A Missing Letter Can Change Everything

All consonants are important, even if they’re voiceless.

Tonight Thing One sent me a paper to edit. He does this on occasion. One of the only benefits of having a mom who writes is that she might be willing to do some editing for you in a pinch. The paper tonight was for his history class and covered the Reformation. As I was reading through it and checking the grammar and spelling, I noticed that my darling son’s dyslexia reared its head. He had “peasant” written as “pheasant.” This took me back to a post I wrote almost 10 years ago when I was proofreading a 4th grade book report for him.

Joe had written a book report on Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As I was reading his paper, I was having a hard time understanding what he was saying because he kept referring to the main characters “poaching peasants.” The story involves a father and son who put sleeping pills in raisins and use them to poach pheasants off a neighbor’s land. But in the book report, Joe kept referring to the pheasants as “peasants.” Imagine my consternation when I’m reading along and thinking my 4th grade son is reading a book about a father and son who kill people and eat them.

I know that at 20 Joe knows the difference between a peasant and a pheasant. He actually knew the difference 10 years ago too. It’s just that his brain doesn’t always make the spelling distinction. As a person for whom English and writing came a bit more easily, I admit I used to judge potential boyfriends on their ability to spell and use correct grammar. It was snobby, but it was a pet peeve of mine when a person wrote “your so cool” rather than “you’re so cool.” Then, the universe gave me sons with dyslexia and ADHD, which forced me to see that poor grammar and spelling aren’t always due to ignorance or a lack of intelligence or education. Sometimes poor grammar and spelling are the result of a learning disability. So, I’ve learned to relax a little bit when I see “your” instead of “you’re” or “pheasant” instead of “peasant.” Or at least I’ve learned not to judge the grammar over what is being said.

I hate to think that someone might not be able to see beyond our sons’ dyslexic spelling errors. I prefer to think that anyone who talked to them would understand they were intelligent people with grammar and spelling issues on occasion. Maybe those people will come to learn what I have. You might have to put up with some spelling confusion when dealing with a person who has dyslexia, but you might get some funny stories out of it too.

Turns Out Dr. Spock Was Right

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” ~Dr. Benjamin Spock

Two little bears and one mama bear

Today I was thinking about the times in my twenty years as a parent when I was brave enough to follow my gut, to speak up for my children, to make the right choices for them in the face of opposition from medical professionals, family members, friends, and even random strangers who couldn’t keep from speaking up about something they knew nothing about and that was none of their business. Sometimes I made these bold moves with my voice shaking. Sometimes I made them unconsciously, simply changing a behavior without considering why I had. No matter how I managed to summon the courage in those situations, though, I trusted myself. And, as it turns out, I intuitively knew a lot more than I thought I did.

When most kids their age were starting first grade, I thought it wise to keep both our boys back a year and give them a second kindergarten experience. I simply didn’t feel they were ready. I just kept thinking that an extra year to be a child, to build basic skills, could never be a bad thing. It was odd watching boys they knew from playgroup jump ahead of them in school. It was odder still when boys who were younger than they were suddenly were in the same grade. In the end, both boys ended up being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and the extra year allowed them to fit in with their fellow students until we figured out what they needed. If they had gone to school “on time” with other children their age, they would not have been able to keep up. They weren’t ready then. Neither boy has suffered for the extra time we suggested they take to get to where they needed to be.

When Joe was 7 and finishing first grade, I remember him crying and telling me he didn’t want to go to second grade. He hated school. He actually said to me, “I’m the dumbest person in my class” (that story here). That broke my heart because 1) I knew he was not dumb at all and 2) how do you fix the shattered self-esteem of a 7 year old? So, I went out on a limb and took him to Children’s Hospital in Denver to be evaluated for ADD after Joe’s occupational therapist suggested it. It took less than an hour spent with two child psychologists and one child psychiatrist before they took me aside and told me they were positive Joe had ADHD. They suggested trying him on a low dosage of Concerta, the slow-release version of Ritalin. Joe and I agreed he should try it. Several friends thought I was crazy. How could I put my young son on a Schedule II drug? Three days after he started on it, Joe, then 8, told me he finally felt like himself. That medication changed the trajectory of his life. It allowed him to focus at school, to trust himself, to make good decisions, to grow his self-esteem. It allowed him to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA and gave him the opportunity to be accepted at a well-respected, private liberal arts college. He and I have zero regrets about this decision.

