.  That day I opened my ears and listened.  That day my husband and I drove him to the hospital.  That day was the hardest day of my life.

Now we are in the After.  After his discharge, I told him about his Birth Day.  That day was one of the best days of my life.  My third baby, my last baby, he arrived full force in a hurry.  We barely made it to the hospital in time.  No meds, no epidural, I barely made it to the bed before his head began to crown.  I wanted him to know every detail of that moment he arrived in our lives.  I wanted him to experience the joy of his birth story.  After he was born, our lives were forever changed for the better.

His Story is important.  Ever After should be full of life and adventure and hope.  Now his adventure will continue.  He knows it won't be easy-- he will have battles and struggles along the way, but the light has returned to his eyes.  He will continue his Ever After.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Foresight

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

My younger self could not predict
What she would be today
She would not have known she was brave enough
Or smart enough
Or strong enough

What would she have imagined
To think or do or say
She might have planned the perfect path
The easy road
The straightest course

But her steps have been uneven
At an intermittent pace
Could she predict she'd carry on
Sometimes stumbling
Often climbing
Always moving forward

She could not have had the foresight
To prepare herself for now
Today I whisper in her ear
Persist
Hope
You will persevere

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tips and Toes

I'm way too old for neon green.
I did it on a dare.
But now that glow is on my nails, I flaunt them everywhere.

My toes are teal for contrast.
They're better off that way.
Coordination's not for me, I like the disarray.

Don't judge me by my grey hair or the wrinkles on my face.
My heart is young.   I'll have some fun.
My digits state my case.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Officially Certified

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

It's official.  I am certified to give the PSSA.  Here are my take-aways:

1.  Make sure students have two sharpened #2 pencils.
2.  Make sure calculators are clear before distributing them to students, and clear the contents after they are done.
3.  Collect all electronic devices. (Not allowed during the test.)
4.  Count test booklets and answer booklets in the presence of a test administrator.  Teachers must carry the booklets and keep them secure and organized so that they do not fall into the trash or under a desk.
5.  Make sure the test booklet and answer booklet numbers match for each student.
6.  Read directions directly from the manual as they are written.  Do not stray from the script.
7.  Actively monitor students during testing, but don't look at the test items.
8.  Do not help students with test items.
9.  Return test booklets to test administrator, counting them in his or her presence.
10.  Be positive and encouraging!  This is students' opportunity to "Show what they know!"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring Forward

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
Four short days ago, I was hoping for snow.  Just one day- a delay- something more than a dusting. My final long-shot wish after a weary winter of rain.  The joy of a snow day has eluded us once again this year.  Sleds lay unused for two years in a row, gathering dust in the garage, the box of hot chocolate unopened.  The marshmallows, now hardened white cubes, have been thrown away.   This weekend I decided to bring closure to winter and look forward to spring.

I visited my trees, as I do every March, to see how they're doing and whisper wishes of warmth.   Usually their grey branches need some waking up at this time of year, and I like to give them that encouragement.  What I found today both surprised and delighted my heart.  While the winter denied us a snow day, it granted early growth and green, open buds.  Soon, they will fluff out their pink feathers of flowers, and the sun will turn our world into a rainbow of color.  Thanks to my walk and discovery, I no longer mourn the loss of winter white.  I am ready to spring forward.



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Delight in the Ordinary

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

A typical Saturday.  Karate lessons, check.  Groceries, check.  Haircuts, check.  Happily, we have all achieved our intended goals on schedule.

But for me, this typical Saturday has not always been.  Saturdays in the past have involved many different things.  Refusal to try on new shoes at the store.  Running away and screaming at department store announcements. Tantrums in the aisles of the supermarket when the store is out of princess fruit snacks.  Strangers approaching our errands saying, "I have a cousin 'Like That,'" nodding their heads As If they Understand, or worse, avoiding eye contact as we approach.  Community outings on Saturdays with my daughter have not always been normal.  But then, with 16 years of navigating her sensory issues, limited speech, and diagnosis of Down syndrome, my perception of Normal is vastly different from the norm.

It is not Normal to find people who fully accept my daughter and everything that she is, but Dani is the exception.  We moved to a new community 3 years ago, and I am truly grateful to have found this gem of a person.  Dani is my hairdresser.  When I first inquired about cutting Miss M's hair, she openly welcomed her into her clientele.  Patiently she waited for Miss M to cross the barrier into the salon, with its hairdryers and bustle of conversation and motion.  When she sat down in the chair, she engaged her in conversation and made her giggle.  She approached her slowly, but with confidence and grace.  Eye contact and smiles, my girl was enamored.  And it didn't hurt that Dani has Red Hair.  Red, her favorite color.  

