Monday, February 27, 2012

Cogitations and Observations

Recently a friend posted a link to an article about the controversy of whether cursive writing should still be taught in schools. There are some experts who would like to call attention to the role of handwriting in the overall learning process, while others would as soon see kids move on to keyboarding as soon as possible in keeping with the 'technological age'. I believe that writing isn't just about writing, and I'm glad to see there are experts to explain why.

I have nothing scientific on which to base my opinions, but I do have theories about why it's critical that students who are physically able to write should write, at least part of the time. I think there is an important connection made between the pencil and the brain that shouldn't be overlooked. Girlie has struggled with writing from the very beginning. She is dyspraxic, and the act of writing requires so much concentration there is little left over for anything else - such as remembering the question she is supposed to be answering. In the last two years she has made incredible progress with the help of her occupational therapist and, I'd like to think, some methods we thought of and put in practice.

When Girlie started third grade she had a 1:1 paraeducator, and with the increase in curriculum and writing requirements it was decided that most of her work would be scribed. At that point, the IEP team decided to increase the amount of keyboarding instruction in the hope that she would be able to do more of her work independently. Besides the physical difficulty with writing, the area in which she struggled the most was math, so that by the time she completed fifth grade she was working at about a mid-fourth grade level. Dearest and I asked to have her enrolled in summer school followed by an extra math session (which made it a short summer for her; she had only about three weeks of summer vacation) and she gained nearly a year of math skills!

When Girlie was in sixth grade, something that I'd been thinking about kept coming to surface, but I didn't know how to articulate what I was thinking, and hadn't read anything about it. We noticed that if she watched us write her math, she could sometimes verbalize what should be done, but only with prompts and rarely by just looking at the problem in the book.  If we left her alone to do the writing on a shortened assignment by herself, she either didn't do it at all or did most of it wrong.

I decided to start reading every math problem to Girlie and tell her what to write to set up the problem. It seemed as though two things happened: when she was told exactly what to write one step at a time (e.g. "Write the number 42. Now write the number 3 underneath it. Now multiply; what is 3 times 2? OK, write 6."), she didn't struggle as much or get caught up in the physically challenging act of writing. The other thing that appeared to be happening is that the math, traveling up through the pencil and into her brain, started to make sense. During the sixth grade year she moved from special ed math to grade level math with a 'booster' class. This year, she is in a regular seventh grade math class and rarely has her assignments modified. When she has math homework, she usually completes it independently.

From my own perspective, I notice the connection between the paper and my brain in my professional life when I take meeting minutes. Over the years I've noticed more and more people use a laptop to take minutes during the meeting, and I kept wondering: does it automatically simplify and streamline the transcription process? No - in fact, I sometimes have a very difficult time remembering contextual details if I missed anything, because I find I can type almost mindlessly and not pay attention! Conversely, when I'm handwriting the notes what ends up on paper is very terse and probably wouldn't make much sense to others, but when I transcribe from my notes I have complete - often word for word - recall.

Some kinesthetic connection is being made, and I'm certain that not everyone learns that way, but it's clear that Girlie needs to write to understand, at least in math. We could look at it this way: it won't be a detriment to anyone to keep teaching handwriting - both printing and cursive - in school. On the other hand, it might impede learning for those who would otherwise perform better in other subjects if they learn more efficiently by writing. Just my two cents... :-)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everything Old Is... Still Old.

But not necessarily outdated.  I've been in 'research mode' for a few days, following up on an article written in 2010 by Maia Szalavitz.  I'm always careful to note the date of studies and articles, and attempt to find the most accurate and relevant information - so that means the latest news, right?  No; in fact, some of the books and articles I've been perusing go back several years and are still as useful as they were to begin with.

Anyway, that particular article has inspired me to try a new idea for an old challenge.  One of the problems we struggle with is Girlie's messy bedroom.  I won't imply that it's messy only because of her Asperger's, but it makes for a more complicated issue when she 'loses' something nearly every day, and is so distracted by the overwhelming clutter in her room she can't complete whatever task she was doing when she walked in.

Today, I took photos of specific areas - the usual 'trouble spots' - of Girlie's room (desk, dresser, bench at the foot of her bed, behind the door, floor in front of closet).  I'm hoping that if we are not in her room and she is focusing on the photo of only one area, we can talk about what should be in that particular space, and why it would be a good idea to tidy it. I plan to ask her to choose which photographed area she would like to work on, and then take a photo when she gets it straightened up.  We can then compare the before and after photos and find out which she likes better, and talk about how it makes her feel when she is in her room. I am under no illusions that she will prefer the 'after' just because I know I would - but in discussing it, one of us is bound to come to a better understanding.