When I told Joe’s pediatrician at his next appointment about his new prescription, he read me the riot act for not consulting him first. Didn’t I know that he could have evaluated Joe? Why wouldn’t I consult him first? He was his doctor, after all. I looked that doctor square in the face and, with a voice rising from somewhere in my gut I did not know I had, told him, “Yes. You are his doctor. You should have diagnosed this already based on all your visits with him and all the forms we filled out for you and the tests you yourself gave him in your office.” He huffed out of the room. Joe was horrified. I told him everything would be fine, and we would be finding another doctor. Ten minutes later, to his credit, the doctor returned with Joe’s chart and admitted he should have caught it. We found another pediatrician anyway.

The next pediatrician came recommended to us by a couple friends as well as Luke’s dyslexia tutor who knew him personally. The boys were at that office for six years. During that time, they became teenagers. When the doctor conducted his physical exams of the boys, I stayed in the room. I never allowed them to be alone with the doctor during the physical exam when they were undressed, even though they might have felt it invaded their privacy. To combat that, I would turn to face the wall when the doctor checked their genitalia. My main reason for remaining in the room was that the boys were not great at sharing information, and I didn’t want to miss out on what the doctor was saying or finding. My secondary reason was that when I would ask the boys on the way into the office if they wanted me to stay in the room, they always did. I knew it made me seem like a meddling, overprotective, helicopter parent. I did not care. As it turned out, that doctor was one day no longer at the practice. He was being investigated regarding claims made by other parents of inappropriate sexual touching during exams. We dodged a bullet because I stuck with my gut.

If you are a new parent, a soon-to-be parent, or a parent who is constantly questioning your decisions about your children in the present moment, I’m here to tell you that what Dr. Spock said is true. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. No one knows your child as well as you do. Listen to them. Listen to your heart. Meet them where they are and not where you hoped or wanted them to be. And then do whatever the damn hell you want to raise your child(ren) the way that makes the most sense for your family. Ignore the naysayers, the comment makers, and the nosey Bakers. You know more than you think you do, even when you aren’t aware of it.

My pride and joy…both of them

Protest is Patriotic and Patriotism is Messy

ScanJoe4th2005
Our son with his flag.

We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.

Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.

In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.

Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.

My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.

I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.

 

I Got My Report Card

So proud of these little monkeys
So proud of these little monkeys

A bunny can only learn what he has the humility to admit he doesn’t know. ~Bunny Buddhism

About five days ago we received a large and rather heavy envelope from the Havern School. From the cumbersome nature of the package, I sort of figured it was something dull (like an Annual Report) and I have no energy to deal with things like that. I’m lucky if I read all the way through the weekly email newsletters that have information I need to know (the same information, incidentally, that gets printed out and sent home in our sons’ backpacks but that I don’t get for three months because they forget to share anything that’s not a cold, a booger, or a piece of trash ). On the counter that large envelope sat while I went about my usual routine of ignoring the mail until it overwhelms the space and I am forced to reckon with it. Last night I finally opened that bad boy. Lo and behold, it was an annual report of sorts. It was the boys’ annual Academic and Therapy Reports.

As I’ve mentioned before, the boys’ school doesn’t provide traditional letter grades because students with learning disabilities typically struggle with standard assessments. Included in this large envelope was a cover letter from the Head of School explaining that “the faculty at Havern takes delight in the many other ways we observe and experience a student’s growth during the year — academically, emotionally, and socially.” In place of an online report card comprised of impersonal and mostly comment-free letter grades, I held 58 printed pages of precise information on my sons, what they have been studying, their strengths, their struggles, strategies that have helped them to improve, and recommendations on what we can work with them on over the summer. Fifty-eight frigging pages. I started to imagine that perhaps their school knows them better now than we do.

