Friday, November 14, 2008

Good sports

This week, Bud brought home the school's Winter Sports preference sheet, with instructions that the completed form should be returned by the end of the week. I imagine that for most families, this quick turn-around was fairly easy; for us, it was a bit more challenging.

"Winter Sports" is a program at Bud's school that runs on five consecutive Fridays starting in early January. Students choose from among ten different activities and participate in the same activity each week for the entire program. In November, the school sends home a description of the activities being offered and families send back the students' top three choices. The staff uses the preference sheet to balance enrollment numbers and assign activities.

In first and second grade, Bud's Winter Sport activity was snowshoeing. I chose the activity for him based on several factors: it was close to the school and wouldn't require a long bus ride; it was something I thought he could do independently; and, it would likely be low-key and not an activity that would draw a lot of dysregulating screaming and jumping from other children. It played out exactly that way and Bud enjoyed the activity.

So, when the form came home this year, I thought about listing snowshoeing again and sending it back without discussion. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I was not being fair to Bud. The other children had options; he should have options too. And perhaps he'd be interested in trying something new. Last year, he was not doing well enough to take risks, but this year he just might be.

I approached Bud with the form in hand and showed him the description of his options. He was enthusiastic, and indicated an interest in a lot of things: bowling! wall climbing! gymnastics! SWIMMING! I asked about snowshoeing, but he said he wasn't interested.

I read the descriptions of the activities. Bowling involved a long bus ride. Wall climbing was for fourth and fifth grade only. Gymnastics, I knew, would not be what Bud expected (he would expect only trampolines; they would try to get him on parallel bars and balance beams). But swimming... Swimming is a favorite activity of Bud's. He's had lessons and he knows the basics, but he is not yet a strong swimmer. Put him in a life vest, though, and he is king of the swimming pool.

I read the activity description and saw that only students who could swim independently were eligible for it. I wondered though, if a life vest would be considered a reasonable accommodation, given the circumstances. I dashed off an e-mail to Bud's special ed coordinator before I said anything else to Bud.

As I waited for a response from her, I started playing the Winter Sports swim scenario through in my head. Bud is familiar with the pool, but not with the pool full of forty screaming children. He is confident in the water - but would he be too confident? Was he really ready to be in the water without an adult next to him, in an easily-removed life vest? And what about the whole locker-room issue? Would Bud be able to manage the clothing-off-suit-on process by himself? Would he be in the locker room surrounded by towel-snapping, wedgie-giving boys?

The very idea sent my blood pressure soaring.

So, I sat down with Bud once more to talk about Winter Sports options, and as we talked I realized quickly that he hadn't really understood the concept of "listing activities, in order of preference." Instead, he told me enthusiastically, "First I do bowling, then I do swimming, then I do gymnastics!"

I tried to explain "rank order," but fell flat. So, I told Bud, "Let's just choose one."

"Swimming," he said.

"Swimming?"

"Bowling."

"Bowling instead?"

"Yes. Swimming."

"Swimming or bowling?"

"Okay."

"We need to choose one, Bud."

"Swimming."

"Swimming?"

"Okay. Bowling."

"You like swimming AND bowling, don't you, Bud?"

"Yes."

"Let's put bowling on the paper."

"Okay."

So bowling it is. I think it's a good choice: a long but manageable bus ride, an activity he enjoys, and an opportunity for "parallel play" with peers.

And best of all? No wedgies.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Third grade's the charm

I had a conference with Bud's teacher, Mrs. Hanlan, and the special ed team this week. My sense going into the meeting was that the year is going well, that his teacher and he are a good "fit," and that the dysregulation that was a hallmark of his second grade year has faded substantially in third grade - and I was delighted to hear that the team felt the same way.

They told me about the progress Bud has made in the past few months - like the real conversation he had with a neurotypical peer about a class project on scientists and the stories he's added to his writing journal that are actual accounts of his life and not scripts lifted from Elmo's World (though, I must admit, Bud seems to prefer fiction over nonfiction, as he tends toward revisionist history. One account of a real hike we did together, in which I lost my sunglasses, ended with Bud saving the day and finding the glasses behind a rock. Alas, in real life, it took a trip to the pharmacy to get some new sunglasses on my face.) I also heard about Bud's challenges this year, and while they remain real and significant, there were no surprises and nothing that took my breath away. This, I have learned, is a sign that the school year is starting well.

One story, in particular, captured the essence of his third-grade classroom for me. Mrs. Hanlan told me that last week the children were working in their writing journals on pieces about something they do well. Bud was in the back of the classroom, behind a bookshelf and out of view of the class, writing his essay on the classroom computer with his aide, Ms. Brett. He was good, he told Ms. Brett, at singing. And then, to prove his point, he launched into the ABC song.

Mrs. Hanlan watched as the other children worked at their desks. At first, Bud sang low and the children paid little attention. As the song progressed, though, so did Bud's confidence, and soon he was singing at full voice. The children stopped what they were doing and started listening, looking up at the teacher to gauge her reaction. She knew that Bud couldn't see his classmates' response, so as soon as he finished, she said quietly to the class, "Now you sing back to him."

The children launched into the ABCs in response, and as Bud peered around the corner to watch them, his smile grew and his eyes gleamed. As soon as they finished, Bud, uncertain about how to handle the sudden attention, flushed a bright pink, turned to his aide and said, "Movement break?"

Ms. Brett stood with him and they made their way into the hallway, then Bud turned back, popped his head into the doorway, and said, "Thank you, everybody. Bye, now!"

A girl in the class, not sure what to make of the exchange, giggled the kind of nervous giggle that conveys discomfort - the kind of giggle that says, "That was not what I'm used to, and so I'm not sure if that was okay."