Now, an update: mornings are going a little better this week since we had a family discussion about the need for everyone to make sure the important things are getting done in plenty of time before the bus comes.  It has helped a lot that Dearest is no longer rushing to get ready for work, himself.  Just goes to show that it pays to review the old rules occasionally and remind ourselves that they work when we observe them!

Yes, in fact, I do have this sign posted our dining area :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy!

This is a busy week for us, as Boyo is preparing for a ballet recital on Saturday - that means rehearsal every day except Wednesday.  Dearest changed schedules this week, so we're in adjustment mode for that, as well.

After last week, we had a talk with Girlie about our difficult mornings.  I have it on good authority we are not the only family that has trouble getting a kiddo on the spectrum moving in the morning, but we must have some improvement.  The rules we had established gradually fell by the wayside until Girlie would still be sitting at the breakfast table without socks on when the bus showed up, after spending much of the previous half hour in a nasty, vicious mood, then heading out to the bus crying because she'd been hurried.

Because of Dearest's schedule changing, he won't be rushing to get ready for work, so that should help keep the situation more calm in the morning.  We talked with Girlie about our expectations in the evening before bedtime, too.  I'm not holding my breath, but I am feeling optimistic.  Of course, I always do :-)

Boyo worked on math all weekend.  After missing out on a chance to stay after school to play floor hockey last week due to a failing grade in one class, and being told he will be staying after school for homework help in math this week, he's making an effort.  In exchanging a few emails with teachers, it seems Boyo is having trouble keeping things organized and turning in assignments in a few of his classes, and his grades are beginning to reflect the problem.  One thing in his favor is that the grades provide some motivation for him, unlike with Girlie, who either couldn't see the connection or couldn't be bothered to care.

So, we have some specific things to work on this week, places to go, people to see, the arts to appreciate.  I have a couple of requested items on the needles at the moment, one of which is a dog sweater.  Better get busy!*

Another great ecard from Lion Brand!
*Just so you know, I can never think of that phrase in the same way since I learned it is always the code phrase when training guide dog pups to relieve on command :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Better Luck Next Time...

We had a bit of a disappointment today - our van had engine trouble about thirty minutes into the trip.  Fortunately, we were able to exit the freeway and get to a phone book so Dearest could call a mechanic.  After finding one that would be able to diagnose the problem, we limped back down I-5 to Lacey where the rock stars at Hawk's Prairie Automotive had us up and running in less than three hours!

Unfortunately, it was too late to continue on to Hansville.  One would imagine hanging around a repair shop for hours with both kids and The Pup was crazy, right?  But no - in fact, everyone was great, especially under the circumstances!  Thankfully we had video games with us; I wouldn't like to speculate on how it would have been otherwise.  We were able to whisper about game progress and what was on the television (a twenty-four hour news channel, which served to remind Dearest and I why we don't watch the news), and knit. You didn't think I'd miss an opportunity like that, did you? :-)

I made some progress on my Little Exuviae sock, a free pattern
by Lara Neel. I'm knitting it in Kraemer Sterling Silk & Silver
(ooh, sparkly!)
Anyway, we ended up spending a quiet evening at home during which the kids continued to get along with each other and play their card game again.  In spite of missing another opportunity to go to Hansville, we all recognized things could have been much worse.  Dearest and I were pleased with the way things turned out, and so proud of the kiddos.  We'll try again soon; maybe next weekend.  Wish us luck!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Next Best Thing... a real vacation is spending the day in Hansville.  We haven't been able to go up since Thanksgiving because our last scheduled trip was postponed due to the January weather.  This is the view out the living room window at Grandpa's house overlooking Admiralty Inlet.  I've been lucky enough to see harbor porpoises on a couple of occasions, and because the house is elevated, the bald eagles fly past at eye level.  We can watch huge container ships and cruise lines go through, or spot sea lions in the water, deer calmly walking through the yard on the other side of the house, or raccoons walking down the path next to the hedge.  At the lower left, you can just see a bit of the tram deck - the funicular takes us down the 85 foot bluff right to the beach for agate and shell hunting.

We always come back better for having been to Hansville.  Hope you all have a great weekend, too!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Looking Ahead

February always makes me aware of what is coming, perhaps more than any other month.  Everywhere I look - whether through a window or actually outside - I can see leaf buds, bulbs coming up, more bird species showing up at the feeder, the chickens laying more eggs, the dogs blowing their coats and starting to look sleek...

I am so thankful to have these signs of growth and newness to look forward to because, frankly, sometimes we feel a bit stuck in a rut.  We have our down times, and I'm feeling a bit suffocated by the absolute misery of sixth grade math and growing pains at the moment.

