Friday, September 17, 2010

Mainstreaming is NOT for Wimps

I attended the open house at Clare's school. I admit I was not in the best frame of mind going there since I had two sick kids at home, a husband suffering an allergy attack, and I myself had just gotten over a virus and was still pretty wiped out. Yet I did not want to miss Clare's first open house in her new school. I could manage the hour. Or so I thought.

Clare's kindergarten teacher passed out the children's folders of work completed in their first nine days of school. Included in the folder was an outline of what they would be working on literacy-wise in their first twelve weeks of kindergarten. As I quickly thumbed through the pages, I mentally thought "skip this, skip this, skip this, Clare is not there yet." It was all about lower case letter recognition and formation. Clare does not even recognize her upper case letters (except C, for obvious reasons), never mind writing any of them. How is she going to start learning lower case?

The teacher described their day, what they are working on, learning to sight read words, writing letters, writing their names, and simple math concepts. When she said the word "math," my brain went into panic mode again. Math? Clare can rote count to ten, but still has difficulty looking at objects and counting them. She often loses her place or just continues to rote count, even when she's passed the number of objects. Forget about math - she does not recognize or write any numbers. At this point, I admit I tuned the teacher out for the most part and concentrated instead on not crying. Which involves a lot of jaw-clenching, biting the inside of my cheek, and looking at whatever is hanging from the ceiling.

At the beginning of her presentation, the teacher had quickly introduced one of the reading specialists for the school. Aah... there was someone I would love to talk to. So after the presentation was complete, I made a beeline for this woman. I introduced myself and explained that I knew Clare would not be reading by the end of kindergarten. So what happens then? I babbled some stuff about her IEP, getting some extra reading services, blah, blah, blah. The woman was very kind, but she looked at me as if I was neurotic. As in, what is wrong with this mother who nine days into kindergarten is already freaking out that her daughter cannot read? I told her I knew I was jumping the gun a bit, but I wanted to give Clare the best chance to keep up with her classmates the best I could. I told her how we purchased an alphabet and phonics music program to work on with Clare at home. Clare is not really even interested in learning her letters, so her private speech therapist and I thought a program based on music would spark her interest. At this point, the kind lady (who really was kind, but who obviously thought I was a fruitcake and was just placating me by this point) told me that she really only worked with students in grades 1-5, that she had many students who needed help, and if Clare needed help once she was in first grade, she would see her then. Then she told me that she had met Clare briefly because her son was in Clare's kindergarten class and that she thought Clare was a doll. She then excused herself to talk to the teacher about her own child.

Now I really wanted to cry. I had no idea this woman was in the classroom as a parent, not as a specialist. The kindergarten teacher had introduced her to the class, so I assumed she was there to answer any questions about reading. Now she would have this idea in her head of what kind of parent she thought I was. (Add to that my already sensitive self-consciousness over Clare's school speech therapist witnessing both Clare and Simon having a temper tantrum, complete with hitting in each other, in the school hallway two days ago.)

Mainstreaming... that's the term for what we are doing with Clare. Inclusion. There's another term. My term is "trying to be as normal as we can get." But none of it's normal. None of it's typical. None of it's easy. I have so many doubts now about whether Clare really can be included. I know deep down in my heart she can, she will, and I feel (hope, wish, want) this is what is best for her. And I know we are only nine days into the process. I just never knew it would be this hard. I want to put Clare back into her safe, little, special ed preschool bubble - where she loved school, the teachers loved her, I had no idea where Clare stood skills-wise as opposed to the rest of her classmates and it didn't matter because Clare was progressing as Clare needed to progress. Not as the teachers needed her to progress or how I needed her to progress.

I had a good cry in the car on the way home from the open house. In the morning, Shawn and I discussed it, and I had another good cry. I hope all the crying and feeling sorry for myself is now out of my system for the time being, and we can start figuring out what we're going to do about all this mainstreaming stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Facebook Makes Us Lazy

"Facebook makes us lazy." -- the wise, wise Kerry F.

Lazy, impersonal, idle, procrastinator, the list goes on and on.

When I read Kerry's words, it instantly hit me that she was right - Facebook makes us lazy. I am extremely vulnerable to being sucked into the vacuum of Facebook as soon as I click the link on my Favorites tab. I don't think there's anything wrong with Facebook or other social sites in general, but I believe that Facebook makes us lazy when it comes to our personal relationships.