Mrs. Hanlan took her cue and addressed the class. "Bud communicates in a different way," she told them, "And we just had really good communication with Bud."

As she finished recounting the story, she said to me, "I hope that was okay to say. It felt like an important moment."

"It was more than okay," I answered, surprised that I was not too choked up to speak.

As we were wrapping up our conference, I raised the issue that had been on my mind, but that I'd been afraid to address: homework. I launched in, tripping over my words: "Homework is a battle for us. Bud fights it with everything he has. "Home is NOT school!" he tells me. It's not possible to do it during the week - he's exhausted after a full day at school, and by the time I get home from work we have just about an hour before it's time to get him ready for bed. So that leaves the weekends - which is our time - our only time - our Mom and Bud Days - and he resents the imposition of homework on that time - and I dread the battle that I know it will bring - and - and - and -"

Mrs. Hanlan understood completely. Even in the classroom, she said, she saw that she had much greater success when she engaged Bud in an activity without announcing that the activity was about to begin. Proclamations like "In a few minutes, we will write a story" prompted argument from Bud; sidling up to him with a laptop prompted cooperation. So we've decided to take an integrated approach to homework. We're focusing on reading - an activity he has always done at home, but has lately been fighting. And they'll keep me updated with the concepts that I can reinforce at home - for instance, they're currently working with him on the value of pennies, nickels and dimes. So, we can count change at home. Or play restaurant. Or buy candy at the store. But I won't have to clear the Sunday papers off the kitchen table and lay out a stack of printed worksheets and prepare for battle.

Bud's teacher and team also have great ideas about the direction to take with him in the months to come. Music, they said, is key. They will find more opportunities to build music into the classroom - perhaps call-and-response songs, or singing in a round - or dancing, which might appeal to Bud's musical affinity and also address his need for movement and strong sensory input in a way that includes the other children in the class. And they'll focus on peer interaction - one-on-one opportunities to play simple games, to have "parallel" play on the playground when it's not swarming with children, to have back-and-forth engagement and conversation. Bud's ready, they say, and the other children in the class will be eager to participate.

We've still got a lot to work on, of course, and Bud still has challenges, both academic and attitudinal. But there are glimmers there as well. I've mentioned before that Bud starts his school day the same way almost every day - by walking into the school lobby and greeting Ms. Brett, whom he adores, by bellowing "OH NO! IT'S YOU AGAIN!", before turning to me and pleading with me not to leave.

But Friday - coincidentally, the day after my meeting with Bud's team - Bud broke with his routine. We walked through the school doors and Bud approached Ms. Brett and said "Howdy!" I didn't want to give him any time to reconsider, so I gave him a very quick kiss and turned to rush out the door, as I heard his chipper voice behind me call out "Bye, Mom!"

I still don't know what prompted Bud's sudden change of heart and dramatic change in pattern, and I'm certainly not sure that it will last. But it's a start - a good start - and I'll take it. This year - this third grade year - I will gladly take it all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 4, 2008

"This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."

I can't stop crying.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Beautiful day

Bud's school is just down the street from my office, but this morning after I dropped him off, I didn't head to work. Instead, I turned around and drove back to my neighborhood polling place. I could have voted after work, but I wasn't taking any chances. If I am hit by a bus this afternoon, my vote will still be counted.

As I drove through the quiet streets of my small town, with the sun glaring through my windows on this unseasonably warm day, U2's "Beautiful Day" started playing on my iPod. It's a song that will forever remind me of the Obama campaign and of the feeling of hope it has inspired in me.

I turned up the volume and as my car filled with music, my eyes filled with tears. I knew the election was important to me - elections are always important to me - but I was startled by the force of my emotion. Admittedly, some of that emotion may be fueled by exhaustion - emotional and physical - as several busy weeks at work and home have meshed with an intense obsession with the poll data, political analysis, and pundit prose that all culminates today. But as I wiped the tears from my face, I realized that it was more than just exhaustion. I realized how tense I have been for weeks - for months - for years - about the state of our country, the state of the world, and what it all means for Bud's future. There is so much at stake in this election - politically, economically, environmentally, educationally, medically. There is so much to lose. There is so much to gain.

I have been hopeful throughout this election season, but I have also been cautious. I have hoped before and have had those hopes crushed. But today, for the first time in a long time, I started to feel like it might really happen. I started believing - not just saying, but really believing - that change might be coming. Right here, right now, today, in polling stations across the country, we just might be changing everything.

Vote wisely.

Vote well.

Vote Obama.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bud the plumber

It seems that Bud is supporting John McCain.

The other day I asked him who he thought the next President should be and he answered "Hillary Clinton." I explained that Hillary is no longer running and that the next President would be either Barack Obama or John McCain. Bud said he wanted John McCain.

"Really?" I asked him. "I'm voting for Barack Obama. He is a very good man."

"John McCain is not a nice man?" Bud asked.

"Oh, no, Bud," I said. "John McCain is a nice man. They're both nice men. But I think Barack Obama is a nice man and would be a good President. John McCain is a nice man, but I don't think he would be as good a President. They have different ideas about being President, and I like Barack Obama's ideas better."

"I like John McCain," Bud answered.

Bud is standing by his candidate, even though he has gotten confirmation that his father and grandparents are also supporting Barack Obama and even though he lives in a house that sports an Obama/Biden yard sign (we did get a new one, though I'm beginning to have suspicions about who took the old one...)

Luckily, Bud is only nine, so I've got some time before his votes start counting. But make sure to check in here before the Presidential election of 2020. By then, I imagine that one of two things will be happening: either he will have started embracing his Democratic roots, or he and I will each be travelling to the polls to cancel the other out.