A Tale of Two Mommies

…because more seems excessive…

Tag Archives: education

The Lessons History Tells…and how to ensure it ceases

I have this random worry…part of the worry is that it shouldn’t be that random. I worry about my children’s education in a very big picture sense. We live in a relatively affluent area. I hear rave reviews of teachers from the parents of other, older children. My concern isn’t about access or resources. We mostly fulfill the appropriate bullet points of what should be considered quality education.

But, I’m an educator. More specifically my world consists of the children or adults who didn’t fall through the cracks. People…policy makers…professionals created cracks and pushed them through. With such a reference in mind I worry about my children’s notions of the world once public education begins. I worry about the forces that perpetuate the narrative of oppression, eventually yielding the status quo that those receiving its advantage are unwilling or unable to see.

I’m not bringing vague liberal ideology to this party. My notions have very real evidence. I worry our district uses McGraw-Hill or other similar publications for textbooks. Texas based companies produce most of our country’s learning material, and for quite some time on a concerted mission to “deliberalize” our history. As I write these simple notes, students throughout our nation regardless of origin or heritage receive an education that completely removes slavery as though it never existed. In its place is “triangular trade” or some random immigration label completely devoid of meaning or accuracy. For the moment our society embodies throngs of individuals in power who have a notion of this singular issue, but what happens when a generation passes? I don’t want my children to understand that reality. I don’t want my children to ever know the harm and hurt something like that will perpetuate on others who are already at a disadvantage regardless if such a belief is widely accepted. As is there are scant notes of notable White women in history, forget about the other remaining melanin or belief spectrum. And, even if White women are mentioned, the entirety of the legacy is suppressed.

I worry that my children will be witness to the false history that the North was good and the South was bad; it was all bad. Allowing any of us to be cushioned from possible guilt keeps us stuck in the same cycle of exploitation. I want my children to be taught and to understand the slavery in the North…the medical experimentation…dubious notions of consent. I want my children to hear and see the words of the Black suffragists whose role much mightier than their White counterparts if for no other reason than their steady endurance despite the hatred for existing as a perceived lesser. I worry that my children won’t learn the endless tales and strengths of those forgotten to our past saving a random Google search from something whispered from somewhere unknown.

I worry my children will endorse more wars overseas because our education system does not provide the most basic of narratives as to why others do not trust us. How much longer will we be in the Middle East? Forever. We have been there forever, and will likely always be…interfering as western powers do best. I don’t want my children to grow a dismissive hand that an entire swath of people are animals because our history bloats our exceptionalism and nurtures righteous indignation. I want my children to learn how Israel came to pass, and decide their own judgement of our Jewish state. Will it give them comfort or will it be a guilt-ridden burden that plants seeds of ill ease because of its possible illegitimacy and questionable governing? I want my children to understand the complexity of existence over time…that history in and of itself establishes reality, and we cannot move forward without understanding how we arrived to this point.

But, I know what our history books say. I know they talk of the West almost exclusively. I know that the Middle East fades away after a brief glimpse of a convoluted Ottoman Empire. I know there is little discussion of colonization boundaries and imperialism which haunt us every day in our military expansion and need for more protections.

I worry my children will grow to be voters without exposure to the truly exceptional Chinese Empire–one of the original and most tenacious superpowers. They pursue questionable tactics, but their culture and innovation dominated most of human history. It seems their momentary fall from grace will fuel their ascendance to dominance once again…with the help of our less than exceptional leadership at a pivotal time.

The ghast cruelty of this situation is that my own education reeked of such heinous misconceptions, and it unwittingly haunted me through much of my emerging adulthood. Perhaps my kids would be thoughtful enough to overcome such things as I commit to do in my own bumbling in life. Certainly how I raise Mr. Man and Warrior Queen has a profound impact on many fronts. But, I worry that I am up against a losing battle of written inaccuracy. I worry my kids will invest so much in their inherent advantages that they will be entrenched as another piece of a faceless mass joining social media completely deluded…convinced their privileged reality is the entire story, and they won’t be strong enough to consider the alternative.

