Life On The B Side

Taking all that life throws at us one moment at a time

On Hamilton – A Family Affair December 15, 2017

I have a bit of a parenting dilemma and I’d be curious to know what you all think about it.

 

I am a big fan of live shows in general.  Musicals, plays, concerts … I’m into all of it.  There are several Broadway shows whose soundtracks I know by heart.  Les Miserables.  Chorus Line.  Aida.  Dear Evan Hansen.  Rent.

I also know all the lyrics to Hamilton.  I mean, as much as is reasonable to expect.  It’s a VERY wordy show.  I don’t want to call it verbose because that implies that some of the words aren’t necessary.  I wouldn’t get rid of any of them.

Singing along with show tunes is usually something I do when I’m alone in the car.  It’s not really the coolest thing to do (apparently) and people can be judgy.  Not that I care what people think but I can’t exactly dive into my most emo self during ‘On My Own (Les Mis) the way I want to while someone is in the room rolling their eyes or putting their fingers in the ears.  I also cannot belt out ‘Tits & Ass (Chorus Line) while my children are in the back seat for obvious reasons.

*Side note* – One of the people who judge my love of show tunes is a fan of techno music so there goes all her credibility. 🙂

 

So anyway, in school, Ace was introduced to Hamilton.  He came home singing the opening song.  It’s kind of a Cliff Notes version of Alexanders life.  It made me happy.  It made Shaunie roll her eyes even further back into her head and stick her fingers even further down inside her ears.

 

I think it’s great that schools are using the show to get kids interested in learning history.  We all know that history class has a reputation for being boring – But it doesn’t have to be.

In drama class they also use it.  The kids were broken into groups and given a part of the show to recreate.  Ace got the role of Philip Hamilton at the time of his duel.  I gave him some back story and then we had fun imagining how Philip would be feeling in that situation and then practicing how it would play out.  So much better than math homework.

 

I’ve said a lot so far without actually saying much of anything.  Talk about burying the lede.  OK, here’s my concern:

Ace has taken that inch he got at school and gone the whole mile with Hamilton.  He is now interested in knowing all the songs.  He’s only 11 and the show does cover some adult-ish topics and includes some adult language which I don’t know if I’m comfortable with him singing about/along with.

 

But is one little “shit” the worst thing if he’s also learning the meaning of words like anarchy and intransigent and unimpeachable and deniability and civility and quagmire and abrasive and reticent?

Is a fairly mild wading into the topic of adultery so bad for him to be exposed to, if, because of this show, he’s also curious about other historical figures and events?

Is him singing “pain in the ass” really so bad if it means we are doing a duet?  Me playing the role of all the women and him playing the men in ‘Take A Break’?  It’s quality time and I love having someone to share my love of history and show tunes with.

Lately the 2 boys have been listening to ‘Aaron Burr Sir’ over and over and over and yes there’s a line in it that says “it’s hard to have intercourse over 4 sets of corsets”, … *yikes* … but I don’t think they really know what they’re singing when they get to that line and Jay absolutely delights in it when Ace gets to the part where he sings “Ooh who are you? Who you? Who are you? Ooh, who is this kid? What’s he gonna do?

The no-fighting bro time is worth it … Right?

 

Help me out here.  Tell me that it’s all fine and that I should just go with it.

 

 

 

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P.S.  Lin-Manuel is killing me.  He put out a new song about the life of Benjamin Franklin.  I was super excited because:

A) Lin-Manuel and B) Another cool way for the kids to learn about yet another founding father.

Except, I listened to the song this morning and it’s great and very educational but he drops more than a couple F bombs.  Like, a lot of them.  That’s a hard no for me.  Come on Linny;  help a mama out and make some kid-friendly history songs.

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One Pot Post December 14, 2017

Filed under: ADHD,Autism,Family,Life on the Jay train,Special Needs Kids — The B Side @ 12:35 pm
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I’ve let myself fall behind again and now there are too many things to talk about.  I fell behind though because I was struggling to write.  Nothing felt right.  I didn’t feel like pouring my heart out and talking about how I had a great weekend but then turning around and saying that I spoke to my Aunt on Sunday evening and even though I love talking to her sometimes it makes me sad.  I didn’t want to talk about the happy without acknowledging the sad and vice versa.  But it also felt odd putting them all in one post.

 

Here’s the thing – I love my Aunt beyond measure.  Always have.  She’s always been physically small and delicate.  She’s sweet and caring and soft spoken.  But man she is fiercely independent and brilliant and adventurous and steadfast and reliable and hard working.  I have respected her my entire life and tried to be like her.  As much as I loved my Grandma and my Grandad, it was my Aunt that I wanted to emulate.  Just by being who she is, she earned the respect of thousands of students and countless teachers and girl guiders and Church group members and pretty much anyone who ever met her.