This was the first report card that reflected our sons back to me. Sure. Letter grades can offer a sense of a child’s success, but they can also mask problems. Luke had mostly A and B grades last year despite the fact that he was in third grade and had tested somewhere around a first grade reading level. These new reports, while overwhelming at first glance, provide an accurate picture of how far they’ve come and what’s next for us to tackle. The Havern School prides itself on seeing the whole child and, after flipping through the report pages, there is no doubt that the boys’ teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists understand and appreciate them as individuals. If you’re lucky, this is what a private education affords you.

For years while our boys were struggling and coming home with less than stellar grades, I felt like I was failing too. I mean, this is my job. I don’t work outside the home. I have no paying job. The boys are my job and, dammit, I take my job seriously. Letter grades don’t accurately reflect the amount of effort a parent puts into raising their child. Last night, though, as I leafed through the pages of the boys’ reports, I felt some validation because in with the information about how our boys are doing were words about who they are: respectful, well-mannered, reliable, hard-working, good sport, and conscientious. Admittedly, there were also some things in the reports to have a good giggle at. Luke’s report, in particular, mentioned his “enthusiasm” quite a bit. Enthusiasm is a teacher euphemism for talks-too-much-and-can’t-sit-still. And I had to smile at Joe’s occupational therapist’s mention of his  “mild gravitational insecurity” when it came to climbing the school’s rock wall at the beginning of the school year. I too suffer from mild gravitational insecurity. Joe’s classroom teachers mentioned what a deep thinking young man he is. Luke’s teachers mentioned his affinity for “cute, fluffy puppies” and his tendency toward being too hard on himself.

While I may not possess the unique neurological differences that our sons have, after reading the reports there’s no mistaking that these apples fell right under their family tree. I’ve often felt sorry for our boys. Having a hyper-critical, tough-minded, perfectionist mother when you’re struggling with dyslexia probably seems like a cruel joke. I see now, though, that my drive and determination to conquer whatever I attempt has filtered into my children in a way that might actually help them in the long run. These days, I make accommodations for my sons when they reach their threshold with school work, but along the way our boys learned from me that their issues are not an excuse for lack of effort or a bad attitude. I’m beyond proud of them for coming as far as they have this school year. It seems like just yesterday I left them on the school steps in August and crossed my fingers. All year I’ve been telling them to work hard and to believe in themselves and they will land squarely where they need to be. Turns out I should have taken my own advice.

I got my report card this year and I finally believe it’s one worth celebrating.

 

A Mile In Their Bunny Feet

This is what it's like to struggle with number formation. Go ahead and tell me I need to come in over recess.
This is what it’s like to struggle with number formation at 46. Go ahead and tell me I need to come in over recess. I may cry.

Today my husband and I received a priceless gift. We were able to experience to some degree what having dyslexia is like for our sons. The Rocky Mountain Branch of the International Dyslexia Association staged a learning seminar for parents and educators, and for an hour we were put in situations designed to recreate the frustrations dyslexics experience in the classroom. One of the greatest difficulties in parenting a child with learning disabilities when you do not have them yourself is the inability to understand exactly where they’re coming from. This disconnect has caused innumerable negative interactions with our sons over the years. When you have a bright, articulate child who shows great understanding about the world and can recite for you entire passages from a variety of Star Wars films but who can’t write a simple, grammatically correct sentence at age 11 or who can read the word phenomenal but consistently confuses the words that and what at age 10, it makes you want to tear your hair out. Things that are for you quite simple seem an insurmountable challenge to them. You just don’t get it.

