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You need to learn more about autism so you don’t judge me!

27 Dec

I remember my oldest when he couldn’t talk.  He finally started to talk when he was about 3 years old, after a lot of intense therapy done be various SLP’s, including a few working through Georgia State’s “Toddler’s Project.”  It’s only been a few years since they stopped tracking him and his progress, but I’m sure he was one of their success stories, combining AAC with various behavioral techniques.

Now we have a hard time keeping him quiet.  Back in the day, his meltdowns would be seriously long and loud crying jags that might even include him hitting himself.  The a couple of years ago, there was a lot of self-negativity as he felt awful about himself.  Some of it was actually amusing as he took responsibility for the sinking of the Titanic and the Cretaceous period extinction event.  During each stage, we always wondered what was next.  He’s almost 14 and has been going through full-blown puberty and teenage angst.  It can be a frightful thing for even the parents of the most typical children.  For those who have children with autism it is even ore perilous as so many things become magnified with adolescence.  The academic and social expectations go through the roof during middle school.

Just lately I have noticed a new trend with his meltdowns, which happen most often when we as parents put demands on him or reprimand him for doing something he should not be doing.  “OH!  You’re just discriminating against me because I have autism!” or “You hate me because I have autism!” or “You need to learn more about autism so you don’t judge me!”  He’s usually saying this while pulling at his own hair.

It’s kind of an astounding evolution in thinking and language.  But I do have to hand it to him: he is learning how to advocate for himself.  Back when he couldn’t talk, I would have never dreamed we would get to this place.  Even though the tantrums are not pleasant and even though when he gets to this point he doesn’t listen to anything anyone says, it is still movement forward.

We’re fortunate that he knew how to read before he could talk.  He always loved books and reading to him was actually something that was soothing and calming to him.  So when he was in 1st grade or so, we got him a book about someone who had a friend named Sam.  It kinda helped that he had someone close in the family named Sam.  We got it so maybe his own classmates might be able to relate to him better and it wasn’t long before he was reading it himself.  We never really tried to hide autism and what it was from him.  I do know parents that do that, in the name of trying to protect the kids from labeling themselves.  But kids do that anyway, even if they don’t know what exactly the label is.  Different.  Weird.  Dork. Nerd. Outcast. Freak. Geek. Retard.   Whatever you want to call it, kids will label themselves and each other.  I know parents who quit going on the annual autism walks because the kids were starting to ask questions about autism and why they were walking.

The latest book his mother got for him is Ellen Sabin’s Autism Acceptance Book.  He’s had that for a few years but now it seems to be sinking in that he is different.  The fact that he is using the label to kind of try to guilt us as parents seems to indicate that he is beginning to differentiate himself.  This is not a bad thing, even though it seems like he lashes out with it at the worst times.  He’s establishing an identity and autism is part of it.  It is part of who he is, and he isn’t trying to dodge this fact of his life.  In fact, he is kind of embracing it.  He can tell you that talking to yourself can be part of autism.  Being sensitive to sound can be part of autism.  He is getting to a point where he can articulate what is going on with him and is becoming more okay with it.  He’s not there yet.  EVERY teenager struggles with doubt and insecurity and finding a place to belong.  He’s trying to discover his own autonomy and identity and is gradually getting a handle on things.  Gradually.

I think the best way to help a child who has the ability to grasp the idea, is to be honest with them in all things.  And to accept them for being the individuals that they are.  We can all dream of there being some sort of cure, but that dream doesn’t help my son today.  It doesn’t help him with his schoolwork, his desire to fit in or to develop his own dreams for the future.  And by the time there is a cure, would he even want it?  He’s incorporating this into who he is and it looks to me like he is staking his claim on his own little piece of the universe.  It just happens to include autism.  I tried to search for “Autism Power” and all I saw were images, slogans and sights dedicated to “recovery”.  Unlike “Deaf Power” which returns all sorts of sites dedicated to the belief that deafness is only a disability because hearing people make it that way.  There’s a few images referring to Autism as a superpower, but I’m not sure I like that message either.

