Monday, March 28, 2011

If I Teach You Nothing Else...

It's fairly safe to assume that my children will forever after have access to spell check, a calculator and the wold wide web for research. Academically, I have no doubt that they will surpass my knowledge. But there are things that only I, as their mother, am responsible for teaching them before they head off into the "real world".

If I teach them these things, I will consider myself a success in the mothering department:

What you need is vastly different then what you WANT
As your parent I will ALWAYS provide the things you need - you will have a home, food, clothing, education, discipline and boundless, limitless, unconditional love. Your home may not have a pool or be in the neighborhood you'd like to live in, your clothes may not be the latest "HAVE to have" brand name, you will not always like the meals I make and it's a sure bet you won't like the consequences enforced when you make poor choices. And you will LIVE through not having everything everything you want! Regardless of all else, when you go to bed at night, you will have no doubt that you are loved simply because you are my child.

You don't have to like me, but you WILL always treat me with respect
I am more than ok with you not liking me - I didn't always like my Mom either! But you will ALWAYS talk to me and treat me with respect - I have earned that. Learn it, live it, love it because you will need this every day of your adult life. You cannot go to work and your call your boss or co-workers names, talk to them with a snotty attitude and slam your office door because you're angry. Do those things and you'll be jobless.

I am not your best friend, and you aren't mine
I will forever be your loudest cheerleader, your fiercest advocate, the door that is always open, the hug that's a little too tight and too long, the shoulder to cry on and ear that will listen to problems and challenges you face. I'm your Mom. Being your Mom isn't a popularity contest and I won't make decisions based on how much you like me because of what I've decided. There are parts of my life that are adult only topics - I have friends to discuss those things with and frankly, some things are just none of your business.

Do it the best you can the FIRST time
Half-assed just isn't going to cut it - not here during your childhood and not in your adult life. You will not ever hear me give you grief because you did the best job you are capable of doing. However, putting forth little to no effort in a job or assignment you are expected to complete is unacceptable. I can guarantee you will spend far less time doing whatever it is to your best ability than you will spend listening to me lecture and serving the consequence of blatant laziness.

Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone
Your Dad and I have spent every day of your life teaching you right from wrong. Don't let a group of peers steer you away from the things you've been taught throughout your life! The fastest way to see yourself in an ugly light is to abandon your core beliefs. Integrity is a character trait that takes years to prove to the world (and yourself!) and mere minutes to destroy. Do what you know is right - your true friends will still be around when you do.

And lastly....

Girlfriends, Boyfriends and Friends will come and go - Family is FOREVER
You will have so many people during your life that come for a period of time and then are gone - lost friendships, broken romances, friends who move away. But no matter what, you have a family that loves you and will always be there when you need them. You are going to fight with your siblings 1000's of times during your childhood but when push comes to shove you KNOW that there's a group of people in your corner that love you and will be there whenever you need them. No friend in the world will ever love, support and go to the wall for you the way your brothers and sister will!

If you learn and believe these things, I will have succeeded in the most important role of my life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Letters "LRE" Give Me Hives

Yes, I know, I am supposed to be thrilled when I hear "He's doing GREAT! We really think he's ready to move into his general education class(es). Our goal is for him to function well and learn in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)." Logically, I know that is the goal for my little Einsteins; emotionally, I go into panic/no, not yet! mommy mode.

I start wondering, mostly to myself in the wee hours of the night: "What's so great about transitioning into the gen ed class(es)? He's exceling in his academics, he has friends he actually talks to in class, his behavior is typically super (or is easily redirected), his anxiety level is almost nil in regard to school. I adore his teacher(s) and aides and we communicate with each other well and often. Why on earth are we fixing something not broken?!"

Then, I remember why. No matter how hard I try or how much I want it, I can't keep them in a bubble where they don't have to expand on the social and coping skills they've worked so hard on learning. Someday my babies will have to venture out into the "real world" where there are co-workers, bosses, girlfriends that turn into wives, crowds of people to contend with and environments that aren't completely structured. They have to be prepared to live independent, happy lives and the only way to become prepared is to gradually keep moving into the "normal" world now. BUT, that doesn't mean I have to relish idea.

Part of my dread stems from a purely selfish place. When our 6th grader moved into an inclusive classroom a few months ago, life became dramatically easier for all of us. No more 3 hours of homework a night - he finishes nearly every piece of work during school hours now. No more phone calls about unmanageable behaviors - he has actually started removing himself to a quiet spot and calming himself before there's an escalation to "meltdown". No more teachers who "don't get it" - he's surrounded by people he trusts, cares about and, most importantly, "get it" all day long. I'd be a liar if I said inclusive classrooms haven't made MY life a lot easier.