I'm looking ahead to spring birthdays for three of the kids (because even the grown-ups with little ones aren't too old for a birthday surprise from Mom), the sun being up when the kids catch the bus at 6:35, maybe even a little spring cleaning.  Well, maybe that's going a bit too far; I got a little carried away in my enthusiasm.  I'll just go check on my flower beds...

Dwarf Iris, February 2011

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Many of you know that Girlie is raising a puppy for Guide Dogs of America.  It has been a great experience and we've learned a lot.  Just as The Pup has grown and become enormous, Girlie has grown and matured during the year he has been with her.

We've always known that the long-term goal was for The Pup to learn his manners and then go on to receive his formal training.  Periodically we discuss this with Girlie, and occasionally she brings the subject up in casual conversation.  We have been told he will go "in for training" to GDA California headquarters in April.  The tension is building now, especially as Girlie's birthday is also in April, and she is hoping The Pup will be with her; we have no control over that, so we'll see what happens.

Needless to say, Dearest and I are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.  We will be pulling out Girlie's favorite movies, making sure she gets the new release from her favorite author, planning at least one trip to her favorite rock-hunting beach, maybe going to the zoo... we want to be prepared for possible emotional devastation (I'm thinking again of what happened when her favorite radio station shut down a few years ago).  At the same time, we will acknowledge her grief in whatever form it manifests.  

It's bound to be catastrophic, right?  Well, we don't know - in fact, we have no idea what to expect when the time comes.  Kids on the spectrum may assign emotional importance in very unexpected ways, and form attachments much differently than their neurotypical peers.  Whatever happens when The Pup leaves, we'll support Girlie and learn from the experience.  Heck, even Dearest and I might miss him. The Pup has taught us all a thing or two. :-)

"Me and My Arrow" From "The Point", 1971
Music and story by Harry Nilsson, Narrated by Ringo Starr

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Win Some, Lose Some...

Between raising our own children, spending some time as a substitute educational assistant, and taking classes to learn about working with children who have ADHD/ADD, developmental disabilities, or extreme behavioral or other mental health issues, it seems like I'd be well prepared to tackle most any problem that arises, right?  Unfortunately, no - in fact, I'm constantly doing more research, reading books, consulting with other folks who might have had similar experiences, and talking things over with Dearest.  One thing is certain: all the intellectual knowledge in the world is no guarantee the problem will be solved in practice.

The first year of middle school can be challenging for any kid.  The first year of middle school for a child with learning and behavioral challenges can be really hard.  That means it isn't a cake walk for parents, either.  Currently, Boyo is struggling with keeping himself organized and turning in assignments.  Considering everything we've been going through with Girlie, one might imagine I have a lot of information and ideas about how to help him.  The problem is figuring out how to get him to accept help.

Boyo is having a hard time seeing the continuum of the problem as it goes from week to week.  Not only that, he adamantly refuses to accept any help because he feels he doesn't need it.  Using the 'checklist' conversation, he understands each concept individually: if there is a missing assignment he says he'll find it and turn it in; if he failed a spelling test he says he'll ask for a review/retake, etc.  He finally agreed to let us look over his math homework as he often has scores of 60% or below, but still argues about whether he has performed operations correctly, and won't get on the math website to check or practice. Because, according to him, he doesn't have a problem, and doesn't need help.

These examples are all part of oppositional defiance, and the reason why the coping and accommodation methods we've learned - that we know will work - aren't going to do any good for Boyo. An interesting twist to our situation is that Boyo has a fairly high anxiety component, and doesn't exhibit some of the usual ODD traits at school.  While most children perform better when they are relaxed, that's about the only time Boyo gets in trouble. Dearest and I keep practicing 'The 3 Rs", which in this house means reading, researching, and reviewing.  It never hurts to be reminded of a technique we may have forgotten, or be reassured we are doing all we can for that day, or that hour, or that moment.  We win some, we lose some, but we keep doing the best we can with what we know.

Part of most days I spend with a bunch of friends I've never met.  I'm in a Ravelry group of like-minded knitters who started out with a particular thing in common, which was a love for author Terry Pratchett.  Currently we are having "Guild Wars" - I'm in the Teacher's Guild :-) - and have submitted my first project for the 2012 competition.  How's this for winsome?

Milo loves his new hat!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Best Excuse Ever...