I saw a good friend today for the first time in about two years. Put it this way - she had never met Violet (who is almost 20 months old). She lives about twenty minutes away, we have children the same age (we have older children with the same name!), and she has a daughter with heart disease as well. We should get together more often. As we parted today, she commented, "Thank goodness for Facebook." And she was right as well. This is where Facebook has some value - we have been able to stay in touch, keep somewhat up-to-date on each other's lives, and discuss books (a passion we share). But it also made me sad that sites such as Facebook make it so easy to stay connected via the internet that we don't make more of an effort to stay connected in person. To sit across from each other in a room and catch up while our children get to know each other by working on puzzles together (and sweet puppies shower us with affection!). No amount of status updates can keep a true friendship going. I am guilty of getting so swept up in my busy life with busy schedules and lots of busy things to do that I don't stop for one morning to forego all that busy-ness and just BE. I am glad we both made the effort today to see each other finally!

I feel as if I am at a turning point in my life in some small way (getting all philosophical on you now). I have been evaluating my life, my values, my priorities, my reactions and emotions, and trying to take stock of what's really important and of true value in my life. There is nothing earth-shattering I need to change, but there are lots of little things that I want to work on. Having fun and unwinding on Facebook is all fine and good, but it has its place and I want to make sure it's a small place in my life and not let it be a poor substitute for my life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Left Behind

IEP goal: By June 2011, Clare will be able to ascend stairs with a reciprocal pattern without a rail and descend stairs with a reciprocal pattern with one rail with verbal cues.

There is a lot of hurrying that goes on in our house. Hurrying to get out the door to bring three kids to three different schools. Hurrying to pick children back up, make lunch, and get the little ones down for naps before it's time to get Jamie from school. Hurrying to make it to soccer practice on time (since Jamie's new coach is a little bit of a... drill sergeant). Hurrying to clean up, take baths, brush teeth, tuck everyone in. There are also a lot of stairs in our house, so a good portion of this hurrying is done going up and down the stairs. Even when we are not in a rush, the boys naturally fly past Clare on the stairs, and I often find myself doing the same. I will brush past Clare as she slowly makes her way down the garage staircase, gripping the handrail one foot down the second to join then onto the next step. I buckle Violet into her car seat, buckle Simon in, then I will go back to offer Clare a hand to hurry her descent down the stairs.

The other day, I was going down to the basement to switch some laundry from the washer to the dryer. Clare was ahead of me making her way down to the playroom. I went to pass her so I could get my chore done when I realized what I was doing. Was I in that much of a rush to get to the laundry that I could not wait for two minutes while Clare navigated the stairs? Did we always have to rush past Clare, leaving her behind by herself? Would she forever be last, everyone passing her by without a second thought?

I know - heavy thoughts on walking down the stairs. But it reminded me that there is value in taking our time. To Clare, she could slide down the stairs on her bottom, making it from top to bottom in about 20 seconds (and sounding like tap-dancing hippos doing so). But she is working so hard at home and at school to ascend and descend stairs by herself. Right now, she does so by holding the railing with one hand and carefully doing her one step with both feet at a time. Her next goal will be to do it reciprocally (as in one foot on one step, the opposite foot to the next step, you get the picture). Then working her way to going upstairs without holding a rail, and downstairs only holding the rail (right now, she is very unsure about going downstairs without holding a rail and someone's hand - she will do it, but she goes very cautiously). The ultimate goal someday is that Clare can go up and down stairs carrying her schoolbooks.

It still gives me some heartache when I think of all the things that the majority of our bodies do and learn naturally, but that Clare has to work so hard at learning. My heartache is for her that it just can't come easy for her. But just as there is value in taking our time doing something, there is also so much value in working hard to accomplish something. Even something as mundane as walking up and down the stairs. I know Clare is going to be left behind in some way or another time and time again. But I don't have to do that to her. I can walk with her down the stairs and hold her hand to make her descent easier for her. Or I can walk behind her, be patient, and have the chance to marvel at her determination in doing this on her own.

Fickle Fickle Lady

It's been a month, and I just don't feel as if my journey in this blogosphere is done yet. I have stopped myself so many times from jumping on here to write something. And then I find myself wondering why do I stop myself?? Maybe no one will read me anymore, but I find that I do still need this outlet. I will be far from diligent about it, and I will stop making apologies for my neglectfulness. Shawn is always telling me I need to lower my standards (when it comes to the state of the house, the size of the laundry pile, the gourmet-ishness of the dinner). I disagree. It's not that I need to lower my standards, it's that I need to be okay with myself if I don't meet my own standards. So here we go again...