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Friday, May 15, 2015

Mother's Day=Low Expectations

Ahh, Mother's Day. I've learned to set my expectations at a low-to-medium level for all holidays, birthdays, celebrations, etc. Alex informed me on Mother's Day that I need to set my expectations low. Medium is still too high. Low is the way to go.

My Mother's Day started out with pure awesomeness. Aidan dragged his bulky backpack all the way upstairs to where I was still lying in bed, hoping the day wouldn't start quite yet. He pulled out a pile of treasures from his backpack and snuggled up to me in bed. It was a purely lovely moment. He had worked so hard at school to make me so many beautiful things to show me how much he loves me. It made me feel so special. He was really 'present' too, as he showed me his gifts. He was chatting and engaged and snuggly and wonderful. A rare moment of clarity between us. That was the biggest gift he gave me. 

I love it when teachers have the kids fill out things about their moms. Aidan wrote for about 3 years that his mom was 29 years old. How I love that boy. This year I aged to 32. That's still a compliment. He also wrote that I am a great mom because I give him "good lovins." I love that. Lovins. That means hugs and snuggles and lovin' vibes. He also said I am "the best Recreator." Which he said means that I made each of my kids, and created them to be who they are! Whoa, man. That's deep! Aidan is such an intuitive, sensitive soul. I believe he 'knows' way more than this world lets him demonstrate to us.

My day proceeded with a beautiful breakfast with my family, and being overwhelmed with cards and gifts. Ben and Alex had gone shopping and Ben had picked out gifts for each of the kids to give me. He knows me so well. It was wonderful. Ella did fuss the whole time about how she wanted me to open her gift first, and then about how SHE wanted to open the gifts, and then when I declared that we would eat ice cream for every meal in celebration of me, she was mad that no ice cream shops were open at 7:15 am on a Sunday. But other than that, it was wonderful.

Those were the highlights of my day. It declined from there. Ella went to the bathroom. She somehow did a summersault off the toilet as she was peeing, flipped over, and hit her back on the little table in the bathroom. Tears. Many tears. Who does a summersault off the toilet?? How is that even physically possible? Leave it to my daughter. 

Alex had to leave for a business trip that will take him to Vegas all week. Must be rough. All by himself for a week. Eating at restaurants. Going to the bathroom by himself whenever he wants to. Flying on an airplane while reading his book. Watching TV shows that he wants to watch before bed. Humph. 

We drove Alex to meet a coworker so they could carpool to the airport. On the way out the door, the three boys commenced in World War III over who would play chess with whom at the ice cream shop. Physical fighting, swearing, yelling…ah, Mother's Day love. As they got in the van and continued to fight, I informed them we would not be getting ice cream. I informed them that their beautiful sister, who was sitting quietly in her car seat, and I would get ice cream, but those who were kicking each other would not be able to partake of the frozen delights.

The whole way to drop of Daddy, the boys whined about getting ice cream. Ben asked if they didn't play chess, could we please get ice cream. We all agreed. No to chess, yes to ice cream. We kissed Daddy goodbye in the rain and drove to the ice cream shop.

World War IV then began. Over- guess what--CHESS. Are you KIDDING me?? We had half of our order ordered when the boys started in again about that darn chess game. I calmly reminded them we were not playing chess. That was our agreement. While I haphazardly tried to get our order finished, I tried to tune out the quarrel that was brewing. I should have just gotten the kids and walked out. But I really wanted that chocolate peanut butter ice cream. So, stupid me, we stayed.

The boys continued to make the ice cream date a hellish experience. Ella had insisted on being Queen Elsa from Frozen for the day, so she was all decked out from hair, makeup, dress, to her high heeled shoes, in Elsa Fashion. She sat under the table at our booth as the boys fought at a nearby table. No matter how much I growled at them through clenched teeth, they didn't stop. I had told the waitress that we were staying, not taking our treats to go. So now we were stuck with glass bowls full of ice cream. I kept hoping the boys would snap out of it. I kept saying "It's MOTHER'S DAY! You have to be nice to me!" 

But that didn't work. Eventually the boys stopped fighting, but I was totally worn out from anger and depression, my medium expectations shattered. I sat with Elsa in our booth and ate my ice cream in silence. Too frustrated to even look at the boys. I looked out the window into the gray fog and guiltily wished I was somewhere else. I felt terrible because it was Mother's Day and I should be washed in the glow of loving feelings about my children, but I really just wanted to be somewhere else where life wasn't so hard. Just for a little while. I watched the other families having ice cream, all happy and calm, and I wished we could be like them. I felt guilty, but it's true. I wished we could be "normal." 