I completely forgot to prepare a post because the evening was spent listening to the kids playing a card game - together, no less! After they went to bed I became engrossed in the second book of the 'Flavia de Luce' series by Alan Bradley. Whoops!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

True North

I read a great article that had nothing to do with autism, Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, or ODD.  Near the end was this gem:

"Sometimes a child's internal compass points them to their own true north, and it's best for us adults to get out of their way."

That can be true with children who are on the spectrum or have other challenges.  Same solution - get out of the way, right?  No, in fact, if a child cannot articulate the direction he or she wants to take, it can be very difficult for an adult to discern  the intention - or if, for reasons of safety, one should allow the attempt. In our family, we approach this from two directions: first, to pay attention to how the kids are intuitively handling a challenge; and secondly, to discuss it and see if the child can communicate how the path was chosen.  

Sometimes, after a conversation with Boyo goes off in several directions (often with a much less than desired outcome), it comes back around and I understand what he meant to do or say.  This becomes an opportunity to talk to him about what he intended to communicate, and how much difference there might be between what is in his head and what comes out of his mouth. The same is true for Girlie - when we can follow her logic, it sometimes becomes evident that she has thought through a problem and come up with a workable (for her) solution.

The important part is that we are willing to let kids try to work things out, and see how they react to their successes and failures.  Considering our goal in raising these children is that they may someday manage their own lives, it is not for us to decide which direction is their true north.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Out and About

Both kids were out and about on Saturday.  Girlie had a training event with the Guide Dog Puppy Raisers Group.  The area coordinator is a wonderful woman who has a lot of experience working with kids, including kids on the spectrum.  This was the second time she has taken Girlie without having a parent along, and she said it went very well. Boyo went to his grandma's house to do a little outdoor clean-up and then was allowed to watch cartoons with  her caregiver (a big treat, as we don't have cable!).  They weren't being taken care of by babysitters; they were out excercising their independence and acting responsibly, adjusting to what was expected of them.

Dearest and I had a lovely afternoon date that included lunch, a little shopping, and a lot of laughs.  It was wonderful, and a great chance for us to reconnect and enjoy each other on a social level; something we don't get to do very often. This problem is familiar to so many folks who have children with challenges.  One of the first things we are told as parents of kids with special needs is to make opportunities to have time away from the children. When one has been a parent as long as I have - nearly twenty-eight years - it's easy, right?  No; in fact, it's great advice, but can be so difficult to achieve!  When one has children with challenges, it is much more difficult not to be a 'helicopter mom'.

It has taken me a while, but I have become brave enough to ask folks outside the family to supervise the kids.  Besides attending the dog training events, Girlie has spent the night with a young lady who is in her social skills classes.  The two of them have the same favorite author and they've been great friends (at least on a once-a-week basis) for over a year.  When the other girl's mom asked to have Girlie spend the night I set my concerns aside and let her go - she had a great time!  When Boyo started getting more involved in ballet, his instructor suggested we let Boyo ride with him to some of the events because rehearsals and multiple performances mean a much longer day for us, as we live out of town.  Because the people involved as so familiar to the kids, and understand their issues for the most part, these excursions have been successful and we always hear the kids behaved well.

Sometimes it's hard to remember I need to be myself - my own person - even though I'm a parent of children with challenges.  It can be difficult to retain my own identity if I don't occasionally separate myself from them.  By the same token, how can we ever know how effective our teaching is if the kids are never allowed to sit for the exam?  If you have a similar situation, think about how you can give yourself the gift of personal time, time with your spouse or significant other.  Then do it. Ask.  I really have found people are willing to help.  Go on, get out and about!  :-)

Helicopter mom or not, in this photo I am in a helicopter - knitting, as usual!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Must be the Full Moon...

We've all heard references to the moon affecting many things.  When I worked in a hospital, staff always talked about more emergency room visits around the full moon.  Teachers talk about kids being more excitable and distracted during the full-moon phase.  There is controversy about whether these theories can be proven, but when one witnesses enough anecdotal data, it's hard to deny.

Did I consider the moon as a possible explanation for the behavior of the past several days? NO! In fact, it just now occurred to me to do some research on whether families and caregivers of children on the spectrum notice any correlation between the moon phase and meltdowns. Guess what I found out? There are abundant  references to an increase in meltdown or tantrum behavior coinciding with the lunar cycle.

Now the bigger question: what can be done about it?  Plenty, if we are aware of a trend. The majority of agitation and tantrums could have been eliminated the past few days if we had just put two and two together.  There has been a particularly large homework load due to having to catch up from a week of weather-related school closure.  Dearest and I were thinking only in terms of everyone having to do all that work, and just trying to get Girlie through it as best we could.  If we had given any thought to the extra work coinciding with a full moon, and therefore the increased likelihood of meltdowns, we would have been a lot more likely to adjust the amount of homework and the time we expected her to spend on it.  (Because Girlie is so high functioning, we try to avoid making too many adjustments to her homework and only do it when we feel it's really necessary; she has a tendency to take advantage if she thinks she can get away with it.)