Another piece is the protective mama instinct running rampant. Right now, my boys LOVE their teachers, their classmates, their routine. (Change is NOT a happy word around here) The transitions are going to be hard for them, they will have some anxiety and fear of what's "different". There will be kids in their class(es) who think they are "weird" and may tease or taunt them. There will most certainly be chants from my boys of "That's not the way Mrs. _____ does it!" What if their teacher becomes aggravated with their rigidity and doesn't know how to help them cope? The list could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Tomorrow my baby boy will transition to his general education kindergarten class for essentially the whole day instead of the hour and a half he's been going each day. In August my 7th grader will transition back to a block of general education classes with just a couple of hours a day in his current classroom. And yes, my heart is beating a little faster just thinking about these changes in their routines. Like I said, the letters LRE give me hives.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Politically Incorrect Statement on Bullying

When I was about 5 or 6 I played with a little girl in our neighborhood who's older brother lived to tease and torment us. He relished making us cry and run home to "tell". One day, my dad had enough - enough of me coming home crying instead of standing up for myself. So he said, "If you come home crying again because he's picked on you and you didn't stand up to him, I'M going to spank you." I believed him. So when the little snot picked on us again, I decked him - bloodied that older boy's nose and sent him home crying! That wasn't exactly what my dad meant for me to do, but I didn't get punished for it either. AND he never bothered my friend and I again.

Now, I AM NOT advocating, promoting or supporting punching a bully in the nose or telling your child to use physical force in resolving an issue with a bully. In these times, you'll end up being sued and probably lose, even if the meanie had it coming!

However, I AM pretty tired of hearing adults say "Boys will be boys", "All kids get teased at that age", "Girls
are just mean at this age - it's a normal phase" and at the top of my list is "You should feel sorry for him. He's got poor self esteem and so he picks on other kids to feel powerful...poor thing."

Guess what? There's no law of the land that boys have to degrade and hurt each other; there's nothing in the handbook of life that says teasing someone is an okay thing to do; I've yet to find a rule for girls that says it's perfectly fine to be mean from the years of ___ to ____. And seriously, feel sorry for the child who makes another child miserable at every opportunity?! NOT happening, not with me. I don't feel sorry for them - I feel anger towards them.

I am sure that I am 17 miles over the political correctness line by saying this, and I don't care. I'm sick to death of adults making excuses for children who are just plain mean! It's high time someone said to the Bully on the Block, "You! Knock it off! It's not ok and it's not funny. I promise you, if I ever see you bullying another child you will be the sorriest, saddest child in this city. Are we clear?"

I am not callous, and I don't deny the fact that there are children who's sense of worth has somehow become tied to their ability to inflict emotional and/or physical pain on other kids. Yes, some bullies need guidance in identifying other areas where they can achieve recognition and excel, but you can't help them without first making them STOP. If you saw someone walking down Path A but knew Path B was really the road they needed to take to get to their destination would you just stand there and watch them keep headed the wrong way? No, I'm betting 99% of you would yell, "Hey! STOP! You're going the wrong direction!"

No more excuses, no more looking the other way, no more "It's none of my business. He/She isn't MY child." Stand firm, use your 'I mean business' face, invoke the power of your Mom/Dad voice and say STOP!

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." Albert Einstein

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Understand, So Don't Worry!

Over the past week I have essentially become the PITA of our school corporation. The decision by corporation administration and school board members to cut the autism consultant position beginning in the 2011-2012 school year has propelled me into "Mission Mom" mode and I have been using every available personal and public platform available to express my disappointment and anger over this decision. And I am certainly not alone!

BUT I want to explain a few things to my friends in the teaching field and others who may be impacted by how vocal I am being regarding this issue:

1. I understand that while many of my teacher friends support our stance in the privacy of their homes, they cannot use their voice publicly to stand with me and the other parents who are fighting this decision. You have jobs that you need to keep and students who depend on you. PLEASE do not worry or think that I am disappointed or angry at you for not joining our "mission". Your hands are tied and I understand.