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Judgments

The newly-ish minted four-year-old Mr. Man needs an evaluation…another one. This one, however, is more annoying. My son attended a private preschool two mornings a week this past year. It’s a play-based program, and truly good in terms of quality. I don’t want to rail on about the virtues of this school and the comparisons between private and public. But, fundamentally this school hires and keeps qualified teachers, which is fairly uncommon outside of the public sector. I don’t have hard data about that, but given my experience running private nonprofit special education programs (albeit a vastly different population), it’s probably a profoundly safe bet.

Little Man’s teacher team is good; generally I have no complaints. But, after his mid-year conference, I saw the play for the remaining part of the year. My husband and I assumed we would hear polite niceties about his stubborn, rigid nature. We walked out puzzled. My son has been very sweet and compliant. He’s chatty and funny, but seems to struggle with processing information. His teacher highlighted a few examples of his behavior…his confusion about where and how to get into line well after all of his peers complied…repeatedly asking questions that he seems to already know the answers to (like the name of a common fruit)…sitting with his back to the book during story time, and confused when an adult addresses it. For those familiar with Mr. Man’s story, these behaviors are…odd. My son doesn’t have a processing issue (though I get why his teachers think so). His memory is stunning, and he usually picks-up a routine within one or two renditions…provided he agrees with said routine. At the time I had to sit on this one for a few days because it simply didn’t make sense.

Little Man had a speech delay; not uttering words until two-and-a-half years…not that you’d know it because the kid won’t shut his hole for the life of him. The speech therapists called it “motor planning,” and it would be unclear if it completely resolves or if other traces present themselves. As of his end of year conference, I suspect other traces have become uncloaked, but it’s hard to know for sure. I’m not necessarily concerned; whatever is going on leaves him fairly high functioning. But, I’m left with the distinct taste that I will need to document things because my son does not have a processing thing. My concern is that he’s found behaviors meeting his attention seeking needs, and his education will become a process of him turning into a type of learner he isn’t.

Overwhelmingly my concern with this process and the selection of the right evaluator is that the final product accurately document his behaviors…their motivations and note appropriate interventions. While I don’t think his deal is processing, I can most certainly see features of autism. I don’t know if he ultimately meets the criteria for a type of spectrum diagnosis, but there are pretty obvious pieces to his quirks that are.

I’m not remotely a specialist with autism. The spectrum kids I enrolled came to my school because their behaviors were vastly more concerning than their autistic presentations. Regardless, I’ve done well with the kids I’ve met possessing such a profile. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m an exceptional disciplinarian. The core strength of my approach and personality is that I’m remarkably consistent in response to behavior and my personal affect. I’m also black and white with my interventions and communication. Kids generally know what to expect from me at all times, even if they don’t much care for me or my way of navigating their educational experience. While I’m quite rigid, direct…and frankly blunt pretty much all of the time, I provide a stabilizing force for kids who generally feel unsafe in life and internally chaotic.

Little Man is the recipient of my behavioral training and instincts…with a bit more yelling…okay, significantly more yelling. Actually, to me “yelling” is more losing control and reacting emotionally. In that context I seldom yell, but I’m certainly loud and tolerate very little. I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of stink-eyes from other mothers, but I refuse to beg my kid to behave appropriately. This is not to say that I would judge others for a different parenting style, but for my family the expectation is that my kids won’t be dicks…I’m moderately successful on that front as I’m sloping into the tail end of a day with an unnapping Warrior Queen and a sickly Mr. Man.

But, all kidding aside, my son does quite well with my approach. When I’m with both kids alone, they consistently behave the best for me. Out in public or in school without my influence, my son is sweet and probably the most polite four-year-old you could possibly meet…I don’t even think I’m kidding about that as so many others have noticed and said something. Warrior Queen is too, but this post is about her dearest big brother. The problem with school…and probably my son is that one of the most effective interventions for him when he is doing his stubborn shtick thing is to be quite direct and set a limit. His school doesn’t really do that, especially issue time-outs. Here is another complicating issue, he doesn’t tantrum or overtly misbehave. He manipulates his environment and the people around him. My son learned very quickly in his school that there is no downside to refusing a routine if he pretends he simply doesn’t understand the expectations. I’ve seen it; it’s very convincing so I don’t fault his teachers for falling for it. That said, I sent them a lengthy email explaining his behavior profile after the first conference because I was concerned their chosen interventions would exasperate the problem. Sure enough my predictions came to complete fruition. As a parent I find this annoying. As an educator with a history as an effective boss of teachers, I get it; but it’s still annoying.