Then I decided that I wasn't going to feel guilty anymore. Mother's Day (and Christmas, Easter, my birthday) is really just another day. Yes, it's special. But my kids had given me special moments earlier. And my kids give me special moments on random Tuesdays. Or sometimes in the middle of a night. Or whenever. I was content with that. I had felt washed in the glow of love earlier in the morning on Mother's Day, and now we were back to normal. We were back to difficult family chaos. So I decided not to feel bad about my feelings. I decided not to feel guilty that I was mad at how my kids were acting. I decided not to feel guilty about yelling at them in the restaurant. I decided not to feel guilty about how I wished I was somewhere easier at that moment. Even on Mother's Day, life is real. It's not like a Hallmark commercial. Not for me, at least. I was showered with adoration for a brief time at breakfast, and I really was happy with that. Now we were back to reality.

As I sat in the booth by myself, I watched another mother watching my table of four children. The mother smiled the smile you smile when you see other mothers' children acting completely adorable. And you just think they're perfect and sweet and so cute. I tried to see my kids through the other mother's eyes. Yes, they were adorable. My twins, looking so twinish. My 9 year old, playing the chess game just as well as my 12 year old. My daughter, decked out from head to toe in her Elsa gear, watching her big brothers play their game. Yes, it was completely adorable. 
But the other mother hadn't been in the restaurant when I was growling at my children because they were acting like beasts. She hadn't heard them raise their voices so they echoed through the high ceilings and everyone could hear them arguing about ridiculous chess. I decided I was not going to feel like a bad mom because I wasn't completely overwhelmed with adoration at the cute picture my kids painted. I was still itchy with the remnants of aggravation left over from how my kids were fighting earlier.
I think "special" days, like holidays, make my children stressed out. Even just Mother's Day. Routines are thrown off, Daddy was leaving, we had sugar for lunch…all holidays are a minefield for my kids. So Alex is right, I should set my expectations low, not even medium. And then I might be pleasantly surprised. The rest of my Mother's Day was normal. Challenging in spots, a lot of work, but some joy too. We made it through. 

I think it's important to not be too hard on ourselves as mothers. I don't think you have to force yourself to experience a loving, warm feeling about your kids (even if they are adorable) when you've been trying to break up a fight for 37 minutes and it's Mother's Day and your husband just left you with four kids for a week and all you want is chocolate peanut butter ice cream for crying out loud. There are plenty of moments when my heart is bursting with love for my adorable munchkins. Like when I come to wake Ella and Aidan up in the morning, and they're snuggled under the covers in Aidan's bed, playing with his Minecraft figures together. Or when Ben and Jonah have a twinsie slumber party in the basement, and I hear their giggling as I close the basement door. Plenty of loving, memorable, adorable moments in this house. 

Let's not be too hard on ourselves, Mamas. There will be countless beautiful moments with our children. But if they don't happen on a day designated to be special, oh well. That random Tuesday will pop up again and the gift of sweet children will return when you least expect it. I learned a long time ago not to let disappointment over how a "special" day actually turns out get me down. Not for too long, at least. Sometimes I wallow for a few minutes, but I get over it pretty fast. I cherish the beautiful moments and move through the yucky ones. That's all you can do. Keep on trekkin' through the adventure called Motherhood.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Swingin' In My Hammock

I'm stuck. There are a million things I should be doing right now, but I'm stuck. I'm reliving yesterday's IEP meeting over and over in my head, stewing and fretting. I can't get it out of my mind. Not only did parts of the meeting piss me off, but it pisses me off that I can't stop thinking about it. I've tried all my tricks, but it's still there. Stuck like glue in my brain. 

I have to say, I love our school district for so many reasons. I have completely adored most of the teachers my kids have had in the past 8 years. I see that the school tries to do their best for my kids. Most of the teachers we have had have been incredible- invested, generous with their time, earnest and devoted to helping my kids. Having said all that, sometimes schools aren't perfect. Sometimes they really don't see the disabilities a child has, because the disabilities are invisible. To the naked, untrained eye, they are invisible. So sometimes you have to bring in the big guns to show everyone what is happening to your kiddos, because they can't see it themselves. 

In the last couple weeks, I've been to three IEP meetings for my three boys. This year we hired an advocate to help us get services for our boys, because Mama was tired of fighting by herself. Eight years, and the school still didn't see the extreme needs my boys have. I was done. I needed help. I called in the best reinforcement possible. My savior, my advocate.

