It’s a Big First Day

The time is here. A new school year. There is quite a mix of emotions today.

8th grade, 6th grade, and 5th grade

EXCITEMENT! – It’s a new year which means a fresh start. New clubs to join. A chance to make a great first impression with new teachers. A chance to make new friends, as well as see old ones they’ve not seen all summer. New, new, new!

Sadness – This is our last year at the same elementary school we’ve had for the past 9 years. Nate went to Pre-K here so this is Nate’s 7th year! I can’t help but think of the “last firsts” – A last first day of school at a place that’s meant so much to us. The last school year for recess every day. The last year for walking a kid into school, either for a specific reason or just to say “hi”.

I realize that last one is something I can do at the middle school but it’s not nearly as easy. Traffic concerns aside, middle schoolers are starting to spread their wings and deserve the chance to do things on their own without Mom hovering behind. (And I admit, I tend to hover.)

Relief – No need to listen to them whine about being bored during the day. Well, okay. Let’s be honest – it’s actually no need to feel guilty that they watch TV most of the day.

Anxiety – Anxiety, Worry, Fear, Apprehension….

Call it what you will, but it’s that feeling that’s settled into my chest and will be there until I know it’s going to be okay. Will they find new clubs and activities? Will they make new friends? Will they have to deal with bullying or mean kids?

Admittedly, I’m not as worried about Nate. He’s a big-man-on-campus 5th grader and has been looking forward to this for WEEKS.

Goofy boy is excited for 5th grade

I’m a little nervous for Katie. She’s been dreading today so we can only hope it goes well and she has friends in her classes to help alleviate her fears.

My 8th grader isn’t so excited.

So it mostly comes down to Jon. Will there be a meltdown because everything is just too overwhelming? I know the teachers have his back but how will HE react? How overwhelmed will he feel? How much stimming will he find himself doing to cope?

Not really sure how this one feels. He’s been kinda quiet.

To be honest, I’m scared for him. Of course, in front of him we’ve been all smiles and encouragement, but inside I’m absolutely terrified.

My head knows he’ll be fine. My heart, not so much. This ball of stress and anxiety that’s settled in my chest isn’t going away any time soon.

I look forward to a full report of how it goes for all three of them today. Their excitement, relief, and happiness that it’s going to be okay. Fingers crossed for a great first day.

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She’s 13

Katie is 13 today.

This is the face of a teenager, y’all.

It seems very common to think, “Wow, 13! A teenager? Where does the time go?” And to a certain extent I’ve said and felt that way. But honestly? It’s not as jarring and emotional as I was expecting it to be.

Katie at 2 years old. Look at that little face!

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a very sensitive person. I wear my emotions like one wears a bright coat – out in the open for everyone to see. It’s not intentional, it’s just who I am. So I was expecting today to be happy but bittersweet.

3-year old Katie with a newborn Nate.

To my surprise, for the most part I’ve been just fine. I just think of her and how she feels today. She is so excited to finally, FINALLY, be a teenager! And I’m happy for her. Do I feel like I’ve lost my baby? Perhaps if I think about it too much, yes. But it just feels right to have a 13-year old in the house.

Katie and Jon. She sure does love her brothers.

Maybe it’s because for a while now she’s been relatively mature for her age. She’s very independent so I can trust her to do things I’d never imagine the boys doing. (Yes, I know they’re younger. But even when she was their ages.) Granted she can sometimes be a little TOO independent – she has a tendency to just deal with some things instead of asking for help, which inevitably gets her into trouble or makes things much more difficult for her in the long run. But she is fast becoming a young woman and I love it.

3-years old at a friend’s wedding. She loved showing off her dress to everyone she met.

We’ve always had a special bond. She’s my bean-bean. My princess. My Sweetpea. My Sweetie. But lately I’ve felt closer to her than ever. We can talk about things we never could before. And I marvel at the person she is and the woman she will be.

Me and my Bean.

She’s got such a beautiful heart. She seems to have great taste in friends. (So far there aren’t any that I think are a bad influence. That I know of, anyway.) She’s a nurturing big sister (most of the time). And her academics are just phenomenal – Honors Math, Honors English-Language Arts, Spanish for high school credit….and she has all A’s and B’s. Her teachers love her. She’s just an all around good person. And we are so very proud of her.

At the beach, beautiful as the sunset.

So Happy Birthday, Sweetie. We love you!!

My girl. (Photo credit: J Velez Photography)

 

 

 

Changes

In a few months we’re going to be in uncharted territory. We’ll be preparing Jon (and ourselves) for middle school. Of course we’ve done the middle school thing already with Katie. But this is so very different.