Today’s event provided six opportunities to experience how difficult those simple tasks are when you have dyslexia. There were two stations for writing, two for reading and comprehension, and two for listening skills. The stations were all led by an instructor who served as our classroom teacher. She facilitated the activity, providing constant feedback (mostly in the form of well-meaning, but potentially disheartening, critiques) as we did our work. In our first station, we were given a timed test. We were only allowed to write with the hand we don’t normally use. None of us could complete the tasks in the allotted time, and our handwriting was abysmal. At the next station we wore headphones and listened to a dictated spelling test. The list was read at an average speed, but the volume was varied and the amount of background noise on the recording and in the room in general made it virtually impossible to understand the words. The “teacher” made us correct each others’ papers. For the eight of us in the group, all but one of us missed every single word out of the first six. At that point the teacher told us that we had all failed and would need to do extra work during recess. The next activity was a learn-to-read activity where the words appeared in symbolic code. We were each asked to read aloud words that had no direct correlation to anything we understood. While we struggled, the teacher constantly reminded us that our reading needed to be fluid, embarrassing us with her guidance. Next was another listening activity where we heard four teachers speaking at one time, as if we were on a field trip. We had to correctly copy down what our specific teacher was telling us, filtering out the speech of the others. Most of us missed entire sections on the worksheet. In the fifth activity, we were allowed to use our dominant hand to write but we could not look directly at our paper. Instead, we used a mirror as a guide to write words and trace lines on our paper. I could not get my hand to form the letters and numbers. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I could not make it work. I giggled uncomfortably to myself as I worked and ended with a page was full of scribbles despite my best efforts to be successful. The final activity was another read-aloud session. The text was in an unusual font and far too light, the words were written backwards, and we were asked to read from right to left. After correctly naming our alphabet prior to reading the text (the only success many of us had all hour), we all screwed up our letters while reading, reversing b and d and p and q. Afterward, we were asked to answer comprehension questions. How on earth are you supposed to answer questions about content when you spent 10-15 seconds simply trying to decode one word?

When we’d rotated through all the stations, I began taking notes on the experience. Quite a few times during the discussion after each activity, participants would tear up while explaining how frustrating it had been. We found ourselves behaving much like our children. We checked out and gave up when it got overwhelming, refusing to complete activities. Our stress took over and we became emotional, either making jokes to deflect our frustration or berating ourselves for not being better at the activity. Our hands became tired and our penmanship got worse, and we were annoyed when our teachers told us our work was sloppy and we’d have to do it again. We used strategies to compensate for our difficulties, including looking at other students’ papers to try to figure out what number we were on or what we were supposed to be doing. The entire hour was a continuous light bulb moment. I thought about my boys and some of the destructive arguments we’ve had over homework (one just this last week with Joe over paragraph writing, as a matter of fact), and my heart sank as I understood how much my words and attitude have contributed to their struggles. I felt like crap.

When we got home, we talked with our boys about our experience. We told them that we finally at least partially understood how hard things have been and continue to be for them. We told them what we had done at the seminar and how dang hard it was for us. Joe, especially, seemed thrilled to feel some true understanding from us. I know hindsight is 20/20, and you can’t go back and undo the past, but I wish I would have had this experience about five years ago. It would have saved me and my sons from some insane tantrums (mostly mine) and tears (mostly theirs).

Tonight, seeking some solace from self-loathing regarding how long I’ve been adding to my boys’ frustration about school, I found this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book:

When a bunny finds light, it does not matter how long he has been in the darkness.

I can’t go back and undo the unwitting damage caused by my naive assumptions and over reactions, but I can go forward with a more compassionate heart for both myself and my boys. Beating myself up over things I did not understand will help no one. I will never look at their issues the same way again. I’ve walked a mile in their large, fluffy bunny feet and, in doing so, I’ve stepped out of the darkness. We’re making progress, my boys and I. I’m excited that going forward we’ll be hopping along together in much better light.

Casual Conversations Between A Shark And Justin Bieber

Everything you can imagine is real. ~ Pablo Picasso

A shark talking to Justin Bieber on the phone...imagine the conversation.
Justin Bieber on the phone with a shark in the back seat. Think Justin could turn the shark into a Belieber? I doubt it.

Today we took the boys to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I won’t ruin the movie for you if you’ve somehow managed to escape the myriad trailers this holiday season, but I will warn you that it may make you want to travel. After the film on our way home, our boys who, like Walter Mitty, have very active imaginations, began having crazy phone conversations in the back seat of our car using some old telephone handsets they found in the cargo area. I was only half listening while talking about the film with my husband, but at one point I believe Joe was a shark and Luke was Justin Bieber. I love my sons’ imaginations, and it’s in precisely those moments that I deeply appreciate our left-brain dominant boys and their non-stop creativity. The other night we were discussing what life might be like if we had to exist in the present with Tyrannosaurus Rex looking into our second story windows as we were getting ready for bed. Adults never have conversations like this. It’s a shame too because it would make dinner party conversations far more interesting and it would keep us from bickering about politics and religion.