Next month, we'll be paying attention.  I'll avoid making any schedule changes or planning activities that might cause too much excitement or anxiety at an otherwise vulnerable time.  We'll be careful to note the homework requirements and make adjustments more readily.

February 6, 2012 - waxing gibbous, approx. 98%
I took this photo with the aid of Dearest's telescope.  I have always loved the moon, and the first time I saw this view with my own eyes I was nearly overcome.  Conversely, Girlie has never wanted to look through the telescope, and is unable to articulate why.  That may remain a mystery, but in the meantime, I'll be sure to watch Girlie more closely when it's time for the next full moon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Time Out

We've had a busy week, and Girlie is having a particularly hard time.  Emotions are running high, and Dearest and I have been on red alert for interventions with multiple meltdowns daily.  I'm taking the night off.  :-)
Nearly complete Horizontal Rib Hat for grandson Milo
from the book Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders knitted
with Black Bunny Fibers Falkland British Wool

Thursday, February 9, 2012


It's interesting when one suddenly becomes aware of something that has been a regular occurrence for quite a while.  Recently I realized Girlie occasionally needs to be told how she feels, or how she should feel.  Even as I write it, I realize it seems to go against everything we are told about allowing others to experience their own emotions, without judgment, in the way that is natural for them.

Here is an example:  when Girlie gets herself upset about something, it almost seems as if she is obligated to stay upset.  She was distraught about homework and had decided she would never get to watch television because homework was going to take forever.  I pointed out that if she would make up her mind to get the homework done she could easily complete it and have some screen time.  Seems simple and straightforward, right?  No - in fact, she continued to cry because homework would take forever and she wouldn't get to watch television!  Wait a second... didn't we just take care of that?

I ended up presenting the conversation in kind of a checklist format:
Me - Do you want to watch television?
Her - Yes.
Me - Do you agree that if you get your homework done quickly you will still have time to watch television?
Her - Yes.
Me - Do you understand that you were in charge of that choice?
Her - Yes.
Me - Why are you still crying?
Her - Because everyone is mad at me!
Me - Look at me; do I look mad?
Her - No.
Me - OK. I'm giving you information now - you don't have to cry or be upset because we figured it out: you'll get your homework done fast and then have TV and dessert.  OK?
Her - OK.
The End.

See how that went, though?  It's amazing how long a process can take if I have to figure out how to get into Girlie's head first.  That's not even accurate; I didn't get into her head, I just basically decided her record was stuck and needed to be nudged a bit.  It was a learning experience for me (I expect to be pretty wise, someday) and it won't be long before we have a review.  One of the great things about writing this blog is that I have a chance to review ideas and techniques while I type, cementing in my head what seems to work and sometimes why it works.  If this is helping me on the path to becoming a better parent, it's a step in the right direction.  :-)

Sometimes it's fun to start a project without a direction in mind. When I knitted this bag it started out as an exercise in stranded knitting.  I didn't have a pattern, or a chart for the design, because I was just playing with the technique of knitting with two strands.  I just let the yarn dictate until I was nearly out of yarn, and realized if I made a gusset at the bottom it would be just about perfectly sized for a make-up bag.  I got lucky with the liner and zipper, neither of which I had ever sewed before.  Sometimes you have to let the project choose its own direction!

Knitted with KnitPicks 'Shine' worsted, a cotton/modal blend.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Changes can be difficult in any family.  I think it's part of the human condition, to sometimes prefer being in the comfortable rut to which we're accustomed, rather than facing the strange or the unknown and getting used to something different.

Only the really big changes matter, right?  No; in fact, I've written before about some of the particular troubles we've had in our family and the stresses we've had with 'little things' like changing furniture arrangements, sitting in a different position at the dining table, getting a new pair of shoes... Just imagine the difficulty in some of the bigger changes like Mom and Dad becoming grandparents!  We're working on another big change, but taking it slow - I'm starting the process of going back to work.

I mentioned this in a post a month ago, and weather delays notwithstanding, we're finally about to hit the launch button.  Even though I'll be working during school hours, Boyo is aware that I won't be at home and this causes some anxiety.  Now that both kids are in middle school, we've been experimenting with leaving them home, either separately or together, for as much as a couple hours at a time.  I'm glad we started when we did, knowing this time would come eventually, and it will be really important by the time school is out for the summer.  It will only be a few hours one or two days a week, but the kids will have to be well used to it by then and know it's part of the family routine.