This (among other reasons)  is why I love the good folks on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism blog.  Autistics are beginning to take up their own cause for advocacy and are actually offering a lot of hope for people like my son.  The dialog is less on the horrible-ness of the disease and how hopeless it is, toward a more positive message of acceptance and that things ARE doable.  I see this as one of the major civil rights shifts of our day.  And if the numbers (1 in 88 births) are any indication, then we can expect a lot more voices demanding their right to exist.  Expect to see “Autistic and Proud” on a shirt or button near you.

Thirteen Years Ago…

20 Feb

Saturday, my oldest turned 13 years old.

The pregnancy was almost absolutely normal, and I remember going through the childbirth classes with several other couples, sharing a lot of anticipation.  Finally, the day came.  I came home and my wife let me know that it was time to take that trip to Tallahassee.  I remember giving her a stopwatch and told her to hit the splits button whenever she felt a contraction.  All the way down, I could hear a “beep” every time she hit the button.  The watch was rather high tech, and would keep track of the closest and furthest contractions as well as the average time between them.  It’s the nerd in me that wanted to know such things!

We were doing pretty well, but it was a pretty long night.  When he was born, I remember cutting the umbilical cord and I also remember a swarm of nurses coming into the room.  I had no idea what was going on.  As it turned out he had a pneumothorax which caused one of his lungs to collapse.  He was rushed to the NICU, and I went with him, leaving his mother who was also in some distress of her own, unbeknown to me.

I remember him wiggling around as they attached the wires and tubes and needles.  He spent 4 days in the NICU, before it healed on its own without any medication, surgery or other interventions beyond oxygen. I was in a total daze.  I had no idea of what was happening at the time.  Or that this was just the beginning of a long journey.

In my wife’s words:

“[He] was born on his due date. As he struggled to take his first breath, his left lung collapsed. Within the following day, his lung had healed without requiring a chest tube. He spent a total of 4 days in the NICU. When he was 2 weeks old, we was back in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia. He was diagnosed with moderate reflux. When he was 4 months old, he started having seizures. At 15 months, he lost the ability to speak the words he had acquired. At 20 months, he was diagnosed with autism. I often asked, “God, why me??”

My wife was always a step ahead of me as far as recognizing when there were problems.  But it was my own background in special education that enabled me to recognize that we were seeing something akin to autism.  The when I asked him, the neurologist admitted that it could be some form of developmental delays and gave him the PDD-NOS diagnosis.  Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.   Back then, they seemed very reluctant to give an autism diagnosis, especially to someone as young as my son was.

Our story follows a similar trajectory of many other families as we experienced the ups and downs of life with autism.  We had the assistance of many good and competent therapists and teachers.  And there might have been a few less-than-good ones along the way.

He has generally been a happy child, but the teen-aged years are starting out very rough for him.  He has been changing into a young man for the past couple of years with his voice changing and then the attendant mood swings that goes along with this transition.  And typical middle school behaviors of his peers have not helped matters as other kids make fun of him, and he is unable to ignore or handle the name-calling and criticism like he could when he was younger.  There was a time when he often could care less what people thought of what he did or said, but today it is far different.  He is very sensitive about what his peers think or say and of course it is the negative things that get amplified.

In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Daxflame, a teenager who became somewhat notorious on youtube for his meltdowns on camera.  But if you watch (and they ARE hard to watch for those of us close to autism and Aspergers) you can see him struggling to control himself, to be understood and to make friends.

As hard as the videos are to watch, the comments are even more hideous. He exhibited a lot of courage putting himself out there like that.

So as difficult as the first 13 years have been, we’re entering some entirely new territory. In some ways this is much like all parents of teenagers, but with an added complication that makes the conformity demanded by teenagers all but impossible for my son. How does one “fit in” when almost everything they say or do makes them stick out?

It’s Out!: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

4 Jan

And it is on my list of things to get for myself, now that the holidays are all done and I am looking to get into some semblance of a routine again.