Each time we arrive at the salon, the transition has gotten easier.

Today, it was Normal.

Normal.

She sat.  Dani cut.


She smiled.

Dani styled.


She beamed.

Dani added her flair.


Normal. 

But Extraordinarily Exceptional, and Blue.

What a delightful, ordinary Saturday.

What a Delightful Dani.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Family Fun

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
R U on ur way?

I'll be on my way soon.

We R getting ready.

For what?

U will see...


It's a...

Pizza-eating,
Team-choosing,
Plan-plotting,
Trash-talking,
Wager-making,
Happy-dancing,
In-your-face,
Loud-laughing,
Whoop-whooping,
Family-fun...

Game night!

Hurry up, Mom!

I'm on my way!

Yay! :0)




Thursday, March 7, 2013

Parent-Teacher

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
As I made my rounds this evening, I could see all the faces of parents waiting patiently in the chairs of their children.  Some wore lines of worry, signs of anticipation, and stress.  Others laughed and made chit-chat with others who passed by.
I've seen it from both sides, as a giver and receiver of news.  Tonight's role was one of academic language, of progress and struggle, the glee of success, and the angst and frustration of work without gain.  But I've also patiently sat in those chairs many times.  I've known my own children's achievements and failures.  I've heard the news from the other side.
As both mother and teacher, I know what they're thinking.  I know that their child is the most important one in the school.  Their child is their joy and their world and their light, and only the best will do.  And they're right, because each child that enters my classroom is the most important one that I teach.  As both mother and teacher, I know that is true.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Just A Word

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

It's just a word.  An old habit begun long ago in your youth.  Something you say when you're frustrated or angry or annoyed.  A word to describe something that doesn't make sense.  You might even may use it in jest, as a joke with your friends.  You didn't mean it that way.  It's just a word.

Of course, I know you would never say anything to hurt me or my family.  I know that you care, and it wasn't in spite.  Calling you out is a risk of our friendship, and I see the surprise on your face when I do.  But I need to tell you.  I need you to know.

That word is a blow to me, deep down inside.  A strike to my heart, it takes away my breath, leaving me off-balance and shaken.   It connects with my soul, sending waves of invisible pain to my core.  My mind whirls with practiced comebacks and phrases to combat its assault, and I've rehearsed them in many, many other instances like this one.  But each time I'm faced with it, when it's right there before me, its power disarms all of my careful thought and planning.  It hurts.

Because to me it's not just a word, it's a person.  My beautiful daughter, born 16 years ago.  Genetic testing confirmed her first label, Down syndrome.  The word that you use came right after, written on papers and spoken in doctor's offices, stamped by professionals on her early intervention plans.  While I fight the connection between word and human being, I cannot sever the link.  I know that the word doesn't define her.  It doesn't describe all that she is or will become.  But when you say it, in that way, our world gets a bit smaller, our possibilities more limited, and it brings all of us Down.  

So don't say it.  Please. 

To learn more and take the pledge, go to http://r-word.org/ 


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Battle Plan

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.

It's there, plotting and gathering force.  Resisting its advance, I deny it at first.  No time for this nonsense, I am Mother and Teacher, strong warrior of will!  I battle with vitamins and hot tea with honey, but I still do not stop.  If I deny its presence, it does not exist.  "Carry on, brave one," I tell myself.  "You will prevail, if only you are strong."

Despite my attempts to deny its power, it continues to strike. That ringing in my ear throws me off step, and that tickle way back, you know, all the way back in the back, bugs and teases and delights in each sneeze, sending its minions of germs marching onward.  The onslaught of fluids and vitamin C are no match for its blitzkrieg on my body.  So I finally rest.

This morning, I discover its final assault.  The strategy has prevailed- I can feel it in my chest.   The rasp in my cough proclaims my surrender.  I am done.  Defeated.  I am sick.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Not Quite...


Thank you to 
Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
I thought I was ready, but alas I am not.
I cannot engender a cohesive thought.
My words are all muddled,
I'm feeling befuddled,
My brain is all fuzzy and shot.

This was not the piece that I wanted to write,
But now I am witness to dwindling daylight.
I've run out of time,
All I have is this rhyme,
I thought I was ready... not quite.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Smarticles

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.