There are various other pieces of more heaps of annoying to this story, but that’s more of a vent for friends because ultimately it doesn’t matter. Mr. Man certainly has something going on from at least a couple of angles. While I’m not concerned about his future, it’s something that will require documentation because I know with certainty that no one in education will take my word for it. This school is a snapshot of what I know to be true…because I’ve seen it from the other side. It takes training to really work with a family system. I have a whole mess of educational certifications, but I’m also a licensed social worker trained to work with families because I interned and worked for an agency that pushes such things as its primary belief system. Often places…entities…bureaucracies…whatever make the family friendly claim. It’s been scant occasions I’ve seen it in practice, especially in the public sector. Perhaps it’s an anecdotal comment, but I sure know a whole mess of people who would agree from all spheres of the educational process. If a kid is typical, perhaps a parent wouldn’t notice. My son is delightfully odd in probably one of the most spectacular ways, but that means I need to be aware of how his oddities bump up against conformity. I will need to teach him when to go along, and when to stand out. I will also need to reinforce honesty because I can easily see how his manipulation can turn to a darker character as he grows.

With everything going on I finally managed to get this evaluation process business underway. It won’t happen until early December, which is fine. Public schools don’t usually know what to do with spectrum profiles, so we are paying for an independent evaluation from a psychologist recommended by my son’s pediatrician. Fortunately, she will take our insurance though I’m still not sure what it will cost. Part of insurance is that there is a negotiated rate for such things, so whatever it is should be manageable…should as the operative term.

The psychologist asked for a background of Little Man, all through an email exchange which makes this entire thing significantly easier. But, upon receiving her request I was left wondering what information she wanted to know for this initial contact. I don’t know if I arrived at an answer. I just sort of wrote, and tried to be as brief as possible…which ended up not all that brief, yet I feel I left significant issues glaringly unmentioned. I suppose that’s what the first intake meeting is for.

I haven’t had occasion to speak much of evaluations through the totality of my children’s lives, but it seems that my last reflection on some kind of intervention process was one of my most well received posts. Below is the behavioral background email I sent to the psychologist who will be responsible for my son’s assessment (note I removed his name for privacy reasons)…my apologies for some of the repetition:

Thank you for getting back to me. Your timeline is fine. I’m not particularly concerned about Little Man to the point of immediacy. Next year he will be in his school program (pre-K) longer, so having some time for him to adjust works on our end. But, longer is three mornings a week (T, W, R). We are at this point because his school recommended he be evaluated. He definitely has his shtick, but I don’t agree with his school’s take on what’s happening. I’ll explain a bit more, but my read is that he is presenting with spectrum characteristics, and they think he has a processing issue. I don’t know that he would meet the criteria for a diagnosis, but certainly some of his behaviors are similar to what I’ve seen from spectrum kids. I should note, however, that my experience is with at-risk adolescents. The autistic kids I’ve worked with were referred to my school because that piece was secondary to their behavioral issues. I am by no means an expert in the realm, but there are commonalities I’ve seen. Regardless, my son is high functioning, so I want to make sure that whatever documentation we have regarding his profile is accurate. My concern with going through our town is that Mr. Man has some unique presentations, and my experience is that public schools are generally not as well versed in spectrum behaviors. 