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism is a collaborative effort that has brought together a lot of wonderful writers and experts.  It really is the book that I wish I would have had 11 years ago, when our oldest was first identified.  Over the years I had a chance to read a number of the other writers who were also blogging and writing on the subject and became contributers in this book.  We were all working our way through, trying to discover and put together the pieces that would make our lives better, more manageable and happier for everyone in our families.  This book represents the best of what we each discovered and is a field guide for anyone who is working their way through the novelties and oddities posed by autism.

The editors did a fine job of putting this together.  In particular, I want to give a shout to Liz, who has always been a source of encouragement and support to me and my writing.  Thanks so much for allowing me to be a part of such a great resource!

My New Theme Song?

13 Aug

This is really awesome and amazing, which was an accidentally discovery.  You would think that I would have my own blog bookmarked, but on this newer machine and not having blogged regularly for a couple of years…well it was just easier to search for it whenever I had the need to look at it. And then I made it private thinking it was hindering my job search and ignored it (and the poll results that said it was a good thing) and forgot about it.

So I’m searching for my own blog and then I happened to stumble upon a song and an album with a name that is oddly and mysteriously titled similar to my blog.  What do you think?

It really hits squarely on a major theme that I have tried to address in so many of my posts as a parent and as teacher.  I think it is beautifully done and when visiting the album’s web page discovered just a series of positive and inspirational tracks.  Kudos to the producers and musicians who put this together!

Ummm…you might want to have some tissues handy watching the whole video.

I’m just sayin’.

D.

Teaching Moments and Life Lessons

15 Aug

Every parent or teacher has them; those moments where a lesson chooses its own time and you simply have to capitalize on the opportunity presented to take advantage of it.

Being not employed has presented a lot of those moments for my kids that would not be there otherwise.  We’ve actually had some pretty remarkable conversations about budgeting, money and what is involved in getting a job, keeping a job and the types of job a person can do and the amount of money a person makes at a given job.

My oldest is in the 5th grade, and each passing year brings a bit more anxiety about his future.  He is remarkably intelligent in so many ways, and yet has not learned to tie his own shoes or use the mustard without drowning his hot dog.  It is a mixture of fear and amazement.  I suppose this is true of all parents, but for those of us with someone who is exceptional it is even more so.  We wonder if our kids will be able to live independently without setting fire to their apartment, or if they will be able to hold a job or safely drive a car.

So today, my oldest insisted that I needed to get a job tomorrow in order that we might be able to travel again and put an end to all this talk about not having enough money to do things.  He opened his almanac and was looking up the richest men in the world, and had a host of suggestions for me, including working for Microsoft and Walmart.

This lead to a discussion of getting skills necessary to get a job.  When he suggested working for Ford Motor Company, I explained about how I might need to be trained as a mechanic to be able to afford to take care of him and the rest of the family.  His younger brother chimed in at the prospect of working for various fast food places.  While these are certainly prospects, I explained that they might not be the best prospects and explained how wages were linked to qualifications and skills which were linked to doing well in school.

I can tell that both boys are in deep thought about the job issue and have concerns about it.  Last week, my youngest postulated about what it might be like living under a bridge somewhere!  I explained that because we had been wise with our money when we had plenty, we would be okay for awhile while looking for a job, which led to a discussion about saving money and why we do it and how to do it.

And one reason why we are okay (not great, but okay) at the moment was because of the lessons my own parents taught me about money and debt while growing up on the farm.  We never had a lot, and my parents made it clear that it took a lot of work to make money and not to take it for granted.  I remember when being about the age of my own kids we did not always have the latest toys, clothes or things.  Most people would have regarded us as poor, but I never thought we were.  I knew other people who were more poor and a few who were pretty well off.  Where I grew up, school teachers were regarded as among the well-off!

So as a family we’re learning a few things and hopefully the best lessons will hang around for awhile while we move on.  And hopefully we’ll move on before things get so bad we’re contemplating a move under the bridge!

Check out The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!

9 Jul

I was hoping that the next post I was writing would be all about the new job I found and the excitement involved in looking forward to a fresh new start in a fresh new place.