I have so many great memories of her and still can feel the excitement in my body when I remember eagerly waiting to see her car pulling into our driveway when I was a kid.

 

She’ll be 90 years old next month.  Her heart is not doing well.  She’s been in and out of the hospital a couple of times in the last couple of months.  It’s no longer safe for her to be left alone so arrangements have been made so she always has company.

Her faith in God is strong and she is very connected with her Church but has been unable to go.  This bothers her.  Her church will have an intimate, watered down Christmas service for “shut ins” that she will attend next week.

That she is being well taken care of and has access to these things is great – That she needs it, makes me sad.

 

OK, so I spent more time on that topic than I thought I would.  That’s how writing goes I suppose.  Words come spilling out.  Like vomit.  And then you feel better.

I don’t want to make it seem as if it’s all gloom over here though.  You see that same Aunt sent a cake all the way from Jamaica and Ace was super excited to get it because he loves it.  (She sends one every year).  Jay decided he’d try it and when he tasted it, he said “This is making my tongue happy.”  I relayed that information to her and she thought it was awesome.

Jay had a great time at his friends birthday party and now wants to have a party of his own.  We’ll see about that.  His birthday is in less than a month.

Ace got braces put on his teeth.  Braces on their own are not cheap.  (Thousands of dollars).  Add in several more hundreds of dollars because he needs to have some extractions.  I am concerned about how he’ll handle the pain at the same time as I am stressing out over how we’ll pay for it all.  He was excited but nervous about the braces.  Understandable.  It went pretty well even though he was sore the whole next day.  He chose red and green rubber bands in honour of Christmas.  Extractions happen next week.  Send us good vibes.

 

There are other things too, of course.

Passive aggressive racist things I’ve heard lately from “good people” that made me think of passive aggressive racist things I’ve heard my whole life from people who let down their guard and got comfortable and made comments in my presence;  Probably assuming I wasn’t paying attention or maybe just flat out not caring that I was the lone black person in a room otherwise full of white people.   *sigh*

 

There was our holiday card photo shoot.  It went swell.  We dressed the kids in matching red sweaters and took pictures of them in front of our tree.  We got some funny pictures and some perfectly posed ones.  I’m so grateful that we can even do things like this at all.  Picture taking was once a cause of much stress in my life.  For some reason I really let it bother me that the kids wouldn’t pose for cute pictures when they were little.

Now, I just need to make it to a place to print them off and drop them in the mail.  We’ll see if it happens.  If not, I’ll just post the pics online.  I am the same person who still has the gift I bought for my sisters first mothers day sitting in my living room.  I meant to mail it to her back in May but that never happened.  I’ve also seen her twice since then and both times forgot to bring it with me.  I’ll keep you posted on when she actually receives it.  Gonna include it in the box I’m sending for my niece.  Really making an effort to get it to them in time for Christmas.

 

So there you have it.  I just threw everything in the pot; like a paella or a jambalaya.  Hopefully things are going smoothly for you and yours.  I love you all for reading.  Truly.  Enjoy what you can about this life we’re living and especially at this time of the year when it’s so tempting to do, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourselves to make things perfect or to impress other people.

 

Brag Post November 20, 2017

Back in the day there was a page on an autism blog I followed called the “Community Brag Page”.  This was a place where people could talk about their children’s accomplishments to an audience that truly understood.  I mean, it’s normal to see on Facebook etc the proud parents posting about their honor roll student or their star athlete or the recent MIT acceptance letter.  If someone posts on Facebook that their kid sat through dinner in a restaurant or wore a pair of shorts or played with a neighbor it may seem odd.  To most people, these things are commonplace.

On the community brag page, everyone knew that these things were a big deal.  We all knew that these things that parents talked about had not come easy.  We cheered each other on.

It was nice.

 

This past weekend we went to a 3 year olds birthday party.  There was a face painter and a balloonist.  OK, so they’re not actually called balloonists.  That’s someone who operates a hot air balloon.  I looked it up.  Anyway, at this party there was a face painter and a balloon artist?  Balloon shaper?  A person who makes shit out of twisting balloons.

Jay took some time deciding what kind of balloon he wanted.  If you’re a balloon thingy maker, you are not going to get away with a sword or a dog with my boy.  He finally came up with something; then he sat to wait his turn.

While he was waiting, I could see that preparations were underway to do the birthday song and the cake cutting.