Thinking about Walter Mitty and his daydreams I keep coming back to one thing. Creativity and imagination are far too underrated in this world. You have to dream it before you can do it. Someone imagined flying before the Wright Brothers actually flew and someone envisioned walking on the moon before Neil Armstrong ever did it. American society praises innovation and creativity as if we were the first upright beings to employ them. One look at our schools today, though, and you see that we talk a good game but we don’t play it. There is little room for imagination, creativity, and out-of-the-box thought at our public schools, which are instead consumed by standardized tests meant to make sure all kids measure up to the same rubric like faceless automatons. We’ve somehow determined that this is the best way to get ahead in the world, by engineering our future generations to a measurable standard. It’s sad, really. The kids who think differently are passed along because no one wants to deal with them. Their skills are undervalued and lost. We are systematically eradicating they very things that make us uniquely human…artistry, creativity, and independent thought. We squash imagination in the name of forward progress, but imagination is the one thing that allows progress in the first place.

My dyslexic kids might not fit into traditional schools because they think differently than other kids, but because of them I see possibilities. I see life and the world differently than I used to. I think “why not” instead of “we can’t.” And, maybe it’s crazy, but I sure would like to see that conversation between Justin Bieber and a great white shark realized. Somehow I think that could only make the world a better place.

The Forest For The Trees

The beginning of a grand new chapter...
The beginning of a grand new chapter…

Back to school time in our house, like many other homes, is marked by stress, uncertainty, and readjustment. Aside from the usual tension surrounding school re-entry, I have had the burden of wondering how our children would fare during another traditional school year and how their new teachers would adapt to their different learning needs and my requests for special accommodations for them. Honestly, I never know what to expect, and traditionally it has taken me some seriously positive self-talk to get through the first two weeks of school. (Well, self-talk and wine. Who are we kidding?)

My heightened level of personal anxiety surrounding the advent of the school year began the day Joe started Junior Kindergarten. That day, I walked him into his classroom as I had done in previous years to ease the apprehension of my nervous boy. I’d enrolled him in as many years of preschool as possible because I knew he would benefit from extra adjustment time. He was five then and beginning his third classroom experience. I was cautiously optimistic that upon meeting his teacher he would smile his shy little smile but remain quiet and be the sweet, deep-thinking little fellow he was at home. Instead, when his teacher Mrs. Smith approached him to introduce herself, Joe dropped to all fours and began to bark. I am not kidding. He was on all fours. Barking. To compound an already embarrassing situation, Joe had speech issues and his “woofs” were not woofs at all but were actually “wooks.” There he was, crawling around the floor in front of the other kids, wooking. It was awkward at best. The other parents looked at me sideways with bemused pity. The teacher, smiling politely, asked me what he was doing. I had to tell her that apparently he was pretending to be a dog and barking his own introduction, something he had never done before. At that point, I turned 50 shades of red, kissed my puppy on the head, wished Mrs. Smith well, and walked out. I cried most of the way home. And thus began my less than stellar experience with back to school. Sigh.

This year my back to school stress was compounded by the fact that they were starting at a new school. There was a whole new list of variables for me. New teachers and school staff I had not yet met. New classrooms. New pick-up and drop-off routines. New parents to meet. New procedures to learn. It was all way too much newness for introverted me. I went bravely forward with it, though, because Havern is a school for children with learning disabilities. For nearly a half a century they have been offering hope to parents like me with kids like Joe and Luke. If any school could offer the breakthrough chance our dyslexic sons need to get on track with learning, to achieve the way in which they are capable, and to at last feel smart despite their differences, Havern was it.

On the first day of school, both boys seemed surprisingly calm. I walked them to their classrooms and introduced them to their teachers. There were no barking dog incidents, so I left feeling fairly optimistic. When pick up time arrived, I stood on the lawn waiting for them to be dismissed to my care, praying that the day had gone well for them and that they were indeed committed to this change in their education. Joe ran out first and confidently announced that he had the “best school day ever.” Luke quickly followed and told me that his new school was “epic.” (I have no doubt this pronouncement was impacted by the knowledge that the school has a Lego Club.) I almost asked the principal to verify that my boys had truly been in school all day. Perhaps she could pinch me because this could not possibly be my reality. It was surreal.