I hasn’t happened….yet.  I have had several good interviews and I walked out of each of them feeling like I had hit it out of the ballpark.  These were positions that screamed my name as far as the skills required and my background, experience and desires.  I was wondering “How am I going to choose between them…they all seem great!”  But then days turn into weeks and no follow-up call comes.  One did send an email stating they had hired someone else, and that is totally fine.  It is possible there are some other highly qualified, experienced people who are also looking might be better suited to some spots.  But Some of these seemed SO tailor-made for me.  I’m scratching my head, but continuing to pursue what pening there are and trying not to get discouraged.

You can only imagine Jane’s anxiety.  And my two boys also know that this summer is different because we are not taking any real long trips or vacations and holding on to the money a little tighter.  They know it is all about Daddy’s job.  At least we still have medical insurance for a couple more months.

But I DO have some good news to share!  Liz Ditz has been a sort of guardian angel of my blog since its earliest days, linking, commenting and promoting articles she thought were good, and driving a lot of readers my way.  She is just a dynamo of reading and writing and promoting the cause of disability advocacy.  Every blogger should be so lucky to have a Liz in their readership!

A few weeks ago, she emailed and asked about an article I had written from my IEP series and wondered if I would be interested in participating in a project of contributing it toward a book she and some other folks are working on.  And so after doing some editing and updating, we finished it and you can read the revised version of my article on IEP goals at the Thinking Persons Guide To Autism which will eventually become a print book!  How cool is that?

I invite you to seriously check the blog out, because it has many awesome articles written be some very accomplished bloggers.  I totally wish I had a resource like this in the earliest days of son’s diagnosis.  It is a common sense and scientific look at autism issues without the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that I see in so much autism literature and articles by parents and professionals in the field while being sensitive to the emotional overhang associated with autism.  There are some great articles there that are worth a look as a professional as well as a parent.  This blog is decidedly parent-centric written by and for parents but is a great resource for teachers and othe professionals too.

Book Review: Autism & Alleluias

8 Apr

A while back I got an email inviting me to review a book, and the publisher even offered to send me a free copy in exchange for doing a review.  This blog does often result in some interesting offers (no job offers tho, haha) but I do not do many of them.  I like blogging because I can do it in my own time, in my own way.  I also do not read a whole lot of books on autism much anymore.  I’ve been around the business enough that I know they generally follow a similar formula.  Basically they tend to follow the story of a couple who give birth to a seemingly normal child and then within 2-3 years discover their child has some sort of developmental delays.  They are thrown into fits of grief, rage and searching.  Then the reader is led through a myriad of treatments and therapies, hoping against hope trying to find a cure.  And each book author has found some sort of cure or recovery story.  Or so it seems.

Autism & Alleluias is not that sort of book at all.  In fact, it is more of a Bible inspirational devotional than a real story.  Kathleen Buldoc may have covered the autobiographical formula in an earlier work, but this one is put together differently.  In 39 little chapters, she conveys a different lesson in each that her son has taught her even in the midst of being nearly overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of raising a son on the autism spectrum.

Each chapter begins with a Bible scripture, then Buldoc shares a story of something that happened with her son.  It might be a call from the school, trying to sit in church, a vacation gone awry or any number of challenges that all of us parents are familiar with.  She will share her frustration and emotions before also sharing the lesson that each event teaches.  At the very end of each chapter, there is a prayer thanking God for the lessons learned.  It is basically about how she finds God expressed in raising a son with autism.

I found the stories encouraging as this was a good demonstration of the pluck and courage of one mother in spite of some very real and very large challenges.  Her son had many behavioral issues including some that seemed quite aggressive such as hair pulling and grabbing glasses.  It shed a light on how gratitude could be expressed even in some dark situations.

I did buy the book and once my wife reads it, I have no doubt is will be passed along to someone else.  In  fact, when it came in the mail I had to admonish Jane not to run off with it as she was REALLY interested it.  So it is safe to say that just about any christian mother of a child with autism would identify with, and like this book.  It is one of the few that lays out some comfort without a lot of guilt.  Many books that purport a cure,will leave a reader feeling very guilty for not trying it out or doing it, all in the name of finding a cure.  Kathleen does not do that in this book, but she does guide the way into finding more acceptance with her son and finding acceptance with God.