I’m not sure what information you would like up front, and some of it is a bit involved to explain…especially for someone inherently long-winded like myself. But, I suppose the more important notes are from a couple of fronts. I’m not sure what is relevant where, which I suppose is part of the issue. On the one front my son didn’t speak until 2.5 years (with early intervention)…not that you would know that to speak to him. He’ll talk to you about whatever you never wanted to discuss until far beyond your eyes glazing over. He’s generally a curious kid. I don’t have much familiarity about four-year-olds, but he seems to be curious about things my friends’ kids don’t even consider. His latest obsession is the body. I’ve bought some of picture encyclopedias. Right now he is fixated on the skeletal system, particularly red blood cells and marrow. This fixation doesn’t seem quite as intense as “defibrillators” or “compost, recycling, trash,” but I’ve been fooled before. And, I can honestly say that I know extraordinarily little about bone marrow…I always assumed it produced white blood cells, but I digress. I can’t predict what he will decide to tell you about when you meet him, but it will likely be something quite entertaining…unless he’s continuing to ask you about it when you are using the restroom. I suspect that won’t be an issue for you. 🙂 In any case, this is part of the other front. He can’t really let things go…routine or otherwise, but he doesn’t tantrum or seem to get anxious about disruptions. He’s actually a pretty mellow, easy going kid. He will organize and sort all kinds of things and have trouble switching gears to something else until he’s finished, but if his sister wrecks his work before he finishes, he just moves on without issue. He usually doesn’t even react most of the time. That might not be terribly unusual, but I find it interesting. As rigid as he is, he’s not terribly anxious or nervous. Never had separation anxiety or anything.

His school reports that he still does parallel play instead of interacting with peers. He interacts with his sister (two years), and I’ve seen him play and interact with peers, but it’s always been with regard to more gross motor play (i.e., tag or chase) than with something involving objects. I’m not sure if this behavior would be linked to the same mechanism that prompted the delay or if it’s more of the spectrum commonalities. He’s definitely interested in peers, but he seems much more interested in independent creative play than interacting with peers…generally speaking. He becomes quite caught up in the stories in his head. Sometimes he’s vocalizes it, but often he is just playing. To this day he has yet to play with an object how it is designed. For example, he loves building things, but it’s usually with something other than blocks designed for such an activity. And, often he’s building mechanical things like an air conditioner or something having to do with pipes. Incidentally, the air conditioner he built from large Lego-like blocks did not remotely resemble one. 

My son is highly empathic…eerily so, and has been since at least 9 months. He has an extreme need to control people and his environment, and uses his ability to read people as a manipulation. In school it’s usually attention seeking in nature. I don’t think they realize it, and their assumption that he has a processing issue has fed into what I mentioned above. I warned them that the interventions they were proposing would likely exacerbate the behaviors they were concerned about. They decided to ignore me, so here we are… Little Man has an incredible memory, and usually picks-up new routines (that he agrees with) within a couple of renditions. So, for him to not understand where to stand in line or how to sit facing the teacher during story/circle time despite MANY one-on-one interventions is…odd. My husband and I will give Mr. Man multi-step instructions using big words, and he’s never had any trouble understanding what needs to be done. Personally, I think he’s getting lost in the group, and has found a way to get his needs met. That’s probably an issue in and of itself. I’m an excellent disciplinarian…for better or worse. I’m very consistent and black and white. My son responds quite well to that approach. His school doesn’t believe in things like time-out, and it seems like any kind of negative consequence is off the table. Those interventions are quite effective with him, and if he understands a caregiver won’t go with that approach, he’ll exploit that. It’s not even just a school issue. It’s happened in some of his other relationships with caregivers as well, but it presents differently. Those aren’t the only interventions I use (counting down before transitions or explaining expectations before an activity, for example, are also effective…among other things).

Finally (long-winded…), and this is something on his pediatrician’s radar, Mr. Man sleeps on a mattress on the floor of his walk in closet…like a Little Man cave of sorts. It doesn’t seem to be an anxiety thing, more of a control/fort-like thing. He still takes 2-3 hour naps daily. They are easily disrupted when life is exciting, but he might miss a nap every few months. Regardless if he misses the nap, we can’t get him to settle before 10 at night. When things are exciting in his life, it’s exceptionally hard to get him to settle…he’ll keep coming to our door. When times are more low-key, then he’ll bother us a bit, but mostly play in his room until he’s ready to go to sleep. Naps are no trouble at all. As of this week I can FINALLY get him to wear pull-ups. He has virtually no interest in toilet training. Once he started using the potty as school, he virtually stopped at home. I don’t know if this piece is linked to the speech delay. I wasn’t at the appointment, but his doctor brought up speaking to the psychologist for the above issues. In terms of waking in the morning, my son is up in the 6.30-7.30 realm…7.30 is unusual, but isn’t unheard of. 