When you have a kid with special needs, you don’t just have two main teachers (and those who teach art, music, PE, and media). You have an entire team made up of resource teachers (previously known as “special education” teachers), therapists, and administration. You have a set of plans and accommodations in place to prepare for any situation – outbursts, meltdowns, refusal to do work, or anything else that may come their way. For us, this is in the form of both an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and BIP (Behavioral Improvement Plan). And you have regular meetings to discuss and adjust the plans as needed.

This is the last IEP for Elementary School….

 

Jon’s been at his school since kindergarten. We know these teachers and this team. One of his resource teachers has been with him since 2nd grade, the other since 3rd. He only sees the speech therapist a few times a semester now but she’s been working with him since kindergarten! So to say we have a strong bond and a connection with these people is an understatement. They know him inside and out. We’ve been through so much together and they’ve always – ALWAYS – done what is best for him. And now we’re moving on to a new school with new resource teachers and new instructors and new processes and new everything. New EVERYTHING.

You know there’s a lot to keep track of when there are multiple education binders.

 

I am very lucky that I have a friend whose son is also on the spectrum and started at Jon’s future middle school this year. She’s had great things to say about the special needs team so that’s encouraging. But soon we’ll start the process of meeting the team, (hopefully) putting accommodations and plans in place, and introducing Jon to this foreign environment. Middle school is so different from elementary school! Knowing what Katie’s gone through I just can’t imagine how Jon’s going to do. He does not do well with change and to say this is change, well…..there’s that word “understatement” again.

But it also means goodbyes, and if I’m honest with myself I think that may be the most difficult part. Saying goodbye to this team and this school we’ve worked with for SO LONG. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it and we don’t officially say goodbye until June!

From talking to his teachers I know they’re dreading the goodbyes just as much as we are. As frustrating as Jon can be, he’s still such a light in the lives of anyone who works with him. I’m told time and again how much they love that boy. He’s so sweet and has such a big heart. His hugs and the things he says can brighten even the darkest days.

I’m hoping that once we have our first meeting with the new team it will help to alleviate some of the fear and anxiety over the unknown. I guess there’s only one way to know. Onward and upward.

Such a big kid!

So This is 40

During the summer I listen to a lot of Jimmy Buffett. One of my favorite Buffett songs has always been “A Pirate Looks at 40”. And it occurred to me – while I may not be a pirate, somehow I am staring down the barrel at 40.

 

 

I'm fairly sure I had this t-shirt in high school.

I’m fairly sure I had this t-shirt in high school.

I’ve never really been one to dwell on my age. Hell, half the time I can’t even remember how old I am. Awhile back one of the kids asked how old I was and I actually had to do Age Math to figure it out.

So why am I being affected by 40? For some reason I just can’t wrap my head around it.

Maybe it’s because I actually remember my parents in their 40s and that’s so weird and surreal to me.

Rockin' the pink jumper and sneaks with my Mom

Rockin’ the pink jumper and sneaks with my Mom. I’m thinking she’s probably 39 or 40 in this pic.

 

Maybe it’s because 40 is supposed to be some big milestone and it doesn’t feel terribly milestone-y to me.

Maybe it’s because I see my childhood friends on Facebook and they don’t look 39 or 40. (Although maybe the fact that I’m still a heavy Facebook user is a sign that I am getting older. Kids these days have moved on to Instagram, Snapchat, and who knows what else….)

I know it’s cliche, but I don’t “feel” 40, although I can’t possibly know what 40 is supposed to “feel” like. I couldn’t tell you how old I do feel, but it’s certainly not middle age! And let’s be real – THIS IS MIDDLE AGE.

So, yeah. 40. Forty. Four-Zero. In my forties. No longer in my thirties. I’ve moved past thirty-something.

screenshot_20170118-124340

Wow.

Hard Decisions

2016 was quite a year. If you ask the internet, it was quite possibly The Worst Year Ever. And while yes, a lot of pretty crappy stuff happened, for the Dulls it was really just another year. Except for one notable thing. Sweet Nate.

Photo Credit: JL Velez Photography

Photo Credit: JL Velez Photography

I’ve said time and again that having a kid on the autism spectrum makes it hard to judge behavior. Our lens is a little skewed. And since Nate’s not on the spectrum, it’s hard to know what’s “normal”. What I do know is that his behavior went downhill this Fall with the start of 4th grade.

He’s always been an active kid. Well…. not always. He didn’t walk until he was 2 and didn’t talk until 3-1/2. But he’s definitely made up for that lost time with his energy level and his need to talk. A LOT.

So was his latest behavior normal or abnormal? Was he being overly rambunctious or “just being a boy”? It’s hard to say, but as the months passed things just got progressively worse.

Between August and November, he was given frequent detentions. There was even an incident that resulted in an in-school suspension – he was sent to another classroom for a “time out” and, instead of letting the teacher know he was there, he hid behind their poster board and drew all over the back of it with a marker.