So all-in-all, I would say it was a worthwhile purchase, even though it is well outside of the genre of books that I normally read and buy.  I would be more apt to buy this for someone else rather than myself.  So I think this might make a good gift book for christian parents of children with disabilities, especially autism.

Assessing Students with Disabilities: Some Answers to Interview Questions

16 Jan

I have on several occasions gotten questions from graduate students who are taking classes for which they have to interview a special education teacher. The questions are rarely simple or at least I have problem answering them simply. So the price for answering graduate level essay questions on a Friday afternoon is that I blog them! So guess what Ms. M – consider yourself officially blogged! Hehehe!

These are questions about cognative impairments and assessment.  The school she is getting her degree from uses the term “Mental Retardation” or MR in the questions, but you’ll note that I generally avoid the “R” word in my answers in deference to those who are sensitive to that term.  We do use it as professionals among ourselves, but not as a pejorative as much as well-recognized descriptor and is shorter and easier to write than “Cognative impairment” or “Intellectual disability.”  Not everyone knows what “ID” means.
Keep in mind I’m doing this cold and flying without the net, a textbook or Wikipedia because that is how a face-to-face interview would be conducted. So if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me but no whinging on about it.  I’m not going anywhere to look this up, I’m just answering it as I see fit.  Your fitness will vary.  All other standard disclaimers apply….

#1 What in your professional opinion are the meanings of intelligence and adaptive behavior

Intelligence, to me, is indicated by a person’s ability to solve novel problems and navigate novel situations. While you cannot teach intelligence, you can help it grow by requiring its regular use. Intelligence is the ability to figure things out by pulling together reasoning, experience and observation.

Adaptive behavior is the application of more specific skills in navigating through daily life requirements. There are people with lower intelligence who can survive very well on the street, while your college professor would probably perish if he or she were require to live a week on the street. Adaptive behaviors can be learned and taught and that is a large part of what we do when teaching students with MR.  We can navigate many adaptive behaviors by following a script or series of steps.

#2 What problems are associated with assessing students with MR?

At my level, the problems are legion. This is why “pay for performance” and “accountability” break down so profoundly when we discuss teaching the population of students that I serve. First of all, my students do not produce anything. They are nonverbal and cannot read or write. So right off, that eliminates 99% of all the assessment tools currently used for high school students. Also keep in mind that my students have multiple impairments so they may be visually or hearing impaired. My students are decidedly nonstandard, so there are few if any standardized measures that would work. But even those with less severe impairments will work more slowly, require more support and generally do poorly under standard conditions.

Under any objective standardized scale of performance, my students regularly floor out. There are no high school assessments that give a score at an 11 month-old instructional level. Most simply don’t bother with a percentile less than 20%.

Finally, the fact is due to cognitive and sensory impairments, my students require thousands of trials to learn a single simple task. In one academic year, they MIGHT gain 1 month of learning in some area. I do not know of any initiative by any politician where this would be an acceptable gain. So the politics that drive current assessment practice further discriminate against the most severe students.

#3.What are the characteristics of the students with MR that result in eligibility for special education?

To simplify this, it is a combination of intelligence and adaptive behavior that causes them fall behind in their school achievement. This cannot be caused by a sensory impairment, a specific learning disability or a behavioral disorder and the onset must be prior to being school aged. For those with milder cognitive impairment, this would look like a broad form of a learning disability that is not specific to any one area. Those with specific learning disabilities and many with autism will have performance valleys and spikes, where they may be proficient in one area while being very weak in another. Cognitive impairment cuts across all learning, which is intelligence and adaptive behavior together, are important.

So how would one assess a student with a cognitive disability fairly and accurately? The answer to that is that it will take more than one tool to do it and over some span of time. It will not be easy or cheap. First off, you can use standardized intelligence tests providing they don’t floor out. You can also use adaptive behavior assessments and questionnaires. The questionnaires should be given to parents as well as teachers. Next, do some real-time observations of the student in the actual environment. And then look at actual work products and compare them with same-aged peers. All of these last measures should be done in several settings and across time in order assess the rate of progress. Assessment should always inform instruction, but in practice most of what passes as “accountability” and “performance” nowadays does not.