It started with Ben. We had meetings fill our calendars during the beginning and middle of the school year, all about Ben. We hired a behavior consultant to observe Ben in school. She is an expert in Tourette Syndrome, and wow, she was amazing. She was able to explain to the school what was really happening inside of Ben's body and brain. The school listened to her and asked her to do a training for staff. It was fantastic. We got Ben an IEP instead of a 504, so he has more services at school. The school has stepped up their game and have supported Ben well since we got the IEP nailed down. He was able to get a laptop to complete his work, so he doesn't have to write things out with a pencil. He has a variety of things in place to help him succeed, and overall he's improved. I still have to keep track of things to make sure his accommodations are being met, and we've had some hiccups along the way, but the school team has had good intentions with following his IEP.

Aidan. *sigh* Aidan. My little enigma. There are some truths I've always known about Aidan. He is an old soul. He is wise beyond his years. He communicates and learns differently than typical kids. 

So how do you put that into words that will compel the school to give your son help? That's the tricky part.

All year, Aidan's teacher has sent home emails, notes, and phone calls, with concerns about how he's doing. Academically and behaviorally. Aidan is a good boy. This year it has been surprising that he has had a few mis-steps behaviorally. I can tell you that I know for a fact that these little one-time issues are due to the fact that Aidan has impulse control problems. He has ADHD. He has executive functioning issues. He doesn't think through things, he forgets about consequences. He is all about "right now." He can't think ahead. He's never trying to misbehave, his disabilities just get the best of him sometimes. 

I got new neuropsychological exams done for all the boys this year. We found out some surprising things about Aidan, which was fantastic because then I know more about how to help him and what to ask school to help him with too. Aidan has a learning disability in addition to everything else. He has trouble with math, as well as visual and auditory processing. These are huge! If you can't process what is going on in the world around you, how will you learn the way a typical kid does? Huge.

Aidan's school team is in the process of evaluating him (despite the fact that we just spent thousands of dollars having a private evaluation done). Nothing will change in his 504 this year, but before the first day of school in August, the team will meet to discuss their findings. Aidan's meeting was tough for me because, as happens every single year when I've asked for my child to be evaluated for an IEP, the team reported that "Aidan is doing great!" I got super steamed. All year, I've been trying to help the teacher figure out how to help Aidan. I've tried different meds for his ADHD because the teacher said certain meds made his ADHD worse, other meds didn't help at all. I'm going crazy trying to figure out why he had a 2-week stretch of misbehavior at school. I'm trying to wrack my brain to think of more ways to help him succeed at home and school. He continues in private speech therapy and counseling. And they say "he's doing great"??? So finally I couldn't take it anymore and I spoke to the team about the impression I had about how Aidan was doing, based on what the teacher had told me all year. I was really pissed off! Every time I get to one of these meetings, the teams says my kid is fabulous. After I've heard for months about how he's not focusing, not starting work, not finishing work, not doing homework, not paying attention, taking too long in the bathroom, etc etc etc. 

The special ed director then said that the team understands that Aidan is doing great because of the supports that are in place with his 504. If he didn't have a 504, he wouldn't be doing great. Then my advocate (I LOVE HER!!) said that the whole reason I had initiated an evaluation for Aidan was due to teacher concerns! I was so concerned about all of her ongoing concerns that I felt it was necessary to have another neuropsych evaluation and ask the team to re-evaluate Aidan for an IEP. Yeah. Take that.

I know the school is doing what schools do. But think about it from a parent's perspective. You hear every single week of the school year how your kid sucks at so many things. How he's not succeeding in so many areas. On and on. Then you get to the meeting and everything is peaches and roses. Then who looks crazy? You got it. Mama. I'm so tired of being looked at as the crazy one. Then you multiply this kind of crappy meeting times three boys (so far no meetings for Ella, fingers crossed), and you feel like you want to punch someone in the larynx.

Yesterday was Jonah's turn for a meeting. My Awesome Advocate and I walk into the meeting room, and as usual, the same 6 faces are already gathered. When you hire an advocate, the school brings their lawyer to your meetings too. And for Ben's meetings, the lawyer brought another lawyer with her. At some meetings there have been up to 10 school people there. Think how that feels when you walk in, alone, to fight for your kid who is struggling. That's why we hired an advocate. For 8 years I've been going in alone. Done. Now I have my Awesome Advocate.

Jonah's meeting wore me out. I said to my Awesome Advocate before a meeting a couple weeks ago that it feels like my kids are on trial. I feel like I have to present enough evidence to show the school that they are in need of more services. I'm tired of being on trial. At these meetings, it feels like not only is your child on trial, but your parenting ability is definitely in question also. Scheduling 3 IEP meetings within a couple weeks is a bad idea, let me just warn you. Don't do it. Take a break in between them. Go to Jamaica. Swing in a hammock. And prepare for the next battle. Don't go in weak and stressed and when your husband has been out of town for an entire week.

