Winners have the ability to step back from the canvas of their lives like an artist gaining perspective. They make their lives a work of art – an individual masterpiece. ~ Denis Waitley
Apologies for the re-posting… I’m having some difficulties with formatting.
I must start by saying that I sat down and wrote much of this entry 3 weeks ago… and just before I was about to launch it, I had lunch with two of my close friends and I left that lunch with a brand new perspective – and I knew that I needed to make some changes and look at things a bit differently. I like the quote above because it talks about the canvas of our lives… whatever that canvas might be. Bob, Rachel and I certainly have a very altered perspective because of our canvas – but still… that is only our perspective… it is not any better or any worse than that of anyone else… just different. And I do believe that we are being forced to step back from our own experiences to understand this new person in our lives.
So, we have passed the 7-week mark… and my grade so far – as it was 3 weeks ago… a B This morning perhaps a D-… but as an average… a B. And I will say it’s been the hardest B I’ve ever personally achieved.
Micheal has gotten off to a good start – not perfect – but good. I try to keep in mind what it must be like for a 9-year-old kid to be dropped into a new world, with a new family, new school, having to make new friends, in a new part of the country… away from everything you have ever known. Along with the fact that all he’s ever known is impermanence – so who’s to say that this is not just a temporary stop. And… frankly, it is impossible to put yourself in those shoes if you’ve never been there. And believe me… I know all about different kinds of shoes! Certainly… a very different canvas.
At the same time… Bob and I decided that baptism by fire is the healthiest option here. As soon as he arrived, Micheal was expected to toe the line. Because, the last thing that we want is for him to look back and say “oh, I never knew that you expected that!” And this has not been easy.
I would say that the biggest frustration for me (and likely the hardest transition for Micheal) has been the school piece – so, once again, THANK YOU FAIRFAX COUNTY for making that just a little more difficult than it might have been. Clearly, Micheal is behind just by virtue of the difference in school systems – but not being here for the start of the school year was really not helpful. He is also behind because he has come from a world where there wasn’t great emphasis put on education at an early age. It goes without saying that he never had a bedtime routine that involved reading Goodnight Moon or Runaway Bunny when he was a toddler and I’m pretty sure that it is safe to say, that until arriving in Virginia, reading at night has likely never been a reality at all. And… for all your parents out there who are growing wearing of reading the same words over and over again… let me tell you… it makes a difference. Because today… through no fault of a physical learning disability… Micheal is two grades behind in reading and the experts believe that it is all a result of lack of practice. So… stick with it! Shockingly, when Micheal came to Virginia, he came with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) which is set up to break out a student’s problem, a suggested solution and a goal – and unbelievably his IEP had no mention of reading. So he was in a school system… unable to read at grade level and was not getting any specific help for it.
So, as you might imagine, being that far behind in reading makes all schoolwork just that more difficult and exhausting because, at the very least, in 4th grade you have to read directions. But… no time like the present to get back up to speed… right? Well, Micheal doesn’t really like that whole plan and his method of dealing with that is to mislead and/or manipulate the situation. And sadly for him… he does this about as well as any 9-year-old – so he’s not really an accomplished fibber. Not to mention that fact that his teacher sends emails every afternoon (to all parents) which summarize the homework assignment. And all of this put together means one thing… I bust him every time. And that… doesn’t work out so well for him.
And to be honest… it doesn’t work out so well for me either because it is incredibly frustrating.
However… enter my two friends who each have a child with a learning challenge and here’s what I learned. The very fact that Micheal is so far behind is likely a huge piece in the frustration and anxiety with homework – resulting in a very bad attitude. I was standing in my world, looking at him and thinking… just sit down and do it. If you need help, I’ll help you, but I’m not going to sit here and hold your hand the whole way. He, meanwhile, was likely sitting and looking at these papers filled with words, letters and numbers and feeling like the world was crashing down on his head… a very different perspective. My friends told me something that day at lunch that I am now trying to keep at the front of my thoughts… just like you cannot spoil a newborn baby… you cannot spoil a child with a learning disability – even if it was environmentally driven. So, we do sit down and help… we don’t do the work for him but perhaps provide a little hand holding. Bob has been at the forefront of this but I’ve also found that even if I just sit at the table and work on something else – he gets more accomplished. Bob is also the nighttime reading parent – something that he has always taken the lead on with each of our children… and this is invaluable.
Now… that being said… I do want to say that Micheal has spent a very long time crafting many ways of getting out of doing homework – regardless of why he didn’t want to do it. And, this is a habit that we are determined to put an end to. But, we are trying very hard to determine what is manipulation and what is frustration. We are working with the school to implement some new procedures to help put him in a position where he experiences success and has the confidence to sit down and get his work done. Some of these ideas stemmed once again from my learning lunch with my friends. For example, we now get his reading packet on Friday instead of Monday and this is HUGE. He now goes into the week ahead on the reading lessons, instead of behind. We are still working on getting every problem on math worksheets accomplished but, if needed, we can always speak with the teacher about doing reduced pencil to paper work. So, for example, if the kids have 40 multiplication problems… perhaps he proves he can do it with 20. And on the math front… we’ve found that just looking at one problem at a time is helpful… far less overwhelming. And, as part of his new IEP, he gets reading help daily along with some speech and some counseling on a weekly basis.
On top of all of this, we are re-evaluating his meds. As of Friday we have stopped one medication which was a mood stabilizer. He was on two of this type of medication. I mentioned above that this morning was not the best… and honestly, this could be that we’re seeing a little bit of what was covered by this medication. It started with the dreaded homework issue… but ultimately it was his reaction to me personally and that was one of complete disrespect. However, while I will not put up with a 9-year-old giving attitude… this is not something that I believe either Bob or I want to automatically throw medication at. We will have to see if he is able to learn to work through this without drugs. And it is very likely that he never had to do this before. One of his foster families had him up to 8 medications and while I cannot judge that which I do not know… I am hopeful that we can keep him on the straight and narrow. I also believe that he comes from a world where men and women are treated differently – which, for those of your who know Rachel and me, should give you a bit of a chuckle… not really the “little women obeying the big strong man in charge” that he might have been envisioning.
And so… we venture on… still confident that we made the right decision. Because, he is ultimately a good kid with real emotions and, if nothing else, he is just so needing to know that he is loved. So, we believe that all these other things can be turned around. It would, however, be nice if we could speed that process up. Rachel has been amazing really. She does occasionally become a little overbearing… perhaps bossy – all with the right intention – but we are working on that. It is a role that she should not fill – I can handle that all on my own. It is difficult (for all of us) to really put our heads around the concept that you can be handing someone the world and they might not thank you for it right away. It is something that Bob and I knew going into this – but it is still hard to understand. So… one step at a time.
And finally… Toby. Toby continues to be skittish… however, he is now venturing on to the deck and coming over for a brief petting… but all the while ready to run away to his hidden lair under the deck. He and Delilah, however, get along great. He is still working out his relationship with our neighbor’s dog Brody who is Delilah’s best friend. Delilah is Robin to Brody’s Batman. But, I think they are working it out. It is pretty amusing to watch as Delilah plays middle dog – keeping both of them in check when their egos start causing problems. We have gotten Toby into the house on a few occasions… the photo below is one of those. You would never guess that Toby (on the floor) was laying there physically quivering. It would be interesting to know what his canvas looks like…