In any case, that is a fairly extensive snapshot of the behaviors we are seeing and are reported to others…different parties have different concerns.

I probably wrote an overkill of information to the psychologist considering our first appointment will be for collecting background information, but for me it’s hard to know how to communicate or trust what I see at home. For the duration of Little Man’s life (more so than Warrior Queen), I’ve been on the receiving end of a healthy dose of nay-saying. I have almost always been correct in my observations and assessments…ultimately interventions, but find myself in a constant state of second guessing, especially when something about him is not up to developmental snuff. But, as I wrote this psychologist I felt a bit more confident…like maybe I’m not crazy. So, I provided my letter because I don’t know a single parent raising their kid(s) who can’t do the same. Maybe I can assign a fancy word or two, or structure things to have a more report feel to it; but mostly I simply know my kid. And, that’s the point…probably the only one.

Schooled

Little Man began “preschool” roughly a month ago. It isn’t quite a regular preschool program, but the differences between the two aren’t worth the effort to differentiate. It is a private program, not our original intention. I hoped we would enroll him in our town’s preschool, but considering we drew 109 out of a possible 113 lottery slots, it is more likely pigs will fly and I will lose my taste for chocolate before we will be called from the waitlist.

Image result for grim reaper

(Church of Halloween processed our paperwork.)

In general I prefer public education. Certainly, there are quality private ones, but there isn’t necessarily the same level of accountability and oversight in the private sector as there is in the public. The ease of terrible, weird shit occurring is a topic absent from discussions about charters and privatizing our nation’s education. There is also the issue that our town’s public preschool is a fraction of private school tuition. It’s easy to see the seeds of socioeconomic disparity and academic achievement even at this early stage. Quite crudely, our children will benefit greatly from our means…This shit is expensive.

The school we chose for Little Man is middle of the road in terms of cost. It is also the one a friend in a neighboring town sends her two older children, and probably the younger one when the time comes. An added bonus is that her middle child, a close friend of Mr. Man’s, may very well be in the same class come fall. My friend raved about this school. I also know of another woman in my town who sends her older child. He was somewhat recently diagnosed with a brand of Autism that makes him a challenge to manage behaviorally. Paired with his large frame, it’s been a struggle for the family. I’m not friends with her, only interacting with her a MPOTUS sized handful of times. The last occasion I ran into her was by chance. I’m not sure how the discussion occurred, but she also raved about the school. Our tour was a good experience, but there aren’t so many options for me to be choosey. If we want him enrolled in preschool, this is it. I’m lucky this is the positive option it is.

One day a week Little Man is carted to school for a three-and-a-half hour morning. Hopefully, we can add a second day before school is out for the summer. It’s a play-based program, which was most important to me…A budding preschooler needs play above all else for his education.

I’ve been told my son has strong attachment. He’s never exhibited any type of social anxiety, even a normal level of it. I’m not sure what gives, but Warrior Queen is almost a year-old, and while she is quite feisty, she appears to be chill like her brother in this same regard…We’ll see if she continues on a similar path as her big brother. I knew dropping Little Man to school wouldn’t be an issue. The peanut gallery was noisily fretting because it is quite a long morning for such a small person, but I knew he would be fine. My son struggles with transitions, so we spent a week or so discussing school. He was with us for the tour a few weeks prior. By the time the big day rolled around, he was ready and couldn’t have cared less that I left. He trotted off, and Warrior Queen and I went home. It was a weird feeling stepping into our house…I felt like I was forgetting something important.

