Life On The B Side

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

The Knowing Continues September 18, 2019

THAT <– was then – Over a year ago.  Please read it before continuing here.

 

Jay’s been a middle schooler for about a month now.  He was both nervous and excited to begin the new chapter.  He was looking forward to taking the bus to and from school with his brother.  He was looking forward to having a locker.  Thanks to the good job that Ace did of “selling it”, he was also looking forward to meeting his teachers and taking some new types of classes; wood shop and cooking for example.

 

I was also both nervous and excited.  I worked from home on their first day so that in case I received a phone call saying things were going horribly wrong, I could be at the school in 10 minutes.

The phone call never came.  The boys came home and both had had a good day.

By the end of the first week, Jay was echoing many of the same things Ace had said after his first week of middle school (2 years earlier).  “Middle school is great. I love moving from classroom to classroom for each subject. Middle school is so much better than elementary school.”

 

I was overjoyed and relieved.  At the time, I considered posting on this blog about it because it made me so happy and I wanted to store that feeling somewhere other than in my heart.

 

I’m glad I waited though because what I write next is what really made me post.

 

 

Last week, the boys brought home their interim report cards.  Ace, who’s been doing really well over the last couple of years is holding on to his straight A status.  Jay, who has been steadily improving, but who doesn’t see himself as academically gifted, had mostly A’s but then also a C and a D.

According to his report, he had missed turning in some assignments and that was the cause of the lower grades.  Jay swore to me that he had handed everything in.  So, I emailed the 2 teachers in question to ask for more information.

Here are the responses:

 

(1)

“Good Morning!

I am missing a bell ringer from him. I have looked through all of my graded things and I do not see it. I will talk to him about it today. He mentioned it to me at the beginning of class yesterday, but we ended up running out of time.

Jay* has been very good about talking to me when he needs something so I will talk to him again today! I hope you have a great day! Let me know if you have any other questions.”

 

And then later in the day …

 

“We found his old missing assignment and he turned it in. I will try to get it in the computer soon!”

 

(2)

“Hi, thanks so much for sending this.  I figured out what it is. He did not do the states crossword puzzle.  Missing one assignment makes a big difference.  I have five crossword puzzles on my board marked with “no-name”, so if Jay* knows he did it, it’s probably there.  If he didn’t do it, he can still hand it in for credit.  Once that is taken care of, his interim will reflect the change and be an A.”

 

Now, the improved grades are amazing and I do think it would do a lot to boost his own confidence if he were to bring home a final report with all A’s, but I was brought to literal tears from the line:

“He mentioned it to me at the beginning of class yesterday, but we ended up running out of time.

Jay* has been very good about talking to me when he needs something …”

 

THAT is NOT the child who:

I was told by a “licensed doctor”, when he was 2 years, would need to be heavily medicated and possibly institutionalized by the time he became a teenager.

I wondered if he would ever speak, when he was still non-verbal at 5 yrs old.

Began kindergarten as a 6 yr old, in a self-contained “autism class” with 6 students and 3 teachers.

Would SCREAM and meltdown on a DAILY basis.

Got kicked out of speech therapy and summer camp due to his uncontrollable behavior.

Because he wasn’t able to handle it; Got moved around from a large group to a small group to just 2 kids in a social skills group at a therapy center dedicated to helping children on the spectrum.

 

As recently as April of last year, this is what was said during one of his IEP* meetings:

“He hasn’t cried all year.  He whines quite a bit but that’s better than crying.”

 

This does not mean that all things every day are now perfect.  He still has some things to work on – As do we all.  But I am just overwhelmed (Is there a stronger word than overwhelmed?) by how far he’s come – And I KNOW I’ve said that before at different stages of his development.  But it’s worth repeating.  This kid is just amazing and despite his “pop-up” anxieties and his bad attitudes at times and his ability to test ALL our patience, I am blown away by him in positive ways every single day.  Ways that he cannot even comprehend.  And ways that his current teachers would never be able to appreciate.

 

I don’t know what made Jay develop and grow the way he has.  I get asked that question quite often.  There is no 1 magic trick.  I do believe in our case, it was a combination of:

His parents realizing early on that he needed help and being willing to seek out that help.

His parents not accepting the dire predictions that we were given and constantly looking for the “right” people to be on his team.

The fact that his teachers have been incredibly supportive, creative, understanding, nurturing and positive from the beginning.

Genetics.

Consistency and love and encouragement from family/friends.

His own determination and drive.

 

And here is where I tie back to the last post again.  We still have challenges.  There are still tricky things to navigate.  I still get stressed and worried – but things are ok.  Good even.

My friendships are strong – and for that I am beyond grateful.

My credit score is the best it’s ever been.

Ace having his own cell phone hasn’t caused any real problems.

I do still need to make myself a dentist appointment.  *shrug*

We’ve done quite a lot of good travel.  Some as a family (yes, I finally got the kids passports renewed) and some just Shaunie and I as a couple (that’s important too).

The knowing continues.

There will be moments of darkness, but there will also be light.  It’s not easy, but this is life.  One thing at a time.  Do what you need to do to maintain your own mental health.  Just hang on through the rough patches and make sure to recognize and enjoy the beautiful moments when they come.