It was a typical Saturday of driving my children within their tween and teendom spheres of existence.  My days usually consist of an orbit of drop-offs and pick-ups between activities and social engagements that are as regular as Earth's trip around the Sun.  With Sister in the front and the Boys in the back of the shuttle, I've become accustomed to hearing backseat conversations about life.  I'm not sure if they forget that I am the one operating the ship or if they don't think I can hear all the way up at the helm, but I always enjoy listening to the musings of their adolescent minds.

Yesterday as I zoomed past the driveway of my youngest's friend- something I do Every Time I Go There- I heard,
"Mom did it again." (Son One)
"She does this every time.  She needs some more Smarticles." (Son Two)
"Mom has Smarticles.  She has a Master's degree, you know."  (Son One)
"That's true.  Maybe she needs some Common Sensicles."  (Son Two)
"Heh!  Sensicles."  (Son One)

This is not the first time that I have been the object of their discussion.  I quietly chuckle at their third person references and take their observations in stride.  I know that they are at the stage of development where they are exploring their sense of self and individuality.  I also know that a side effect of this stage is that as their sense of self evolves, their perception of Mom as All-Knowing and Wise Leader implodes like an aging star.  And I'm ok with that.

So instead of taking offense, I ask, "Smarticles?  What are Smarticles?"  The idea of Smarticles shines brightly before me, a great unknown element that I want to explore.  "Are they alive or are they like atoms swirling around, so tiny you can't see them?  Can you grow them or do they just exist in a finite amount?  Can you lose them and gain them, or give them to others on purpose?"

"Uh..." (Son One)

"I don't know, Mom.  They're just like... Smart Particles.  It's just something we say," explains Son Two, obviously overcome by my Mom-ish query.  "Ok then, I gotta go.  Pick me up at 4?"

The whole ride back home, my mind was a swirling universe of possibility.  Smarticles!  I had to consult the reliable UrbanDictionary.com for the answer (as I often do in cases like this), and there it was- Smarticles!  The best definition (in my opinion) is this:

Smarticles8 up3 down
noun. the weightless, invisible particulates that orbit the heads of intelligent beings. They roam freely in confined spaces where learning occurs. [...]
YES!  They ARE real!  Before my brilliant shining Boys enlightened me, I had not even considered that they existed in our world.  Now I can't stop thinking about the times I have felt their presence, and I am sure that they have been orbiting around all of us since the beginning of time.  I have decided that they defy the boundaries of matter and biology as both Energy and Sentient Being.  If I had a Smarticle-Ray I could see their neon green glow, passing through space, humming and moving and multiplying as they bounce around the places where we learn.  I know that I have felt them at school during those "A-ha!" moments.  When students are collaborating and engaged, the intensity of their turbulence can move your soul.  I have felt them fizz and whirl and bubble over, yet until now, they had no name.  Smarticles.  That's right, Science.   I've just discovered a whole new Life Form.  My universe has expanded.

Savant, Genius I. "Urban Dictionary: Smarticles." Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary LLC, 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Morning Moments

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting this annual challenge.
Recently I've entered into the habit of waking early.  Long before anyone else would consider reasonable, my alarm chirps and I slip out of bed, tiptoeing down the stairs to the kitchen with my laptop in hand.  I can hear the hum of the furnace as my coffee drip-drips into the pot, the warmth of both sounds a comfort as I begin to click on the keys and write.
My pup will occasionally groan and roll over as I sit and create, but even she knows that these morning moments are mine.  I need this time to work out the stories in my mind, to allow my characters to speak, and to work with the words that wait within.  Some days they are more willing to come out and play on the page, other times they stubbornly sit, but all days are important and necessary.
These morning moments are mine.  I am not Wife.  I am not Mom.  I am not Teacher.  I am not Sister.  I am not Daughter.  I am Friend to myself, taking time to nurture Me and the creative spirit inside.
It has taken me many, many years to realize that I need this time.  There's always something in the day to do, once the motors of family and work start churning.  Teaching, chauffeuring children to lessons and activities, laundry and household chores, even nurturing my marriage are communal events that I happily do to share and give to others.  Finding myself in the morning, being with myself in the morning, however, is the fuel that energizes the rest of my day.
The screech of my teenage son's alarm and the thud of his feet thundering in his room above bring my morning moments to an abrupt close.  I finish my thoughts, save and close, heading upstairs with coffee in hand.  As I ascend into my day, I become Mom, Wife, Teacher and Friend.  But because I have been with Myself and my words on the screen, I know that I am still inside there, too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mind Explosions



Welcome to my first post for the Slice of Life challenge 2013 hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  




"I teach for the fire, the moment of ignition, the spark,
the lightbulb of cognition going on in the dark
over an adolescent's head. O beautiful incandescence,
dazzling the dead air all around the room; he tries
and he tries and he tries and BOOM, he gets it
and you can see it in his eyes! I teach for that moment."