Saywhatnow?

Saywhatnow?

That’s called vandalism.

He’d burst into tears in class at the smallest things. He was constantly losing his homework, his lunchbox, and his hoodies. He’d get all wound up and wouldn’t focus in class. He’d be given instructions then not do the work, claiming he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do.

It was rough for him and for us. This was definitely not something in The Parenting Handbook, as much as I wished it was. We of course feared he was being bullied. He’s a little guy and his frequent tearful outbursts labeled him a “cry baby” by some of his peers. It didn’t help that he refused to talk about it. We reassured him that he could talk to us, to his teachers, or to anyone else he trusted. But he’d clam up, almost as if reassurance made him LESS likely to want to confide in us.

With few options left we finally made the decision to consult his doctor. We knew it would probably lead us down the path to medication so we prepared ourselves for that. Obviously, it wasn’t our first choice. As someone who has to take medication twice a day, every day, I am especially hesitant to do that to my child but, again, we felt like we were out of options.

A few things came from that visit. First, a referral to a therapist so he could have someone to talk to that’s NOT family or a teacher. Second, an official ADHD diagnosis; his rambunctiousness, forgetfulness, and inability to concentrate had a probable source. And lastly, he was given a prescription for Quillivant.

The side effect we were most concerned about was potential weight loss. As I mentioned, he’s a little guy (45lbs at 9-1/2 years old!) so he can’t really afford to lose any weight.

Those "shorts" are actually size 18-mo. pants. Yes, really.

Those “shorts” are actually size 18-mo. pants. Yes, really.

But we thought it was worth it if it meant things would be easier for him at school. More importantly, though, HE wanted to try. That was very important to us – we wanted him to be a part of the decision-making process.

To say it’s made a difference is an understatement. He told me he feels more focused at school and his change in behavior is like night and day. It’s a med that doesn’t stay in his system so he only takes it on school days.

Unfortunately, he did lose weight the first month, so the doctor decreased the dose and we’re trying to put his caloric intake on overdrive. But for now we couldn’t be happier. It’s always so validating when you have to make a hard decision and it turns out you made the right choice.

you-have-chosen-wisely

Never pass up the chance to use an “Indiana Jones” quote.

Obviously, every family is different. Every child is different. What worked for us may not work for others. But it was the right decision for our boy and I’m so happy we did it.

Welcome to Team Jon

“Welcome to Team Jon. He will love you to death, but he will drive you f***ing nuts.”

First Day of 5th Grade

First Day of 5th Grade

This is what my husband said this morning when we were talking about Jon’s school year so far. We’re about a month in and he’s been struggling with his work, which is not surprising. He’s in 5th grade now. No more, “Don’t worry if he doesn’t do it”.

I always wonder if teachers believe us when we give them the rundown before the new school year starts. We always, always, request a meeting with his new teacher before the year begins so he can be introduced to his new classroom and meet the teacher in a quiet environment as opposed to the chaos that is Open House.  It’s also so we can discuss with them what they should expect. It usually goes something like this:

There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes he’ll melt down and throw a fit, and there’s no coming back from it. Sometimes he won’t be able to tell you why, whether he just refuses to or can’t explain it himself. Most of the time it revolves around electronics – he will either go to sites he’s not supposed to or won’t want to get off the iPad when he should.

Expect to see tantrums – throwing things, growling. And if he “fires” you, you know you’ve joined the club. (He’ll say, “You’re fired!” when he’s mad and he wants to fire you from his life. It’s actually pretty funny, after the fact.)

He’ll need breaks. Whether that’s within the school day itself, or as a way to get away for a little bit. Often walking the hallways or going to see a favorite teacher helps.

He’s a sweet kid who wears his heart on his sleeve. Despite what you might think about autism, you’ll almost always know how he’s feeling, whether good or bad.

 

It’s a lot of information and I’m sure it can be overwhelming. But it’s also accurate. This is Jon. This is what you need to expect.

Mining Helmet Jon

Not necessarily with the mining helmet. Although you never know….

Welcome to Team Jon. It will certainly be frustrating at times, but you can’t help but love the kid. He will be a bright spot in your life and you’re lucky to be on the team.

Husband, Father, Friend – Revisited

I wrote this piece about 4 years ago. I don’t often update this blog anymore – life gets in the way and suddenly it’s six months between posts – but Facebook’s “Your Memories on Facebook” feature reminded me about this post from my old Modern Parent Online column. With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect time to revisit this old article and update how things are now. (TL;DR – he’s still awesome.)

Brian and Katie put ting together our vegetable garden.

Brian and Katie putting together our vegetable garden.

So here we go….

