Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When School is your Job

My little Drama Queen started middle school this year...  seventh grade! Ack!  My attention has been so focused on Tiny for the last year that I feel like I've missed the point at which she suddenly grew up.

Middle school presents a whole new set of problems with the social structure restructuring as elementary schools funnel together, and with academics getting split from hybridized subjects taught all at once to six rigid stop and start of six different subjects taught by six different teachers in six different styles.

DQ has always been a little lazy about schoolwork.  I'd say she's pretty smart, catches onto new topics quickly, but she is a Bigger Picture person and often misses important details like writing her name on the paper or seeing that it must be minimum 300 words.  In the past, with an elementary grading system, they were a little more flexible if she showed true comprehension of the lesson.

But middle school is straight points.  Miss an assignment?  Sorry, your A average is now a C.  Didn't get all of your participation points because you were sick? Oh well, you didn't need those anyway.  Pop quiz the day after a new concept was introduced?  Hope you didn't have any questions!

In the end, I think this is probably a good thing to transition to at this age, because high school and college are both numbers-driven, and she needs to learn how to survive before it is really super important to her eventual career choice. 

When I was in school, the competition of the grade itself was incentive enough for me to hold my 4.0 throughout.  When a teacher announced that only five students would earn an A in his class that quarter, I made sure I held the highest A.  But DQ isn't like that.  She's a THING person.  She responds to getting things and experiences and making memories by doing fun stuff.

So how do I enable her to work hard and feel like she has a reason to push herself to do better?  Every kid needs a reason...unmotivated kids, whether unmotivated internally or externally, tend to do poorly and simply not care enough to participate.

We've decided to pay for good grades.  Let me make something clear:  I'm 100% against paying kids to contribute to housework ("traditional" allowance) when they live, sleep, and eat in the house they're cleaning.  They should help because they live there.  So we have run into this tiny problem where we are facing difficulty teaching effective money management because...DQ doesn't have any.

So.  The Dollar System was born.  Every Friday, I check her grades.  For every A+ she has (over 100% in the class), she earns $2.  For every regular A, $1.  For every B, $.50.  For C's, $0.  And for D's and F's, she pays us $1 and $2 respectively.  So this last Friday, when she had four A's and two A+'s, she earned $8.

There's a couple rules, though.  ANY overall C or below gets her removed from all of her extracurriculars until her grades come back up.  And she must save 25% of her allowance in a separate account.  She is responsible for paying for her own fun extras (Starbucks when she's out with friends or dance tickets or a yearbook, e.g.).  We use the RoosterMoney app, which also allows her to set her own savings goals and add to them.

So far, it's been a good exercise for both of us.  Every week, I check her grades, which keeps me on top of what's going on in school, and award her allowance based on them.  And when an A slips to a B, or a B to a C, we discuss how averages work, go over the syllabus together, and open the grade book to talk about whatever is dragging her grade down.  She's become a little bolder in asking for extra credit, and she's also been exercising better personal responsibility over her homework and making sure it's in on time.

And this last weekend, when we attended Geek Girl Con downtown, she was thrilled to have her own money to spend.  So I think all around, this has been a great way to start the school year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Special Needs, Interrupted

Normal Activity: Tree-Spotting
Every day, I wake up and think, "Today...today is going to be a good day."  I'm not always right, and I'm not always firm when I think it, but every morning when I crack my eyes open between six and seven, I try to be optimistic.

Today, I sent my daughter off to middle school.  We've been prepping for it, essentially, all of August.  She needed EVERYTHING...clothes, supplies, outerwear, boots, backpack...That kid is harder on clothing than either of my boys, I swear it.  I forgot to get her a haircut, but I guess that's okay.

Next week, a week from today, in fact, Tiny heads to preschool.  So not only do I have DQ starting MS, I have Tiny in Pre3.  I feel ridiculously old this week.  There are nine years between DQ and Tiny.  There's sixteen months (two school years) between Tiny and Squeaky.  And yet, quite often, I feel as though I have a teenager and twin toddlers.  DQ seems years older than she should be, and with Tiny delayed as he is, he and Squeaky are pretty much on par verbally.  They are worlds away from each other cognitively and physically, but it's hard to remember that when Tiny can't even ask for a certain toy instead of pushing.

Having a special needs middle child is kind of this weird interruption of normal life.  Here we are, having kids...  DQ is smart and funny and sassy.  She does well enough in school, finally finds her tribe of friends, and really starts flourishing as a kid.  And then on the other end of the divide, you have Squeaky, who is often too serious, but has bouts of silliness that make you wonder what's really going on in his little brain.  He plays well, he's sweet, and out of the three...he's the easy one.  Good-natured and laid-back, that's my Squeaky.