Jay has VERY FEW sensory issues – for which I am grateful because I know they can be debilitating.  However, I know my boy does NOT like the birthday song.  For reasons unknown to me, he reacts very strongly to it.  In the past it would have meant, screaming, crying, yelling – There was even a time where he pulled plants out of the ground.  Yeah, not fun when you’re at someone elses house.

I went to him and quietly told him that I thought they were going to sing happy birthday soon and asked if he would be ok.  He said no and immediately covered his ears and buried his head into my chest.  I asked if he’d like to go to a room upstairs until it was over.  He let me know that he did but also that he did not want to lose his spot in the balloon line.  I suggested that we ask Mr Balloon Man if he could hold his spot because we’d be right back.

And that’s what we did.

We were nearly to the top of the stairs when we heard the first line of the song.  He quickly dove into the nearest bedroom and closed the door.

There was silence.

After a couple of minutes, a smiling Jay said “I think they are done now.”

We opened the door and walked back down the stairs and he resumed his spot in the balloon line.

 

Jay got a balloon robot and in what was a first for the face painter, got his face painted to look like a slice of pizza.

 

All 4 hours we spent at the party were a success – And this is worth bragging about!

 

Not to be ignored is Ace.  I don’t think I ever updated you guys on his report card.  The final result came in and the kid got straight friggin A’s.  There are no words really to tell you how proud I am of him.  Under all the normal conditions this would be worthy of praise but I’ll leave you with this quote from the only “grandfather” they’ve ever known – Because he gets it.

It’s all the more impressive when you consider where he’s coming from.  I mean, from almost having to repeat 2nd grade to straight A’s in 6th grade.  That’s impressive.

 

Now That That’s Cleared Up November 13, 2017

One day last week I noticed a ZERO written at the top of Jays final history test for the marking period.  It might as well have had flashing neon lights around it.   I was horrified and shocked and kinda sad too.

So … I emailed his teacher.

I told her how surprised I was by the grade and that I was concerned about it.  I told her that I had helped him study and that he had done well on the small quizzes leading up to the test so I just didn’t understand what went wrong.  I reminded her that we had a meeting already scheduled so it would be nice if we came to the table already armed with ideas.

 

And … She wrote me back.

She said that she was confused by my email but offered suggestions for what she can do if I think he needs testing modifications.

 

I was less than thrilled with her reply.  Why was she not as concerned as I was?  A ZERO should set off alarm bells.

 

Also … I spoke to Jay.

I asked him what went wrong.  I made sure to tell him that he wasn’t in trouble.  I just wanted to help him.  He offered no useful insight.  He said “I just forgot everything I guess.”

 

This morning we had the meeting and after hearing about how happy he is in school and how much he participates and how well he follows the class schedule and how funny he is and how much they enjoy having him in class and after being told that he had been featured in the school announcements for being the artist of the week, I brought it up … What about his academics?  I wanted to know what they or we could and should be doing to help him to get better scores on tests.

 

After a little back and forth and trying to figure out where each other was coming from it turns out that my boy did not get a zero on his test afterall.  He had in fact gotten 100%.

The zero I saw was the teacher marking the test to show that zero points had been taken away!!!

 

We all laughed at this mis-understanding and I felt a huge relief and then I felt really badly that Jay thought he had gotten a zero when in fact he had gotten all correct.

 

I can’t wait to see him later so I can let him know that it was my mistake and to let him know how proud I am of his hard work and the glowing reports from his teachers.

 

As I said in the meeting, I wish I could take his current report card and show it to his 1st and 2nd grade teachers.  I want to take his report, full of mostly 3’s (B’s) and just a couple 2’s (C’s) and show it to everyone who knew him back when he was crying and screaming all day long.  Everyone who knew him when he was 6 years old and couldn’t write his name or count or sit through one class period.   Everyone who knew him when he had IEP’s full of therapy and accommodations and behavior goals.  All that’s been taken away.  He now has no behaviour goals because there are no behavioral concerns.  No pull outs, no therapy, not even extra time for tests.  His current IEP basically is a one liner that says the special ed teacher will be available as a consultant to the general ed teacher if necessary.  Academically he has the same goals as any typical 4th grader.

 

He still has some things to work on.  Mostly word problems in math and he needs to start reading some higher level books but overall, I’m so happy with all that came out of our meeting.

 

Rock on little homie.

 

Issue # 4 October 4, 2017

If you’ve been here for more than 5 minutes you know our story.

As a baby he CRIED ALL THE TIME.

He didn’t sleep well.  Or eat well.  Or show any signs of being friendly.

As a toddler, he appeared uncomfortable ALL THE TIME and he was delayed in most developmental ways.

(Probably) out of frustration, he acted out in all the ways.  I know what it looked like to outsiders.