I have spent most of the past six years running the gamut of emotions, vacillating between denial, anger, depression, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, and even bitterness about our sons’ developmental and learning issues. I’ve wondered why them and why me? I’ve felt lost, just as they have. Tonight, though, after attending Back to School night and talking with other parents and the boys’ teachers, after sitting in their classrooms and looking at their class schedules, I finally see the forest for the trees. Our boys are not broken, and they never have been. They just hadn’t found their place yet. Tonight my dreams for them came true. They’ve finally found a home.

You’re Unique…Just Like Everyone Else

My "different" children
My “different” children

“Always remember you’re unique…just like everyone else.”

One of the biggest challenges being a kid with a learning difficulty is feeling different. I’ve watched both my sons as they tried to acclimate themselves to their differences at school and, by far, the biggest stress they faced was worrying about what the other kids would think of them. Joe, for about a year, did not tell anyone about his ADHD. He simply was not comfortable. He worked hard to try to fit in and that was how he wanted to deal with it. Eventually, he told a few friends who handled it just as I expected they would. They did not care. They attend a small school, and this group of 13 children have been together for 5 years. To his classmates, Joe is just Joe and knowing about his ADHD didn’t make him any different. When Luke was diagnosed with dyslexia in November, he also was adamant that he did not want anyone to know. I didn’t push him into telling anyone because I respected his apprehension, but I did mention to him (with permission) that his friend Annie Oakley (not her real name) also had struggles. I suggested that it might be good if both of them could talk to each other about their difficulties. He looked at me dubiously and took my counsel under advisement.

Early this past week, out of nowhere, Luke announced to most of his classmates that he had dyslexia. Like Joe’s classmates, they looked at him with a quizzical so-what attitude and moved on. No one understood or cared or asked questions. It was no big deal…with one exception. His partner in crime and fellow horse-lover friend, Annie, immediately glommed onto him, happy to have someone with whom to share her differences. Right after Luke’s confession, he got into the car and declared that he and Annie needed to have a play date (I love that he still uses that term) soon so they could “talk.” I thought that was about the cutest thing ever, so I set up a time for Annie to come to our house on Friday and stay for play time and dinner. The two of them were so excited they could barely focus at all at school before the play date. As proof, I offer up Luke’s spelling test grade, which has never been great but this week hit an all time low of 52% on a list that was not the toughest one he’s ever faced. Their palpable excitement would have been amusing if it weren’t exhausting me.

We had scarcely gotten everyone settled in the car Friday afternoon and weren’t even out of the school parking lot when Luke piped up.

“Okay. So, let’s talk about this ADHD and dyslexia thing.”

Instantly, Annie opened up. She told our boys about how she found out about her ADD and how her life has changed since her parents told her. She and Joe talked about attention-deficit with each other, and she and Luke talked about how hard it was needing special accommodations at school. They all talked about how demanding school was and how much they grappled with reading and timed tests. They talked about it non-stop for 20 minutes on the ride home, sharing stories, successes, and tips. They all felt comfortable about their differences because for those 20 minutes they weren’t different at all. It was, by far, the best 20 minutes I have ever spent in a car with children who weren’t sleeping. I was a fly on the wall for the most genuinely sincere conversation my boys have shared about their trials. Listening to them open up and, above all, be at peace with themselves was the greatest gift I’ve received since learning about their amazing brains.

The rest of the play date was a rousing success. The three of them had a blast being the funny and ingenious kids they are. They took turns making videos with Luke’s iPad as they pretended to be news reporters, fashion icons, and pop stars. Luke hammed it up for the camera with long, improvisational monologues that kept the others in stitches. At one point, Joe was wearing one of my dresses over his jeans and t-shirt and was topped off with a tangled mullet wig as he sang into a magic marker. My sons may not be A students, but their creativity knows no bounds. And Annie, who I have always regarded as very bright and sweet, met them as an equal the entire time. Hubby made his famous chicken nuggets and handcrafted milkshakes for them and that was the only time they were still and semi-quiet all afternoon.