Another change is happening next week, too: Dearest is starting a new schedule. This isn't completely unusual; his schedule could potentially change every four months, but it often does not, and he ends up with the same routes for another rotation.  This time, his schedule change means a disruption of what the kids have been accustomed to for the last eight months and will require some adjustments in dinner times and transportation to lessons and classes.

Changes are opportunities for learning and for teaching.  Change, whether it's good or bad, gives us an opportunity to be flexible and experience growth.  Seems to have worked out all right for David Bowie...

One of the things I like best about this video is the very talented Gail Ann Dorsey is playing bass, and Dearest and I saw her when she played with The B-52s during the 2010 Summer Concert Series at Chateau Ste-Michelle.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Most parents who have a child on the spectrum have probably dealt with a panic situation.  There will be a trigger that causes a child to go into panic mode: hands over ears, screaming, and possibly running away, seemingly directionless.  It is not only heart-wrenching to see; depending on where it happens it can be really frightening, as well.

When Girlie was younger it happened fairly often at school, and the staff there quickly learned to have someone take Girlie out of class if there was a planned fire drill.  At home, it was almost nightly for quite a while because Girlie was terrified of the sound of trains - both the rumble of wheels on rails and the train whistle.  We don't live all that close to the crossing, and if the television is on or there is any other background noise, we can rarely hear the train.  Unfortunately, there is a train that runs around 11:30 every night, and when Girlie was younger she could hear it coming before anyone else.  Often I'd be sitting with my oldest son while he was still at home and we'd be unaware of how late it was getting until we heard the wail from Girlie's room.

We can stop it if we know it's coming, right?  No, in fact the problem is that there seems to be very little one can do to stop the panic once it starts; only offer support and comfort while trying to keep the child safe.  This can be frightening, and very dangerous, if it happens away from home.  Although Girlie is much better able to handle her anxiety now, there are situations that get the better of her.  Last summer, on a much-anticipated outing to the fair (some folks will spot that phrase, "much-anticipated", and know that trouble is coming), we parked at the carnival end where all the rides are.  On our way in, a ride started up with an incredible racket and several things happened within just a split second: Girlie screamed, clapped her hands over her ears, turned to run, and my arm shot out to block her while the other arm came around to enfold her.  Nothing like that had happened in such a long time I didn't even consider the possibility!  As I noted (albeit in hindsight), the fact that there was so much excitement attached to the outing put Girlie on a heightened awareness.

I talked almost non-stop quietly in her ear, and as soon as the ride stopped we hot-footed through the gate and went as quickly as possible toward the opposite end of the fairgrounds.  Luckily one of the first attractions we saw was Chris Biro's The Pirate's Parrot, which happens to include an Eclectus that was in our care for a while, and that Girlie really loved.  Even though Midori wasn't out for that particular show, Girlie was able to calm down while watching the other birds.

Girlie at age 9. Midori was trying to take the candy from her.
When a child is known to be prone to panic, especially if he or she tends to bolt or run away, it adds stress to the whole family.  Everyone has to be prepared to react in whatever proves to be the method that works best for the child.  Some people, including me, may be more susceptible to the 'overflow stress'; meaning, I have to deal with the extra adrenaline after the emergency has passed. Don't panic - thank goodness, I have my knitting with me :-)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Just Give it to Me Straight...

We don't have a diagnosis of obsessive/compulsive disorder in our family, but we do go through periods during which Boyo is completely hung up on an idea and can't seem to let it go.  We can have a discussion, itemizing reasons why what he wants is impractical and/or unreasonable, each of which he verbalizes understanding.  So the conversation is over, we think the subject is dropped, and everyone goes about his or her business.  For about five minutes.

Usually it isn't anything new, just a variation on a theme - video games are the most frequent topic.  It would be strange if Boyo asked for game time fewer than half a dozen times between coming home from school and bedtime.  This weekend, he definitely caught Dearest and I by surprise by being completely stuck on the idea of straightening his hair.

Does it bother us that he wants to do something like that?  No, in fact, we have no problem with the kids wanting to express their individuality through personal style. Boyo had his ears pierced when he was eight - we made him wait a whole year after he started asking, to make sure it wasn't a passing fancy - and wears a different style of earring in each ear.  He likes to have flashes of color in his hair - currently it's purple.  The only hard and fast, no-exceptions rule we have about clothing is that it has to fit properly and not show underclothes.