- Taylor Mali*

Boys.  I have two of my own, but in my profession as a reading specialist, I work with many, many boys who struggle with reading.  I'll never forget one particular boy, a student I taught seventeen years ago, because he changed my life.  Bobby was in Third grade, and he could not read.  He knew his letters, sounds, and he loved listening to stories and discussing them, but all of his knowledge about print had not come together.  Worse, he had convinced himself that he would never be a reader.  Working with Bobby, I knew that this was untrue.  He was a reader, and I needed to try to help him find that part of himself.  One day, as I predicted, it "clicked."  BOOM. The image of joy and sparkle in his eyes is forever embedded in my mind.  In that moment, I became a reading specialist.

Fast forward to the present, and a student who arrived to our school this year in First grade, not knowing his letters or sounds.  A joyful child, Danny approaches the task of reading with persistence, despite his frustration with print.  We work diligently together, and we celebrate our successes with exploding fist bumps and happy dances.  Yesterday, Danny told me to close my eyes while he worked on his writing response in his journal.  I obliged, of course, peeking somewhat to make sure he was up to the task at hand.  He worked for a long time - minutes - and when he finally told me to open my eyes, this is what I saw...


"This is a hippopotamus.  A hippopotamus has a big name."


I looked up at him, and he asked, "Did I blow your mind?"  

I smiled and said, "BOOM!"

I could see it in his eyes.  He got it.


*To read more of Taylor Mali's inspiring words, go to his website (link here).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's a Fine, Fine Life

Middle School.  Those two words resurrect feelings of struggle and angst in our hearts.  Most adults when asked look back on that time in our lives as a bumbling blur of self-absorption and uncertainty.  We all have been there, lumbering through the gawk, and made it through to the other side.  Middle school experiences color our lives and shape us into our future selves.

As a mom, it is interesting to witness the experience from the other side.  This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching my son perform in his middle school production of Oliver!  Of course I sat smiling and proud as he sang on stage, but when the student playing Nancy arrived on stage, I was spell-bound.

Because I teach in the same district as my children, I often exchange my Mom-hat for my Teacher-hat.  "Nancy" was one of my students in elementary school.  A "struggling reader," she had qualified for reading support services, and I worked with her throughout her 6th grade year.  She was a hard worker with a love for books and reading despite her struggles with text.  I remember that she was enthralled with Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons, and we worked through the story together, solving words and discussing character development, plot, and themes.

Three times a year, in our school-wide benchmark testing blitz, she would score in the "intensive" or "strategic" range.  Her progress monitoring scores would show a slight incline on her ROI (rate of improvement), but according to the data, she was at risk for reading failure.  However, once she took the stage this weekend, I had no doubt that she could interpret Nancy's motivation as a character.  Her fluency rang through with a British accent, and her voice... the instant she began to sing, "Nancy" stole the show.  I had no idea she had that amazing voice inside of her.

With all of our data, and testing, and accountability, we do our best to give students the instruction that they need.  We discuss students in terms of their scores and their performance in class.  We label them "strugglers," "low," "intensive," or "below benchmark."  And we truly care about their success in school.  As teachers, we wouldn't be in the profession if we felt otherwise.  This weekend, listening to Nancy sing and watching her perform magic onstage, I was struck with the magnitude of a reminder that we cannot limit a student's potential by their test score.  Onstage, Nancy was far from below benchmark.  Her performance brought tears to my eyes, and she received a standing ovation from a packed house.

Reflecting afterwards, I asked myself, is she struggling?  Low?  Below benchmark?  These labels we assign are so finite and conclusive.  I know that we used those terms to describe Nancy during our data meetings.  We use those terms to describe many students who do not meet the standards.  I had to pause following the performance and re-evaluate my original determination.  Yes, data is important.  Data informs our instruction.  But data can also be limiting, and it does not define a student, a child, or pre-suppose her potential.

No, Nancy is not Below Benchmark.  Quite the opposite.  In my assessment, based on her performance that day, she is absolutely gifted.  Of course I cannot see into the future, but I no longer color my thoughts about her success as an adult with the labels I assigned in the past.  I am confident she will have a fine, fine life.