He was a handful (to put it mildly) and he tested my patience and my sanity on every level and in every way.

At age 5, he was not able to speak, read or write.  Forget writing; he couldn’t even hold a pencil properly.

Due to his Autism, he was unable to communicate in a way that I could understand.

He gave teachers and therapists and doctors and camp councilors and baby sitters a run for their money.  Many were not up to the task and crumbled.  Some stuck around and a small number are still here watching him grow and cheering him on.

We’ve been stared at.  Scowled at.  Laughed at.  Commented on.  Judged.  Teased.  Abandoned.  Given up on.

I read and researched EVERYTHING that was remotely relatable or relevant.

I spent YEARS being permanently tired and stressed and sad and worried and anxiety ridden.

I went to therapy my damn self.

 

At age 9, my boy is sweet and charming and a delight.  He’s considerate and loving and affectionate.  He is funny and helpful and interesting to speak with.  He has friends and is in clubs at school and is mostly responsible about doing what needs to be done.  He is well nourished and well rested – And always well dressed thanks to his superb sense of style.

He is happy.

(Except when he’s hungry.)

He is a joy to parent.

My boy wrote and illustrated a comic story.  In fact, he’s writing a series of comic books and has just completed issue 4.

This is not a small thing.

He worked hard to get to this point.  That cannot ever be overstated.

His teachers and therapists worked hard to get him to this point.  They continue to work hard.  The job is not done.   I will forever be grateful to all the strangers we meet at the start of every school year who go above and beyond to help their students.  Not because they will see any financial or professional gain or even get any recognition – But out of a general goodness of heart.

Family and friends have been unwaveringly accommodating and understanding and kept showing up for us and kept inviting us out and made lots of efforts to provide a happy and welcoming environment for him.  No matter what behaviours were displayed.

 

We never gave up on him or treated him as though he wasn’t smart or couldn’t accomplish things.  One bad day or minute was just that.  One bad day or minute.  We shook it off and started over with fresh optimism the next day.  Or sat on the floor in the bathroom to take a few deep breaths.  Chin up, smile on, back straight – Try again.

We never spoke about him as though he wasn’t there.  We never assumed the worst.  Only the best.

We kept going out and kept signing him up and kept asking for help.  We celebrated every bit of progress in a big way.  The people who love us, celebrated with us.

 

I’m so proud of my Jay Boogie and so very thankful for the support we’ve had throughout the years.  I just need to say that.  That support made all the difference.

 

Lots of kids struggle – Whether it’s due to their environment or their neurology or their physiology – Or any other myriad reasons.

Lots of parents are not coping well or responding appropriately.

Shaming, bullying, ignoring, abandoning, abusing, isolating our children is not the way.

Shaming, passing judgment, laughing at, ignoring parents who are struggling is not the way.

 

I wish every kid (and parent) who needed help, could get it.  No matter their family situation or their zip code.

What are we doing if we are not helping our children to be their absolute best?

 

 

That’s all I’ve got.

Well … that and a couple pictures of Issue # 4.  It’s freaking awesome!!!

 

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Back To School – The 4th Grade Edition September 20, 2017

OK.  So.  We may need to ask our tutor if she can increase her hours and spend more time with our Jay Boogie.

If you ask him, he will say that school is going “pretty great“.

It is, if you only consider the social aspect of it.  He likes his teachers.  He and his classmates are getting along well.  He says his best friend is Abby.  He has joined the art club (which I’m very excited about for him) and he’s happy with his before and after care program.

 

The problem is that school isn’t only about your social life.  There is that pesky little aspect of it that involves academics.  Jay has always been the sort of person who learns things at his own pace and when he is ready to learn them.  For the most part, that’s been totally fine by me.  I didn’t stress out about when he’d be potty trained.  Then one day, he just was.  I tried for a hot minute to teach him to tie his shoe laces when he was 5.  Traditionally it would have been the appropriate time for him to learn it but he was not interested and for years we let it go and bought him slip-ons or velcro shoes.  I figured that when he was ready, he’d learn.  This past summer he did.  He was 9 years old.  For the past couple of summers I gently nudged him to learn how to ride a 2-wheeler.  It didn’t go well.  Again, I left it alone.  Lately though, he’s been outside on his scooter and he’s doing a fantastic job of balancing on one foot and steering the scooter down the entire length of the curb; even making turns.  I had never seen him do that before.  I think a 2 wheeler is not far away at this point.