Carey, being the cool big sister that she is, took it in stride when her little brother came over to have his hair straightened and get styling tips.  Yes, she tells him the same things I do, but it gives me a break from the repetitive subject for a while.  Of course, since the subject came up, Girlie has to get in on this because she has much more experience, and even has her own hair straightener, which she graciously offered to let Boyo use.  The trouble is, hers is an old one that has large plates, and Boyo has pretty short hair.  He desperately needs to get one like Carey's...

Tune in next time - we'll see how long this phase lasts.  :-)

Basketweave stitch pattern in Paton's Kroy sock yarn 'Mulberry Stripes'

Sooner or later, most knitters will develop a preference for a particular brand or style of needle.  For many folks, the choice comes down to circular or straight needles.  I almost always use circular needles, even when I'm not knitting in the round, because circs are easier to use on the treadmill and I don't have to worry about dropping a needle.  I'll always have straight needles available, and I think they look great on display in a knitted pencil holder - a can with a sleeve knitted in any stitch pattern one cares to use.  The one shown here was knitted with left over sock yarn on my little 9" circular needles and was a great 'stashbuster' project.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Humming right along...

There is a new trend going on at our house.  Boyo has discovered the radio.  Not that we've never listened to the radio before now, but Dearest usually listens to a news show or a classical station.  Girlie has been listening to the radio at night for years (and many of us remember the tragic reaction when her favorite station shut down), but I think that automatically meant it wasn't 'cool' as far as Boyo is concerned.

Boyo gets a ride to school twice a week with an older boy he's known and been friends with since he was in preschool.  This boy and his dad listen to a 'cool' radio station in the car, so I think that's what started it.  Recently Boyo has been experimenting listening to the radio on his mp3 player and on his clock radio at night.  It's too soon to tell for sure, but I think this will prove to be a good thing for us.  Unlike when he listens to audio books  on his mp3  player, he's more relaxed because he isn't straining to hear the story around household noise and conversation.

Still, it's just the same as for any other kid with earbuds in his ears, right?  Judging by how Boyo has been acting for the last two days, I have to say no.  In fact, I don't know what is really happening, but I have a theory: having a pleasant, distracting noise right in ear gives him a break from constant input from too many other sources, in his case including the anxious and busy thoughts in his own head.

The best part is hearing him singing along in his still-soprano voice, not knowing the words, with an occasional doot-da-doot thrown in, unaware of anyone listening.  I have no idea what he's listening to, but if it makes him happy, I feel like humming along!

I hope you enjoy this beautifully rendered animation of knitted panels set to music.  Notice the figures are actually 'singing'!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Every teacher I had after kindergarten, and all the teachers all four of my kids have had, have been measured against a pretty tough yardstick.  Which is ironic, given that my kindergarten teacher was a little person not much taller than many of her students.  Even though I was only five years old, I remember how she treated her students like real people.  Miss G played with us at recess, and due to her physical limitations she didn’t have to pretend to lose, and the kids didn’t mind if she won sometimes.  Many times I’ve wished to contact her and tell her how often I’ve thought of her over the years.

When Girlie started preschool she had an amazing teacher.  It was so hard to leave her, but she steered us toward the school district Early Intervention Program.  I’m sure we would have found out about it when Girlie started kindergarten, but getting a jump start on services was a great way to prepare for school.

Our family has been fortunate in that the district, and individual teachers, have always shown a willingness to help us find what works for Girlie.  They recognize that they are working with our entire family to some extent, because Girlie’s issues aren’t just limited to one place.  It was a great advantage for me to be able to work alongside some of them in an official capacity as a substitute educational assistant for a while, because it taught me a lot about the system from the inside, too.

Is it only trained educators who’ve taught me what I know about working with kids?  No – in fact, while I definitely appreciate how much formal education is involved in earning a teaching certificate, I believe the best teachers were already teachers before they ever went to college.  One of the best teachers I know doesn’t hold any certification.  Whether she chooses it as a career some day or not, my oldest daughter is a natural teacher, and has been since she was a child, herself.  She teaches to a person’s level of understanding whether it’s a preschool art project, or math, or knitting, or biochemistry, or handling sheep, and can easily change her approach and explain concepts in a different way to audiences from toddler age to adulthood.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how many times I’ve told her, she still doesn’t realize how gifted she is.

For all those folks who have been patient, helpful, caring, patient, skilled, kind, loving, and patient with Girlie and Boyo (and me!) – thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.  Because I honestly don’t know how we could have come so far without you. ♥

Friday, February 3, 2012

Role Reversal

Something I have yet to mention in this blog is care of elderly parents.  I am part of what is known as the 'sandwich generation';  meaning, there is an elderly parent in need of care and children still at home.