When they were young and I had no experience with children, I had a hard time recognizing that our boys didn’t fit in with their peers, mostly likely because I didn’t want to admit it. Even when their teachers made reference to slower progress, I reasoned it away as late-bloomer syndrome. I subjected them repeatedly to age-appropriate activities that the books said they should be able to do but at which they continued to flounder. I could not understand why school was so difficult for them when they were creative problem solvers who made connections between disparate topics with ease. I grew increasingly frustrated when by age 8 they could not yet ride a bicycle or tie their shoes despite constant instruction. When it was spelled out to me by professionals that my children had actual, brain-related differences from other children, I was heartbroken. This was not what I expected when I signed up for parenthood. I thought we would have children who sailed through school like hubby and I did. No one wants their child to be “different” because “different” kids get beaten up. Eventually, though, to help them come to terms with their differences I had to make my peace with them. I stopped looking at my sons through the eyes of the struggles I knew they would have and instead allowed myself to see the benefits their unique brains would provide them. Sometimes thinking differently can make you highly successful. You need look no further than Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, or Ted Turner to recognize that. The other day, though, I have to admit that it felt pretty good to see them play in a group and feel for a while just like everyone else.

Schoolhouse Rock!

Schoolhouse rocks!
Schoolhouse rocks!

Today, my son’s dyslexia tutor suggested we get him some recorded songs to help our auditory learner remember his multiplication facts. Thinking that was a brilliant idea, I hit up my friend Google for some suggestions. As I was flipping through the treasure trove of information, I happened upon something I could not resist. Schoolhouse Rock! Need I say anything more? I have many happy memories of sitting in front of Saturday morning television watching cartoons and catching all kinds of useful information from Schoolhouse Rock! I tell you with absolute certainty that the only reason I can recite the entire Preamble to the Constitution is because I can sing it first in my head to a tune I remember from those Saturday mornings. True story.

Joe was sitting with me as I was looking  at Amazon trying to decide which DVDs to order. He looked over at my laptop and saw Schoolhouse Rock on the page. He got very excited.

“I’ve seen these!” he exclaimed. “My teacher shows these to us in class.”

“Really?” I replied. I knew his teacher, Mrs. Downs, was good people.

“Yes. All the math ones and some social studies ones. Here….I’ll show you,” he said as he ran off to grab his iPad.

He came back with a bunch of videos queued up on You Tube. He opened up the Elementary, My Dear video about the two times table and hit play. We sat and watched it. It made me smile. After that we watched Three Is A Magic Number. Then, I saw it in the side margin. A video of The Preamble. I clicked on the link.

“I know this one, Joe. Watch.”

Then, along with the video, I sang the entire Preamble while my son watched in complete amazement. At least, I think it was amazement. I prefer to think he was looking at me with awe because he had no idea I knew these videos rather than in horror because I should by law be banned from singing publicly. I prefer to think he’s continually shocked by how smart his mother truly is.

I have to wonder if my boys would have had struggled as much as they have with their math facts if they would have had the pleasure of sitting each Saturday morning and watching Schoolhouse Rock like I did. I’m not entirely sure that the Schoolhouse Rock songs cemented the math facts into my head, but it is kind of intriguing that 35 years later I still remember the words to the Preamble I learned while catching my dose of Saturday morning cartoons. It can’t all be coincidental. Some of the things I saw as a child stuck.

I wish more networks made programming choices based around what was best for people rather than what made them the most money. There was a time when there were public service announcements on television for our children to watch, things like Time for Timer where kids would learn about healthy food choices. Now, though, our kids get nothing but a healthy dose of ads for all sorts of processed junk food and then more junk food in the form of brainless programming all hours of the day and night, on demand even.