This is just my quick and dirty take on assessment of students with cognitive impairments so hopefully it helps with the degree as well as gets my readers thinking about assessment beyond the graduation test or CRCT.

Update Post Holiday Break Edition

6 Jan

We went back to school, the kids and I, for the first time in 2010 today (Jan 5th). Originally, yesterday was supposed to be a teacher workday, but the school board moved that workday to the end to try to make room for more furlough days should the state legislature decide that there is too much of a budget shortfall. I was totally fine with that move but I know a lot of teachers really needed and wanted that time to prepare their classes for the new semester. In my program, in matters less since we continue to do what we started last semester despite new course titles and course numbers. I’m the only one in the school with more separate classes than students!

My break was uneventful and calm…just the way I like it! I did my best not to get too entangled in the holiday madness even though some of it is unavoidable. I am dealing with a slight case of Second Life (SL) withdrawal, though. Of all the things I’m plugged into (blogging,youtube, Classroom 2.0, Teachertube, Facebook and the FB game Farmtown) SL has me the most hooked. It combines a lot of nerdiness, with heavy role play with social interaction and the only limit is imagination which is nearly limitless because other people are constantly creating things from their imaginations. I was in-world a lot over the break, up late at night. Back to work means getting to bed earlier which means less SL time.

My students who returned today all seemed glad to be here, albeit some were tired by the end of the day. I know I had a period right after lunch when I was sleepy! but I thinki the restoration of a consistent routine is good for me and most definitely good for my students and my own kids at home. We just do better with a regular schedule rather than too much unstructured time. But to be honest, my oldest did really well with all of the unstructured time. He loves the computer and TV, of course. but also likes doing imaginative play with his brother using Legos or stuffed animals. For the past 9 months his obsession has been the Titanic. When he gets on the web, he is reading all about the titanic. He watch YouTube about the Titanic. He wants to know everything there is to know about the Titanic. His interest does branch out a bit to other ships in the White Star line and other ships in general that sank and finally to just ships. So what to do with someone who has a seemingly narrow obsession?

I bought a book last fall by Paula Kluth called Just Give Him the Whale: 20 Ways to use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise and Strengths to Support Students with Autism. I have to admit that this is not a game changer, but then again I have not found many books about autism that really grab me anymore. I do like that these are simple and practical suggestions of how to incorporate a single fascination and use it to open new doors and expand personal interests in the process. So for those who have kids higher on the spectrum, it might be a handy book to have around.  It is a place I will go when puzzling about what to do with narrow interests areas of expertise of my oldest son.

And this blog is about to turn 4 years old! Whoo hoo! There have been some threats to it since I started and the present climate is every bit as threatening or more so than it was 4 years ago. School officials at every level (building, county, state, national) are simply not comfortable with some unauthorized teacher writing news and views without some explicit control or without their own front-person calling the shots and spinning things to make everyone look good. While I’m not out to make anyone look particularly bad, neither does it have to look good all the time. I think people will respect the honesty involved in saying “Hey, we screwed up! We’re willing to admit it, fix it and move on!”

2010 is going to be a wild and woolly year, I have no doubt about it!

I wonder if I’m the only one who would like a snow day later this week?

Last Day Before Break Edition

18 Dec

Well guess what? My GAA is NOT totally finished! In fact, I haven’t started on #2 at all! So, there you go, I can be as much of a procrastinator as anyone else. And the holiday mindset has been long set around these parts.

Here at the high school, Wednesday and Thursday were days of final exams. And last week was end of course tests (EOCT). So the schedule has been altered for quite some time. For my students, only the last couple of days have been more difficult. They simply do not do well when the schedule is severely altered. They get cranky, they get irritable, loud and sometimes even aggressive. The schedule and routine functions as a source of security for them (and the rest of us, too!) and they rely on that consistency to keep them oriented to time, since they can not really read a clock. So when the exam schedule calls for running the periods backwards or altering lunch time, it throws them and they let their displeasure and anxiety be known.