2. There are parents of students in our school corporation that for one reason or another cannot publicly voice their negative opinions on the various budget cuts in 2011-2012. It's OK! Not everyone is comfortable or able to be a "trouble maker", and I don't harbor any resentment towards anyone for their decision. As your friend, I ALWAYS want you to make your decisions based on what is best for you and your family :)

That being said, I also want you to know and try to understand why I have to make a stand, whether that leads to me being thought of as a PITA or not:

1. Of my five school age children, 3 are students with IEP's in place. Two of those three are on the autism spectrum. It is my job to protect their educational rights and do everything within my power to ensure they receive every service available that will help them become independent, productive adults. There is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that not having an autism consultant available will negatively impact my ASD students.

2.  Academics are, of course, very important, but there are life lessons that I believe every child needs to learn. Being able to stand up and fight for the things you believe are important is one of those life lessons. We are a house filled with visual learners. I truly believe that my children both need and deserve to see me stand strong in my beliefs, and when necessary go to the mat defending those beliefs. Each one of my children needs to know and believe that the MOST important thing to me is THEM. They need to see for themselves that I will do whatever it takes, whatever is within my power, to make sure their needs are met at home and at school. They need to understand that sometimes when you take a firm stand in your beliefs, there will be people who don't like it and try very hard to make you be quiet and back down. They will have many tests in life, but the test of character will always be the important one - the one that will determine the course of their lives. It's my job to make sure they have the tools to pass that test. If doing that leads to me being labeled as a PITA, so be it.

"When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted." - Eleanor Roosevelt-

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dollars and Sense

Yesterday was the day I finally realized, without a doubt, that the administration of our school corporation has issues far worse than a lack of dollars to spend - they have a lack of sense that permeates their decision making ability. Even worse than a lack of sense, I now believe that "the suits" are far more concerned with standardized test scores, athletic programs and a constant CYA vigil than they are about the students they are charged with educating. It leaves me with a very heavy heart and a disgusting taste in my mouth.

Let's start with some background: From kindergarten through 4th grade my son suffered through school, begging to be home schooled. I received multiple phone calls each week describing behaviors like hiding under desks, stuffing himself into cubbies and tantrums that were self injurious. I was told "his day is shot, just come pick him up" at least 3 times a month. Teachers refused to let him attend field trips if I or his father didn't come along. When I visited to have lunch with him, I would sit in my car and sob as I observed recess after lunch; my son sat alone by a trash can playing with his "friends", the bugs, or sometimes would swing, again all alone.

I began asking questions about autism when he was in first grade. "Oh no, no, no, no. He's far too smart to be autistic....He needs more coddle him too much...." And so I followed the advice of the building administrators, because they knew what they were talking about, right? They wanted my child to be happy, healthy and well educated, right?

By third grade I had had it. We had been seeing a child neurologist who diagnosed my then 8 year old with OCD, and began talking about Asperger's syndrome as a real possibility. In he summer between 4th and 5th grade he was officially given a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I immediately shared this with the staff at his elementary school and was immediately met with fierce resistance. I began nothing short of a war to have the school conduct an educational evaluation. Finally, when the principal's request for yet another meeting to discuss my son's "behavior" was met with my reply of "Our attorney has advised me to not meet with any staff without her present", I got my requested evaluation - and I got it FAST. Nothing makes administration move so quickly as hearing the word "attorney" :)

Enter my son's guardian angel on earth, the school corporation's autism consultant. She called me the first day she went to observe and has been diligent in her communication with me since. It took her very little time observing and interacting with him to make an educational diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. She was with me for the grief, the anger, the tears. She came to IEP meetings during her maternity leave so that I had someone on my son's side. It took about 12 minutes for my son to completely trust and love her. It took me about 12 minutes and 5 seconds. I KNEW without a doubt that she was truly invested in seeing my child succeed, and my trust in her saved the school corporation a lot of money. She "talked me down" from the edge of suing the corporation more than once.

Fast forward to yesterday: I received the news that the autism consultant position has been eliminated through budget cuts. I was devastated, angry, sad and scared - I still am reeling. How are we going to navigate the rest of middle school and then high school without her?

But, thank goodness, there is room in the corporation's budget for 2 new positions in the central office! Why, they have been such a huge help so far, with 2 more people there I can only imagine how services for students with autism will be maintained and enhanced! (In case you didn't catch it, the previous statement is dripping with sarcasm.)

I have never asked, nor investigated, what the autism consultant salary was -I've only been convinced that it was nowhere near enough. Whatever the number was, it will be dwarfed by the cost of independent educational evaluations, attorney costs and other various outside resources that parents will now have to demand the corporation pay for in order to receive the educational and psychological services guaranteed to students with disabilities through federal law.

How's that for Dollars vs. Sense?