Maybe it’s a romantic notion to wish that we could go back to a time when there was some actual thought given as a society to how to raise children to become well-balanced, informed, thoughtful, healthy, and creative individuals. I admit it. I wish kids had less homework and more time on their bicycles, fewer hours of television and more hours for creative and social interaction with friends via a means other than texting. I’m a dinosaur, I know. I’m not suggesting we go back to the 1970’s (personally, bell bottoms pants were never a look I could rock), but it would be nice if we could give our kids a little bit of the childhood we had. It might be nice to give them a break from the innumerable activities topped off with hours of homework. As I think about Schoolhouse Rock, what becomes clear is that it’s not that our children watch too much television but rather that they watch too much of the wrong television. The things I learned on Saturday mornings have stuck with me this long, and now I’m going to share them with my kids. Hopefully they will remember Conjunction Junction and I’m Just A Bill and forget everything they’ve ever seen on My Little Pony.

Like Sands Through The Hourglass

Me and my two-year-old Luke
Me and my two-year-old Luke

Our youngest came down with a wretched cold on Sunday afternoon. By Sunday evening I knew he would have to be home with me on Monday. When our boys first started going to school, I would cringe and whine when they’d come down with a cold, not just because I knew I would be getting sick too but also because I knew that meant they would be home with me all day again. After all, I’d just gotten them into full day school and had begun to relish my emancipation from non-stop, boy-generated sound effects and full-day indentured servitude. I’d recently rediscovered the perfection in silence. I didn’t look forward to relinquishing it for even one day. That was years ago now, though, and yesterday I had a different experience when Luke stayed home with me. We ran a couple quick errands during which he was honestly helpful. Then, at home, we worked together on some of his school work. We read together. We watched Elf. Other than his constant hacking and my fear of getting in germs’ way, it was a wonderful day.

This morning while Joe was showering for school, Luke crawled into bed with me. He was crying. He didn’t want to go to school today. He was stuffy and not yet truly better, but he probably would survive the day. It was a sketchy call. If I were a parent who worked outside our home, he’d be going to school. End of story. But, I don’t work outside my home. I could tell his tears were real. He was stressed. He had so much to make up from Monday’s missed classes plus there was an additional large project he’d been working on and was hoping to complete. Last year, before I knew about his dyslexia, I would have mercilessly driven him to school despite his protestations and gone to yoga class unabated. Today, however, I really felt for him. I could understand how having all that work looming over his head at the end of a full day of school would seem an insurmountable task. I’m not afraid to admit it. I caved.

So today I spent my second full day this week alone with my youngest. We picked up a few groceries, selected a couple dress shirts for Christmas attire for them, and then we settled in at home with a goal of completing two days’ worth of school work as well as finishing most of his big project that is due Friday. I worked with him and, with just short breaks in between, we busted through all his work. By 2 p.m. I could see his shoulders raise as the weight of his heavy, third-grade world lessened on his shoulders. He was smiling more. I could tell he was feeling better. A couple times during the day I stopped to wonder if I had done the right thing, bailing him out of his nerves like that. Had I given him an easy way out? He probably would have benefited from the opportunity to fall behind and catch up slowly, finally realizing that the world did not come to a crashing halt because it took him a couple days to finish his work. Instead, I somewhat selfishly looked into his teary, hazel eyes and saw my two-year-old son, the one who used to climb into my lap every day to give me a hug and tell me he loved me. I gave into my emotions. I was weak.

At 2:20, he was starting to miss Joe so we hopped in the car to pick him up from his full day of school. On the way there, we chatted a bit. Then it got quiet. Out of nowhere, my 9 1/2 year old hit me with this.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, sweetie?”

“I’m going to miss you tomorrow. When is the next time we can have a full day together?”

With this remark, I no longer wondered if I had done the right thing keeping him out of school for an extra day. I had. I got to spend two, uninterrupted days with my youngest son. When Luke said he would miss me, I was the one who got misty. The time I have left with my boys is precious and quickly slipping through my grasp. The days when we will sit together on the couch watching movies and sharing Skittles are numbered. The passing of time is a necessary evil during this journey through life. I missed two days’ worth of yoga classes and alone time during which I could have accomplished much during this busy holiday season, but it was so worth it. Luke got his peace of mind, and I got to have two-year old Luke back. You can’t put a price on the rare opportunity to flip the hourglass over even if only for a moment with your children. I have no regrets.