I wasn’t going to blog this next bit, but I think I will at the risk of offending some of the local folks. The topic is rather soft, but my treatment of it is not. The last couple of days of school, it is common for people to like to throw little parties and such. In elementary school, the teachers do manage to turn it into a theme day and that seems to work most of the time, but still runs the risk of upsetting the schedule for the students. I have no objections to the holiday-themed days with and for students. We did a great one in here last year when we studied Mexico and had a fiesta. No, my beef has been when the teachers decide to throw a potluck luncheon as a small group or department. For most departments, this is probably perfectly fine. And for most teachers, it is probably worry and drama-free.

But for me and my brave little band of paras and students, it represents yet another source of stress. My students need someone to feed them or at least help them feed themselves. They need someone to wipe their mouths, change them and wipe their bottoms. It’s just what we do. But when free food appears, a lot of that gets thrown out the window. We rely on a lot of outside help to feed during lunch and during every single potluck this year, much of that help has evaporated. The reason for this is that it is a potluck and not everyone brings food or enough of it. So there is a rush at the beginning of the lunch period when people are knocking down the proverbial barnyard gate, trying to waddle up to the trough in order to get their fair share. Which means 2 things: 1.) my kids are short changed 2.) My staff is short-changed.

During the feeding frenzy there is much gobbling, grunting and chomping in some nice quiet room whilst the 3 or 4 of us try to feed the 9 kids who are all STARVING – or at least they act like it. And this gets my mood seething and dark, as ?I feel like we are abandoned. By the the time we are finished feeding all the kids, the lunch period is nearly over. And my paras can forget about getting much to eat as the bones tend to be picked clean across the building or wherever the potluck is. There is no way to even participate without leaving the kids with someone…and those people are already at the trough. This is why I am coming to despise the potluck parties in our department. We’ve tried to have them in our kitchen, but the same problems are still there and exacerbated by the traffic and disruption as people are tending their food, heating, stirring, mixing, and serving. Since we somehow end up eating with the kids during these things, it sort of sucks a lot of the fellowship out of it. I have students who have issues with adults talking among themselves and ignoring them which isn’t uncommon among any students/children. Mine just get more active and vocal about it. But we are a very small part of the department, so I would not deprive others of the joy they get out of it. I’m just pointing out that it isn’t the greatest deal for us. The department party this evening, though, should be a better occasion to relax.

So, I probably come off as a bit of a scrooge about a lot of the holiday hoopla but it’s because my kids left behind in so many of the cases. That’s not to say that people do not do extra ordinary things. Yesterday, some of my students were able to watch a show put on by the drama students as part of their final exam. Of course some of my kids wanted to take to the stage themselves! I kept a few of those students out so the actors would at least have a shot at hearing their own cues and passing their finals. But it was nice that we were thought of, and I hope the drama students enjoyed having us as an audience. And the teacher who volunteered to host us for Christmas activities kept the invitation open but I wasn’t able to make it work out. But it was a nice invitation, nonetheless.

As the day wore on (and it wore on forever!) I pulled a page from Erin’s book and got out my Qchord and we played some Christmas songs. I had a few bells and tambourines and had a few of the kids joined in the playing of the music while one of them just danced to it. This got everyone in the mood for lunch, which was a bit of a mess since the cafeteria was in shut-down mode. even the custodians were coming through early, trying to get all the trash cans done. I mentioned to the one in our room that she might want to wait on us until the very last. We still had a mitt ful of students and they all had to have their diapers changed one last time before going home. And having a pile of poopy diapers sitting around for 2 weeks is not something I would like to contemplate.

But I think I got all the required tasks completed, and although tired I am feeling okay with where we’ll pick up next semester.

As for my two boys, they are both handling the holidays extremely well. Of course, Thomas is totally ready for school to be finished but is really doing well during these last few weeks. Not having to fight over the homework is the biggest and most welcome improvement. Percy has always done well, but the stress has gotten to him just a bit and he has had problems with strep and asthmatic conditions. But overall, we’re doing pretty well with the holiday stress and basically trying to avoid it as much as possible. As Thomas would say, We’re “looking forward to some luxurious R & R!”

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