So the school lawyer questioned why Jonah has missed so many days of school. Implying that I'm letting him stay home for no good reason. Over and over and over. She had a statistic that if you add up all his absences, it equals about 1 every 2 weeks. Thanks. I needed that rubbed in my face. I wanted to scream "Do you think I like it when the nurse calls me every other week with a sick boy? Oh wait! It's EVERY week, because I have TWO sick boys all the time. Oh WAIT! It's like every other DAY because I have two sick boys in 7th grade all the time, and then the principal and teacher are calling me about my other boy in elementary school all the time and then Ella has been sick several times…Do you THINK I'm enjoying this???" But instead I attempted to stay calm and said I try to get Jonah to school every possible day that I can. And if you look back through his records, he's always been a sick kiddo. He was a micro-preemie and he doesn't have the greatest immune system. I wanted to say I would provide all our doctor's records from this year of sick visits. And that I would provide a list of vitamins and supplements that all my kids are on in an attempt to help their immune systems thrive. I wanted to smack that smug little question of my parenting ability out of the heavy air and stomp on it until it was in teeny tiny little shards. And then maybe punch someone in the larynx.

Later in the meeting, it happened. I was talking about how the school has not followed through with parts of Jonah's 504 Plan. And I was trying to say that I need them to follow through, because I have four kids with special needs. I'm constantly doing all the digging, by myself, to figure out who has what homework. Who has what late work. Who has what missing work. Who is in trouble for something that he actually didn't do. Whose teacher isn't signing off on their assignment notebook like they're supposed to. Whose social worker isn't meeting with them like they're supposed to. Who isn't getting a copy of notes from the teacher like they're supposed to. All by myself. Times four. (Except that Ella doesn't count because she is doing ok at school. So far.) But there are other things I have to keep track of for Ella. So times FOUR KIDS BY MYSELF. (And of course with Alex's help.) And all I'm freaking asking for is for the school to do what they SAID they would do in Jonah's 504 Plan, and send me a weekly email telling me what Jonah's missing work is and why he's failing Social Studies. Failing it every quarter. All year. Is that too much to ask?? 

Yeah. So I started crying in the middle of my speech. Because I'm so tired of all of this. I'm so tired of these meetings. And these people. And having to justify why my boys need help. And having to ward off insults to my parenting skills. If people only knew what it's like, all the work, all the responsibility that goes into daily life with four kids with special needs. I know it's not the school's fault that my kids have special needs. But it is their fault that they said they would do something and they're not following through with it. I'm tired of being a 504/IEP police woman. But if you have kids in special ed, you have to stay on top of things to make sure your kiddo is getting what the law says he is allowed to have at school.

And that makes me tired. I'm just worn out. This week, with Alex being gone, three recent IEP meetings, it's a lot. It's not anything that anyone else can help me with, either. It's just life. Alex said I do most of this by myself even when he is home, which is true. But at least with two parents in the house, I can say "Hey, go get that kid started in the bath while I finish homework with this kid."

I'm done with IEP meetings until August. Then they'll start back up again. But at least I have the summer off. My kids and I won't be on trial for a couple months. 

Before Jonah's IEP meeting yesterday, I had my nails done. My nail lady is a complete riot. I was telling her all my IEP woes, and she made me laugh until my sides hurt. She said I should bring in a bike horn. Put it in front of me. And every time the lawyer said something I didn't like, I should just HONK in her face. My nail lady also said I should come into the meeting wearing war paint on my face. Or dressed in bright orange hunting gear. I said while these ideas are highly humorous, they wouldn't help my argument that I am, in fact, not insane. I have such beautiful people in my life. I'm going to concentrate on that and then maybe the 'stuck-ness' about IEP meetings will leave my soul. I'm going to think about my hilarious nail lady who brings me such joy. I'm going to think about my Awesome Advocate. She told yesterday after the meeting that my tears flowed at just the right time, and the mood of the meeting shifted. The team was more compassionate and not so argumentative. My Awesome Advocate told me after Aidan's meeting that she thinks I should be an advocate and work for her, because I got out my notes at one point and tapped on them with my pen and confronted the team about something in a very assertive way. I would be so lost without my Awesome Advocate. I surround myself with really amazing, gifted people. Thank you, people, for surrounding me when I need to be lifted up. You all know who you are. All of you who touch my life or my kids' lives. Thank you. I cherish each and every one of you.

Ok. I think I can go on with my day now. I feel a little bit un-stuck. I guess I just needed to vent about how sucky IEP meetings can be. How exhausting and sweaty and nerve-wracking and painful they can be. Even when you do have a great school and devoted teachers. And an Awesome Advocate. 

I need to find a hammock to swing in to rejuvenate my soul before summer ends and more IEP's begin.