 

For so many life skills, I can follow his lead and bring it up when he seems ready.  That doesn’t work with multiplication and division though.  He needs to know how to do 4th grade math and he needs to do it now, if he’s going to stay in the program he’s in.   The tests are going to come on his teachers schedule – Not his.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not appropriate for all kids to be in a general ed setting with general ed expectations.  It may not be the right setting for him and we may be pushing him too hard and too fast, but my gut doesn’t tell me so.  I think he can do it.  He just needs to put in the work and maybe a little more effort than other students.

 

I know, as a kid, it sucks when other students seem to be learning things quickly and you are struggling.  It does nothing for your self-esteem.  But I cannot let him move to a different class (a special ed class) just because it would be an easier road.

I also know that homework isn’t fun.  It’s never been fun for anyone.  Still gotta do it.  Complaining and whining will not make it better.  Leaving your agenda book (with the assignment in it) at school will not make it go away.  Saying “I don’t know” to everything we ask, will not make us do it for you.

 

We, (Shaunie especially), really do try to help him with his homework and his studying.  Shaunie finds videos that explain things in fun ways and we give him rewards for completing tasks.  We give him breaks and try to cut things into small chunks and we don’t leave things for the last-minute.  (We’ve been studying for his social studies test since last week.  The test is this coming Friday.)   When he finally has a breakthrough we make a big deal about how proud we are of him and the pride he feels is evident.

 

I talk to him and I stress the importance of practice and studying and doing your best.  I tell him that nobody figures out everything the first time they try it and nobody gets all the questions right on all their tests.  I want him to know that getting 3 questions wrong on his “Fact or Fiction” quiz does not mean he is not smart or that he is not a good student.

I tell him that we will do whatever we can to help him.  I remind him that his teachers are there to help, even during a test, so if there is a question he doesn’t understand he can raise his hand and ask them to explain it.

 

What I will not tell him is that I spoke to his Aunty Juddles and she told me that she has Advanced Placement Science students in high school who do not know their time tables and who use a calculator for everything so even though I should still encourage him to learn them, it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t learn them all this year.

 

It’s not the easiest job getting this kid through school.  Shaunie has a  couple more gray hairs and our pockets are about to be a little lighter thanks to extra tutoring, but with some (or a lot of) help, I know he can do it.  And even with all his protestations, I am so dang proud of him for the effort he does exert and all the topics he has already mastered.

 

Send wine or beer.

 

Missing My Boys – and – A 504 At Work August 7, 2017

Filed under: ADHD,Autism,Family,Special Needs Kids — The B Side @ 1:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

On Friday, we stayed up until after 2 am catching up with friends – While their two sons slept in our two sons beds.  It was nice – But I miss my boys.

We spent our Saturday night hanging out with friends and family at a 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  We had a great time – But I miss my boys.

Now, it’s Monday – And I’m on my lunch break – And it’s raining  – So I’m at my desk – Eating peanut butter straight out of a jar – And the boys have been with their Dad for 2 weeks – And the kids being gone does make it easier to focus on things such as packing and moving – But I miss their laughter and the feel of their skin and their stories – So my brain wanders back to a time, 5 years ago, when ….

 

~*~

 

I’m sitting at my desk and my cell phone rings.  It’s not a number that I recognize but it has the same area code as where we live.

Hello.

Hi Mrs C.  This is Ace’s teacher calling to tell you that he’s having a very good day today.  I have you on speaker.  The entire class can hear you.

25, six year olds kids shout out … Hi Mrs C.  There is lots of giggling.

I laugh … Oh!  Wow.  Well, this is a great phone call to get.

I just wanted you to know that he’s been sitting quietly and paying attention and he and his partner have done a great job with their project we’ve been working on.

I say how proud I am of him and that I am very happy to get this news.

He sounds a little nervous as he chimes in to tell me that he is being good and to tell me about his project.

I don’t want to say anything too cheesy so I just say I love him and I am very proud of him and that he should keep it up.

The call ends with a chorus of goodbyes and I hang up – Smiling.

 

~*~

 

It was towards the end of first grade and Ace had fairly recently been diagnosed with ADHD.  His 504 plan was brand new and as a part of the plan, his teachers were supposed to give him positive reinforcement.  That phone call was them wasting no time in following the plan.  It was the first such phone call I had ever gotten.  I loved it.

In speaking with his teacher on the last day she told me that in that last month of school, she had gone on to make those phone calls to other parents as well.  She did it partly because she didn’t want the other kids to feel like Ace was getting special treatment and partly because it was just nice.

For us, it had been a rough journey getting to the point where my boy got a diagnosis and where a plan was implemented – But I was happy to know that other kids were benefiting from it as well in some small way.  It made me feel good to know that other parents got to share in the sweetness that was that phone call.   It can make all the difference when you are at work – On a Monday – And it’s raining – And your lunch is peanut butter straight out of a jar.