Before my mother had a caregiver move in I spent time with her either in person or on the phone almost every day.  She is nearly blind due to macular degeneration, and has vascular dementia due to a long history of heavy smoking and prior strokes. She is a survivor of lung cancer but has COPD and fibrous lung tissue partly due to radiation damage.  She has very poor short term memory and sometimes we have what I refer to as 'looping' conversations; meaning, we finish a conversation and then start the same one five or ten minutes later.

The really interesting thing is that interacting with Mom can be so similar to being with the kids.  Her cognitive deficits manifest in much the same ways as the kids' challenges because the vascular compromise and strokes affected her executive functioning.  It's difficult to know exactly where to place myself sometimes, and I go back and forth between being her child and taking the role of adult in charge.  The tricky thing is to know which hat to wear at any given time.

Do I always get it right?  Oh, heck no - in fact, I sometimes find myself arguing with her oppositional behavior, just as I used to with Boyo; she digs her heels in exactly the same way.  And it doesn't matter, in the long run, who has a particular photograph, or what kind of tree was planted along the road, or whatever other thing her memory has rearranged into a different story.  They're her stories.  All I have to do is react and respond in such a way that, as much as possible, her dignity is preserved and she feels valued.  In that respect, we're all the same: it doesn't matter whether you're the child, the parent, or the one in between.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Good Morning!

This day started out with Morning.  I don't really blame Morning, it can't help that it gets here first.  I just wish it wouldn't get here before every one's meds have kicked in.

Medications for treatment of ADHD/ADD are a controversial subject, as I'm well aware.  In our family, we don't argue with success.  If a child who is completely unable to write legibly suddenly writes several sentences within the lines on the day she starts medication, that is significant.  If a child who can't be contained within his own body and can't keep his clothing out of his mouth is able to raise his hand and wait to be called on from the day he starts medication, that is significant.  If an adult is able to sort through all the buzz going on inside and deal with issues one at a time, remember conversations that happened because of an increased ability to focus on others, and avoid irrational outbursts of temper - especially in this family - that is significant.

If you were counting, you can figure that's at least three people.  If those three people have to be getting ready for work and school at the same time in the morning, it's a Condition Red situation.  You know the sound effect in movies when the submarine is going to dive?  It's like that. You might think it's an exaggeration, but even the dogs lay low.  Weekend mornings are better because there are no deadlines, but still tense because some folks are too sensitive and others are too wild and crazy.

Making good progress on the vest for Dearest. Try Earl Grey
tea with sweetened vanilla cream for a variation of 'London Fog'.

Of course we work to make it better and some adjustments have helped, but the fact that breakfast must be eaten, teeth must be brushed, and buses must be boarded can't be changed.  Weekday mornings bring the requisite forty-five minutes of chaos and frenzy.  Makes me want to grab a cup of tea and my knitting just thinking about it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Parenting Rules

Dearest and I break the ‘rules’ all the time.  Seriously.

We are not above using a promise of screen time (TV, computer, or video games) to coerce persuade Boyo to practice the piano for a little longer.  We delay dessert until after shower time to bribe encourage Girlie to take a faster-than-she-would-otherwise shower.  I’d like to think the way we phrase our requests makes it less obvious: “You can play a game after you practice for about 10 more minutes,” and, “Hurry up and take a quick shower so you’ll have time for dessert.”

Do we believe this is always the right thing to do?  No; in fact, sometimes I question our decisions, wondering whether the kids hold out for rewards before doing what they should do, anyway.  I don’t know if there is a concrete answer.  Maybe it will help them learn the value of delayed gratification, though.  When it comes to doing chores, Dearest and I have always advocated getting them done before going on to other things, so we can enjoy ourselves without extra responsibilities hanging over us.  We already know that it takes our kiddos longer than many kids to learn concepts, and our way of teaching them seems very repetitive and sometimes overly simplistic – as if we are still raising preschool-aged kids.

Whether it entirely fits with conventional parenting wisdom or not, we know that the best thing for our family is to find the best thing for our family.  Even if we have to manipulate make a few tweaks to the rules.

Kraemer Sterling Silk & Silver in 'Red Carpet'

Speaking of delayed gratification, I’ve been waiting weeks to cast on a particular pair of socks because a Ravelry group I’m in (Ankh-Morpork Knitter's Guild - all fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books) holds “Guild Wars”.  We took a break over the holidays but the new round starts February 1.  In anticipation of starting a new project I’ve been very good about finishing up other projects – and I’m really excited to get started with this yarn!  See that sparkle?  That’s 2% silver!  I’ll be knitting ‘Little Exuviae’ socks, a free pattern by Lara Neel of “Math4Knitters”