 

 

 

*Jay is the name we use on the blog. His teachers had used his real name.

*An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan which allows students to receive special education services.  For more info, please let me know.

 

The Knowing September 13, 2019

I recently came across something I had written (but never posted) on August 7, 2018.

 

 

Therapist:  So, what brings you here today?

Me:  I don’t know.  I just feel overwhelmed.  With my life.

 

That was how my very first therapy session started.  It was the spring of 2013.

At the time, I had a job that I wasn’t happy at.  Pretty much no money.  A 7 year old with not-yet-diagnosed ADHD, who was struggling in school.  A 6 year old, whose autism had a chokehold on the entire house.  The relationships with my husband, father, mother and grandfather varied from shitty to non-existent.  I had curled inward; away from my friends.

I felt very alone.  I was a mess.  Drowning.  And I saw no way out.  I didn’t go to therapy thinking there was anything they could do or say to “fix” my life.  I mean really.  What could they do about any of the things I was anxious about or overwhelmed by?  But what other choice did I have?  I had to try something.

 

I ended up going to 5 sessions.   It helped, but not in the way I think most people go to therapy expecting it to.  My therapist helped me to simplify and organize my thoughts.  It was a relief to say some things out loud that I’d been guarding tightly.  Ultimately, we decided that my life boiled down to 2 things.

  1. Sometimes things suck and you just have to get to a place where you accept that they suck and you have to stop looking for/hoping for/expecting different. Just accept.
  2. Some things – like your job and your marriage – can change, but they won’t change (for good or bad) on their own. You play an active role in what you allow. How much are you willing to tolerate before you make steps towards making that change?

 

 

August 2018.

Shaunie (my wife):  What’s wrong?  You got quiet.

Me:  I’m just in a funk.

 

How do I explain it to her?  She’s a “fixer”.  But there’s no easy fix when depression creeps in.  You know all the things.

You know it could be worse; there are people who love you; you have lots of reasons to be happy and grateful.

You know that if you ask her to do something specific she will make it happen.  It’s who she is.

You also know that she’s dealing with her own schtuff and the last thing she needs is you adding to her plate a bunch of “to-do’s” that will ease you to some extent but won’t magically “un-funk” you so there’s no point in putting her through that.

Everything feels like a huge problem and like it will take energy I don’t have.  The house needs tidying up.  I feel fat.  I look old.  I have to renew my license.  The kids need new passports.  I need to catch up on over 200 work emails.  I have a phone call to a sick friend I’m supposed to make.  I need to make arrangements with the kids dad for him to see them again before the summer is out.  I got an email saying my credit score had dropped.  I always have another dentist appointment I need to schedule.   And I always know that the next one won’t be the last one.  I am SO OVER THE DENTIST.

No, I don’t want tea or to laugh or sex.  I just want to curl up in bed.  It’s all I can manage.  That’s what feels easy.  Doable.

We cuddle and I fall asleep.

It’s a sweet relief.  From life.

But now it’s the next day and I can’t stay in bed.  I have to shower and go to work and make phone calls and wash dishes and hang back up the picture that fell off the wall.

 

I think back to my therapy sessions.

What can I control?  What do I have to let go of?  What feeling is weighing me down that I need to just accept/let go off, instead of trying to make it be different?  One thing at a time – The tension in my brain starts to unwind.

 

Ace starts 7th grade soon.  It comes with certain stresses, but, in quiet honest moments, I am not too worried about that.  It’s his second year of middle school and last year went pretty well.  He has a cell phone now, thanks to his Grandma, so I’ll have to figure out some rules around his use of it as well as install some parental controls; but that’s stuff we can manage.

Jay.

This one is a little harder.

My heart constricted a little when I typed his name.  For the last couple of years, I had not fretted about the start of the new school year.  But he’s going into 5th grade which will be his last year of elementary school.  I cannot handle the thought of him leaving that environment.  Elementary school had begun to feel safe for him.  Comfortable.  Predictable in its own way; even as we moved up the grades.  His teachers, the mostly innocent and friendly and understanding kids, the routine.  The special education team was always the same at IEP meetings etc.  Middle school will be different.  There will be a totally different set of students as none of his current friends will attend the same middle school as him.  A different school staff who don’t know and love him – yet.  A vastly different daily routine.  Different expectations.

“Different” with Jay is scary.

 

BUT, I can’t control these things – And certainly not now.  Why am I already stressing about next year?  I don’t know.  Ask my old friend anxiety.

 

Things will settle down soon enough I reassure myself.  I will get over these feelings eventually OR we will address the things that need addressing – Which will serve to calm me down.  I KNOW this.  I know this because I’ve been down this road before.  More than once.

And in this case, today, the knowing is the force holding me together.  It is my life jacket.

 

 

To Be Continued ………….

 

Before Report Cards Come Out October 30, 2017

I was so nervous about Ace going to middle school y’all.  About the social aspect of things because 11 to 14 is a weird age group – but also, about the school work and all the class juggling involved and time management necessary.