And then smack in the middle of everything is Tiny, with all of his problems and struggles.  He doesn't understand cause and effect, he steals toys and shoves, he cries and bangs his head in frustration.  We are coming up on D-Day (diagnosis day) for him, and the closer we inch to it, the more I realize how wonderful and carefree our first two years with him were, before we knew.  Having a special needs kiddo as my middle makes all "normal" behavior in our family stutter and falter as we try so hard to keep up with his needs; I often wonder what life would be like if we had been dealt a better hand.

I find myself looking forward to the "normal" things I'll get to do with Squeaky, once Tiny is off to school.  Things that Tiny can't handle, like the Children's Museum, because it's too busy and noisy all of the time.  I'm looking forward to library sing-alongs, which we haven't been able to go to because Tiny can't tolerate singing.  I'm looking forward to baby dance parties in my living room, which we don't normally do because Tiny gets upset when he can't make his body do what he wants.  I can't wait to play in the play area in the mall with Squeaky, which I avoid now because Tiny is so distracted by the mall shops that he won't stay in the play area for more than five minutes after arrival.

Sometimes I feel like TS has interrupted our life so badly that I can't even remember where we were before it happened.  Like we suddenly lost power in the middle of a good movie, and I keep trying to rewind to find our place.  And everytime I get close, the power goes out again.  Don't get me wrong:  We still do have good days, but we rarely have "normal" days - normal by NT standards, anyway.   Our days tend to have quantitative benchmarks attached:  I only yelled once today; I got five loads of laundry done; Tiny got BOTH naps; the boys were happy in their swings for more than ten minutes; I drank five ounces of my iced eight ounce espresso before it got gross and watery.  I guess I'm looking forward to a little less interruption, even if it's only three hours a day, four days a week...and a little more normalcy while Tiny gets the help he needs.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Guilt of Growing Up

Cleaning buddies are the best!
As D-Day (that would be Diagnosis Day) approaches, I find myself reflecting a lot on the past year.  I've read some of my previous posts and hurt all over again for where I was and what I was feeling on those bad days.  I've counted my blessings.  I've thanked my stars.

In one week, I'll have a middle schooler.  In two weeks, I'll have a preschooler.  In that time, I'll be left with only one little one here at home with me, one who has never really gotten one on one time with mom.  I keep thinking to myself....what will I DO?!  More laundry?  SOME laundry?  Maybe it'll actually regularly make it into the dryer!

I keep looking for opportunities online to take Squeaky to things that I've always wanted to take him to, but couldn't, because Tiny gets so overloaded.  Things like storytime where they -- GASP -- sing songs!  Tiny screams and covers his ears when people sing, but Squeaky stands up, claps, dances, and tries to sing too.  Things like the petting zoo, where I have no doubt at all that Squeaky will do that cry-and-pet thing he does when he's afraid but really, really wants to try.  Things like apple picking, which is just too hard all on my own with two little people running in opposite directions.

For once...I feel like there's freedom on my horizon.  It feels like warm sunshine on my skin after a month of rain.  It feels like the smell of cinnamon and chocolate spinning in the air as cookies bake.  It feels like the lift you get off a trampoline on the rebound, soaring high into the air before plummeting back toward the elastic.

It. Feels. Indescribable.

And then I feel guilty, because the only way to achieve this is to put Tiny in a developmental preschool, because his brain is broken.  I feel bad for feeling SO GOOD.  But even that three hours a day, four days a week feels like heaven after the slog and burn of being so trapped at home for three years.

I try to console myself... the last three years weren't ALL bad.  There were a few rays of light among the dark clouds as they rumbled and grumbled by.  Hell, prior to D-Day, except on the topic of sleeping, I was fantastically happy as a new mom.  It was hard, but at least I was happy.  I remind myself of a few things:

  1. I've done everything I can think of, everything I've researched, and everything I could do to get my child all the help he needs.
  2. I've done my best to be fair and kind.
  3. I've tried to remember that I also have two other kids, and treat them appropriately, even when I'm having a rough day.
  4. My kids are happy, (mostly) healthy, (mostly) clean, well-fed, clothed, and loved.  And that's what matters.
  5. ...All kids go to school eventually...  And many mothers with only NT kids rejoice just as I have.
So as I tick things off the back to school list for my TWO school-aged kids, I try to tamp down the guilt that hugs hotly around the base of my neck.  My mantra lately is, "I'm doing the best I can.  I've done the best I can.  I will do the best I can."  Still, even though I was adamant that Tiny needed to get to school for all the great things it will bring him, I know that as the day approaches, my doubt and guilt and desire to keep him home mounts.