June 2012 – I never really talk about my husband here. Probably because these articles tend to focus on either the children or, a tad selfishly, me. However, with Father’s Day this month I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about the father of my children. Here are some things you should know about my husband.

1. We met doing community theatre. I was 15 and he was 19. I had a crush on him from day one, however we didn’t actually start dating until two years later. It took him a while to warm up to me I guess. (I kid, I kid!) Actually, it was one of those situations where you start off as friends and discover you’ve grown to love each other.

Still true. Obviously. 

2. So if we started dating when I was 17 and I’m now 35, the math tells you we’ve been together for 18 years. That’s more than half my life and I’m happy to spend the rest of it with him, too.

It’s been 4 years since I wrote this so that same math will tell you I’m now 39 (almost 40? Wut??) and we’ve been together 22 years. TWENTY-TWO YEARS. That’s now more than half of BOTH our lives. Crazy.

3. We like a lot of the same things. I already enjoyed science fiction, but he introduced me to the world of fantasy fiction. It’s not just magic and dragons and sword fights. A lot of fantasy fiction has overarching themes of love, loss, family, and (of course) the battle against evil. The storytelling is so powerful that it sticks with you and you want to reread the stories again and again. Some of my favorite books are ones he had first.

This is still true, even if I don’t have a lot of time to read nowadays. One series he has never been able to get me into is Game of Thrones, even though he read the novels years ago. Too violent for me, I guess. And coming from someone who loved Deadpool, that’s saying a lot.

4. Nowadays we don’t have date nights, but we do watch a lot of TV together after the kids are in bed. It’s nice to spend time together, even if it’s in an unconventional way.

Also still true. (Noticing a pattern?)

5. We dislike some things. I’ll never get him to enjoy a show like The Vampire Diaries and he’ll never get me to watch Saving Private Ryan. But that’s good. It means we still have our own interests and our own identities.

It was only this past season that I finally gave up on Vampire Diaries, and no, he never watched with me. Which is fine. I’ll still never watch Saving Private Ryan, either. So we continue to have our own interests, which is important. 

6. He’s funny. He’s very funny. If I am ever in a bad mood it doesn’t take much for him to pull me out of it. It’s like he’s taken it on as one of his jobs – to cheer me up when I’m blue.

Still funny. Still the person I turn to when I need a pick-me-up. Still a tremendous support during my low times and the person who shares my joy during my high times. 

7. At this point we practically share a brain. He can make an obscure television or movie reference at dinner and I instantly know what he’s talking about. And I’m sure a lot of couples experience this phenomenon – I’ll be picking up the phone to call him and see that he’s calling me at the same time.

Not calling so much as emailing now. Lots and lots of email during the day. I love that we stay in contact about serious AND silly things.

8. He’s a big-time PC gamer. Right now he’s involved with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Monkey Man gets a kick out of watching him play for some reason. I don’t know. The whole concept escapes me.

Now this one’s interesting. For a while he moved away from “SWTOR” (Star Wars: The Old Republic) but he introduced me to it last year and we’ve been playing together ever since. Jon (Monkey Man) still enjoys watching, but enjoys helping me even more. And by “helping” I mean making my character jump and run forward because he thinks it’s funny. Clearly from what I posted above I never thought I’d enter the world of PC and online gaming but here I am, enjoying spending time with Brian on planets from Alderaan to Hoth to Belsavis.

9. He’s fiercely protective of both me and the kids.

Yup.

10. He is a stay-at-home dad. If you’ve never been a stay-at-home parent then I don’t think you can fully appreciate what that means, myself included.

Still stays home. Some things have changed as the kids have grown older. They’re are old enough to take showers instead of needing help with baths. But homework is a real thing now. Katie prefers to be on her own, although we insist she get Dad to check it. Jon really needs help, but that’s to be expected. Nate prefers Grandma Sue’s help. 

11. He’s extraordinarily patient, most of the time. Just like anyone else, he has a breaking point. But his seems to be a lot higher than mine.

Still surprisingly patient, for the most part. He reaches that breaking point a good bit faster nowadays, but that’s to be expected when you’re trying to wrangle 3 kids at this age.

12. His patience is most evident with Monkey Man. And I can just leave it at that.

He’s still the Jon Whisperer. More often than I’d like to admit I have to go to him when Jon’s being difficult. He’ll listen to Dada a lot more than Mommy. But that’s okay. They have that special bond and I don’t know where we’d be with Jon if not for Brian’s patience, guidance, and love.

A little boy needs his Dada to keep him warm on a very cold day.

A little boy needs his Dada to keep him warm on a very cold day.

Overall, I think I’m pretty lucky. He’s a great husband and a great dad and this Father’s Day, I want to make sure he knows it.

This and every Father’s Day.