Last weekend, I was sorting through some papers and came across his school picture from 2nd grade.  He was a CUTIE.  Oh my gosh.  He really was a beautiful baby and a gorgeous toddler and just a handsome kid.

I also came across one of his report cards from kindergarten.  Not so cute.

Please schedule a time to come in.  We would like to discuss our concerns about his classroom behavior.  He struggles with sitting still and focusing.”

Back then I read those words and my heart hurt.  As hard as it was to read, I knew they were being as polite and gentle in their delivery as possible.  I knew him.  I lived with him.

 

I am not taking anything away from his elementary school teachers.  They were great and really did try everything they could to make school a happy and productive place for him.

 

But here’s the thing …  At the risk of jinxing anything, I really think that the middle school format suits him better.

More physical movement and more mental/visual stimulation.  Different teachers in different classrooms with different teaching styles for each subject and even different kids and a different seating arrangement in each class.

It just seems to work better with his brain.  Sitting in the same room all day listening to the same teacher and looking at the same faces all day was hard for him.

 

Ace has exams this week as the marking period comes to an end.  We checked his grades portal last week and he’s heading into the exams with straight A’s.  I don’t know if he will end up with straight A’s once the exams are done.  I don’t even care.  I mean obviously it would be awesome but I’m purposely making sure to post this before we get those grades because I want it known that I’m really proud of him either way.  School has been a struggle for us for a long time and has never come easy to him.  We’ve never looked at a report (progress or final) or a grading portal at any point in the term and seen straight A’s.

 

I guess what I’m getting at is that in this moment, today, I’m just a Mom, sitting in front of a computer, hoping that my boy knows that no matter what happens the week after next when the final grades for term 1 of his 6th grade year are posted, I will be incredibly proud of how well he’s transitioned into this phase of his school life and hoping that he continues to believe in himself and to work hard and to live up to this full potential.

 

 

 

*Happy Halloween tomorrow to everyone.  I hope all your kids have a great time and get to enjoy it in whatever manner means the most to them.*

 

One Week In – The Middle School Version September 12, 2017

He was the same person on September 5th (the first day of school) that he was one day earlier on September 4th which will henceforth be known as BMS (Before Middle School), yet things were totally different.

Yes, he is the same person but parenting him is different.

On day 1, I made a plan to go to work late so I could walk him to the bus stop.  It was his first time taking the bus after all.  As we turned the corner we saw the other children at the end of the block already waiting – with nary a parent in sight.    I had to stop walking and bid my boy goodbye before the other children noticed us.  As I watched him walk away, he got smaller and smaller.   He made his way to the curb where he would wait and I saw that it wasn’t all in my head.  He was at least a whole head shorter than all the other students.  It was hard turning my back and walking in the opposite direction.  I never had to do that BMS.

On day 2 the students were assigned their lockers and Ace was given a top locker but he’s not from a family loaded with tall genes so he couldn’t reach it and they had to swap him with another, taller, student.  He’s still not quite grown.  Yet, he was so excited about the freedom he now has to roam the hallways in between each class.  We talked about how it’s now his responsibility to get to all his classes on time and to collect, from his locker, whatever books he will need to bring home in order to complete homework.  None of this was an issue BMS.

3 days in, I was getting questioned on whether or not he can take a cell phone to school because he is apparently the ONLY one who does not have a phone.  He was asking if friends could come home on the bus with him after school.  (Ahm, no. Friends can’t come over when no adult is home and we need to get their parents contact info – Same as BMS.)  After just 3 days, he was asking that we not wake him up so early in the morning and he’s taking it upon himself to make his own dinner.  Mind you, it’s microwave mac and cheese but still.

 

I believe there’s an upcoming school dance, which I’m sure parents are not invited to.  I know they will have teacher chaperones but I don’t remember going to a “no parents allowed” school dance until I was in (the equivalent of) 9th grade.  He’s getting jokes now that he didn’t used to get and he’s more concerned with how his outfits look and his little brother is no longer allowed into the bathroom with him at any time.

 

All these developments make my brain go a little haywire.  I think about the time I went to a school dance and had promised to meet my Grandma in front of the school by 11pm but I was too busy on the dance floor to notice the time and the next thing I knew, my Grandma was there, in our auditorium, looking for me.  How embarrassing!!!

It’s a good memory (now), and I love getting those triggers, but it makes it very real to me that this time with my Ace is going to go by very quickly.  Looking back at it now, my teenage years FELT like the longest ever at the time, but they were over in a flash.

I think about the lyrics to a song from the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack where his mom sings to him:

 

And I knew there would be moments that I’d miss
And I knew there would be space I couldn’t fill
And I knew I’d come up short a billion different ways
And I did
And I do
And I will

 

He’s growing up and the truth is, even though it’s scary at times, I do love to watch it happen.    He’s the same person, but now that he’s in middle school, it’s calling for a different kind of parenting.  I will try to do it all right.  But I haven’t.  And I don’t.  And I won’t.  All I can do is my best and hopefully he will look back and say his memories are good ones.

 

*Note*  He’s one week in and he says it’s been great.  He swears that Middle School is better than Elementary School and much to his own amazement, he thinks he will enjoy History class.