I arrived on time to retrieve my big man to the chorus of, “We had a scheduled fire drill this morning.” Yikes, poor kid has trouble with certain, random loud noises. I was told by multiple adults that he was trying to “keep it together” through the process. He managed just fine otherwise. His teachers went to great lengths to tell me how exceptionally well he did for his age on a first day. I heard many comments to the tune of, “Talk about go with the flow…” Sigh, that’s my sweet little man. But, the look of excitement on his face upon seeing me makes all right with the world. For as little as he cares that I leave, he is dichotomously excited I’ve arrived to retrieve him.

Little Man has been attending school for a bit over a month now. In that time I’ve heard him detail exciting play events…a puppet show…sandbox…painting…some kid named James. But, as much as the activities thrill him, most weeks have included some type of horrible loud noise that chipped away at my brave soul’s stubborn grit. The second week was uneventful…the third the fire alarm was mistakenly awakened by workmen…the subsequent week an electric drill frayed my son’s resolve.

In general I try to make a point of not promising things to my children that are out of my control. I never told my son the next school day would be without a fire drill. I would say it probably won’t occur, but it might. So, conversation would focus around discussion of said drill, and what transpires as a result. He seemed okay with the fire drill, but the tool was something else. I hadn’t realized the extent to which he was bothered by this specific noise…or maybe it was a culmination. He chatted about the “regular drill” the entirety of the weekend, but he often focuses on random things…telling stories of specific interest to him. Another item on the top of the list was his excitement to tell one of his teachers he dressed himself in his quiet time pants all by his lonesome.

But, during our morning wake-up routine my son chatted with increasing distress about a random thing. It didn’t take long to realize he was quite freaked about going to school in the event of another rendition of “Workman Drill in Loud Vibrating Sharp.” My poor sweet boy began crying, repeating the phrase, “It was a regular drill, not a fire drill.” The school is in the throws of a never ending construction project; I certainly can’t insist his day will be drill or bothersome noise free, but he was so terribly upset. My little man so cheery and optimistic about adventures was trying his best to persevere, but in the process reluctance and fear oozed from his small stature. Clothed, I pulled my sobbing son on my lap, and we made a plan. I would speak to his teacher about him traveling out of the area in the event he encounters another drill during the day. That was enough. Residual tears continued to leak, but he prattled on about some of the more interesting possibilities he might encounter…interchanged with what we discussed for his drill plan.

We pulled into the parking lot; my son repeating his special plan on a liquid courage loop, becoming increasingly distressed as we wound our way to his classroom. Interesting, he never refused or tantrumed…always the one to confront his fears. I admire that about him. We arrived a bit early, running into one of his teachers as she exited the room…I told her of his distress as my son stood there trying to keep his cool. But, as I relayed the weekend and morning, and about to launch into my proposed plan; the lead teacher spied us. She probably overheard something, because she announced there would be no drilling…They spoke to the workmen and arranged for such pursuits to remain on hiatus while my little man was in attendance.

My son calmed in progressive intervals before I left the area, but I called an hour into his day just to be sure. Even as I felt confident he was having a grand ol’ time, I needed the reassurance…I received it, and planned a normal pick-up time for a boisterous and excited toddler.

It’s the weekend again, and he still mentions the drill periodically, even if there isn’t the same edge as last weekend. I’m not promising him a wonderful repeat of last Monday. I’ll speak with the teachers in the morning, and hope. But, my son and I resurrected our plan…just in case. He’ll be okay…so will I.

But, here is a pondering concern that nags at my peripheral mind. While I am so very proud of my son’s risk taking…his inclination to be strong in the face of adversity even as such a small child; I worry I am communicating to him that it is a flaw to feel vulnerable…to cry or break down in fear. Certainly, I want both children to be fighters, but I don’t want either to shirk or judge themselves harshly for moments of frailty. I don’t want them to treat themselves they way I treat myself…Perhaps I’m over thinking it. For now my son enjoys school…sans drill. So, in a couple days time I look forward to another drive home filled with tales of a puppet show…sandbox…painting…some kid named James, mingled with broken toddler statements that there was no drill of any kind.

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